Class Warfare Rhetoric and Reality

Is there class warfare in America today? That is how some Republicans characterized President Obama's latest attempt to raise taxes on whomever he means by "the rich." Many liberals don't think the "class warfare" label is fair.

Well, what are we supposed to call it when politicians target a particular group or class of citizens?  How about discrimination?  For decades, Americans from across the political and ideological spectra have worked to expunge discrimination from our laws. We have banned discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation.  Why, then, does the left insist on establishing a distinct category called "the rich," against whom they wish to discriminate by applying our laws unequally?

 Is this class discrimination warfare?  No, bullets aren't flying, but, as in a war, the aggressors are trying to break down the defenses and impose their will on their target.  Obama keeps trying to break down the defenses (constitutional, ethical, legal, and political) of "the rich" to confiscate more of their property. He may use less bellicose rhetoric than his ally, Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. ("take these [Tea Party] sons of b*tches out!") but the two men's basic agenda, Bigger Government, is similar.

On Sept. 19, President Obama sounded like a broken record when he unveiled his deficit-reduction plan and stated that any deal must include higher taxes on "the rich."  Obama's Ahab-like obsession with "the rich" is amazing in its small-mindedness and futility.  According to the Tax Policy Center, doubling the taxes paid on the 22,000 households that had incomes greater than $1 million in 2009 would raise only $19 billion more. The government desperately needs to squeeze trillions, not a mere $19 billion, out of future deficits, yet Obama appears willing to scuttle any reform unless he can harpoon "the rich."  He strains at gnats while swallowing camels as the country follows Greece down the path to a crackup.Elizabeth Warren, the erstwhile architect/czarina of the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now campaigning to be a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, has tried to de-fang the phrase "class warfare."  In a widely circulated YouTube clip, Warren denies that wanting to raise taxes on "the rich" is class warfare.  She disingenuously asserts that the rich owe more because they use assets (roads, workers, police, etc.) "that the rest of us paid for."  But the rich haven't been exempt from paying the taxes that fund those goods, nor has anyone else been forbidden to drive on public roads or hire workers.

If liberals want to stop hearing "class warfare," they should stop practicing it.  Class warfare is employed as a Marxist concept.  In The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote, "The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles."  Unfortunately, Marx was blind to how the immense transformation that capitalism was impelling in Europe, and he totally ignored the United States, where titles of nobility were outlawed, Horatio Alger "rags to riches" stories were common, and social mobility was not only possible, but commonplace.


The rigidities of class -- economic, social, and political -- are only possible where governments rig the system to keep people from advancing.  It takes a powerful government, or a strong cultural-religious caste system, to maintain rigid class distinctions.


In the United States, individual liberty has allowed millions of Americans rise two, three, or even four quintiles in terms of income and accumulated wealth. America's perennial economic, social, and political mobility has been a healthy antidote to class conflict, since anyone with the talent and initiative was free to go up the social/economic ladder, rendering rigid class distinctions untenable.


In recent decades, though, an ominous change has taken place. The Old World societies of stratified classes were the product of governments that determined the winners and losers. With the expansion of government and political redistribution of wealth in the United States, politicians have been increasingly picking the economic winners and losers, separating us into warring factions that appear to be coalescing into distinct and lasting classes.


The two classes that I see emerging in America today are the taxpayers and the tax consumers -- the economically productive and the politically dependent. When politicians like Obama and Warren single out "the rich," the rest of us who don't want to depend on government support should be very concerned, not just because "the rich" are often society's wealth-creating benefactors, or because we might someday be rich ourselves, but because government is so big today that "the rich" can't possibly fund all of government's payouts.  So it will be the tens of millions of middle-income Americans who will end up paying for the bulk of Uncle Sam's extravagance.


Please drop the class warfare, President Obama. Leave the rich alone, except for the minority who, through crime or government, prospered at the expense of their fellow citizens. Quit dividing us into classes. We're all Americans, and that is the only class we need.

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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