Stan Greenberg’s Tin Ear

UPDATED 08/08/11

Lefty pollster Stan Greenberg whines that

Barack Obama can’t catch a break from the American public on the economy, even though he prevented a depression and saved global capitalism.

I must have missed something, because all Barack Obama has done for the economy is to dig a deeper debt hole for our descendants — in the form of Obamacare — and waste a lot of resources on his misguided and ineffective “stimulus.” Unemployment remains high because businesses are reluctant to add jobs in the face of Obama’s commitment to environmental correctness and heavy-handed regulation.

All of that aside, Greenberg reveals his political incompetence with this:

When unemployment is high, and the rich are getting richer, you would think that voters of average means would flock to progressives, who are supposed to have their interests in mind — and who historically have delivered for them.

This is the typical leftist’s zero-sum, stagnationist view of economics. Zero-sum because of the implicit belief that the rich are getting richer at the expense of the less-rich. Stagnationist because of the implicit — and mistaken — belief that today individuals and households remain mired in a particular range of the income “distribution,” to which they are assigned for life. Never mind that all ranges of the “distribution” are better off than they were a generation ago, two generations ago, etc. More importantly, individuals and households move freely up and down the “distribution.”*

Greenberg is wrong on an even deeper level. He wants to enlist voters to the “progressive” cause by appealing to class-envy. It might work in desperate times, as it did to some degree during the Great Depression. But it won’t work in these times, which remain hopeful for most Americans. A person who is striving to become richer — even modestly so — doesn’t want to hear lectures about the evil of his striving.

UPDATE: Michael Barone agrees:

[O]rdinary Americans don’t want money as much as they want honor. They want what the chance to achieve what American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls “earned success.”

* I put “distribution” in quotation marks because most incomes are not distributed by some power on high, but earned by individuals, who strike bargains with employers and customers. The success of an individual’s bargaining depends heavily on an assessment of the individual’s contributions to the output of products and services. That assessment is delivered by markets for outputs and markets for the labor that contributes to those outputs.

Income is distributed, in the real meaning of the word, when it comes to government employees. They are the recipients of government largesse, and are sheltered from competition and market evaluations of their outputs. (Here is but one example of the general condition of government-employee compensation.)