Why elections matter, in one graph
By Ezra Klein
I’ve been trying to figure out how to link to Timothy Noah’s series on inequality, which falls under the rubric of “things you should read that I have nothing to say about.” One thing I can say is that Noah, Catherine Mulbrandon and Slate have put an enormous amount of work into creating visuals to accompany the articles, and the results are really impressive. This graph, for instance, is the best visualization I’ve seen of Larry Bartels’s striking data showing how different income groups do under Republican and Democratic presidents:
Much more here.
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This reminded me of two other issues.
First, the deficit has increased with every recent Republican president and decreased with Clinton. Is that an accident that all economic brackets improve under Democrat leadership which is precisely when the deficit has also decreased? I really don’t know what the connection would be, but it definitely undermines the Republican argument that they are the party of ‘fiscal responsibility’ (see: National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity).
I heard a discussion on the radio the other day. It was about Clinton’s surplus. Gore and Bush had two polar campaign pledges. Gore said he’d put the surplus into a lockbox to save for a rainy day and to put towards social security. Gore’s plan makes sense considering that the surplus was created partly through Clinton’s emphasizing saving over spending. Bush, on the other hand, said he’d give the surplus away with tax cuts. After Bush was elected, 9/11 happened. He could’ve adapted to changing circumstances and saved the surplus, but he didn’t. He created the tax cuts and on top of that he started two wars. That is the complete opposite of ‘fiscal responsibility’. This makes me think of Reagan doing tax cuts while building the military which was the very thing that created our permanent deficit in the first place.
Of course, Bush’s wasting the surplus turned out to be a horrible idea. It would’ve been nice if the surplus had been saved for the rainy day that did come after Bush wasted all the surplus plus some. Yeah, government is the problem… when a Republican is president.
Now, the second piece of data I’m reminded of is related to economic inequality. Of course, as the deficit grew under all these Republicans, the wealth disparity grew which translates into the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer. But that wasn’t directly what I was thinking about. It’s not just that the rich benefit because, according to the data from The Spirit Level (which I mention in my post ‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Germany), the rich don’t benefit in all ways. Even the rich in a society with high wealth disparity are worse off in terms of social problems.
For example, take obesity which is a major health problem in the modern world and is related to many health problems from diabetes to heart disease. In high wealth disparity societies, there are higher rates of obesity and even the rich are more obese in these societies. One possible explanation is that societies with many social problems create more stress in the lives of people living there. The human body when growing in stressful conditions responds by increasing fat production as a survival measure.
My point is that Americans do better financially under Democratic administrations and I don’t think it’s an accident that Democrats value egalitarianism. I also don’t think it’s an accident that most strongly Republican states have high economic inequality and high rates of social problems… and. when Republicans are in power, Americans overall do worse financially. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but this sure is a whole lot of correlation. If there is another explanation, I’d love to see what it might be.
I’ve noticed something strange about how politicians and pundits use ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’. I don’t hear the working class referred to much in the media, especially not by conservatives. Being working class has become considered a bad thing. Everyone wants to be middle class.
What bothers me about this is that the middle class is shrinking even as the poor increasingly become the target of those on the right. For instance, the Tea Party protesters are mostly older whites of the upper middle class and above (i.e., not the average American). These old white conservatives grew up during a time when there was much more opportunity of upward mobility. But since the beginning of Reaganomics, the wealth disparity has been increasing and so the numbers of the poor have been increasing.
One recent survey showed that most white Tea Party supporters don’t believe minorities are intelligent, hardworking or trustworthy. This is a new class war. As the middle class shrinks, the upper middle class sides with the rich and sees the poor as the enemy.
