Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's The Matter With Westport?

I have witnessed yet another letter to the editor of The Lakeville Journal (no link available) wondering how working people could possibly act against their own self-interest by voting for Republicans. Click here for a recent similar letter in a NYS paper.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether it's true that Republican policies place the middle class at a disadvantage, it's just plain foolish to suggest that people should only vote their pocketbooks.

It's an old notion, put forth most recently by Thomas Franks in his 2004 book What's The Matter With Kansas?.

According to Franks, Republicans have convinced the working-class that hot-button social issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage are more important than the social programs that would benefit them economically. Evil geniuses such as Karl Rove have used those issues to stoke the uneducated masses into a frenzy of anger against liberal elites.

There is certainly some truth to the notion that, on policies such as the minimum wage, consumer protections and the maintenance of the welfare state, the poor and under-educated are better off under Democrats.

But higher educated taxpayers also vote against their own economic interests. According to exit polls in 2008, President Obama received 52% of the votes of those earning $200,000 or more — roughly the same group on whom he had vowed to raise taxes.

So, I would ask the LJ letter writer, why is it fine when the rich vote against their economic self-interest but appalling when the great unwashed do the same? Maybe those wealthy Americans who voted for Obama buy into Vice President Biden's assertion that paying higher taxes is patriotic.

By that same token, perhaps the people in fly-over country see a higher purpose in preserving the right to bear arms, protecting the unborn and not redefining marriage.

So remind me again. What's wrong with voting against your economic self-interest? And to paraphrase Mr. Franks, What's The Matter With Westport?


  1. To even address this issue, one has to know something about economics. Having lived more than fifty years, my assumption is that the person who wrote that article probably knows as much about economics as I know about Phoenician history. So who really cares what he/she thinks? Uninformed blathering isn't worth a blog post.

    PS Minimum wage laws cause unemployment. How does that help the poor?

    (It would be interesting to know if anyone on this site knows the common characteristic that most poor people in America share. My bet is they don't. And that is why we have minimum wage laws.)

  2. Jake, I agree that the letter writer probably knows little about economics. However, the sentiment she expressed is very common in my corner of the world: how on earth could those stupid people vote for Republicans? Don't they know Karl Rove is manipulating them?
    That's why it's worth blogging about. Lots of people share that view. My argument here is that the outrage over voting against your own economic interests (real or imagined) is really more a matter of whose ox is being gored rather than any principle.

  3. The common characteristic that most poor people in America share is a lack of sufficient income or assets (sorry - couldn't resist). The reason that Westport (and Manhattan) votes the way that it does is relatively straightforward - guilt driven by a sense that the sacrifice of our middle class on the altar of free trade is resulting in a society which is becoming dangerously imbalanced. Supporting higher tax rates are basically buying indulgences with the added bonus that you get to feel intellectually and morally superior (oh and you get to play at being European without any real knowledge as to how dysfunctional those societies and economies have become).

  4. Matt, my guess is you're correct that there is typically a lot of guilt wrapped up in the wealthy's willingness to advocate for paying higher taxes. I like your indulgences metaphor -- sort of like carbon offsets, eh?
    And I agree with Jake that minimum wages can increase unemployment, especially if that wage is too high. I heard an interview with a Green Party candidate for CT legislature the other day who wanted to triple the minimum wage.
    Can you imagine how many people would be thrown out of work with a MW of $30/hr? It would be beyond modern Greece -- perhaps more like ancient Rome.

  5. OK, Matt... should have seen that one coming.

    The defining characteristic of the poor in America is youth. As such, minimum wage laws simply make it harder for kids to get summer jobs. The number of 30+ who are helped by minimum wage laws is very, very small.

    Been interviewing recent college grads for the past month or so. They "hoped", we "changed", and now they can't find work. Sorry if I can't be more sympathetic. (As Sgt. Striker said, "Live is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid.")

    I wrote an employment test to see how well our young applicants know my business. Couldn't resist including a couple of questions off topic. So far almost all of them know where Lady Ga Ga grew up. Not one has come within 200 years of when Shakespeare wrote his last play.

    Thank you NEA.