Tag Archives: conservatives

New Evidence That The Rich Are More Conservative Than the Rest Of Us

It’s a long-running debate: Are rich people more conservative, and particularly more likely to be Republican? The answer is yes, and a large literature establishes this, but the debate still rages on, driven partially by the cognitive biases of elite commentators. In a recent study, Erik Peterson shed some light on the debate using a random event that could shift an individual’s political preferences: winning the lottery.

In his study, Erik Peterson examined how winning the lottery affected 1,900 registered voters. His work follows in the vein of recent research by Nattavudh Powdthavee and Andrew J. Oswald, who find that “[lottery] winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian. The larger the win, the more people tilt to the right.” Lottery winners were also more likely to express sympathy for the current distribution of income and wealth. Earlier work by Daniel Doherty, Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green suggests that lottery winners were more likely to express opposition to estate taxes and redistribution.

Unlike their work, Peterson eschews surveys, instead using data from the lottery winners’ voter files. In particular, he finds that lottery winners are more likely to become registered Republicans. The effect was modest for those who were registered before winning the lottery, but was more dramatic for those who had not been registered before. Thus: More money increases Republican identification.

As the data below (from the American National Elections Studies) suggest, the rich tend to be far more conservative than the average American and are far more likely to vote Republican. In a recent study, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal find that between 1956 and 1996, “partisanship has become more stratified by income.” The ANES data also include conservative and liberal self-identification, and here again, those in the highest percentile are more conservative than others (21 percent of the poorest reported being conservative in 2008, compared to 59 percent in 2008).

The rich are also far more likely to favor cutting services and spending (on a seven-point scale) than increasing services.

If the rich tend to be more conservative, why do so many influential journalists — like for example The New York Times’ David Brooks — argue that they aren’t? Some of the answer is misinformation. Republicans are trying to shed their reputation as the party of the rich, so many seize on scant evidence – like the fact that some exit polls showed that those earning more than $200,000 skewed toward Obama in 2008 — to make the case that in fact, the rich are more liberal. But even if commentators are not motivated by politics, there are two other factors at work:

First, the rich do tend to be more socially liberal than the poor and middle class, but with an important caveat. In one study, Benjamin Page and Cari Lynn Hennessy use the General Social Survey to examine the views of the richest 4 percent of the country. They find that the top 4 percent are “much more socially liberal or libertarian, and more economically conservative, than those of the average American.” Further, they find that these views are distinct from the top third of the income distribution. Thus, on a comprehensive metric of partisanship, the wealthy will appear more centrist because of their views on social issues. However, Stephen Ansolabehere, Jonathan Rodden and James M. Snyder Jr. find that “economic policy preferences are more important than moral policy preferences in accounting for voting behavior and party identification.” When David Brooks or other journalists note the social liberalism of the rich as evidence that they are Democratic, they are ignoring the economic issues that drive votes.

It’s worth noting here also that this idea, that the social conservatism of the working class has led them to vote Republican, is incorrect. Another factor at work is how geography and race intersect deeply with partisanship. As Larry Bartels notes, “white working-class voters see themselves as closer to the Democratic Party on social issues like abortion and gender roles but closer to the Republican Party on economic issues.” Further, in his seminal book on the subject, “Rich State, Poor State,” Andrew Gelman finds that “higher-income people have been consistently more likely to vote Republican, especially since 1970.” However, he also finds that “Voters in richer states support the Democrats — even though, within any given state, richer voters tend to support the Republicans.”

Essentially: In poor red states, partisan views are dramatically polarized by income. (And race is a significant factor here.) In richer blue states, there is far less polarization, and income does less to predict views.

However, there’s a final part of this story: Even the rich who do sympathize with the Democratic party are different from the average Democratic voter. In a pioneering study, Page, Jason Seawright and Larry Bartels interviewed 83 high-wealth individuals. Demos has examined those findings in more depth elsewhere, but a key finding that is rarely discussed is that

about twice as many of our respondents considered themselves Republicans (58 percent) as considered themselves Democrats (27 percent)… on economic issues wealthy Democratic respondents tended to be more conservative than Democrats in the general population.

