New York Times: The Hidden Prosperity of the Poor - Thomas Edsall
A concept promulgated by the right — the notion of the hidden prosperity of the poor — underpins the conservative take on the ongoing debate over rising inequality.
The political right uses this concept to undermine the argument made by liberals that the increasingly unequal distribution of income poses a danger to the social fabric as well as to the American economy.
President Obama forcefully articulated the case from the left in an address on Dec. 6, 2011 at Osawatomie High School in Kansas:
This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: that this is a place where you can make it if you try. We tell people — we tell our kids — that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do. That’s why immigrants from around the world historically have flocked to our shores.
The conservative counterargument – that life for the poor and the middle class is better than it seems – goes like this: Even with stagnant or modestly growing incomes, the poor and middle class benefit from the fact that a stable or declining share of income is now required for basic necessities, leaving more money for discretionary spending. According to this theory, consumption inequality – the disparity between the amount of money spent on goods and services by the rich, the middle class and the poor — remains relatively unchanged, even while income inequality worsens. ...
I like this article in that I think he does a fairly good job of laying out the conservative argument and then presents his counterargument in measured tones. There is a lot to process here, and there counterarguements to Edsall's arguements, but I appreciate articles that constructively frame issues.