Politicians often complain about America’s struggling middle class, but according to Squawk Box host Andrew Ross Sorkin, they should quit crying over spilt milk. Sorkin argued on Dec. 23 that the mid-20th century idea of middle class was a historical anomaly.
“This middle class that we keep talking about, this Leave it to Beaver middle class that was this panacea that people talk about is actually, I would argue to you, an historical aberration,” Sorkin said. Sorkin made the argument after co-host Joe Kernen and Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson decried the current state of America’s middle class.
“I’m just looking around at the current ... is milieu a word?” Kernen asked. Kernen described white, men without college degrees as having “the most fatalistic view of their future in the history of the country.” He also said the country was more divided than before President Obama took office, and that Republicans are further to the right on immigration.
“How the hell did we get here?” Kernen wondered.
“I think these are all connected,” Isaacson replied.
Issacson then harkened back to a time when Americans faced smoother economic prospects. “It used to be in this country that you could play by the rules, get a job, know your kids were going to be better off than you,” Isaacson said.
Sorkin seemed to refute Isaacson’s and Kernen’s unspoken assumption that a thriving middle class was the rule, not the exception in economic history. According to Sorkin, the end of WWII gave America an edge in global economic competition, and allowed the country to strengthen its middle class.
“The middle class, labor unions, all the rise in the middle class, 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s, you go to school, you check the box, everything works out. That only worked because basically the rest of the world was out of business after World War II,” Sorkin argued.
“We were a monopoly, and we used that monopoly power to raise the middle class, but I’m not sure it’s a sustainable middle class.”
CNBC has expressed mixed sympathies with regard to the middle class. In 2010, Kernen said President Obama was giving the middle class a break at the expense of the rich. “We're going to cut for the middle class and we're going to pay for it by soaking the rich,” Kernen said referring to the administration’s economic policy. “The overriding mandate of this administration - it's a redistribution of wealth."
On the other hand, correspondent John Harwood and Mad Money host Jim Cramer have pushed more liberal narratives surrounding income inequality. Earlier this year, Harwood championed income redistribution to support a ‘stagnating’ middle class.
"If you want to change the distribution of income in this country,” Harwood opined, “You've got to take from some to give to the other, and that's precisely what the president wants to do. Middle class families … have stagnated for a long time … while people at the top have done much better.”
Isaacson is a former CEO of CNN, and former managing editor for Time Magazine. Last year, Isaacson penned an op-ed for Time, titled “Obama Can Still Secure His Legacy,” in which he declared, “Fighting for a fair deal for every American goes to the core of what [Obama] believes.”