Thursday, March 27, 2014

"The middle class must be artificially created by the government"

An inveterate leftist acquaintance of mine remarked that "the middle class must be artificially created by the government". The underlying theme of his claim was clear: it is impossible for a society to improve the quality of life for the average citizen without empowering the government to control the economy.

Ad hominems aside, this claim reveals stark ignorance of the history of the nascent stages of the modern society. Although the industrialists of the 19th century were notorious for providing factory workers with exiguous compensation and subjecting them to deplorable work conditions, the standards of living for ordinary citizens have improved.

Prior to the emergence of these opportunities, a significant portion of the population engaged in mere "subsistence farming" where a minor decline in productivity often resulted in famines that wiped out entire villages. To find evidence in support of this claim, one must look no further than the Irish Potato famine.

My interlocutor explained that the middle class must be artificially created by the government because the business elites invariably use technology to exploit the work-force. While that is true, the technology also empowers ordinary citizens to find more rewarding work.

This example is not limited to the 19th century United States and Britain, but also various nations of the developing world. For all of its affronts to human dignity, the proliferation of sweatshop labor across Southeast Asia empowers ordinary civilians to work in factories as opposed to prostitute themselves or engage in the commerce of begging.

The middle class in China and India is a phenomenon of the late 20th century. To be sure, it was not "artificially created" by the government. It is almost entirely a product of industrialization quite similar to the one that took place over a century ago in Western Europe and North America.

No comments:

Post a Comment