Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Carville: What if the rich lost 40% of their wealth?

By James Carville, CNN Contributor
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Thu June 14, 2012
James Carville speculates: What if it had been the rich that lost 40% of their wealth? The outcry would be deafening.
James Carville speculates: What if it had been the rich that lost 40% of their wealth? The outcry would be deafening.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Federal Reserve reported the net worth of middle-class Americans fell to 1992 levels
  • James Carville: If the wealthy had suffered as much, there would be national panic
  • He says politicians, clergy, academics, media too often ignore middle class
  • Carville: The scandal is the middle class is shrinking and no one seems to care

Editor's note: James Carville is a Democratic strategist who serves as a political contributor for CNN, appearing frequently on "The Situation Room" as well as other programs on all CNN networks. He and Stan Greenberg are the co-authors of "It's the Middle Class Stupid" to be published in July by Penguin Press.

(CNN) -- Let's imagine that yesterday there was a front page story in The New York Times that read the following:

"The recent economic crisis left the top 1% of Americans in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, erasing almost two decades of accumulated prosperity, the Federal Reserve said Monday."

"A hypothetical family richer than the median net worth of the top 1% of the nation's families had a net worth of $77.3 million in 2010, compared with $126.4 million in 2007, the Fed said. The crash of the stock market, in addition to the collapse of housing prices in Greenwich, Connecticut, the Upper East Side of New York City, Beverly Hills, Highland Park in Dallas and the North Shore of Chicago, directly accounted for three-quarters of the loss."

James Carville
James Carville

What do you think the reaction would be to that?

The elite would call for the suspension of habeas corpus, the government would call out the National Guard, invade Honduras and the Supreme Court would announce that it is in session 24/7 to take any action deemed necessary to help their friends.

MYB: Family net worth drops nearly 40%

The Wall Street Journal would have a black border on the newspaper. The Financial Times would go from pink to gray. CNBC would play funeral music for nine months. Steve Schwarzman would compare it to the H-word. Cable networks would roadblock all coverage.

Minimum wage laws would be suspended, the 40-hour work week would be thrown out, perhaps they would even do away with child labor laws to get productivity up so profits could increase to make up for lost revenue.

OK, we know that story did not appear in Wednesday's New York Times, and we would certainly agree that a massive loss of wealth in the top 1% would wreak economic havoc on the country. But there was, if anything, a worse story on that front page with only minor variations from our hypothetical scenario.

The story said that the recent economic crisis left the average American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, erasing almost two decades of accumulated prosperity, reducing their net worth by almost 40%.

How are you coping? Share your economy story with CNN iReport

And the response of the national elite, the people Paul Krugman refers to as "very smart people" or I like to call the "chin-scratchers," was a barely audible whimper.

To put it bluntly, the middle class in this country has been screwed, blued and tattooed.

Rising health care costs, job insecurity, declining real estate values, massive cuts to public education and public safety (no Mitt, we don't need fewer police officers, we actually need more of them and yes, the federal government has a large hand in this.)

It is a depressing state of affairs when about two-thirds of our fellow citizens are caught in an economic trap that is wrecking their lives financially and emotionally.

And the reaction to all of this has been limp at best.

The Republicans say that if we just give the rich more tax cuts, it will make everyone's life better -- seems as though we've tried this before, doesn't it?

The Democrats have done some things that have been helpful, such as payroll tax cuts and the Affordable Care Act, but there is much more work to be done. As far as other institutions around the country, the response has been pathetic.

Opinion: Why the middle class has taken a big hit

There is an entire industry devoted to denying that this is even a problem.

I read a piece written by Andy Kessler in The Wall Street Journal, stating that thanks to "consumption equality," the wealthy work their 60- to 80-hour weeks inventing things for the masses, but there's not much they can buy with their money that the middle class can't afford.

You can only afford a product, because some rich person invented it for the masses, just like they did with smartphones, hard drives and affordable air travel.

Who cares if you can't afford to send your children to college or pay for your health insurance premium or what you owe on your house is more than what it's worth? Hey, you can buy them a cell phone, now that they don't cost $4,000, and talk to them as they stand in line for a job interview at McDonald's.

Where are our nation's institutions that should be raising holy hell about this? Lets start with my own Catholic Church: They are spending all of their time hunting down masturbators and birth-control takers.

Academics: Have you ever heard of the Princeton Center for Middle Class Studies? Not hardly.

The press: There is much more coverage on George Zimmerman's wife than on the destruction of the middle class in this country.

The lobbyists: Give me a break. When was the last time you heard of a lobbyist for the middle class? The point here is that we are reading the most significant economic story of our time and its effect on the psyche of the people who should know better is minimal.

In the words of Warren Buffett, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

The big scandal in America is that our middle class is shrinking, and no one seems to care. Maybe someone somewhere somehow should consider doing something else.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Carville.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT