Posted by: Tony Carson | 5 August, 2007

The Middle Class can only be sustained by government support

Finally, some vindication for the notion of using income tax as a way of fairly distributing economic resources. “Canada is a middle-class success story, especially compared with the slouching United States.”

Why has Canada got a rising Middle Class while every other country (except Norway) has a shrinking Middle Class?

That’s the question answered in this fascinating piece in the Globe and Mail by Doug Saunders entitled The secrets of Canada’s world-leading middle-class success.
It’s somewhat complex so read the article but the nut of it is this:

Then Mr. Pressman (Steven Pressman, an economist at Monmouth University in New Jersey. In his The Decline of the Middle Class: An International Perspective) took his data and subtracted everything except salary and wage earnings. That is, he looked at what would be happening if people lived off only the money paid by their employers.

Suddenly, everything changed. Canada’s great middle-class boom turned into an enormous decline: If people were forced to live off their earnings alone, our middle class would have shrunk by a staggering six percentage points. The same was true in Germany. In Britain, the middle class would have contracted even more dramatically.

What had Mr. Pressman subtracted? In short, government: All the handouts, tax benefits, subsidies and rebates that transfer money into middle-class pockets (not including pensions). Without government help, Canada’s middle class would be endangered.

In a modern economy, Mr. Pressman told me, “I am not sure that the middle class can be self-sustaining. It seems to require active government policies. The market tends to produce great inequalities in income; these inequalities seem greater in a global economy.” Contrary to earlier economic belief, the countries that are most competitive in a globalized economy are those with the most robust tax-and-spend programs. But they have to be aimed at the right places.

Many Canadian families wouldn’t be middle-class if it weren’t for government handouts. One key example is the thousands of dollars that Ottawa reimburses parents for child-care expenses each year: Without it, many women wouldn’t be able to work, so their families would be deprived of one income and may slide into the lower-class bracket. Tax-funded aid for education savings, first-time home buying, retirement savings plans and medical coverage add up: If you gave up all these breaks, would you still be in the middle class?

Again, there is more to it than this but the information does suggest that the so-called welfare state is the only type of state that is sustainable — if sustainability can be defined as a state with a healthy and growing Middle Class.

Here is Saunders’ conclusion:

Herein lies the paradox of the modern middle class: Its existence is reliant on a thriving and open market economy, but its size and sustainability are equally dependent on the tax-and-spend mechanisms of the modern welfare state – which, it turns out, are even more important in globalized, high-competition economies.

The countries that are doing best are those that spend serious money on cultivating and maintaining a middle class. Many poor countries, despite having developed booming economies during the past 15 years, fail to join the middle-class club because they can’t afford to erect government-supported stepladders to success. And countries such as Canada, which can and do spend that money, have done the best at surviving the social turmoil of our age.


  1. […] (Hattip: Carson’s Post.) […]

  2. I stole this from the above guy, it’s pretty good:

    “The great challenge for most members of the middle class is that we don’t make money at the times in our lives when we need it. We have to borrow for our own educations, start having a family, and pay for a young family’s housing, clothing, and education — all before we reach our prime earning years. Being subsidized in our years of greatest need only to pay higher taxes in our years of greatest wealth makes good sense.”

  3. […] A healthy middle class requires active government planning, intervention and participation, as this article explains: The Middle Class can only be sustained by government support. […]

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