That is, rich Democrats still tend to have more economically conservative views. To test Page’s argument with another source, I ran some numbers using the American National Election Studies 2012 data. They have 2,000+ respondents who voted for Obama in 2012. I examined how opinions on spending differed among Democratic voters of different classes. I found that there are very little differences on issues like the environment and schools. However, on issues like Social Security and spending on the poor, wide gaps emerge. There are also differences in preferences about the size of government. This is only one source, but it lends support to the idea that there might be something distinct about wealthy opinion, at least as it relates to the role of government in the economy.

Given the extent to which our current political system is biased toward the rich, this finding should be worrying: Even rich Democrats aren’t strongly behind economic liberalism. One solution is to strengthen unions, which consistently advocate for policies that benefit the middle class and working class. Another solution is public financing, which could make the voices of ordinary Americans louder. The problem is, until the rich stop dominating the political system, one point of view will be heard more loudly in Congress.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

How Progressive Policies Boost Economic Growth

At the core of the debate between liberals and conservatives is a dispute over whose policies are better for economic growth, and particularly for the middle class. A new studyby Bryan Dettrey and Harvey D. Palmer suggests one way to test this question — by examining how economic growth differs under Republican and Democratic presidencies. Their finding might not be too surprising: Under Republicans, growth boosts the stock market, while under Democrats, it reduces unemployment.

The two academics examine how economic growth is distributed over time. Their data are expansive, covering the 60-year period from January 1951 to December 2010. They find that once economic growth increases above 1 percent a year — and it does so over most of the period they studied — “the average level of unemployment is significantly higher under Republican administrations.”

As the above charts (from their paper) show, with either a one- or two-year lag, Democrats reduce unemployment dramatically during periods of GDP growth compared to Republicans. Some of this effect has to do with inflation rates (as a I note below), but the authors note another key difference: They argue that Republican policies (for instance, massive tax cuts for the rich and cuts to capital gains) incentivize corporations to use money to compensate CEOs or distribute to shareholders, rather than invest in workers and jobs.

Dettrey and Palmer are not the first academics to raise these points. In a 2004 paper, Larry Bartels showed that “Democratic presidents have produced slightly more income growth for poor families than for rich families.” He updated that analysis earlier this year and found the same result. One reason he cites is the minimum wage: Its real value increased 16 cents a year under Democrats, but decreased by 6 cents a year under Republicans. Aseminal study by Douglas Hibbs found that “the unemployment rate was driven downward by Democratic and Labor administrations and upward by Republican and Conservative governments.” In another study, Alan Blinder and Mark Watson found that the economy grows faster under Democrats, but couldn’t determine why. It could be that the safety net boosts entrepreneurship by making Americans feel more economically secure (and willing to take risks).

There is also an increasingly large body of research on differing government policies at the state level. Christopher Witko and Nathan Kelly note that “since the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995, the states have played a more important role in shaping the income distribution,” and, consequently, in driving income inequality. In another paper, Elizabeth Rigby and Megan Hatch identify three major policies that states can pursue to slow the income growth of the 1 percent. In particular, they find that “policies played a significant role in shaping income inequality in the states.” If states had adopted more liberal policies, Rigby and Hatch suggest, the increase in inequality (as measured by the Gini Coefficient) would have been 60 percent smaller — and the share going to the top 1 percent would have been halved.

(Story continues below the chart.)

Overall, Hatch and Rigby find that conservative policies tend to exacerbate inequality, while liberal policies tend to reduce it. Rigby tells me that the “more redistribution” scenario can be considered the “liberal” scenario, and “less redistribution” the “conservative” scenario, although Democrats don’t always line up perfectly behind liberal policies. Kelly and Witko concur: “We observe that when unions are stronger and left party governments are in power at either the federal or state level we see lower levels of inequality.” Numerous other studies surveyed by Anne Case and Timothy Besley suggestthat Democrats boost government spending, particularly on workers’ compensation and Medicaid (see pages 44 and 45).

