Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Myth of Voting One’s Pocketbook

I don't entirely follow the reasoning below but I think he comes to the right conclusions.  The author is obviously right that many poor white Americans are not deceived by the promises of a better deal from the Democrats.  Being poor does not always make you a Leftist

I did quite a lot of research on just this question during my research career and it was true in both Britain and Australia at that time (70s and 80s) that around a quarter of the working class voted Tory instead of voting for "their" party, the Leftists.  But at that time the Tories were the party of the elite.  Rich and influential people tended to be conservative.  And a large part of that was fear of the Soviets.  In a Soviet takeover of America, all the rich people and most of the other elites would lose their lives.  So it made sense for rich people to be anti-Soviet and hence conservative.

The Soviet threat is now however long gone so other influences have shaped the political scene.  And that has come to a head in the age of Trump, where patriotism has become the big issue, with Trump being a most explicit champion of that.  And, as Roger Scruton has pointed out, patriotism and conservatism  are intimately associated.  What conservatives want and value is very much the same as what patriots want and value.

And patriotism has a very powerful emotional appeal -- which is why Trump came from behind in the polls to get the Republican nomination, with policies at considerable variance from the Republican establishment. Wanting to protect traditional industries is pure conservatism and pure patriotism but it completely ditched the established Republican attachment to free trade.  Trump reminded us that there are more important things than dollars and cents.

And as Lipset and others have pointed out the working class is basically conservative and patriotic so Trump has become the idol of the working class.  They love him.  But there are patriots in all levels of society so that gave Trump his majority.

The Left, on the other hand, have always been anti-patriotic.   They dislike much about the society they live in so would gladly see it all overturned.  They displayed that in the Soviet era by supporting in all sorts of ways that brutal  regime and opposing all efforts for America to build up its military defences.  And they display it today by refusing to rein in the destruction being wreaked by the rioters in Portland, Seattle and elewhere.

So the big political divide these days is between those who love their country and those who despise it.  And neither side is much motivated by their pocketbooks.  Trump in fact is supported by people who stand to be made worse off by his trade policies and China policies.  China has done nothing significant to harm America but picking at China plays well among patriots.  China did originate the coronavirus but they themselves were hit hard by it so it was clearly beyond their control


Lipset, S.M. (1959) Democracy and working class authoritarianism. American Sociological Review 24, 482-502.

Do Americans “vote their pocketbooks?” This near-ubiquitous cliche seems at first to pass the test of common sense. Why wouldn’t people vote for the candidates under whom they’ll do the best financially? A wealthy voter should favor the candidate who will lower their taxes. A chronically unemployed voter should support the candidate promising lavish government handouts.

In the most basic economic terms, however, this logic falls apart. If one votes, for example, to maximize the present value of their future income, the answer is to not vote at all. Given the vanishingly low probability of breaking a tie, voting isn’t worth the gasoline used to drive to one’s local fire station and cast a ballot.

Perhaps this critique says more about the limits of economic modelling than it does about voting. Slogans like “It’s the economy, stupid” and “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” suggest a bigger-picture view people can take when voting their pocketbooks. But once again, this view fails to hold water.

The concept of “voting one’s pocketbook” frequently causes partisans who don’t understand the other party’s voters to make strategic errors. It also perpetuates the destructive idea that different groups of citizens are playing a zero-sum game against each other. Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, it creates the myth that the right politician can make our pocketbooks grow.

The Seduction of Joe Sixpack

In late 2004, after voters delivered four more years of George W. Bush, my parents and their progressive friends were abuzz about George Lakoff’s book Don’t Think of an Elephant. Lakoff urged earnest lefties to get more politically savvy. To summarize the book, John Kerry had lost because of those crafty Republicans who through use of buzzwords like “pro-life” and “tax relief” had mesmerized Joe Sixpack into voting against his economic interest. A couple of years later came Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?–similar in its cringeworthy myopia though subtly more scolding to Joe Sixpack himself in tone.

