Monthly Archives: April 2016

Changes at the top

Thomas B Edsall is in the NYTimes this morning with a fascinating article on an aspect of income inequality  that is not frequently noted.  Here’s a quick look at what he says.

For years now, people have been talking about the insulated world of the top 1 percent of Americans, but the top 20 percent of the income distribution is also steadily separating itself — by geography and by education as well as by income.

This self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system, creating a self-perpetuating class at the top, which is ever more difficult to break into.

Geographic segregation dovetails with the growing economic spread between the top 20 percent and the bottom 80 percent: the top quintile is, in effect, disengaging from everyone with lower incomes.

The impact on our social structure may be most important in the long term, but now, in the middle of the 2016 electoral contest, the implications for politics are especially interesting.

Political leverage is another factor separating the top 20 percent from the rest of America. The top quintile is equipped to exercise much more influence over politics and policy than its share of the electorate would suggest. Although by definition this group represents 20 percent of all Americans, it represents about 30 percent of the electorate, in part because of high turnout levels.

Democrats are now competitive among the top 20 percent. This has changed the economic make-up of the Democratic Party and is certain to intensify tensions between the traditional downscale wing and the emergent upscale wing.

The “truly advantaged” wing of the Democratic Party  has provided the Democratic Party with crucial margins of victory where its candidates have prevailed. These upscale Democrats have helped fill the gap left by the departure of white working class voters to the Republican Party.

At the same time, the priorities of the truly advantaged wing — voters with annual incomes in the top quintile, who now make up an estimated 26 percent of the Democratic general election vote — are focused on social and environmental issues: the protection and advancement of women’s rights, reproductive rights, gay and transgender rights and climate change, and less on redistributive economic issues.

A Democrat whose wallet tells him he is a Republican is unlikely be an strong ally of less well-off Democrats in pressing for tax hikes on the rich, increased spending on the safety net or a much higher minimum wage.

Bernie Sanders has tried to capitalize on this built-in tension within the Democratic primary electorate, but Hillary Clinton has so far been able to skate over intraparty conflicts. In the New York primary, for example, she did better among voters making $100,000 or more than among the less affluent, while simultaneously carrying African Americans and moderate Democrats of all races by decisive margins.

A Democrat whose wallet tells him he is a Republican is unlikely be an strong ally of less well-off Democrats in pressing for tax hikes on the rich, increased spending on the safety net or a much higher minimum wage.

Bernie Sanders has tried to capitalize on this built-in tension within the Democratic primary electorate, but Hillary Clinton has so far been able to skate over intraparty conflicts. In the New York primary, for example, she did better among voters making $100,000 or more than among the less affluent, while simultaneously carrying African Americans and moderate Democrats of all races by decisive margins.

Sanders’s extraordinary performance to date, however, points to the vulnerability of a liberal alliance in which the economic interests of those on the top — often empowered to make policy — diverge ever more sharply from those in the middle and on the bottom.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this article, and it it backs up the views of the author of a new book that I have just started.  Thomas Frank is well known for his previous books, such as “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Now he has written “Listen, Liberal: or, What Ever happened to the Party of the People?”   It tells the same story, of a Democratic Party that is in danger of losing its traditional base. However, Frank characterizes the new  Democratic affluent class as the professional class, the result of a meritocratic process.

You can see the problem in the strong reaction of the Democratic establishment to the Bernie Sanders campaign.  His long term goals for America, single-payer health insuraance and free public universities were accurately attacked as requiring tax increases on more than just the top one percent.

 

In a Nutshell

From Paul Krugman’s blog in yesterday’s New York Times:

“After all, what is the modern GOP? A simple model that accounts for just about everything you see is that it’s an engine designed to harness white resentment on behalf of higher incomes for the donor class.

“What we call the Republican establishment is really a network of organizations that represent donor interests because they’re supported by donor money. These organizations impose ideological purity with a combination of carrots and sticks: assured support for politicians and pundits who toe the line, sanctions against anyone who veers from orthodoxy — excommunication if you’re an independent thinking pundit, a primary challenge from the Club for Growth if you’re an imperfectly reliable politician.”

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/