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September 25, 2016

Imprimis 9/16 Vol 45 #9 Must read

Filed under: Political Commentary — justplainbill @ 5:59 pm

September 2016 • Volume 45, Number 9
In the Communist
Manifesto, Marx a
nd Engels wrote that “the history of all
hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” Today the story of American
politics is the story of class struggles. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We didn’t think
we were divided into different classes. Neither did Marx.
America was an exception to Marx’s theory of social progress. By that theory,
societies were supposed to move from feudalism to capitalism to communism. But the
America of the 1850s, the most capitalist society around, was not turning communist.
Marx had an explanation for that. “True enough, the classes already exist,” he wrote
of the United States, but they “are in constant f lux and ref lux, constantly changing
their elements and yielding them up to one another.” In other words, when you have
economic and social mobility, you don’t go communist.
That is the country in which some imagine we still live, Horatio Alger’s America—a
country defined by the promise that whoever you are, you have the same chance as
The following is adapted from a speech delivered on July 11, 2016, at Hillsdale College’s
Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C.,
as part of the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series.
is a Foundation Professor at Scalia Law School at George Mason
University, where he has taught since 1989. Previously he was a visiting
Olin Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, and he has also
taught at McGill Law School, the Sorbonne, and Sciences Po in Paris.
He received his B.A. from McGill University and his LL.M. from
Harvard University. He is a senior editor of
The American Spectator
and the author of several books, including
The Once and Future King:
The Rise of Crown Government in America
The Way Back:
Restoring the Promise of America
Restoring America’s Economic
Frank Buckley
A ut ho r,
The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America
anyone else to rise, with pluck, industry,
and talent. But they imagine wrong.
The U.S. today lags behind many of its
First World rivals in terms of mobility. A
class society has inserted itself within the
folds of what was once a classless country,
and a dominant New Class—as social
critic Christopher Lasch called it—has
pulled up the ladder of social advance
ment behind it.
One can measure these things
empirically by comparing the correlation
between the earnings of fathers and sons.
Pew’s Economic Mobility Project ranks
Britain at 0.5, which means that if a father
earns £100,000 more than the median,
his son will earn £50,000 more than the
average member of his cohort. That’s
pretty aristocratic. On the other end of
the scale, the most economically mobile
society is Denmark, with a correlation of
0.15. The U.S. is at 0.47, almost as immo
bile as Britain.
A complacent Republican establish
ment denies this change has occurred. If
they don’t get it, how
ever, American voters
do. For the first time,
Americans don’t
believe their children
will be as well off
as they have been.
They see an economy
that’s stalled, one
in which jobs are
moving offshore.
In the first decade
of this century, U.S.
multinationals shed
2.9 million U.S. jobs
while increasing
employment over
seas by 2.4 million.
General Electric
provides a strik
ing example. Jeffrey
Immelt became the
company’s CEO in
2001, with a mission
to advance stock
price. He did this
in part by reducing
GE’s U.S. workforce
by 34,000 jobs. During the same period,
the company added 25,000 jobs overseas.
Ironically, President Obama chose Immelt
to head his Jobs Council.
According to establishment Repub­
licans, none of this can be helped. We
are losing middle
­class jobs because of
the move to a high
­tech world that cre
ates jobs for a cognitive elite and destroys
them for everyone else. But that doesn’t
describe what’s happening. We are losing
­class jobs, but lower
­class jobs are
expanding. Automation is changing the
way we make cars, but the rich still need
their maids and gardeners. Middle
jobs are also lost as a result of regulatory
and environmental barriers, especially in
the energy sector. And the skills
technological change argument is entirely
implausible: countries that beat us hands
down on mobility are just as technologi
cally advanced. Folks in Denmark aren’t
exactly living in the Stone Age.
This is why voters across the spectrum
began to demand radical change. What
did the Republican
elite offer in response?
At a time of maximal
crisis they have been
content with mini
mal goals, like Mitt
Romney’s 59­
plan in 2012. How
many Americans
remember even one
of those points? What
we remember instead
is Romney’s remark
about 47 percent of
Americans being tak
ers. That was Romney’s
way of recognizing
the class divide—and
in the election,
Americans took notice
and paid him back
with interest.
Since 2012, estab
lishment Republicans
have continued to be
less than concerned for
the plight of ordinary
Americans. Sure, they
− ́
[Latin]: in the f irst place
Douglas A. Jeffrey
Matthew D. Bell
Timothy W. Caspar
Monica VanDerWeide
Arthur Donley
William Gray
Lucinda Grimm
Wanda Oxenger
Robin Curtis
Kim Ellsworth
Kathy Smith
Mary Jo Von Ewegen
Copyright © 2016 Hillsdale College
The opinions expressed in
are not
necessarily the views of Hillsdale College.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is
hereby granted, provided the following credit
line is used: “Reprinted by permission from