Finally, it’s worth noting the racial impacts of these policies. I recently highlighted research by Zoltan Hajnal and Jeremy Horowitz showing that people fare far better under Democrats than Republicans. Given that black and Latino Americans are more likely to end up unemployed — research suggests this is part of the reason for the racial wealth gap — Republicans’ preference for tightening monetary policy is most likely to fall on people of color. Conservatives may not be intending to harm black people, but their policies can end up having a disproportionate impact on them nonetheless.

Inequality did not arise in a vacuum. Government policy plays a significant role in determining the distribution of income. To take one policy, Anthony Atkinson and Andrew Leigh find that reductions in tax rates explain between one half and one third of the rising share of income going to the 1 percent in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. (As I’ve noted elsewhere, there is strong evidence that unions and Democrats can reduce inequality, although unions are more effective.) Meanwhile, Olivier Bargain and others find that tax policy accounted for at least 29 percent of the increase in inequality between 1979 and 2007, and likely more. Further, they find, “Republican policymakers increased inequality especially at the top whereas Democrats increased the income share of the bottom 80 percent of the distribution.”

These findings decimate the idea that there isn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between America’s two major parties. Many commentators in particular focus too much on marquee policies and miss the “market conditioning” and other minor policies that Republicans and Democrats pursue in office, which can have an outsized impact on economic outcomes. (The fact that these same commentators often worry about “rising polarization” is telling.)

In fact, there are differences in the way Republicans and Democrats govern. Pretending there aren’t doesn’t just sow confusion, it may hurt the left as well. A recent study findsthat when people don’t perceive large differences between the parties, they are less likely to vote; and when people become alienated from the political process, they are less likely to vote. By contrast, as David Brockington argues, “choice-rich environments” increase the probability that people will turn out to vote.

It is clear that the parties offer distinct options to voters. While it is certainly true that liberal parties sometimes do less to fight inequality in the era of globalized finance, they still have an important influence over outcomes. The Republican party has indeed become the party of the rich.

Worryingly, however, Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler find that “respondents who perceive a greater difference between the candidates… are more likely to vote.” And “those in the top income quintile see a larger difference between the candidates on ideology than do those in the bottom quintile.” Research suggests that when voters gain more information, they shift to support more liberal policies and parties. In the current system, much of the problem rests in the fact that low-income and middle-income voters don’t realize that conservatives are fleecing them. The rich do realize they benefit fromRepublicans, and therefore have an incentive to turn out. Commentators who suggest that the two parties are the same, rather than galvanizing Democrats toward more progressive policies, may be simply keeping conservatives in power.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Why the GOP hates U.S. history: Inconvenient truths that freak out American conservatives

Conservative hero Ben Carson is worried about American teenagers joining ISIS. But it’s not because of “radical Islam.” It’s because of new high school history standards.

American’s right wing, you see, is terrified of history because it is always sentimentalizing it. Many of its arguments rely on a feeling of nostalgia for “good old days,” that appeals almost exclusively to aging whites. That means that a more accurate history, one that considers groups that are traditionally marginalized — women, people of color, Native Americans, immigrants and the poor — don’t necessarily sit that well. Their stories, the stories of the downtrodden, crush the false narrative that many conservatives like to imagine — that of a idyllic past marred by the New Deal, women’s liberation and civil rights.

In Jefferson County, Colorado, a school board recently tried to limit the historical curriculum to only events that would, “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” Needless to say, much of American history — the Great Depression, the Trail of Tears and the internment of Japanese-Americans — would, under those parameters, need to obfuscated. The Republic National Committee, meanwhile, has issued a statement calling the new Advanced Placement U.S. History standards ”radically revisionist.” But conservatives may want to take the plank out of their own eye before examining the speck in their neighbors. Here are the most important distortions of history the right has promoted recently.

Before Welfare, Everything Was Awesome 

Example: Marvin Olasky’s “Tragedy of American Compassion,” which argues, “Americans in urban areas a century ago faced many of the problems we face today, and they came up with truly compassionate solutions.”