I don’t know if this will start to reverse again, but I don’t think these affluent conservatives want it to reverse because it was conservative policies that were a major contributing factor towards this concentration of power and wealth. Of course, they’d love to blame it on the liberals (such as how Hannity tried to interpret the documentary Generation Zero). The problem isn’t the evil government and even the Tea Party supporters don’t actually blame the government. Most of them are on Medicare and of course they support Medicare even though it’s one of the biggest government expenditures. Studies show that conservatives love big government when Republicans are in power. Even Tea Party protesters fondly remember George W. Bush and yet offer little support to Ron Paul who is a real small government fiscal conservative.
What the Tea Party protesters don’t want is a government headed by a Democrat president. The reason they give is ‘socialism’ which is simply a codeword for helping the poor and needy. It’s class war, pure and simple. It was funny when Glenn Beck came to realize the working class was the socialist enemy while listening carefully for the first time Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. Interestingly, the only voice the working class has in the mainstream right now is Michael Moore who is a radical leftwing social justice Christian (or ‘commie’ for short).
It’s very odd because the Republican party used to side with the working class (the Reagan campaign even tried to usurp Bruce Springsteen’s message despite Springsteen himself being an ardent liberal). However, now that the working class has become a part of the growing poor, the affluent conservatives are trying to distance themselves from the working class even as they try to portray the Tea Party as working class populism. This means the real working class doesn’t have any direct political voice… which might be why, despite the conservative propaganda, the poorest of the working class tends to vote Democrat. So, the Tea Party is pretending to be working class which it isn’t while simultaneously pretending not to be Republican which it is.
I wish there was a real working class populist movement that would shake up politics. Even real libertarians can’t get a movement started without it being taken over by Republican operatives.
The worst part is that the mainstream media (especially Fox News) creates such a distorted picture of reality that the average person has a hard time telling which way is up. The poorest of the poor who lean towards Democrat are also the demographic that feels the most disenfranchised from the whole process and so rarely votes. For this reason, it’s in the interest of affluent conservatives to keep the poor disenfranchised. I saw a news report recently which was about a corporate memo stating in blatant terms that democracy of civic participation wasn’t beneficial to their profits. When Wall Street gives billions of dollars to all politicians on both sides, how can there be even the slightest hope for a real democracy that represents the average person much less those below the average.
The Tea Party protests the loudest, but it’s not the Tea Party supporters who have been hit the worse by the economic downturn. The hardest hit are the minorities, the poor, and the blue collar workers. Once upon a time, the working class fought hard to have a collective say in our society. It was from the battles with the wealthy elite that workers unions formed, but the conservative movement fought back and destroyed the power unions used to hold. Conservatives have the audacity to blame unions for helping to destroy the economy when it’s blue collar workers who are the ones who have lost their jobs more than anyone. Their jobs got sent overseas. but somehow the poor working class trying to feed their families is seen as the enemy of the affluent rightwingers.
I just don’t get it. The world would be a better place if the upper middle class whites combined their forces with the poor instead of sucking up to the wealthy elite hoping to get some scraps from the table. Since the middle class is shrinking and the economy is so uncertain, wouldn’t it make sense to make nice with the poor. Many poor working class people once thought of themselves as middle class as well, but times have changed. I remember hearing an interview of a woman who recently became unemployed. She said that she always thought the unemployed were just lazy, but she admitted that she had failed to understand how hard it can be when your job is taken away.
It’s a sad state of affairs. The poor are blamed for being poor. The unemployed are blamed for being unemployed. But oddly the conservatives blame all of the problems of Wall Street on the government which means blaming it on Obama and the Democrats. Why is it in the conservative mind everyone is to blame for their own misfortune accept wealthy capitalists? Why does the Tea Party criticize everyone from ‘socialists’ to immigrants and yet they’ve never protested Wall Street? Why?
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Note (5/27/10) – I just wanted to add one further observation that fits in with the concluding paragraph.
Why does a so-called “Libertarian” such as Rand Paul immediately defend BP even thought the irresponsible actions of BP will destroy many small businesses? I understand that Rand Paul is a rich white doctor and so doesn’t necessarily have much in common with the working class that comprise many family-owned fishing businesses, but I don’t understand why he would jump so quickly to defend BP when the average American has a very negative view of such mega-corporations.
