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June 26, 2014 2:50 PM Economic Inequality Happens

By Ed Kilgore

So Marco Rubio has essayed another rhetorical effort to prove himself a “reform conservative,” allegedly offering fresh new solutions for hard-pressed poor and middle-class families struggling in this economy. I don’t want to mock him too much; at least he’s making an effort, though if you look at his prescriptions—dumping anti-poverty programs on the states, voucherizing education, liberating for-profit colleges, boosting the child tax credit (presumably by cannibalizing other low-income benefits)—it’s mostly a repackaging job for the same-old same-old.

But I do want to note a little trick Rubio pulls off when he’s describing the plight of struggling workers:

The American Dream is still attainable. But it has gotten increasingly difficult to achieve for far too many. Wages have stagnated; everyday costs have risen; industries that once flourished have dried up, their jobs shipped overseas or lost to automation; and millions go to sleep each night overcome with the sense that they are one bad break from financial ruin.

Notice all the passive verb construction here. Economic inequality, it seems, just happens. There are no “winners” hoarding ever-larger shares of the fruit of everyone’s labor, while begrudging “losers” any help. Wages just stagnate; jobs ship themselves overseas. Automation is automatic. It’s all just natural.

This is what happens when human agency is systematically excluded from analysis of the economy. Remember that next time you’re told how destructive “class warfare” is.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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