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The Other Reason We Vote Against Our Best Interests

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THE ECONOMIST: Instead of opposing redistribution because people expect to make it to the top of the economic ladder, the authors of the new paper argue that people don’t like to be at the bottom. One paradoxical consequence of this “last-place aversion” is that some poor people may be vociferously opposed to the kinds of policies that would actually raise their own income a bit but that might also push those who are poorer than them into comparable or higher positions. The authors ran a series of experiments where students were randomly allotted sums of money, separated by $1, and informed about the “income distribution” that resulted. They were then given another $2, which they could give either to the person directly above or below them in the distribution. In keeping with the notion of “last-place aversion”, the people who were a spot away from the bottom were the most likely to give the money to the person above them: rewarding the “rich” but ensuring that someone remained poorer than themselves. Those not at risk of becoming the poorest did not seem to mind falling a notch in the distribution of income nearly as much. This idea is backed up by survey data from America collected by Pew, a polling company: those who earned just a bit more than the minimum wage were the most resistant to increasing it. Poverty may be miserable. But being able to feel a bit better-off than someone else makes it a bit more bearable. MORE

RELATED: By examining which respondents became supporters of the tea party, Campbell and Putnam’s survey “casts doubt on the tea party’s ‘origin story,’ ” they write in the Times–though, in fairness, it’s perhaps difficult to generalize on the movement’s origins from a poll sample of 3,000 respondents. Early tea partiers were described as “nonpartisan political neophytes,” Campbell and Putnam write, but their findings showed that tea partiers were “highly partisan Republicans” who were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. “They are overwhelmingly white, American_Idiot2.jpgbut even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do,” they went on. MORE

BBC: Voters’ preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests. The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronising liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking. Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America’s poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest. Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different: “You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining. It’s like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy.” MORE

RELATED: Not long ago, Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay. This would have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline. When business screwed the farmers and the workers – when it implemented monopoly strategies invasive beyond the Populists’ furthest imaginings — when it ripped off shareholders and casually tossed thousands out of work — you could be damned sure about what would follow. Not these days. Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: to the right, to the right, further to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower. MORE

RELATED: Frank says that the conservative coalition is the dominant coalition in American politics. There are two sides to this coalition, according to the author. Economic conservatives want business tax cuts and deregulation. Frank says that since the coalition formed in the late 1960s, the coalition American_Idiot2.jpghas been “fantastically rewarding” for the economic conservatives. The policies of the Republicans in power have been exclusively economic, but the coalition has caused the social conservatives to be worse off, due to these very economic policies and because the social issues that this faction pushes never go anywhere after the election. According to Frank, “abortion is never outlawed, school prayer never returns, the culture industry is never forced to clean up its act.” He attributes this partly to conservatives “waging cultural battles where victory is impossible,” such as a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, again despite the fact that Defense of Marriage Acts have passed in many States. He also argues that the very capitalist system the economic conservatives strive to strengthen and deregulate promotes and commercially markets the perceived assault on traditional values. MORE

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