Diseases of the Rich
The Culture War, The Counteroffensive, and the Pro-Growth Caucus
I have another Discourse column that just went up making a somewhat counterintuitive case that “the enormous bitterness and the frequently apocalyptic tone of our culture war disguises the fact that it is a luxury of the rich.” We’re debating culture war issues because we have stopped having to be so concerned about “kitchen table” issues. Or rather, the people who tend to be most politically active and who drive our political discussions, the educated upper-middle-class, are rich enough not to focus on those issues.
One of the things I cover in this piece is some new information about exactly how rich Americans are, particularly compared to the Europeans.
Another new analysis of the data looks at the size of the middle class in America relative to European countries and finds that while America appears to have a smaller middle class, this is only because our middle class is defined relative to a much higher standard.
In most Western European countries studied, applying the US standard shrinks the middle-class share by about 10 percentage points … [I]n Denmark, the share of adults living in lower-income households increases from 14% to 28% under the US standard. And a slight majority of adults in Italy and Spain (an estimated 53% each) are in lower-income households by US standards.
In short, a good chunk of the European middle class doesn’t even qualify as middle class by American standards. And these are some of the wealthiest and most developed countries relative to the rest of the world. We are richer than the richest.
I am a reluctant culture warrior, and this piece is an opportunity to work out some of the reasons for my reluctance. I end by expanding on a point I made in this newsletter a few months back.
We’re living through a twisted version of something John Adams predicted in a letter to Abigail Adams: “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” Instead, our forebears mastered agriculture and commerce so we could have the leisure to argue over “woke casting” in the latest J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation. Somehow, this seems less inspiring.
How to Fight the Culture War
Speaking of the culture war, I came across a great report on the right way to fight it, no matter what side you’re on.