The Great Wage Slowdown Finally Takes Center Stage

I’m feeling better today, but still not really in good blogging condition. So just a quick note: it appears that the great wage slowdown is finally getting lots of mainstream attention. Why? Because apparently the midterm results have persuaded a lot of people that this isn’t just an economic problem, but a political problem as well. In fact, here’s the headline on David Leonhardt’s piece today:

The Great Wage Slowdown, Looming Over Politics

Josh Marshall makes much the same point with this headline:

Forget the Chatter, This is the Democrats’ Real Problem

Both are saying similar things. First, growing income inequality per se isn’t our big problem. Stagnant wages for the middle class are. Obviously these things are tightly related in an economic sense, but in a political sense they aren’t. Voters care far less about rich people buying gold-plated fixtures for their yachts than they do about not getting a raise for the past five years. The latter is the problem they want solved.

Needless to say, I agree, but here are the two key takeaways from Marshall and Leonhardt and pretty much everyone else who tackles this subject: (1) nobody has any real answers, and (2) this hurts Democrats more than Republicans since Democrats are supposed to be the party of the middle class.

I’d say #1 is obviously true, and it’s a huge problem. But #2 is a little shakier. Sure, Republicans are the party of business interests and the rich, but voters blame their problems on whoever’s in power. Right now, Democrats have gotten the lion’s share of the blame for the slow economy, but Republicans rather plainly have no serious ideas about how to grow middle-class wages either. They won’t escape voter wrath on this front forever.

I’m not going to try to say more about this right now. I just wanted to point out that this is finally starting to get some real attention. And that’s good: it’s one of the great economic trends of our time, and therefore one of the great political trends as well. For a short rundown of the other great trends of our time, I recommend this piece. I wrote it a couple of years ago, and I continue to think these are the basic battlegrounds our politics are going to be fought on over the next decade or two.