The Problem: As with most conservative revisionism, the idea is that before nasty programs like welfare, the poor did just fine, because private charity aided them. Many conservatives will argue that the War on Poverty has done nothing to reduce poverty and instead we should rely on private charity. But the War on Poverty has actually done much to eliminate poverty and private charity could never fill that chasm that would open up if federal poverty programs were eliminated. So how did we get rid of poverty before government? The answer is that there never was a mythical time without government.

As Mike Konczal writes,

“There has always been a mixed welfare state made up of private and public organizations throughout our country’s history. Outdoor relief, or cash assistance outside of institutions, was an early legal responsibility of American towns, counties, and parishes from colonial times through the early nineteenth century.”

Later, Congress established a pension system for civil war veterans that consumed about 25 percent of all government spending. Rather than “welfare queens” being a post New-Deal development, some 40 states had programs to support single mothers in 1920. In fact, far from being an invention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and liberals, social insurance programs are staple in civil society. Frederik Pedersen finds that back in the 10th through 12th centuries, Iceland had an extensive social welfare program. Rome, too, had a system of public support designed to aid poor children.

Elizabeth Bruenig notes that the purely voluntary Church-based social insurance many Christians adore never existed. Conservatives ignore the fact that the church was often acting in accord with the state, “You couldn’t just not tithe; the Church would get it out of you somehow, and even had specific statutes related to methods of tithing which fit it into the schema of secular taxation.” Islamic public assistance was also a hybrid church-state institution. The idea that there has ever been a successful purely voluntary public assistance program is a conservative myth invented to justify dismantling anti-poverty programs in the name of a utopian fantasy.

Basically everything about slavery 

Example: Recently convicted felon and conservative columnist Dinesh D’Souza’s book, “The End of Racism,” provides some great examples of rewriting race. D’Souza says of slavery, “No free workers enjoyed a comparable social security system from birth until death.” Later, he writes, “Masters … encouraged the family unit which basically remained intact.” He concludes, “In summary, the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

The Problem: Conservatives in the U.S. have a race problem, specifically that many of them believe that blacks are “primarily responsible for their own success or failure” and that government programs only get in the way. And conservative politicians tend to racialize welfare programs to decrease support for them. To believe that black Americans would have been better off without government intervention, you have to pretend history doesn’t matter.

As Marx notes, people, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” There simply is little mobility for black Americans today because the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and housing segregation still weighs heavily. A recent study finds that counties with higher concentrations of slave ownership in 1870 had higher levels of poverty and racial inequality in 2000. Further, white people in these counties harbor more racial resentment.

That’s because when slavery permeated society — the legal structure, culture, science — nothing was left untouched by racism and racial hierarchy. The conservative “I built this myself” mentality denies that most wealth is passed from generation to generation, and so is privilege. Erasing the memory of racial hierarchy allows conservatives and Americans to pretend that individual effort, rather than structural racism, is keeping black people down.

So what was slavery really like? Jennifer Hallam writes, “Economic benefit almost always outweighed considerations of family ties for planters, even those who were advocates of long-lasting relationships between slaves.” Rather than being “relatively mild,” slavery relied on brutality and violence, the horrors of which are described in Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s “Bury Me in a Free Land”:

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood with each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

And, of course, racism and racial hierarchy didn’t end when slavery was formally abolished, but rather continued through local policies, terrorism and violence. This violence was often orchestrated at the highest levels of government. Consider, for example, the FBI’s attempts to discredit MLK or the assassination of Black Panther Fred Hampton.

In his response to Phil Robertson’s sentimentalism about the Jim Crow era last year, Ta-Nehisi Coates cites Freddie Moore:

“The corpse of 16-year-old Freddie Moore, his face showing signs of a severe beating, hands bound, remained hanging for at least 24 hours from a metal girder on the old, hand-cranked swing bridge spanning Bayou Lafourche. Hanged by the neck the night of Oct. 11, 1933, in a mob lynching, the black youth had been accused in the death of a neighbor, a white girl.”

