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Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality 2019-06-22 18:00:05

Summary:
The American electorate contains very few libertarians—very few who want a (largely) unregulated markets economy and also a (largely) tolerant society in which flying your personal freak-flag in public is encouraged. Americans are, rather, much more likely to be egalitarian with respect to the distribution of economic wealth and status and socially tolerant; or alternatively hierarchical—seeking a society in which everybody knows their place and toes the line both economically and socially. And the people who don't fit into those two liberal and conservative baskets? They are, overwhelmingly, believers in a social order that also produces an egalitarian economy—but only for those who toe the social-order line. This poses problems for those billionaires who would like to become

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The American electorate contains very few libertarians—very few who want a (largely) unregulated markets economy and also a (largely) tolerant society in which flying your personal freak-flag in public is encouraged. Americans are, rather, much more likely to be egalitarian with respect to the distribution of economic wealth and status and socially tolerant; or alternatively hierarchical—seeking a society in which everybody knows their place and toes the line both economically and socially.

And the people who don't fit into those two liberal and conservative baskets? They are, overwhelmingly, believers in a social order that also produces an egalitarian economy—but only for those who toe the social-order line.

This poses problems for those billionaires who would like to become president, but also wish to speak honestly to the electorate:

Paul Krugman: The Empty Quarters of U.S. Politics: "Socially liberal, economically conservative voters... the people Schultz thought he could appeal to; but basically they don’t exist, accounting for only around, yes, 4 percent of the electorate.... The absence of economically liberal, socially conservative politicians... There are plenty of voters who would like that mix, and Trump pretended to be their man; but he wasn’t, and neither is anyone else. Understanding these empty quarters is, I’d argue, the key to understanding U.S. politics. Once upon a time there were racist populists... segregationist Dixiecrats. But this was always unstable. In practice, advocating economic inclusion seems to spill over into advocacy of racial and social inclusion, too.... Meanwhile, the modern Republican Party is all about cutting taxes on the rich and benefits for the poor and the middle class. And Trump, despite his campaign posturing, has turned out to be no different. Hence the failure of our political system to serve socially conservative/racist voters who also want to tax the rich and preserve Social Security. Democrats won’t ratify their racism; Republicans, who have no such compunctions, will—remember, the party establishment solidly backed Roy Moore’s Senate bid—but won’t protect the programs they depend on...

...Why did Republicans stake out a position so far from voters’ preferences? Because they could. As Democrats became the party of civil rights, the G.O.P. could attract working-class whites by catering to their social and racial illiberalism, even while pursuing policies that hurt ordinary workers. The result is that to be an economic conservative in America means advocating policies that, on their merits, only appeal to a small elite. Basically nobody wants these policies on their own; they only sell if they’re packaged with racial hostility. So what do the empty quarters of U.S. politics mean for the future? First, of course, that Schultz is a fool—and so are those who dream of a reformed G.O.P. that remains conservative but drops its association with racists. There’s hardly anyone who wants that mix of positions. Second, fears that Democrats are putting their electoral prospects in danger by moving too far left, for example by proposing higher taxes on the rich and Medicare expansion, are grossly exaggerated.... What’s less clear is whether there’s room for politicians willing to be true racist populists.... Maybe the gravitational attraction of big money—which has completely captured the G.O.P., and has arguably kept Democrats from moving as far left as the electorate really wants—is too great...


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Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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