Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Pox on Both Your Houses

Writing in Salon, Allyssa Battistoni points out,
Jamelle Bouie writes, "vanishingly few elected Republicans are interested in anything approaching egalitarianism, but a non-trivial number of Democrats support deep spending cuts and oppose tax increases"?

A study by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels provides some insight. Bartels found that senators are "very responsive" to the views of the wealthiest third of their constituents, "somewhat responsive" to the middle third, and not responsive at all to the third with the lowest incomes (to the extent that the opinions of the wealthiest constituents can outweigh senators' party affiliations in determining their voting records). It's true that Republicans are nearly twice as attentive as Democrats to the preferences of the wealthy, but both parties are equally indifferent to the opinions of their lower-income constituents. [emphasis mine]
It's horrible that both parties seem willing to sell out their principles to serve the rich but that fact explains why banks got to big to fail and why no one has been prosecuted for actions the nearly destroyed the economy.

Bartels' study has some even more depressing details.  For example, "These results provide surprisingly strong and consistent evidence that the biases I have identified in senators’ responsiveness to rich and poor constituents are not primarily due to differences between rich and poor constituents in turnout, political knowledge, or contacting" (28).  In short, the poor and middle class are underserved because they are poor not because they don't vote or make an effort to contact a senator.

Bartel's results are brought into sharp contrast when Battistoni points out "relatively well-off people who believe the government favors the poor."

The irony and the facts lead a clear conclusion that Battistoni effectively points out.
. . . in unequal societies, "social insurance is perceived as redistributing income over the population, rather than across time." In European countries, which have much lower income inequality and largely depend on broad-based tax systems, people expect to utilize the services they're funding at some point; in America, people think they're writing checks to some deadbeat. . . .
Funding social programs largely through high taxes on high earners isn't a problem because higher taxes are inefficient, job-killing or unfair, as conservatives often claim. It's a problem because, with money and power concentrated the way they are now, the functioning of the government is essentially dependent on the acquiescence of the rich to higher taxes.
I don't want huge government or huge taxes.  I think both are dangerous.  In fact, the only thing that I think is more dangerous is the current situation that gives the rich control of both the economy and the political system.  We're seeing the result of that control and will soon have to live without the social safety net that has been available since 1965.

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