Monday, October 25, 2010

Let's talk self-interest

It’s an oft-repeated belief on the Left that white* working-class voters who support Republicans are voting against their own economic interests. After all, Democrats will take money away from the fat cats and spread it around to everyone who isn’t a fat cat. Therefore, white working-class Republicans must be ill-informed or led astray by conservative rhetoric (or conservative lies) or stupid or all of the above. For those on the Left to say so is simply being truthful.

I don’t think so. What Democrats represent is the redistribution of wealth from those who have more to those who have less. Democratic rhetoric claims this redistribution flows from those few who have a lot to the masses who don’t have a lot. But that’s not what the white working class sees. The white working class sees that people who are poor get stuff for free - housing, food, medical care - while those who work have to pay for this stuff themselves. The white working class sees that people who are very rich somehow manage to stay very rich and even get richer: the working class guy who lost his job, lost his medical insurance, and lost his house is looking at the Wall Street guy who got buckets of money because letting his firm fail would destroy the economy. White working class guy has got to be wondering exactly whose economy has been saved from destruction; it certainly isn’t the economy he lives in.

I suspect the white working class is asking themselves exactly whose money has been taken to give to the poor and - since more redistribution is on the horizon as more of ObamaCare kicks in and if some variant of cap-and-trade gets through and as the effects of financial regulation begin to be felt - they must also be asking themselves whose money is going to be taken in the future. It can’t be people who are poorer than the white working class - they don’t have money to redistribute. So far it doesn’t look like it’s going to be people who are rich - even if their taxes go up there’s no reason to think their special relationship with the government will disappear. That would seem to leave the working class.** Their money will be taken if not through higher income taxes then through a VAT; cap-and-trade; inflation; having to pay bank fees; tighter and/or more expensive credit; forced purchase of particular forms of health insurance; more job loss; or simply by piling a incomprehensibly huge national debt on the backs of their children and their children’s children.

If you look at what the Democrats say they’re going to do then, yes, when the white working class votes Republican you can argue it’s voting against its own economic interests.*** But when you look at what the Democrats have actually done, I’d say the white working class figures - quite rationally - that it’s better to hold onto what little they have rather than risk being the people on the wrong end of the continuing redistribution. This doesn’t mean they think the Republicans are going to help them or, for that matter, hurt the wealthy. It simply means the working class hopes the Republicans will allow them to keep what they earn. They entertain no such hopes about the Democrats.


* I write here of the white (presumably non-Hispanic) working class because that’s the contingent that swings between Democrat and Republican. I think the same economic factors apply to the non-white and Hispanic working class but they are more solidly Democratic.

** I’m leaving aside the middle class. I don’t think the working class is stupid enough to think anyone is going to take money from the middle class and give it to the working class. Nor do I think the working class is stupid enough to think taking money from just the middle class is going to be enough to accomplish the myraid forms of redistribution either underway or in the works.

*** Yes, we could have another whole discussion about whether even if the working class was on the receiving end of redistribution they would support it and want it (there are interests that are not economic) and yet another one about whether the Democrats’ program would be in the working class’ best economic interests in the long term. What I doing here, though, is ruminating on why the Left’s “voting against their own economic interest” claim is weak even in the very short term.



News Flash: Inflation Is on the Way - Kevin D. Williamson at Exchequer on the new issue of TIPS.

Trouble with the humans - The Economist article that jarred this post loose

Of Reds, Racists and Rubes - Anglachel. My favorite snippet (but read the whole thing): People are motivated by rational self-interest, especially in times of need.

Capital Expenditure - Anglachel again. This is one of her posts where our world views are so different I struggle to understand her and quoting Bob Somersby makes her even more opaque while quoting Paul Krugman makes her even less accessible to me. However, if I understand her correctly what she’s saying is that Barack Obama did not and does not have a unifying ideological view of how the world works or how the world should work and this has handicapped him. This combines with - or possibly causes - Obama to be timid in going after what he wants and even in arguing for his desired outcomes.

I agree - this is my view of Obama. He lacks a coherent view of what he wants to have happen, how to get there, and - most important - how all the pieces have to fit together to get him there; in addition, he appears unable or unwilling to take the heat for what he believes in perhaps because he doesn’t believe strongly in anything except himself. The result is the kind of half-hearted, piecemeal legislation we see in ObamaCare. It is neither a huge overhaul that has a chance of working nor a modest, step by step fix with few unintended consequences. Instead it’s Frankenstein’s monster; almost any other outcome - including doing nothing and moving to a Canadian system - would be better than what Obama’s combination of ideological laziness, political ineptitude, intellectual shallowness, and general incompetence have given us.

What Happened to Change We Can Believe In? - Frank Rich:

But the most relentless drag on a chief executive who promised change we can believe in is even more ominous. It’s the country’s fatalistic sense that the stacked economic order that gave us the Great Recession remains not just in place but more entrenched and powerful than ever.

An astonishing piece since Rich spends much of it chastising the Obama Administration for its failure to “unstack” the economic order but winds up by concluding that much of the blame rests with the GOP, its deep pockets backers, and the mean old Supreme Court. (As an aside, blaming the last makes me incredibly weary. I’m sick of hearing that when the Supreme Court does something a commentator agrees with , it’s rightfully the ultimate arbiter of our fates and perfectly justified in riding roughshod over elected officials and the wishes of the voters but when it does something that same commentator disagrees with, it’s a captured and corrupt political cesspool. Pick one.)

Obama the snob - Michael Gerson.

The Psychology of the Taboo Trade-Off - Scientific American on sacred values versus secular ones - especially monetary ones.

Tea Party to the Rescue - Peggy Noonan. Of particular note is Maureen Turner’s explanation of how she ended up supporting the Tea Party: I have voted Democrat all my life, until I started listening to what Obama was promising and started wondering how the hell will this utopian dream be paid for?"

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