The Shortcomings of Inequality As a Political Issue

Something I’ve pointed out from time to time is that once any political party has a solid majority in a district or state increasing the size of the majority within that district or state doesn’t help it a great deal. In terms of election results it doesn’t make much difference whether Obama wins New York by 51% of the vote or 100% of the vote. Megan McArdle has a post in which she points out the problem that running on income inequality has for Democrats:

New York’s new mayor swept into office on a campaign against inequality. President Barack Obama has made any number of speeches about the rich who don’t pay their fair share. And yet, nationwide, this has not translated into big gains for the Democrats who are pushing it. Why is a phenomenon that keeps being heralded as the defining issue of our time such weak tea at the ballot box?

As a new article from Bloomberg News explains, Democrats aren’t benefiting from hammering on inequality because almost all the areas with the worst inequality are already controlled by Democrats…

Here’s another interesting observation:

You can make a case that the difference between the Republican and Democratic politics of wealth lie in the difference between who tends to make up “the wealthy” in their districts. The rich of America’s affluent urban areas tend to be the beneficiaries, one way or another, of a global tournament economy in which markets are often close to “winner take all,” and vast sums can flow to people who are just a little bit better than their competitors. The wealthy in Republican districts, on the other hand, are more likely to be competing in local or national markets, not glamour industries, where sales are ground out one at a time. Because the sums involved are smaller, the wealth gap is also smaller — and business owners are less likely to be sympathetic to the idea that their success has a huge luck component.

What bugs me about income inequality as a political issue is that nobody who’s emphasizing it seems to have a solution for it and, worse, the solutions being proposed don’t really ameliorate the problem.

3 comments… add one

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    In terms of election results it doesn’t make much difference whether Obama wins New York by 51% of the vote or 100% of the vote.

    Maybe not for election results, but for running a campaign it makes a huge difference if you win a state by 58% vs. 51%. You’ll have to work hard for that 51%, you can probably cruise on the 58% states. Dems have to work right now to win Florida, for example. By 2024 it will be as safely Democratic as California, New York, or even DC. Sooner if the Republicans push through Mexican voting rights, which seems likely. That large and safe batch of electoral votes makes the Democratic campaigns for President so much easier to run.

    (And there’s a big monkey wrench for predicting this fall’s elections. If the Republicans push through Mexican voting rights this summer like they’re promising, a lot of Republican voters will stay home. The Republicans might even lose ground in the Senate in that case.)

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    and business owners are less likely to be sympathetic to the idea that their success has a huge luck component.

    Has there ever been a wealthy person that truly believed they weren’t completely entitled to everything they have?

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    Schuler wrote:

    What bugs me about income inequality as a political issue is that nobody who’s emphasizing it seems to have a solution for it and, worse, the solutions being proposed don’t really ameliorate the problem.

    Elsewhere Schuler agreed with what Cstanley wrote:

    The essence of perverse incentives in politics: coalitions dissolve if the politicians actually solve the problems of the constituents that make up the coalition.

    Pols have no incentive to solve the problems that get them elected. You even appear to believe this. And yet you seem surprised that proposed solutions to problems don’t actually address the problems. I’m having trouble understanding your disconnect.

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