Even though Libertarians like to portray themselves as representing the average American, it is obvious that many (most?) Libertarians and Libertarian think tanks don’t represent the average American. Certainly, Rupert Murdoch who is a self-identified Libertarian doesn’t represent the average American or average anything else for that matter. When push comes to shove, the Libertarians will side with big business… because often they own or work for big business.
I liked the last point made in the video below.
Various corporations, media & political groups are constantly trying to control the narrative. The narrative that would be most financially beneficial to powerful corporations is that of voter apathy & disenfranchisement. Riling people up & then misdirecting them away from real problems inevitably leads to a sense of helplessness. If this is repeated enough, the entire lower class develops an attitude of learned helplessness where they just give up entirely.
Combine this with the slow destruction of the middle class then you a combination punch. In the US, the middle class always aspired to be part of the upper class. This aspiration has caused many Americans to identify with the wealthy class. We like to watch rich people live their lives on tv and the middle class will fight for tax cuts for the rich (even though it personally harms their own class). Instead, middle class anger gets directed at the working class (i.e., worker unions), the working class anger gets directed at the poor, and the poor class anger gets directed at everyone who is at the very bottom (welfare receipients, homelesss, immigrants, etc).
Let me give some context to why I’m posting all of this.
I heard two different people talk about why some social liberals vote Republican. The stated reason of these people is that they aspire to climb the ladder of socio-economic success, and they think Republican policies will favor the middle class and the striving business entrepreneur. This, of course, isn’t based on the reality as the middle class has been shrinking and the government growing ever since Reagan’s administration. The tax cuts that Republican politicians preach about mostly only favor the rich. These middle class Republican voters may dream of becoming rich, but this American Dream of meritocracy is a fool’s dream.
I think this is similar to the reason why the poor white working class votes the way they do. They have more in common with poor minorities and immigrants, but they see these other poor people as their enemy. So, they vote for the Republican party with it’s policies that favor the rich. Democratic policies, on the other hand, tend to be more beneficial to the poor which is why the minorities and immigrants vote Democrat.
A difference with the poor white working class is that they’re not as poor as many minorities and immigrants. Looking down on the even poorer gives them a sense of superiority and this breeds a lot of racial hatred. It’s no accident that the conservative movement has promoted the superiority of “white culture” for decades and many conservatives still openly promote it without any sense of shame.
The middle class is shrinking even as more people are trying to identify themselves as middle class. The conservative movment has preyed upon the class wars and mixed it with the culture wars. This “middle class” perceives themselves as hard working real Americans. Conservative politicians and pundits tell this “middle class” that their meritocratic aspirations are threatened by the socialism of the liberal elites and the moral depravity of poor minorities. Meanwhile, the true wealthy elite (with it’s corporatism and military-industrial complex) increasingly takes over our country… wrapping itself in the American flag.
Though the national unemployment rate dipped slightly in January to 9.7 percent, a new study suggests that not only have low-income workers been the hardest hit by the jobs crisis — but, shockingly, there has been “no labor market recession for America’s affluent.”
The study from Andrew Sum, Ishwar Khatiwada and Sheila Palma at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies suggests that the unemployment problem is largely a problem for low-wage workers (hat tip to the Curious Capitalist).
Our Polarized Society
With no middle ground, we are always on opposing sides.
By Ken Eisold, PhD
Here is where real, underlying social issues come into play, the second reason for our increasing polarization. The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing. This is reflected in one way by the growing disparity between workers salaries and the lavish compensation packages of top executives, but more generally in the increasing erosion and fragmentation of the middle class. As a result, two increasingly distinct and identifiable interest groups are emerging.
This is not simply the rich versus the poor, of course, those who have and those who don’t. If that were so, the rich would not stand much of chance. It is a matter of identification and aspiration, those who do not want their opportunities diluted by taxes to provide social safety nets for the poor, those who emphasize the importance of sacrifice and discipline in getting ahead, who are convinced they will succeed and are motivated by the achievements of others, the stories of hyper-successful geeks and those who have worked their way up the ranks.