And racial violence didn’t end in the ’30s, but continued until through the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and, well, two months ago.

U.S. foreign policy

Example: Conservative foreign policy is dictated by a small coterie of conquistadors. These people are called “neo-conservatives.” Some people claim neoconservatives have no uniting vision; in fact, the basis of neo-conservativism is a belief that imperial violence can spread democracy. To maintain this myth, the long history of imperialism must be re-written. Thus the official RNC statement on the AP controversy laments that “the [AP] Framework excludes discussion of the U.S. military (no battles, commanders or heroes) …” and “presents a biased and inaccurate view of many important events in American history, including American involvement in WWII, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.”

The Problem: Imperial violence cannot spread democracy. America’s foreign policy history is littered with failed attempts to impose our ideas on others — often with the ulterior motive of stealing resources. As Mark Twain writes, “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.” Among the other examples of horrifying and cynical use of American power conservatives may wish to avoid:

  • Reagan supporting the Contras, a fascist junta: Much of Reagan’s presidency is now hagiography, rather than history. Because of this, it’s often hard to remember how awful the group that Reagan called “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers” truly was. Truth is, the Nicaraguan Contras were known for their brutality. And where did Reagan get the money to support the brutes? Why, by selling weapons to Iran. Yes, the Iran that George W. Bush later called a member of the Axis of Evil. The International Court of Justice ruled against the U.S. for violating another country’s sovereignty and laying mines in Nicaragua’s harbors, but the U.S. ignored the decision.
  • Chemical weapons: Before the U.S. joined forces with Assad to fight ISIS, he was public enemy number one for allegedly using chemical weapons on civilian populations. But the U.S. has used chemical weapons on a range and scale that Assad could hardly even fathom. During the Vietnam war, the U.S. dumped between 12 and 18 million gallons of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people. At least 1 million Vietnamese had defects or disabilities caused by U.S. chemical attacks. And those chemical weapons we judged Saddam Hussein so harshly for using? The U.S. not only knew the attacks were coming, we gave Hussein intelligence on strategic sites to attack.
  • Screwing up democracy: Sure, America supports democracy — unless that democracy will do something to hurt business interests. Among acts that qualify: nationalizing oil fieldsraising minimum wages and boosting literacy. In place, we installed brutal, murderous dictators — but only ones that would push through economic “reforms” and play ball when we needed.
  • Prolonging the Vietnam War: Richard Nixon intentionally sabotaged the Paris Peace Accords to undermine Lyndon Johnson’s chances of winning the Presidency. In the wake of the failure, the war continued for two long and bloody years, made more horrifying by Nixon’s secret carpet bombing of Cambodia.

Then there’s the support of genocidal maniacs like SuhartoMontt and Khan. And that’s just the last half century!

Conclusion 

English philosopher Michael Oakeshott defines conservatism as “to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

There was a time when conservatism was a philosophy concerned primarily with wrestling with and understanding tradition and the limits of human reason and ability. However, these days conservatism is reactionary — it has been imbued with racism, conspiratorial thinking and a hyper-individualistic capitalism. Instead of questioning the limits of reason, it has jettisoned it. In its place remains free market dogmabad Biblical interpretation and a sentimentalized past. In place of reason and argument, most conservatives rely on fantasy and reminiscence. Allowing conservatives to redefine the past will be incredibly harmful.

As George Orwell notes, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

This article originally appeared on Salon. 

There is no American dream for black children

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, have once again made the nation consider the durability of racial injustice as a defining factor of the American experience. Black children go to increasingly segregated schools, experience significantly less mobility than whites and are far more likely to be incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. The American dream has always been defined by upward mobility, but for black Americans, it’s harder to get into the middle class, and a middle-class lifestyle is more precarious.

There are numerous factors that help explain why blacks have lower levels of upward mobility, but a surprisingly unpersuasive one is family structure. Conservatives like to tout the research of Raj Chetty and others who find that, “The fraction of children living in single-parent households is the single strongest correlate of upward income mobility among all the variables we explored.” But this observation comes with a caveat — children in two-parent households fare worse in areas with large numbers of single parents. There is reason to believe the causation is reversed. Rather than single-parent households causing low upward mobility, low upward mobility and rampant poverty lead to single-parenthood.

