The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne has done so, in a column motivatingly titled “A Challenge for Conservatives.”
“It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility,” Dionne writes. “It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse. … Now they are facing the fact that we are by no means the most socially mobile country in the world.”
Well, good for conservatives. But wait … are they?
Where’s Dionne’s evidence that conservatives have suddenly seen the wisdom of the Occupy movement? What right-leaning politicians or pundits have announced their newfound understanding that fairness is better than freedom?
But let’s put that aside for the moment. Dionne says that a more active government is needed.
“Reports from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and others show that social mobility is greater elsewhere, notably in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden and Germany,” he writes. “What do these countries have in common? Not to put too fine a point on it, all have national policies that are, in right-wing parlance, more ‘socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours. They guarantee their citizens health insurance. They have stronger union movements and more generous welfare states.”
But disreputable sources aside, Dionne’s claim is ridiculous on its face. If the argument is for mobility, nothing locks a person into a socioeconomic stratum like regulated wages, welfare payments and heavy tax obligations.
In large part, rising to the middle class requires a thriving economy with a private sector creating more and more jobs (Greece has shown what attempting to prop up the middle class with public sector jobs results in). And rising above the middle class requires economic freedom and a regulatory environment friendly to startups and small business.
The United States scores far higher than any of those countries listed in economic freedom and private sector growth.
Now, back to Brooks. The New York Times’ conservative columnist does, indeed, write about the “bifurcation” of society (that’s the splitting into two segments, like trousers).
And he does show how it’s a growing problem. But he’s not talking about taxes or union membership or universal health care. He’s talking about the decline in marriage.
“Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock,” Brooks write. “Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world. Working-class jobs were decimated, meaning that many parents are too stressed to have the energy, time or money to devote to their children.”
“The barrier here is not liberal attitudes toward the family but conservative attitudes toward government,” he writes.
It’s nice that Dionne feels he’s found some common ground with conservatives. We’re always happy to have a dialogue.
But when he finishes his soliloquy, he should ask that the house lights be turned up. He’ll find he’s in the theater alone.