Unwilling to part with the idea that the GOP was fueled exclusively by the rich getting richer, progressives needed expert analysis and suburban book clubs to tell them why such a large fraction of the non-rich might be on board. The great irony is that most of the head-scratching about white working-class voters going against their economic interest was being done by upper-middle class progressives who wear their own votes against lower tax rates as a badge of honor.

These prosperous-but-perplexed progressives in turn expose the mirror-image fallacy held by Republicans–that voters on the left just want “handouts” or “free stuff.” The vanguard of socialism, progressivism, and welfare-statism has always come from relatively well-off intellectuals. Rather than wanting free stuff, they want to see themselves as the givers of free stuff.

Two Economies?

Economic outcomes and political narratives don’t play nicely together, and the results increasingly harm more than just the two parties’ strategic efforts to win converts. A 2019 study from The Wall Street Journal and the Brookings Institution characterizes the current landscape as “Two Parties, Two Economies.”

The study clearly and effectively presents the divergence of different types of voters over the last decade. Democrats are more concentrated in highly-educated urban areas that depend on professional and information-economy jobs; Republicans from rural areas built on manufacturing and agriculture. The differences have grown more stark with time.

The authors conclude that:

For at least the foreseeable future, therefore, the nation seems destined to struggle with extreme economic, territorial, and political divides in which the two parties talk almost entirely past each other on the most important economic and social issues, like innovation, immigration, and education because they represent starkly separate and diverging worlds. Not only do the two parties adhere to very different views, but they inhabit increasingly different economies and environments.

There’s an implicit idea here that, while the authors don’t explicitly endorse, I wish they would explicitly reject. The concept of two opposed and diverging economies suggests to many that government policy can help one economy prosper, albeit at the expense of the other. This is plainly false.

President Trump’s anti-trade policies, for example, have hurt the entire economy, including manufacturing, and even including the hand-picked industries he myopically sought to “protect.” Meanwhile, the Covid-19 lockdowns enforced by both parties but more enthusiastically on the left have been especially brutal on urban economies.

The political drama captured by the WSJ/Brookings study is indeed driven by economic forces. The decades-long shift in the composition of American labor demand–driven by globalization and a revolution in information technology–is likely the most important economic story of our time and defines this conflict. But the only path to resolution is an understanding that free, connected people unencumbered by the smoke and mirrors of politicians “favoring” one type of economy over another prosper together rather than at each others’ expense.

“People vote their pocketbooks” is a misleading and potentially insidious approximation of voter behavior. A better approximation for modern times is “People vote for the candidate or party that provides a better story about themselves.” That can be problematic itself, but when we bring economic performance along for the ride the problems only multiply. Putting our economic fortunes in the hands of politicians is a recipe for division and stagnation, every time.


Systemic racism is not racism/b>

Tank farms are not farms. Machine gun nests are not nests. In the same way, what is called systemic racism is not a case of racism. It might include some racism, or not, but that is not part of the definition.

Racism is deliberate action of a racist nature by individuals. Systemic racism is a widespread feature of a society. Such features are often expressed as statistics. These are not statistics about the incidence of racism by individuals.

In fact whether or not a specific case of systemic racism includes some actual individual racism is a scientific question. This question may be hard to answer.

Unfortunately, these days a lot of people are simply making the false assumption that certain cases of systemic racism are full of racism, even though no one can point to any. Kamala Harris in particular stands out.

As I explain in my article “Systemic racism” is emotional semantics, the term systemic racism refers to certain kinds of unhappy statistics. Typically these are statistics where members of a non-white population look to be worse off than a white population.

For example, blacks in America are estimated to have a larger percentage homeless people than whites do. This is also true of prison inmates convicted of drug crimes.

In cases like this blacks are said to suffer from systemic racism. But whether or not there is any actual racism going on, or how much if there is, is simply unknown.

Actual racism requires specific racist actions by specific people, while systemic racism can occur for other reasons. The fact is that our complex social system may well be structured in ways that cause these unhappy statistics, even though no one is being a racist. Social systems are like that.

For example, and this is just an idea, not a claim of facts, the relative prevalence of homelessness might be due to the prevalence of a certain level of poverty. Likewise for drug use. Then that level of poverty might be a structural feature that begun under segregation.

Social structures can be amazingly persistent. We see this system persistence in the recovery from disasters, where things go “back to normal”. In many cases these underlying structures can be hard to see, and even harder to change.

Understanding that systemic racism may not be due to widespread individual racism is very important if we want to overcome it. Just as in medicine, getting the diagnosis wrong can be much worse than useless. Trying to cure supposedly widespread individual racism that does not in fact exist can simply make matters worse, not better. Blaming people for things they are not doing just makes them angry.

In fact there is a large scientific literature on systemic racism, also called institutional racism. There have been over 20,000 research articles and books on these two topics in just the last ten years. That is a lot of research!

It is here in the social sciences that we should look for solutions to systemic racism, not by name calling and guilt trips as the Democrats are doing. Kamala Harris and the rest of her party are just making things worse. They are literally inciting people to riot.

Conclusion: Systemic racism is not racism. It is not even evidence of racism. That people think it is, and are being told so, is a destructive conceptual confusion. Instead of coming together we are being torn apart.


Museum forced to remove shrunken heads from display after racism claims

A UK museum has removed a huge collection of human remains – including a mummy and “shrunken heads” – following accusations of racism.

The 130-year-old Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University, which holds about 500,000 artefacts of anthropological, ethnographic and archaeological significance, said it had ditched the items as part of its efforts to “decolonise” its collection.

Among the items were 150 so-called shrunken heads, known as Shuar Tsanta to the Shuar and Achuar people of South America, as well as Naga trophy heads and an Egyptian mummified child.

Some of the museum’s items were acquired as the expanding British Empire collected and classified items from around the world and it faced accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity for continuing to display them, according to the Associated Press.

“Our audience research has shown that visitors often saw the museum’s displays of human remains as a testament to other cultures being ‘savage’, ‘primitive’ or ‘gruesome’,’’ museum director Laura Van Broekhoven said, according to AP.

“Rather than enabling our visitors to reach a deeper understanding of each other’s ways of being, the displays reinforced racist and stereotypical thinking that goes against the museum’s values today.’’

The museum said it began ethically reviewing its collection in 2017.

Removed human remains are being held in storage as the museum talks with descendant communities around the world about how to care for them.

It’s the latest example of the global Black Lives Matter movement forcing communities and institutions to reckon with their colonial past.

A number of “racist” names and logos – across food brands, musical artists and even sporting teams – have been dumped around the world this year amid the wave of protests that followed the May death in custody of African-American man George Floyd in Minnesota.

In Australia, they included name changes for Nestle’s Red Skins and Chicos lollies, Sydney’s Captain Cook Hotel (now The Captain Paddington), and Western Australia’s King Leopold Ranges, which was named after a notorious Belgian monarch who was responsible for the deaths of around 10 million people in the Congo.


The COVID-19 Pandemic Keeps Proving Deadly to Liberty

This week, the British government announced limits on gatherings of people who don't live together to groups of no more than six. Although the restriction seriously attacks freedom of assembly, it barely raised an eyebrow in an era of similar intrusions. How could it stand out when countries around the world are tightening the screws on speech, movement, business, and social connections in the name of public health?

As many people feared, the COVID-19 pandemic—or rather, the government response to it—is proving quite deadly to liberty. And too many people seem happy to go along.

"From Monday, we're introducing the 'Rule of 6'," tweeted Matt Hancock, U.K. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. "If you meet socially in groups of more than 6, you will be dispersed, fined & possibly arrested by the police. If we work together in the national interest, we can defeat this unprecedented #coronavirus."

The "Rule of 6" does allow for some exceptions, including "protests and political activities," but only subject to government guidance that makes in-face meetings privileges under nanny's scrutiny.

