A remarkably depressing Pew survey released last week found that a full 40 percent of Americans now consider themselves “lower class,” or “lower middle class” versus 44 percent who see themselves as “middle class.” As recently as 2008, 53 percent of Americans considered themselves “middle class”—and only a quarter identified as “lower class” or “lower middle class,” a vivid illustration of both the ravages of the recession and the amazing weakness of the Obama “recovery.”
By all accounts, it’s bad news in what it says both about Americans’ perception of their standard of living and the actual economic struggles they face. By all accounts except that of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, that is. On his blog, Krugman actually labeled the depressing poll finding “a good thing.” Why? Because as a result of it, “we’ll actually start creating the kind of society we only pretend to have”—i.e., supporting Krugman’s preference for an expanded welfare state.
The Scrapbook isn’t one to histrionically smear liberals for spurious connections to the far left, but Krugman’s cheerfulness calls to mind no one so much as Nikolay Chernyshevsky, the 19th-century socialist and influencer of Lenin, who is reputed to have coined the Leninist motto, “the worse, the better.” His point was that a more miserable working class was more likely to rise up and launch the socialist revolution.
Ideology aside, it’s more than a little callous to celebrate economic misery because it happens to improve the prospects for one’s political program. If more Americans begin to feel better off, will Krugman perversely think this is “a bad thing”?