Dancing in Chains

To the editor:
What Myron Magnet [“The Politics of Delusion,” Summer 2015] misses is how the inequality critique now has wide traction among middle-class Americans who feel that economic security has become much harder to attain—particularly in New York City. Mayor de Blasio and other progressive leaders have tapped into that, while conservatives have repeated the same argument that individual responsibility and strong values remain an unfailing recipe for success. That argument doesn’t track with many people’s lived realities. As for the poor, Magnet missed how the conversation has shifted here, too. There’s now more recognition that even the hardest-working poor people face big obstacles in an economy with few high-quality jobs for low-skilled workers. Which is why efforts to raise pay for low-quality service jobs—championed by de Blasio and others—have commanded wide public support. If conservatives can’t better understand these new threads in the national conversation over opportunity and equity, their ideas won’t have traction in coming years. Magnet isn’t helping advance such understanding. His views feel more suitable to 1993 than to 2015.

David Callahan

Myron Magnet replies:
David Callahan is correct in saying that the inequality trope has gained traction, and most Republican presidential candidates are addressing the real problem: slow economic and employment growth created by the Obama administration’s policies. The president inherited a financial crisis, to which he responded with growth-killing measures—from Obamacare, to a stimulus largely aimed at saving the jobs of government bureaucrats who hamper the job-creating sector of the economy, to financial regulation that has turned the big banks into public utilities, to hampering America’s fracking revolution and trying to kill its coal industry in favor of funneling tax dollars to politically connected windmill and solar-energy companies. All this the Federal Reserve Board has exacerbated by sticking to its zero-interest-rate policy for too long, ending up in a trap that misallocates capital. Hence we have the lowest labor-force-participation rate ever.

But even while the U.S. economy is dancing in chains, at least it is dancing, unlike no-growth or negative-growth Europe or the chimera economy of centrally planned China or the catastrophic economies of Communist North Korea and Cuba, where all are equally poor, except for the ruling tyrants. So yes, individual responsibility and strong values—along with strong property rights, limited government, and individual liberty—remain as relevant in 2015 as they were in 1993 and will be in 2023.

To zero in briefly on New York’s unskilled service workers: they are mostly immigrants, making more money in America than they could make where they came from and, indeed, often sending funds home. The more that government forces up the price of their labor, the fewer jobs there will be for them, as companies find technological ways to replace them, just as e-mail and scanners replaced bicycle messengers. Meanwhile, those who teach their children individual responsibility and strong values will see them get into exam high schools like Stuyvesant and become doctors, scientists, and engineers.

Finally, people of Callahan’s persuasion like to praise themselves by claiming the accolade “progressive,” as if some Darwinian imperative made redistributive policies inevitable and better. They should stop fooling themselves with such narcissistic politics of delusion.


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