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Hullabaloo


Saturday, February 28, 2015

 

Prosperity vs. being picked last in gym class

by Tom Sullivan

Demos research associate Sean McElwee's post this week reviews economic research showing that "Democrats make the pie bigger for everyone, while Republicans redistribute income toward the rich and whites." But you already knew that. Still, McElwee's link-filled column at Aljazeera compiles a lot of supporting studies in one convenient location.

Examining changes in poverty, unemployment and income under every president since 1948, political scientists Zoltan Hajnal and Jeremy Horowitz found that blacks, Latinos and Asians fare better under Democratic presidents. But so do whites:

“Put simply: However measured, blacks made consistent gains under Democratic presidents and suffered regular losses under Republicans,” the authors said. While there’s limited data, the findings hold true for Latinos and Asians.

Princeton economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson found that for the same period, "gross domestic product, employment, corporate profits and productivity grew faster under Democrats than Republicans." Income too — contrary to shrieks by Republican flacks that if their opponents are elected, Democratic Dorothys will throw buckets of water on all their beautiful wickedness.

On a more local level, US Uncut's Carl Gibson details how under governor Mark Dayton's Democratic policies have treated Minnesota. Gibson writes:

Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota's economy -- that's 165,800 more jobs in Dayton's first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota's top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.

By late 2013, Minnesota's private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state's economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the 9th-best state for business (Scott Walker's "Open For Business" Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton's tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton's tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota's economic confidence is higher than any other state

Dayton's GOP adversaries, of course, warned that billionaire Dayton's plans to raise taxes would offend "the job creators." (Luckily, there are no volcanoes in Minnesota, or the Job Creators would demand virgins.)

What caught my attention most was this from McElwee:

Similarly, in absolute terms, whites do better under Democratic than under Republican leadership. But that doesn’t really matter. People weigh their well-being relative to those around them. There is strong evidence that whites often oppose actions against inequality because of “last place aversion,” the desire to ensure that there is a class of people below oneself. Among white voters, racial bias is strongly correlated with lower support of redistributive programs. For example, research shows that opposition to welfare is driven by racial anger. Approximately half of the difference between social spending in the U.S. and Europe can be explained by racial animosity.

Chronic lefty complaints about working-class whites "voting against their best interests" has long set my teeth on edge. Born of frustration, it's just an intellectual-sounding way of calling them stupid, and no way to win friends and influence voters. Voters see right through it. Besides, progressives don't really want them voting what's best for No. 1. But last-place aversion (a term I've not seen before) offers an alternate explanation for why, in spite of the economic data above, many working-class whites vote Republican. President Lyndon Johnson long ago demonstrated an intuitive understanding of last-place aversion as one element of the Republicans' Southern Strategy:

If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.

Two of McElwee's links go to Stanford studies suggesting how last-place aversion explains why, for example, "individuals making just above the minimum wage are the most likely to oppose its increase." (Last-place aversion, by the way, holds "for both whites and minorities.") It works like this (emphasis mine):

By the logic developed in the above evolutionary models, not only would humans care about relative position in general but a strong aversion to being near last place would arise because in a monogamous society with roughly balanced sex-ratios, only those at the very bottom would not marry or reproduce. Indeed, being “picked last in gym class” is so often described as a child’s worst fear that the expression has become a cliché.

That explains a lot.