Saturday, May 14, 2011

Offered Without Comment

. Saturday, May 14, 2011

Felix Salmon:

Ezra’s fixated on economic growth as the goal which politicians are aiming for. But that’s not the goal at all. The real goal is the same as it’s always been: to get re-elected. And if you want to get re-elected in America, a hard-line stance against any kind of tax hike looks entirely rational.

This doesn’t mean that people like John Boehner are lying when they say that it’s better to risk a federal default than it is to raise taxes even a little bit. It’s just that incentives matter. And the kind of people who believe those things tend to do quite well in today’s Republican Party — especially since the Tea Party became a serious political force. ...

The only thing you need to understand the Republican position on the debt ceiling is this number: 47% of Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling, while only 19% support it. Republicans will vote no on this for the same reason that they voted no on TARP — politically speaking, doing so makes all the sense in the world.

When asked why they’re voting as they are, they could simply cite the will of the people, which is quite a good reason in a democracy.


Will Wilkinson:

In their book " Degrees of Democracy: Politics, Public Opinion, and Policy", Stuart Soroka and Christopher Wlezien, political scientists at McGill and Temple, find that policy tends to track public opinion fairly closely, and that there is generally little difference between the preferences of voters in the lower, middle, and upper third of the income distribution. Income-based differences in policy preference are greatest, however, on issues clearly related to inequality, such as welfare spending and taxation. But on these issues, for which there is a relatively large gap in preference between lower- and upper-income voters, there is practically no gap between middle- and upper-income voters. And, of course, the middle-class is where most voters are. ...

This may be cold comfort to low-income voters who disagree with the middle-upper consensus, but that's democracy. The minority does not prevail. ...

The public doesn't know or particularly care about the regulatory environment within which competitors in the widget industry vie for advantage, so public opinion can hardly rule. ...

Now, it's important to remember that corporate favour-seeking is a negative-sum game in which wealthy people mainly screw over competing wealthy people—a far cry from a conspiracy of the rich against the rest of us. But the cumulative effect of all this piecemeal, competitively anti-competitive rent-seeking—of all the major firms in all the economy's sectors constantly seeking a government break here, a government boost there—can be a comprehensive regulatory climate that appears for all the world as if it were designed by the executive committee of the top 1% for its exclusive benefit. ...

If it turns out that the road to plutocracy is paved with co-opted political discretion, and not the selfish wishes of the conspiring super-rich, we'll need to consider carefully what to do about it. The good news is that democracy works reasonably well. Policy does tend to reflect majority public opinion if the public is paying attention to the right things and knows what it wants. The bad news is that the public isn't paying attention to the right thing, and I fear the way we have been talking about inequality and plutocracy isn't helping.

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