, a publication of Hillsdale College.”
ISSN 0277-8432
trademark registered in U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office #1563325.
want economic growth, but it doesn’t
seem to matter into whose pockets the
money f lows. There are even the “con
servative” pundits who offer the pious
hope that drug
­addicted Trump sup
porters will hurry up and die. That’s
one way to ameliorate the class struggle,
but it doesn’t exactly endear anyone to
the establishment.
The southern writer Flannery
O’Connor once attended a dinner party
in New York given for her and liberal
intellectual Mary McCarthy. At one
point the issue of Catholicism came
up, and McCarthy offered the opinion
that the Eucharist is “just a symbol,”
albeit “a pretty one.” O’Connor, a pious
Catholic, bristled: “Well, if it’s just
a symbol, to Hell with it.” Likewise,
the principles held up as sacrosanct
by establishment Republicans might
be logically unassailable, derived like
theorems from a set of axioms based
on a pure theory of natural rights. But
if I don’t see them making people bet
ter off, I say to Hell with them. And
so do the voters this year. What the
establishment Republicans should ask
themselves is Anton Chigurh’s ques
tion in
No Country for Old Men
: If you
followed your principles, and your prin­
ciples brought you to this, what good are
your principles?
Had Marx been asked what would
happen to America if it ever became
economically immobile, we know what
his answer would be: Bernie Sanders
and Hillary Clinton. And also Donald
Trump. The anger expressed by the vot
ers in 2016—their support for candidates
from far outside the traditional political
class—has little parallel in American
history. We are accustomed to protest
movements on the Left, but the whole
sale repudiation of the establishment
on the Right is something new. All that
was solid has melted into air, and what
has taken its place is a kind of right
wing Marxism, scornful of Washington
power brokers and sneering pundits
and repelled by America’s immobile,
­ridden society.
Establishment Republicans came
up with the “right
­wing Marxist” label
when House Speaker John Boehner
was deposed, and labels stick when
they have the ring of truth. So it is with
the right
­wing Marxist. He is right
wing because he seeks to return to an
America of economic mobility. He has
seen how broken education and immi
gration systems, the decline of the rule
of law, and the rise of a supercharged
regulatory state serve as barriers to
economic improvement. And he is a
Marxist to the extent that he sees our
current politics as the politics of class
struggle, with an insurgent middle class
that seeks to surmount the barriers
to mobility erected by an aristocratic
New Class. In his passion, he is also
a revolutionary. He has little time for
a Republican elite that smirks at his
heroes—heroes who communicate
through their brashness and rudeness
the fact that our country is in a crisis.
To his more polite critics, the right
Marxist says: We are not so nice as you!
The right
­wing Marxist notes that
establishment Republicans who decry
crony capitalism are often surrounded
by lobbyists and funded by the Chamber
of Commerce. He is unpersuaded when
they argue that government subsidies
are needed for their friends. He does
not believe that the federal bailouts
of the 2008
­2012 TARP program and
the Federal Reserve’s zero
­interest and
quantitative easing policies were justi
fied. He sees that they doubled the size
of public debt over an eight
­year period,
and that our experiment in consumer
protection for billionaires took the oxy
gen out of the economy and produced a
jobless Wall Street recovery.
The right
­wing Marxist’s vision of
the good society is not so very differ
ent from that of the JFK
­era liberal; it is
a vision of a society where all have the
opportunity to rise, where people are
judged by the content of their charac
ter, and where class distinctions are a
thing of the past. But for the right
Marxist, the best way to reach the goal
of a good society is through free mar
kets, open competition, and the removal
of wasteful government barriers.
Readers of Umberto Eco’s
The Name
of the Rose
will have encountered the
word palimpsest, used to describe a
manuscript in which one text has been
written over another, and in which
traces of the original remain. So it is
with Canada, a country that beats the
U.S. hands down
on economic
mobility. Canada
has the reputation
of being more lib
eral than the U.S.,
but in reality it is
more conservative
because its liberal
policies are written
over a page of deep
Whereas the
U.S. comes in at
a highly immo
bile 0.47 on the
Pew mobility
scale, Canada is at 0.19, very close to
Denmark’s 0.15. What is further remark
able about Canada is that the difference
is mostly at the top and bottom of the
distribution. Between the tenth and
90th deciles there isn’t much difference
between the two countries. The differ
ence is in the bottom and top ten per
cent, where the poorest parents raise the
poorest kids and the richest parents raise
the richest kids.
For parents in the top U.S. decile,
46 percent of their kids will end up in
the top two deciles and only 2 percent
in the bottom decile. The members of
the top decile comprise a New Class
of lawyers, academics, trust
babies, and media types—a group that
wields undue inf luence in both politi
cal parties and dominates our culture.
These are the people who said yes,
there is an immigration crisis—but it’s
caused by our failure to give illegals a
pathway to citizenship!
There’s a top ten percent in Canada,
of course, but its children are far more