On the other hand, there are those at the margins of our national prosperity who tend to be left out, those sinking in status, and those troubled by our unequal access to security and protection against suffering. Many also don’t like the picture that is emerging and want a more equal society, but they, too, increasingly have no choice but to side with the underdogs.
Lulled by the celebritariat
By Toby Young
Michael disapproved of meritocracy because he saw it as a way of legitimising inequality. After all, if everyone starts out on a level playing field, then the resulting allocation of rewards—however unequal—seems fair. Those at the very pinnacle of our society might not inherit their privileged position, as their forebears had done, but its pyramid-like shape would be preserved. Indeed, once this hierarchical structure became legitimised, as it would in a meritocratic society, it was likely that power and wealth would become concentrated in even fewer hands. […] Analysts of the broader sweep of social mobility are divided on how much it has slowed down (see David Goodhart’s previous article), but there is some consensus that there has been a falling off since the time my father wrote Meritocracy.
[…] Writing in the 1960s, the sociologist WG Runciman, author of Relative Deprivation and Social Justice, argued that ordinary people tolerate high levels of inequality because they don’t compare themselves with those at the top, but with people like themselves. By that measure, they are far better off than they were 50 years ago, even if their incomes have grown by a smaller percentage than the top earners.
However, this argument doesn’t seem plausible any longer. Mark Pearson, the head of the OECD’s social policy division, has identified something he calls the “Hello! magazine effect” whereby people now compare themselves with the most successful members of society, thereby increasing their insecurity and sense of deprivation. This appears to be tied up with the decline of deference. A person’s social background may still affect their life chances, but it no longer plays such an important role in determining their attitudes and aspirations, particularly towards those higher up—and lower down—the food chain
[…] As Ferdinand Mount notes in Mind the Gap: “The old class markers have become taboo… The manners of classlessness have become de rigueur.” To put it another way: a profound increase in economic inequality has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in social and cultural equality. We can see this most clearly in changing attitudes to popular culture. It is a cliché to point out that the distinction between high and low culture has all but disappeared in the past 25 years or so. In this free-for-all it is high culture that has been the loser, with most educated people under 45 embracing popular culture almost exclusively. […] The rich and the poor no longer live in two nations, at least not socially. Economic divisions may be more pronounced than ever, but we support the same football teams, watch the same television programmes, go to the same movies. Mass culture is for everyone, not just the masses.
[…] If this is the case, I believe it is largely due to the emergence of a new class that my father didn’t anticipate and which, for want of a better word, I shall call the “celebritariat.” […] the premier league footballers and their wives, pop stars, movie stars, soap stars and the like. […] If the celebritariat really does play a role in legitimising economic inequality, it is also because ordinary people imagine that they, too, could become members. A YouGov poll of nearly 800 16-19-year-olds conducted on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council in 2006 revealed that 11 per cent said they were “waiting to be discovered.”
Some commentators believe that the preponderance of reality shows and their casts of freaks and wannabes—the lumpen celebritariat—have devalued the whole notion of stardom. Yet the YouGov survey discovered that appearing on a reality television programme was a popular career option among teenagers, and another poll found 26 per cent of 16 to 19 year olds believe it is easy to secure a career in sports, entertainment or the media. If the existence of the celebrity class does play a role in securing people’s consent to our winner-takes-all society, then the fact that the entry requirements are so low helps this process along. If people believe there is a genuine chance they might be catapulted to the top, they’re more likely to endorse a system in which success is so highly rewarded. To paraphrase the advertising slogan for the National Lottery, it could be them. As with the lottery, people may know that the actual chances of winning are low but the selection mechanism itself is fair—a level playing field. After that, their “specialness” will take care of the rest.
When was the Golden Age of the Free Market? It never existed.
