Saturday, December 6, 2014

Most Americans are Economic Populists

Democrats have always had a winning message, but most refuse to use it — why?

* Excerpted and edited for more clarity from two posts at Robert's Stochastic Thoughts

People keep asking what the Democrats can do to convince white working-class and middle-class Americans that the Democratic party is on their side. I keep writing that they can propose increasing the progressivity of the US tax code — a proposal also known as "class war".

A solid majority of US adults support increased progressivity. The Republican party is now almost entirely focused on reducing taxes on the rich and on corporations. They also have acquired an interest in raising taxes on the working poor, the working-class and the middle-class. This is a shift. Reagan was an enthusiastic supporter of the Earned Income Tax Credit. George W. Bush signed a bill cutting taxes for the rich, but he also expanded the child tax credit.

Republicans (and Democratic Senators Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer) were working on a bipartisan bill to make corporate tax breaks permanent without making the child tax credit expansions permanent. Attempting to reach an agreement on this bill was just one of many Democratic attempts at political suicide before Obama intervened with a veto threat.

This leaves two questions. The first is: Why in the hell do people in the lower 99% ever vote for Republicans? And the second question is: Why don't Democrats propose a further expansion of the child tax credit? This can be financed by closing corporate tax loopholes and the carried interest loophole — and also with higher taxes on incomes over $2 million a year.

I think it's clear that Republican politicians don't know the answers to these questions. They express fear that the USA is nearing a tipping point — when the "takers" outnumber the "makers". I also think Republican politicians discuss the possibility that the Democrats will fight a "class war" — and this worries them, because they know the Democrats would crush them in that war if they were ever forced to fight it.

At the moment I can't resist writing that one explanation is that there might be an extraordinary bourgeois-class consciousness and solidarity. This strange pattern could be explained if almost all members of the upper 5% worked together — sometimes sacrificing their own personal interests for the greater good of the upper 5%. Thus, politicians refrain from recommending that the middle-class fight back in a class war, because their respect for the subcultures norms (that this must not be done) is even stronger than their desire to win elections.

Also, and very importantly, journalists do not inform the public about current US tax policy, proposed reforms, and where the two major political parties stand on these issues — or about where the US Federal budget is spent (Hint: It's not on foreign aid).

I think most journalists are generally inclined to inform the public, but I wonder if their fear of unleashing the rage of the lower 95% (which could hurt the 96-99 percentiles, while aiming for the very top 1%) is stronger than their desire to do their job. [Editor's note: I think many journalists have been captured and enamored by the top 0.01%. Look no farther than the annual White House Correspondents Dinner — where the media elite hobnobs with the rich, the powerful and the famous.]

I don't doubt that most journalists, in general (and if class interests are involved), would prefer that the public be informed. I also think most of them vote for Democrats, but their desire that the Democratic party win is weakened by their fear of the raging red lower 95% of the US public (which might raise their taxes $500 a year).

Many polls show that a solid majority of US adults are economic populists — they think the rich and corporations pay less than their fair share of taxes. So Democrats keep asking each other how they can appeal to the White working-class.

I think that Democrats can propose raising taxes on high incomes and cutting taxes on the middle and working class. This proposal has been made by Democrats in previous political campaigns (e.g. Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008). It seems to have worked before, so why don't all Democrats propose middle-class tax cuts that can be financed by increased taxes on high incomes, capital gains, and corporate income?

I also wonder how Republicans got their majorities in Congress and Governorships in purple and blue states. [Editor's note: Voter ID laws, campaign finance laws and gerrymandering might have something to do with this.]

I also can't help believing that if other people knew as much as I know, they would vote the way I do (that is to say, I am human). So I am attracted to the idea that they are misinformed and inclined to blame the mass media. In particular, I don't think they are informed about the effect of the policy platforms of the two major parties on their personal pocket books. Here I guess the most dramatic example is the absurd delusional guess that the foreign aid budget is about 10% of the US Federal budget. I blame the mass media for not reporting the basic bread and butter facts — again and again and again, until voters are informed.

Elite media commentators hate #SocialSecurityAndMedicare. Why? Many villagers consider the budget deficit as the biggest problem the US has. This is a view shared by the extremely rich. Why? Maybe all this elite behavior (which seems odd) can be understood as the result of a combination of both financial self-interest and peer pressure.

The financial interest is obvious — major contributors to campaigns are rich. Top media commentators are also rich, which I will define as income over $250,000 a year [even though many are millionaires]. And the publishers and CEOs of corporations that own networks are rich. They are all rich reactionaries, eager to pay people (such as media commentators) a lot of money to argue against economic populism — but there are no super rich financers of economic populism.

I think the rich, who might care about the non-rich (and support higher taxes on rich people — such as Warren Buffett) might try to help directly by NOT influencing politicians and commentators. [Editor's note: I don't agree with this statement. Warren Buffet might have agreed to the "Buffett Rule", but only because he knew it had no chance of ever being implemented. Just like when Democrats propose taxing the rich, knowing full well that the Republicans would never agree.]

I think peer pressure is very strong — and people fear that they will be called demogogues if they are populists ("demogogue" is Greek for "populist" and "popolares" is Latin for "demogogue").

A media commentator can get very famous arguing for egalitarianism; and a politician can get elected president by promising to increase taxes on the rich — but such things are rare, even though most Americans are economic populists.


  1. To appeal to the working and middle classes, Democrats should propose raising taxes on the rich and cutting taxes on the working and middle classes ... The Democrats have tried it before, and it has ever failed them yet ... It would also be good policy if enacted, but that's not so relevant, since that won't happen."

  2. The Nation: Are Democrats Trolling the Left?

    "The Democrats are seizing on the opportunity to be progressive at a moment when it’s cheap and easy; being out of power (or in Obama’s case, term-limited) they won’t have to pay the price in campaign dollars or blowback that would come from pursuing [more progressive] policies in an environment in which they could actually become law. After all, when Democrats controlled all of Congress and the presidency, it’s not like they made a move on paid sick leave or a financial transactions tax or any of a host of other ideas that would have helped out the middle class. (Which isn’t to diminish the very real accomplishments of that Congress.) Now they can stoke the fire and garner the goodwill of the left, without having to deal with the downside."

    * In other words, to now hear "Moderate/Third Way/Blue Dog Democrats talk as though they were "progressive", is as usual, total B.S.