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Then and Now

My latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is the first of a series in which I discuss changes since the mid-1950s in the living standards of middle-class Americans.  Here are opening paragraphs:

Recently in The New York Times, Paul Krugman gazed backed longingly at the 1950s: “America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again.”

That decade was indeed one of strong economic growth in America. And while we can debate whether this growth occurred because of, or despite, high marginal tax rates and high rates of worker unionization, I want instead to address Krugman‘s implication that today‘s economy – with its lower tax rates and less-powerful unions – keeps middle-class living standards lower than these should otherwise be.

Unfortunately, we can‘t observe parallel universes: the early 21st century as it actually is and an alternative early 21st century with more of the “progressive” policies that Krugman favors. Therefore, no indisputable conclusions are possible about how well-off middle-class Americans are today compared to how well-off they would be with different policies. But we can at least assemble some facts to put today‘s condition of America‘s middle class into clearer perspective.

Earlier posts here at the Cafe on comparing 1956 to 2012 are here, here, here, here, and here.  There are more such posts to come in the next several weeks.


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