Thursday, February 24, 2011

economics and politics

I apologize for posting all too frequently lately, but I have a lot of time to read the internets again. I'll try to do more combined postings, but this one deserved to stand alone. Also, if you're reading these on Facebook, sometimes it delays cross posting and then posts a bunch that I've written over a few days simultaneously...I know it's annoying. I'm sorry.

I read "What's the Matter with Kansas" before moving here--basic premise is that the Democratic Party has ceded explaining or even standing behind its own economic principles and thus abandoned middle America (specifically, non-college educated white "folks") to the culture wars, which the Democratic Party has already won, but which the Republican Party will continue to use to motivate voters to come out and vote against their own economic interests.

Right now, I'm reading "Unequal Democracy". This book is a fairly scientific analysis of how income and class affect politics. Specifically, it talks about how money influences political decisions, how a person's class affects his political beliefs and how this has changed over time.

I was listening to NPR this morning and was able to find the article I heard online, which is here. The tagline is "Blacks, Hispanics more optimistic about the economy than Whites." But, the body of the article is more specific as they are talking about Whites without a college degree. The line that caught my attention was this one:

These voters have a right to be deeply pessimistic about the economy since another trend of long duration has been the increased difficulty people without college degrees have in finding jobs with good pay and benefits.
The reason this struck me is because right now in Wisconsin, there is a mass protest that has been ongoing for days. The Democratic State Senators have fled the state to keep the Republicans from passing a bill that would make it more difficult for the Unions to organize, bargain and collect dues. This, it seems to me, is something that is ANTI creating jobs with good pay and benefits, specifically for people without a college education.

However, as the first book explained, somehow the Republican Party has convinced "middle America" that what is good for Corporations (whose taxes have been cut dramatically in Wisconsin) is good for the people (who will be required to pay more for their health care, more for their pensions and receive less in benefits).

Here is an interesting chart I found on the internet which compares three views of the American distribution of wealth. The first is how wealth is actually distributed. The second is how people think it is distributed. The last is how people think wealth should be distributed. The differences are staggering. The second book, however, outlines how precisely because of the American Dream (that even if things are grossly unequal NOW, they will be, or can be equal soon), Americans are willing to forgo policies that will benefit themselves--we don't "soak the rich".
Again, however, this outlook is flawed. We are not "soaking the rich". Taxes on corporations are the lowest they've been since the mid 19th century. Taxes on the rich are the lowest since then. For the first time since FDR, we don't tax inheritance (as an aside, when the country was founded, there was a vocal group of "Founding Fathers" who didn't believe in ANY inheritance because they saw it as an impediment to equality and as something that would only subsidize the stupid and lazy who didn't make their own fortunes).

This study by the Economic Mobility Project shows that this idea of "pulling oneself up by his bootstraps" is largely delusional. You can see by the graph below that most people, especially those in the top and bottom quintiles, end up in the same quintile they're born into. Moreover, while white men often move up (52%) women and black men move down the rung over time.
So, what does this mean? It means education is necessary. Both to help people move up, and to help people understand the truth of what is happening today. The American Dream is further out of reach than it has been before. It is HARDER now than before to move up, and yet, we vote in policies and politicians that favor the rich getting richer. I don't know how to make this happen, or what the answer is, but it must happen, and soon.


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