There must be some mistake. After finishing Bob Djurdjevic’s “Wiping Out the Middle Class” (May), I suspect someone has sneaked the latest issue of Mother Jones inside a Chronicles cover. Such hand-wringing over an alarmist report on “income inequality” released by a liberal Washington think tank whose mission is to lobby for more redistribution of wealth from the productive to the indolent is not befitting a high-brow journal of the Old Right,

Djurdjevic begins with the same slippery premise that has been Marxist dogma since the Reagan years: “the rich are getting richer; the poor, poorer.” This is not the case, or, at least, it is not the whole story.

Djurdjevic serves up comparative statistics that slice total family income into arbitrary sections and rails about the increasing percentage that goes to a small number of well-off families versus that which goes to the bottom portion. But these are purely relative measures that say nothing about the real, material well-being of either group. Nor do they reveal the phenomenal recovery of middle-class incomes during the Reagan boom of 1982-89, or their moderate rise after 1994.

On demographic factors that contribute significantly to income disparity’, Djurdjevic is silent. The rise of single-parent households and the consequent shrinking number of full-time workers in poor families have affected the incomes of those families. Djurdjevic’s figures also account for cash income only, excluding the value of Social Security contributions by employers, pensions, health insurance, and other benefits. Moreover, no consideration is given to the supply-side theory that falling taxes over this period spurred the work incentives of higher-income Americans and lessened their incentive to shelter income.

Djurdjevic’s analysis is wholly static, assuming that the people within any given quintile of income in 1977 are the exact same people in 1994. Businesses come and go; employees are promoted and fired; the notion that the American economy is immobile and that its participants are confined to a permanent hierarchy is demonstrable nonsense.

Perhaps most importantly, to the extent that there exists any “dwindling” of our middle class, those departing it are in fact moving upward. From 1980 to 1993, the share of families earning $25,000 to $75,000 in constant money fell from 50.7 percent to 47.1 percent, yet the percentage earning under $25,000 remains unchanged from 20 years ago. Thus virtually all of those families “dwindled” themselves into affluence! This is cause for concern?

Djurdjevic’s article would probably not have been written a bit differently by Dick Gephardt, but it raises an important question. If he is going to adopt the shrill rhetoric and half-baked statistics of the redistributionist left, how does he propose we address the “alarming” problem? Raise taxes on the rich? Hike the minimum wage?

There is no question that free trade and unchecked immigration have been raw deals for lower-echelon workers, and on that front we should confront our neoconservative allies head on. But we must not buy into the politics of jealousy peddled by our common statist enemies.

        —Shawn Mercer
Milledgeville, GA

There are several facts that Bob Djurdjevic has not taken into account. First, research shows that the actual people in the different cohorts (fifths of the population) are anything but static. Even though the income of the middle fifth dropped by 22 percent, this does not mean that any particular family’s income dropped. It may very well have increased enough to put the family in the next higher cohort.

Second, for a magazine that has put as much emphasis on the ill effects of immigration as has Chronicles, it is remarkable that the effect that new immigrants have on the lowest cohort’s income was not noted. We clearly cannot continue to add many people at the bottom of the earning scale without creating an effect that makes it appear that we are becoming poorer (except at the top, which remains the top). We push the present poor into the fourth cohort as we add immigrants (the very poor) at the bottom (and the fourth to the third, etc.).

Before Mr. Djurdjevic despairs, he needs some better data. He would also do well to remember that it is the “rich” capitalists who are creating jobs.

        —Mary Kohler
Sheboygan, WI

Mr. Djurdjevic Replies:

Shawn Mercer’s response to my column is long on cliches and emotion, and short on facts and new information. I trust that the readers of Chronicles can separate Mercer’s biases from the facts upon which my column was based. I also suspect that the people who know that I have fought against Marxism and Communism all my life will have a good laugh at this reader’s insinuation that I am a liberal or a Marxist.

I must, however, correct some factual inaccuracies. My analysis was not “a wholly static one,” somehow out of touch with America’s economic realities. My column opens with the plight of Marty and Dawn, two flesh-and-blood young people from Phoenix, Arizona, who could not afford to buy Christmas presents for their daughter on middleclass wages, and includes comments by a Washington-based news media editor about the hardships of getting by on a middle-class income in the nation’s capital.

Mercer’s claim of the “phenomenal recovery of middle-class incomes during the Reagan boom of 1982-1989” must have come from some work of fiction. The Reagan-Bush-Clinton presidencies were indeed boom years —for the Wall Street elite, whose plutocratic cause they have advanced. But they have been a bust for most of America’s impoverished Main Street families, such as Marty and Dawn’s.

Mrs. Kohler’s comment about rampant immigration in the last three decades lowering the average American income is a very cogent one. Not only is this true in a purely mathematical sense, but in a competitive labor market, cheaper immigrant labor tends to lower indigenous Americans’ incomes through competition —even if the immigrant doesn’t get the job.

In my March 9, 1997, Washington Times column, “Plutocrats of the New World Order,” I wrote that “the destructive effect of this 30-year process was described in an excellent book on the subject of U.S. immigration, Alien Nation, by the British-born editor of Forbes magazine, Peter Brimelow. The author explains very clearly why the immigration explosion since 1965 has led to . . . the ‘browning of America,’ a ‘demographic event of seismic proportions.’ And why the roots of the immigration lie in the liberal elite’s economic interests. Namely, the lower-paid immigrants not just displace the indigenous workers; they help lower the overall wages of the local people by merely competing for jobs.”