The rich and powerful capitalists have always been trying to control the government and manipulate the markets… and they always will. The only place a free market might exist is in the village of some isolated tribe in the Amazon, but don’t worry the capitalists will figure out a way to find and destroy that village. No free man will be left alive.
Don’t worry about the government. The president, the congress, the senate… they’re all puppets. And the few who haven’t entirely sold their souls are powerless to do anything to change the system.
You could attempt a revolution if you like. But if you do, the Military-Industrial Complex and the police state will destroy you and everything you love. Join the Tea Party if it makes you happy. But know the FBI is keeping a record on every protester.
When one party is in power, vote for the other party… repeat again and again… nothing ever changes.
“When the oppressors give me two choices, I always take the third.”
-Meir Berliner (died fighting the SS at Treblinka), as quoted in A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen
“Most Americans have no real understanding of the operation of the international money lenders. The accounts of the Federal Reserve System have never been audited. It operates outside the control of Congress and manipulates the credit of the United States.”
-Sen. Barry Goldwater
“It is well that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
“The regional Federal Reserve banks are not government agencies. …but are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations.”
-Lewis vs. United States, 680 F. 2d 1239 9th Circuit 1982
“The Federal Reserve banks are one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever seen. There is not a man within the sound of my voice who does not know that this nation is run by the International bankers.”
-Congressman Louis T. McFadden
“The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson.”
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“As soon as Mr. Roosevelt took office, the Federal Reserve began to buy government securities at the rate of ten million dollars a week for 10 weeks, and created one hundred million dollars in new [checkbook] currency, which alleviated the critical famine of money and credit, and the factories started hiring people again.”
“This [Federal Reserve Act] establishes the most gigantic trust on earth. When the President [Wilson} signs this bill, the invisible government of the monetary power will be legalized….the worst legislative crime of the ages is perpetrated by this banking and currency bill.”
-Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr. , 1913
“When you or I write a check there must be sufficient funds in our account to cover the check, but when the Federal Reserve writes a check there is no bank deposit on which that check is drawn. When the Federal Reserve writes a check, it is creating money.”
-Putting it simply, Boston Federal Reserve Bank
“We have, in this country, one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known. I refer to the Federal Reserve Board. This evil institution has impoverished the people of the United States and has practically bankrupted our government. It has done this through the corrupt practices of the moneyed vultures who control it.”
-Congressman Louis T. McFadden in 1932
“The few who understand the system, will either be so interested from it’s profits or so dependent on it’s favors, that there will be no opposition from that class.”
-Rothschild Brothers of London, 1863
“While boasting of our noble deeds were careful to conceal the ugly fact that by an iniquitous money system we have nationalized a system of oppression which, though more refined, is not less cruel than the old system of chattel slavery.”
“The Federal Reserve bank buys government bonds without one penny…”
-Congressman Wright Patman, Congressional Record, Sept 30, 1941
“…the increase in the assets of the Federal Reserve banks from 143 million dollars in 1913 to 45 billion dollars in 1949 went directly to the private stockholders of the [federal reserve] banks.”
“The financial system has been turned over to the Federal Reserve Board. That Board administers the finance system by authority of a purely profiteering group. The system is Private, conducted for the sole purpose of obtaining the greatest possible profits from the use of other people’s money”
-Charles A. Lindbergh Sr., 1923
“Bankers own the earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create money and control credit, and with a flick of a pen they will create enough to buy it back.”
-Sir Josiah Stamp, former President, Bank of England
“All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise, not from defects in their Constitution or Confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, so much as from the downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation.”
“Whoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce.”
-James A. Garfield, President of the United States
“A great industrial nation is controlled by it’s system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the world–no longer a government of free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of small groups of dominant men.”
-President Woodrow Wilson
“History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and it’s issuance.”
“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a monied aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power (of money) should be taken away from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.”
“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, and more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces as public enemies all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. Of the two, the one at my rear is my greatest foe.”
“Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes it’s laws”
-Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild