Jacoby explains “why”; Hacker and Pierson show “how”

QUESTION: When over 80% of the US families have experience no increase in inflation adjusted earnings over the past thirty years, why do such a large share of them continue to support politicians who have turned their backs on them and instead further enrich the ½ of 1% whose real incomes have grown geometrically since 1980, a phenomenon which is rapidly turning our social democracy into a plutocracy?

Susan Jacoby in “The Age of American Unreason ” explores what makes the US different from other advanced nations and blames the favoring of the rich on the “fact adverse” thinking of religious fundamentalists who make up from 30% to 35% of American households.  (In other advanced economies, the proportion seldom exceeded 10% and the group wields little influence.)  Ideological issues of public morality have distracted fundamentalists of all creeds from attending to their own economic well being.   This is the “Why.”

As to the “How?”, “Winner-Take-All Politics” by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson describes the political funding evolution that has taken place since the mid-1970s.

Hacker and Pierson report that prior to 1980, the Democratic Party had an organizing advantage which offset traditional Republican fund raising superiority.  During the 50s, 60s and early 70s, a progressive social agenda was put in place.   But then came costly television and a few Republican billionaires funded massive efforts to organize big business donations and establish conservative ‘think tanks.’   The result was the 1982 Congressional election, in which the Democrats were predicted to sweep, turned into a Republican rout due to Republicans outspending Democrats as much as 5 to 1.

Ultimately the Democrats found it necessary to also seek financial support from big business in order to survive, which meant jettisoning progressive aspirations and cow towing to business interests.

That the bulk of the citizenry remained progressive in their outlook was deemed irrelevant to the parties.  What controlled was money.   That in turn played on public ignorance and prejudice and assured re-election for faithful and the pliant.   Unions had lost their membership and power.   The people who had the money to contribute were the one percent of the families, and, even more pertinent, that top 1/10th of 1%.

Then followed the 2010 “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision which virtually removed restraints on political contributions, so big business control of the government was made permanent.  (Subject only to a more liberal court reversing that decision followed by effective limitations on political contributions, it is hard to perceive any diminution of the pro-business toadyism of both parties.  Moreover, prospects for a third party are very dim due is existent at all  to lack of funding.)

Here are some excerpts from the chapter and later “The Politics of Organized Combat.”

“During the expansion of the 1990s (1993- 2000), the average pre-tax real income of the top 0.01 percent nearly tripled, increasing more than 16 percent a year after adjusting for inflation.  During the expansion of the 200s (2002 – 2007), it more than doubled again, increasing more than 17 percent a year after inflation and exceeding $35 million in 2007.”

“…the winner-take-all economy of the last generation has realized the fear voiced by democratic theorists from the ancients through the Founders that the balance of governance would tip towards those with the greatest resources and economic might.  Armed with the clues from our investigation, we now are in a position to explain why that fear has been realized.”…

“As the party with a seemingly permanent lock on congress, Democrats needed to be pried away from their traditional alliance with organized labor.  Money was key here:  From the late 1970s to the late 1980s corporate PACs increased their expenditures in congressional races nearly fivefold.”…

“Brookings [Institute] strove to provide what is considered ‘objective’ policy advice – the best expert thinking on a particular subject.  New outfits like the Heritage Foundation explicitly saw their mission as shifting public opinion and policy in a conservative direction, to persuade rather than investigate.”

“Far more devastating and consequential in the long run was the fate of industrial relations reform….     U. S. laws governing industrial relations were becoming dramatically less effective in supporting union organization due to two linked challenges faced by organized labor.  The first was a rise in capital mobility, which enhanced the capacity of businesses to use the famous 14(b) provision of the Taft-Hartley Act to shift their operations to right-to-work states, which unions were barred from making union membership a condition of employment in a firm or industry…

“The second threat… was the rise of much more aggressive employer tactics to block union organizing.  Between 1960 and 1980, there was a fourfold increase in charge of unfair labor practices, a threefold rise in charges of unlawful termination, a fivefold increase in workers awarded back pay or granted reinstatement orders.  These stunning figures suggest that employers increasingly saw such practices as imply a cost of doing business, and far preferable to successful unionization.”…

“Behind the declining responsiveness of Washington to those outside the winner’s circle is a complex tale of battered unions, distracted public interest groups, politically ascendant evangelicals, unmoored voters, and a compromised, and increasingly endangered, news media.  The conclusion of the tale, however, is simple:  ordinary citizens have lost the cues and clout that made their voices so loud amid the civic universe that reigned when the GI Bill passed.”…

”Polarization primarily reflects not the growing polarization of voters, but the declining responsiveness of American politicians to the electoral middle.”  …

Updated: April 3, 2011 — 12:25 pm
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