David Brooks. He's that reasonable former Republican that every latté liberal loves to love. His disillusionment with the McCain/Palin campaign made his columns even more vague and philosophical, but the overarching point is a plea for Americans to unite behind common values for the common good. This week he emphasizes the importance of middle-class values to our future.
To be middle class is to have money to spend on non-necessities. But it also involves a shift in values. Middle-class parents have fewer kids but spend more time and money cultivating each one. They often adopt the bourgeois values - emphasizing industry, prudence, ambition, neatness, order, moderation and continual self-improvement. They teach their children to lead different lives from their own, and as Karl Marx was among the first to observe, unleash a relentless spirit of improvement and openness that alters every ancient institution.
Last year, the Pew Research Center surveyed the global middle class and found that middle-class people are more likely than their poorer countrymen to value democracy, free speech and an objective judiciary. They were more likely to embrace religious pluralism and say that you don't have to believe in God to be good.
Americans could well become the champions of the gospel of middle-class dignity. The U.S. could become the crossroads nation for those who aspire to join the middle and upper-middle class, attracting students, immigrants and entrepreneurs.
[We] have to emphasize that capitalism didn't create the American bourgeoisie. It was the social context undergirding capitalism - the community clubs, the professional societies, the religious charities and Little Leagues.
I agree. Little League helps. But so does money, and the sense that one has enough to be a "have" in society. Middle-class families who have to go into debt to send their kids to college often don't feel they've achieved the American dream.
If Brooks really wants a return to a society with a large middle-class, he should advocate for economic policies that seek to redistribute some of the wealth that has been steadily accumulating at the very top for the last 30 years. For the average American, income has increased 15 percent since 1980, while for those in the 99.99th percentile, it has increased by 300 percent.
These aren't facts that a proud middle-class society accepts. They are facts accepted by a society that treasures wealth over stability. Or by people who believe the things Brooks was writing in 2004:
The reality is that since about 1977, administrations from both parties have undertaken a series of policies, starting with deregulation, that have leveled the playing field and hence led to the period of intense business competition we enjoy today. That's the environment that fosters innovation.
I wonder if he's learned.