Thursday, August 10, 2017

Marxism and Mobility

I'm not usually one to root for the Communist, but that's what I found myself doing the other day. As a student of economic history, I consider communism, and in fact all degrees of Marxism (which is always "progressive") antithetical to sustainable human well being.  Economic history bears this out. But there are some circumstances which make it excusable.    

To wit, the other day I read a Wall Street Journal book review of "Ants Among Elephants", by Sujatha Gidla. an account of life as an "Untouchable" in India.  The reviewer cited two narratives running through the book, the hardships of Ms. Gidla's Untouchable family, and their political views as communists.

Well hell, if I was born an Untouchable in India, I'd be first in line at the communist buffet!  India's caste system, despite efforts to end it, is still the mother of all mobility killers.  If your grandparents swept the floor, so did your parents, and so will you in all likelihood.  And it goes back countless generations.  Marxism is the only option when the culture won't abide.

I've never bought into the notion that income gaps breed Marxists.  That's not enough.  To me it's always been about economic mobility.  Think of any Marxist movement in history and you'll find, A) downtrodden people with, B) no hope of upward mobility.   The lack of hope is key.  We've had downtrodden socialists and communists in the U.S. since the late 1800s, but they never got much traction because we've always been the land of mobility.

All of which got me wondering:   Why in the U.S,  the world heavyweight champion of economic mobility, is Marxism ascendant today?

One popular theory is that in the information age, only tech geniuses and the hyper-educated can advance.  This leaves the less-educated feeling trapped.  Others say it's low skilled immigrants and an inner city underclass who see no way out.  All that sounds good, except most of the Marxists I know have graduate degrees!

Here's another theory:  In 1900, total government spending (federal, state,  and local) was around 7% of national income.  Today it's around 60%. *  As government and redistribution have grown, mobility has shrunk.

We keep trying to wipe out poverty and hardship by expanding government. Yet we still have poverty and hardship in about the same proportions.  What we're losing in the bargain is mobility.

This is the tragedy of Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and the modern Democrat party;  they see inequality and think bigger government and more redistribution are the solutions.   It's a cheap emotional appeal that voters increasingly fall for,  but it always makes things worse in the long run.  

What they miss is that we are not India. We have a long history of mobility that we've only recently lost.  For example, blacks moved into the middle class at a faster rate in the 1950s than they do now!  Astonishing when you consider the headwinds pre civil rights.

Perhaps in the back of voters minds, when they heard "Make America Great Again", they were thinking of our lost mobility.

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.  - Alexis de Tocqueville, 1850s

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