OK, we should definitely thank Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt and the editors of The New York Times for leading the paper Monday with a very solid report on the two economies dividing the life prospects of today's Americans. Reviewing and digesting multiple data sources, Greenhouse and Leonhardt gave us the bad news straight up:
* Wages and salaries now make up the smallest share of GDP in 60 years, whereas corporate profits enjoy their largest share of national income in 40 years
* Real wages continue to decline despite a rapid rise in U.S. productivity--nearly a 17 percent productivity surge between 2000 and 2005
* Even U.S. workers in the 90th percentile of wage/salary earners--those making $80,000 per year--have been losing ground to inflation
* Meanwhile, the top one percent of income earners--the CEO group--nearly doubled its share of national wage income over the past 30 years--to 11.2 percent of the total take from just six percent three decades ago
* Economists at Goldman Sachs didn't bother to mince words; in a report cited by the Times, they say: "The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income."
Them's the facts, and it's good to see such painful facts recorded in the newspaper of record. But Greenhouse and Leonhardt both cover economics, and their Times story goes all soft and spongy when they try to gauge the potential political impact of this bad news.
There's a Charlie Cook quote on a potentially "combustible mixture" for incumbent Republicans, followed by a classic Timesian demurral from a University of Michigan economist who says the economy matters much less in midterm years, followed by GOP consigliore Frank Luntz insisting that the voters will blame corporate executives and not corporate-backed GOP officeholders for any economic pain they are feeling.
All pretty much beside the point, I'd say. The point, for those with eyes to see, comes at the very butt end of the piece when Greenhouse and Leonhardt write that the very best Democrats can be expected to do with the baleful economic news is (1) propose half-step relief for middle-class families in respect to medical costs; (2) trumpet minimum wage hikes--as if such gains begin to touch 95 percent of anxious working Americans; and (3) blast Republicans for cutting rich folks' taxes.
Um...don't we all recall certain Democratic gurus telling us that the world's oldest political party was about to re-learn the power of narrative? Didn't they say to us that the Democrats were about to stop being a party of small-bore ideas and were about to start supplanting the GOP as the font of compelling and true stories about how we got to this sorry historical pass and how we can get out of it?
The true but not so glorious story of how we got to this place comes down to a story of grand peculation by corporations and the wealthiest among us. It's a story that begs to be told. Don't expect leading Democrats to be telling it anytime soon.