The United States of Inequality

This is a long video, but it’s a very important topic. The video brings together a lot of data and analysis. I highly recommend watching it.

The fundamental issue isn’t solutions per se but rather what helped to create a situation that is so in need of solutions. It wasn’t accidental. This is the result of specific policies and market factors which have been a part of a class war that has been going on for a long time.

I gained some insight about this when I saw psychological research showing that social inequality tends to bother liberals and tends not to bother conservatives. To the conservative mindset (in its most extreme form), there is no problem and so no solution is needed. There is no point in talking about solutions if we can’t agree that there is even a problem.

I wrote about some of the psychological research in recent posts:

Right Vs Left: Personality Differences

Violence vs Empathy, Indifference vs Unhappiness

Also, I think insight is to be found in the analysis of George Lakoff which I’ve mentioned before:

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

George Lakoff, Moral Politics, pp 194-6:

The conservative political agenda, for example, is not merely to cut the cost of government. The conservative agenda, as we shall see, is a moral agenda, just as the liberal agenda is.

Consider, for example, the issue of the deficit. How did it get so large?

Liberals like to think of Ronald Reagan as stupid. Whether he was or not, those around him certainly were not. While constantly attacking liberals as big spenders, the Reagan and Bush administrations added three trillion dollars to the national debt by drastically increasing military spending while cutting taxes for the rich. They could count; they saw the deficit increasing. They blamed the increases on liberal spending, but Reagan did not veto every spending bill. Moreover, Reagan’s own actions acounted for much of the deficit increase. Had financial responsibility and the lessening of spending been Reagan’s top priorities, he would not have allowed such an increase in the defiicit, simply by not cutting taxes and not pushing for a military buildup far beyond the Pentagon’s requests.

While the deficit was increasing, there was a vast shift of wealth away from the lower and middle classes toward the rich. Liberals, cyncally, saw this shift as Reagan and Bush making their friends and their political suporters rich. Certainly that was the effect. It is hardly new for the friends of supporters of politicians in power to get rich. This is usually seen as immorality and corruption, and with good reason. Many liberals saw Reagan that way.

But Ronald Reagan did not consider himself as immoral. Certainly he and his staff could tell that their policies were producing vast increases in the deficit, when they had come into office promising a balanced budget. Reagan was not forced to pursue deficit-increasing policies. Why did he do so?

I would like to suggest that he pursued deficit-increasing policies in the service of what he saw as overriding Moral goals: (1) Building up the military to protect America from the evil empire of Soviet communism. (2) Lowering Taxes for the rich, so that enterprise was rewarded not punished. Interestingly, for President Reagan as for any good conservative, these policies, however different on the surface, were instances of the same underlying principle: the Morality of Reward and Punishment.

What was evil in Soviet communism, for Reagan as for other conservatives, was not just totalitarianism. Certainly Soviet totalitarianism was evil, but the U.S. had supported capitalist totalitarian dictatorships willingly while overthrowing a democratically elected communist government in Chile. The main evil of communism for Reagan, as for most conservatives, was that it stifled free enterprise. Since communism did not allow for free markets (open to Western companies) or for financially rewarding entrepreneurship, it violated the basis of the Strict Father moral system: the Morality of Punishment and Reward.

Adding three trillion dollars to the deficit actually served a moral purpose for Ronald Reagan. It meant that, sooner or later, the deficit would force an elimination of social programs. He knew perfectly well that the military budget would never be seriously cut, and that a major increase in tax revenues to eliminate the deficit would never be agreed upon. In the long run, the staggering deficit would actually serve Strict Father morality - conservative morality – by forcing Congress to cut social programs. From the perspective of Strict Father morality, Ronald Reagan looks moral and smart, not immoral and dumb as many liberals believe.

The New Conservatism: GenX & Millennials

I just watched most of this following video.  It’s a good video about the data on the various generations.  But if you’re already familiar with generations theory, then you probably won’t learn anything new.

The video just reminded me of the changing nature of politics.  Liberal and conservative are labels that, as they’ve been used in the past, don’t apply to what politics is becoming.

Both GenXers and Millennials are more conservative in certain ways than the Boomers, but in less obvious (read: less loud and divisive) ways.

GenXers aren’t politically active in a direct fashion because they mistrust big government and politics in general.  Instead, GenXers prefer influencing society through volunteering and the private sector.  GenXers have had massive influence on society considering their small size, but this influence has primarily been through the technological industry and in particular through creating new social media.

Millennials are even more conservative in their lifestyles despite being very liberal in their political beliefs.  On the level of personal choices, rates of such things as sex an pregnancy are down.  They accept the idea of sacrificing individual needs for the collective good.  They want a government to build and support community.  They value family and they value cooperation.  They are politically opposite of GenXers libertarianism.

What is going to change in the liberal direction is that government will play more of a role.  The reason for this is because only government can ensure a fair egalitarian society and only government can guarantee civil rights.  The GenXers may agree with the good intentions, but many GenXers fear such a potentially oppressive nanny state.  Certain freedoms may be sacrificed in the name of equality… and safety.

The ironic thing is that on the social level this future possible society may be more conservative than what we’ve seen in recent decades with the rise of the Evangelical right.  The Millennials, unlike the Evangelicals, won’t simply be a loud minority.  The Millennials don’t need to be loud because they shall change society through sheer force of numbers.

What is clearly ending is the GOP vision of the invisible hand of the market (which never existed anyways) and trickle-down economics.  Some will consider this to be a redistribution of wealth, but Millennials will see it as fair redistribution of opportunities.  Millennials refuse to believe the Republican propaganda that government fails because the Millennnials have observed how the government has particularly failed when Republicans were in power.  Of course, a party that preaches failure will fail.  Quite different from GenXers, Millennials are optimistic.  They know they’re inheriting large problems and so far that reason they know that large solutions are demanded.

The question now will be whether Millennial optimism will pay off and whether GenXer cynicism will help balance it.


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