The Paul Ryan tweet appeared on Saturday. He linked to an AP story that contained a bit about a public high school secretary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who claimed to be pleased that her pay rose by $1.50 a week thanks to the tax cut passed in December. This increase, the secretary said, would cover "her Costco membership for the year." The AP decided to place this stupid statement in its story—one so stupid that it even surprised the person who said it when it went viral (“Oh internet,” was the lighthearted lament of the Hempfield High School secretary). And what's saddest of all is that the charlatan Paul Ryan tweeted this part of the story—$1.50 a week. A total of $78 a year. For what is certainly a middle-class income. The scale of this kind of robbery by the GOP is astonishing.
But, back to the secretary. During a smartphone interview by a CBS News reporter, she revealed the true horror of the $1.50 increase: she noticed it...
What must be appreciated is the statistical fact that American wages have for over 40 years been rising slowly or flat or falling. This is why a $1.50 increase is not only noticeable by a person with a middle-class job but a "pleasant surprise." To make matters worse, a part of her happiness is just that it went up at all. This is far better than it going down, or even losing the income entirely. We can assume this mindset is not exceptional. It is what most Americans think. And so we have this sinister loop: The party that has imposed low or stagnant wages on the bulk of American workers hopes to transform these small increases in income into electoral wins precisely because they will be noticeable. And many Americans will be sucked in this sinister loop because they are, sadly, stupid.
But is this stupidity innate or instilled? I'm almost certain it is the latter. It is one of those "mind-forg'd manacles" that are so old and even rusty that most Americans do not recognize them as such. And what's forged in this particular manacle is what the 20th century Italian economist Piero Sraffa described as metaphysics. For him, metaphysics was not so much the philosophical "all" or a realer real beyond appearances, but "motions that are associated with our terminology and frames (schemi mentali)." The mental scheme in question is not that distilled from the experiences of those who work for a living but those who do not. The middle classes have adopted this mindset, from cars to houses to taxes.
If there is no massive mental reorganization in our society, then this kind of stupidity will continue to be the blood that keeps the GOP alive. The good news is that Ryan took the tweet down; the bad news is the tweet will be forgotten by the end of the week.