While authoritarian governments commonly criminalize gatherings of potential dissidents, meeting to oppose the current batch of seat-warmers in favor of your own lot is essential to the democratic experience in nominally free countries. It's also a fundamental right to gather with friends, co-religionists, colleagues, and family as part of civil society—the sections of the world that matter, beyond the boundaries of government.

But Britain's restrictions on assembly pale in comparison to the pre-crime arrests police in the Australian state of Victoria made of those who just advocated public demonstrations against government policy.

Zoe Buhler, a pregnant woman who had called on social media for peaceful protests against the state's draconian pandemic lockdown, live-streamed her own arrest. Police hauled her off even after she offered to delete the offending post.

At least Buhler's door is still on its hinges. Victoria police broke into James Bartolo's home and tackled him to the floor. Again, his crime was openly advocating protest against government policy.

The protests proceeded anyway, in defiance of the law. Of course, attendees criticizing government policy were arrested.

These days, you don't have to assemble or even advocate assembly to get arrested in France; you just have to insult a mayor. The elevated penalty of community service plus a €7,500 fine for those who express "contempt" for mayors is being imposed after local officials complained of 233 physical attacks, up from 198 during the same period last year.

Then again, France has always frowned on harsh words directed at government institutions and officeholders, criminalizing speech defined as defamation and contempt. The extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19 provide an opportunity to impose extraordinary penalties further shielding the delicate feelings of government officials from the scorn of their subjects.

In July, David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, warned that "in the past three months, numerous governments have used the COVID-pandemic to repress expression in violation of their obligations under human rights law." But the countries he cited were mostly the usual suspects, such as Belarus, China, and Turkey. To see Australia, Britain, and France take advantage of the pandemic to impose restrictions and penalties on free speech and assembly is to see established and theoretically stable liberal democracies follow a path blazed by authoritarian countries.

To-date, free speech seems safer for Americans than for some of our overseas friends—we can still say pretty much what we want about government officials and their policies. Events in Portland and elsewhere suggest that we can even gather to do so publicly, if sometimes more violently than might be advised.

Still, Americans have been subject to lockdown orders, travel restrictions, mask mandates, and other requirements and prohibitions supposedly intended to protect our health, but definitely injurious to our liberty.

"In halls of power across the country, the growing novel coronavirus pandemic has sometimes been used to stretch, bend or ignore established law and policy," Jenny B. Davis wrote for the ABA Journal back in April, even before some of the worst strictures were in place. "Fundamental freedoms, privacy protections and access to justice have been curtailed in the name of public safety, with legal justifications ranging from appropriate to patently inaccurate."

Alleged public safety measures, unrestrained by limits on power, can inflict their own costs on health as well as freedom.

"Dangers looms when one person tries to regulate the lives of millions," writes physician assistant Jordan Warnsholz, who is suing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over her restrictions. "Whitmer's orders are a case in point. One banned any 'non-essential' medical procedures and elective surgeries… There's no doubt that banning these procedures harmed the health and safety of my patients."

The damage is worse, though, when frightened people imagine that the curtailment of liberty is a good thing and become complicit in the oppression of themselves and their neighbors.

Pollsters find that a majority of Michigan voters actually approve of Whitmer's heavy-handed mismanagement of the pandemic response. They also oppose repealing the 1945 law that allows the governor to unilaterally declare an emergency and rule without legislative input.

In Australia, Victoria's voters also cheer on the restrictive regime under which they live. "Overall, public opinion seems solidly behind the curtailment of civil liberties that would have been unthinkable a month ago," reports The Guardian.

It's difficult to imagine government officials—having exercised unprecedented control over our lives, often to popular applause—willingly restoring our freedom. The big takeaway from the pandemic era might not be the ease with which governments steal away our freedom by invoking the alleged necessities of a crisis. The real revelation is how little effort it takes to make many people like it.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here.

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