Montana Viewpoint

December 20, 2004

There are people who Christmas shop, and there are people who watch people Christmas shop. The commercialization of Christmas has transformed the holiday season into one of the most significant economic effects of the year, so economists pay very close attention to who’s buying what and how much they’re buying.

Two thirds of the American economy is “consumer driven”; that means folks going out and buying a lot of stuff is what our nation now depends on to grease the gears of commerce. Retail sales are a major portion of that consumer economy, and the retail sales associated with holiday spending is a major portion of that.

For retailers, Christmas shopping is the indicator of whether they will wind up having a good or bad year. And this Christmas the news is good. Good, that is, if the retailer sells mink coats and $50,000 toy cars for kids.

However, stores where regular folks shop aren’t doing too well this Holiday season, and it’s our fault; we’re just not buying. It’s not that we don’t have the spirit of giving, it’s not that we’re unpatriotic, we just don’t have the bucks to spend, anymore. So, even though the wealthy are able to break their previous spending records, because regular folks buy one heck of a lot more stuff than all the rich people combined economic forecasters are predicting a downtick in the economy.

In short, the disposable income of the wealthy has increased, and the disposable income of the middle class has decreased. It’s not because middle class people all of a sudden got lazy, it’s a fundamental shift in the American economy and our way of life—and it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

There is a litany of event—none of them accidental—that are causing the incomes of middle class Americans to dwindle and those of wealthy Americans to grow. It’s not new—10 years ago Montana was seeing a widening income disparity between upper and middle income groups—it’s just gotten obvious.

International trade treaties, written by international business and approved by our government, have indeed caused that “great sucking sound” of American jobs going out of the country to the lowest bidder. While this has provided us with some awfully cheap “stuff,” it has also has weakened the ability of American workers to demand a decent wage. Recall the story about the Walmart employees who can’t afford to shop at Walmart.

There is a concerted government effort to give tax breaks to the wealthy and big business because of the belief that doing so will create more jobs and investment. It is highly problematic whether or not this has happened, will happen, or even might happen.

There is a concerted effort to increase taxes on wage earners and homeowners because, well, hey, somebody’s got to pay for government. That has happened.

What is happening in America and Montana today is the reversal of the American dream.

When I think of middle class Montanans, I see a forgotten majority. A majority who pay for tax breaks for big business and the wealthy, but get a none themselves; a majority who pay for health care for the poor and elderly, but have none of their own; a majority who work hard so that others can enjoy the benefits, but whose own reward is having to work harder to keep up.

I do not want to take wealth from the wealthy, health care from the poor, or profit from big business, but there is no right or reason to deny the majority of Montanans benefits that the minority has; a decent job, good health insurance, and a secure future.

That’s my Christmas wish for all of us, and it’s a wish that can come true—if we work for it.


Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620