likely to descend into the middle or
lower classes. There’s also a bottom ten
percent, but its children are far more
likely to rise to the top. The country of
opportunity, the country we’ve imag
ined ourselves to be, isn’t dead—it
moved to Canada, a country that ranks
higher than the U.S. on measures of
economic freedom. Yes, Canada has its
­vaunted Medicare system, but
­border dif
ferences in health
care don’t explain
the mobility levels.
And when you add
it all up, America
has a more gener
ous welfare system
than Canada or just
about anywhere
else. To explain
Canada’s higher
mobility levels,
one has to turn
to differences in
education systems,
immigration laws,
regulatory burdens, the rule of law, and
corruption—on all of which counts,
Canada is a more conservative country.
America’s K
­12 public schools per
form poorly, relative to the rest of the
First World. Its universities are great fun
for the kids, but many students emerge
on graduation no better educated than
when they arrived. What should be an
elevator to the upper class is stalled on
the ground f loor. One study has con
cluded that if American public school stu
dents were magically raised to Canadian
levels, the economic gain would amount
to a 20 percent annual pay increase for
the average American worker.
The U.S. has a two
­tiered educational
system: a superb set of schools and col
leges for the upper classes and a medio
cre set for everyone else. The best of
our colleges are the best anywhere, but
the average Canadian school is better
Economic Mobility Project, Pew Charitable Trusts
Economic Mobility Rankings
United States
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6
than the average American one. At both
the K
­12 and college levels, Canadian
schools have adhered more closely to a
traditional, conservative set of offerings.
For K
­12, a principal reason for the dif
ference is the greater competition offered
in Canada, with its publicly
­affiliated schools. With barriers
like America’s Blaine Amendments—state
laws preventing public funding of reli
gious schools—lower
­class students in the
U.S. must enjoy the dubious blessing of a
public school education.
What about immigration? Canada
doesn’t have a problem with illegal
aliens—it deports them. As for the legal
intake, Canadian policies have a strong
bias towards admitting immigrants who
will confer a benefit on Canadian citi
zens. Even in absolute numbers, Canada
admits more immigrants under eco
nomic categories than the U.S., where
most legal immigrants qualify instead
under family preference categories. As
a result, on average, immigrants to the
U.S. are less educated than U.S. natives,
and unlike in Canada, second
­ and
­generation U.S. immigrants earn
less than their native
­born counterparts.
In short, the U.S. immigration system
imports inequality and immobility. If
immigration isn’t an issue in Canada,
that’s because it’s a system Trump
voters would love.
For those at the bottom of the social
and economic ladder who seek to rise,
nothing is more important than the rule
of law, property rights, and the sanctity
of contract provided by a mature and
efficient legal system. The alternative—in
place today in America—is a network of
elites whose personal bonds supply the
trust that is needed before deals can be
done and promises relied on. With its
more traditional
legal system, Canada
better respects the
sanctity of contract
and is less likely
to weaken prop
erty rights with
an American
civil justice system
which at times resembles a slot machine
of judicially
­sanctioned theft. Americans
are great at talking about the rule of law,
but in reality we don’t have much stand
ing to do so.
Then there’s corruption. As ranked by
Transparency International’s Corruption
Perceptions Index, America is consider
ably more corrupt than most of the rest of
the First World. With our K Street lobby
ists and our donor class, we’ve spawned
the greatest concentration of money and
inf luence ever. And corruption costs. In
a regression model, the average family’s
earnings would increase from $55,000 to
$60,000 were we to ascend to Canada’s
level of non
­corruption, and to $68,000 if
we moved to Denmark’s level.
In a corrupt country, trust is a rare
commodity. That’s America today. Only
19 percent of Americans say they trust the
government most of the time, down from
73 percent in 1958 according to the Pew
Research Center. Sadly, that is a rational
response to the way things are. America
is a different country today, and a much
nastier one. For politically engaged
Republicans, the figure is six percent.
That in a nutshell explains the Trump
phenomenon and the disintegration of
the Republican establishment. If the peo
ple don’t trust the government, tinkering
with entitlement reform is like rearrang
ing deck chairs on the Titanic.
American legal institutions are consis
tently more liberal than those in Canada,
and they are biased towards a privileged
class of insiders who are better educated
and wealthier than the average American.
That’s why America has become an aris
tocracy. By contrast, Canadian legal insti
tutions aren’t slanted to an aristocracy.
The paradox is that Canadians employ
conservative, free market means to
achieve the liberal
end of economic
mobility. And that
points to America’s
way back: acknowl
edge that the prom­
ise of America has
diminished, then
emulate Canada.

Hillsdale will launch two new free online
courses this fall: one on the Supreme Court and
one on Shakespeare. For details, and to view
archived courses, go to online.hillsdale.edu.


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