Two researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research — Melissa Schettini Kearney and Phillip B. Levine — find that single motherhood is largely driven by poverty and inequality, not the other way around. They write,

The combination of being poor and living in a more unequal (and less mobile) location, like the United States, leads young women to choose early, non-marital childbearing at elevated rates, potentially because of their lower expectations of future economic success.

A report by the British Rowntree Foundation had a similar finding: “Young people born into families in the higher socio-economic classes spend a long time in education and career training, putting off marriage and childbearing until they are established as successful adults.” Women in the slow track, in contrast, face “a disjointed pattern of unemployment, low-paid work and training schemes, rather than an ordered, upward career trajectory.” This is largely due to “truncated education.”

Most recently, Bhashkar Mazumder finds that, among those between the late 1950s and early 1980s, 50 percent of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income scale remained in the same position, while only 26 percent of white children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income scale remained in the same position. His research finds that the role of two-parent families for mobility is less important than conservatives assert. While living in a two-parent households increases upward mobility for blacks, it has no effect on upward mobility for white children, nor does it affect downward mobility for either race.  If marriage has a significant effect, it is not marriage per se, but rather income and parenting effects that are at work; married people by default have more incomes and more time to spend with children. The solution, then, is paid leave, universal pre-K and government-provided daycare, not wealthy conservatives clutching their pearls and chastising young people for not getting hitched.

So, marriage fails to explain black-white gaps in mobility. What, then, is responsible for the lack of upward mobility among blacks?

1. Housing segregation

Racial segregation explains how it’s so easy for the black middle class to slip back into poverty. As sociologist John R. Logan writes, “The most recent census data show that on average, black and Hispanic households live in neighborhoods with more than one and a half times the poverty rate of neighborhoods where the average non-Hispanic white lives.” This has profound implications for upward mobility.

A 2009 study by Patrick Sharkey finds that, “Neighborhood poverty alone accounts for a greater portion of the black-white downward mobility gap than the effects of parental education, occupation, labor force participation, and a range of other family characteristics combined.” Sharkley finds that if black and white children grew up in similar environments, the downward mobility gap would shrink by 25-to-33 percent. As the chart below shows, black children are far more likely to grow up in high poverty disadvantaged neighborhoods, which makes upward mobility difficult. (Source)

2. War on drugs and mass incarceration

The war on drugs disproportionately targets people of color: One in 12 working-age African-American men are incarcerated. While whites and blacks use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession. The U.S. prison population grew by 700 percent between 1970 and 2005, while the general population grew only 44 percent. The effects of incarceration on upward mobility are profound.

Bruce Western finds that, “by age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.” This impact, however, is more profound for blacks. Western finds that incarceration reduces lifetime earnings for whites by 2 percent, but Hispanics and blacks by 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively. All of this means that men who are incarcerated will live a life at the bottom. For men who begin life in the lowest income quintile, only 2 percent of those who are incarcerated will make it into the top fifth, while 15 percent of those who are not incarcerated will.

3. Segregated employment opportunities

In “When Work Disappears,” Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson points to the importance of occupational segregation — the fact that African-Americans who are often concentrated in poor urban areas struggle to get jobs in the suburbs or places with a long commute. Only 2.9 percent of white workers rely on public transportation, compared to 8.3 percent of Latino workers and 11.5 percent percent of black workers.

An excellent example of occupational segregation is in Silicon Valley, where data released after pressure from advocacy groups like Color of Change suggests that at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and eBay, only 3 to 4 percent of workers are black or Hispanic. However, a study by Working Partnerships USA finds that, “While Blacks and Latinos make up only 3 to 4 percent of the disclosed companies’  core tech workforce, they are 41 percent of all private security guards in Silicon Valley, 72 percent of all janitorial and building cleaning workers, and 76 percent of all grounds maintenance workers.” (Source)

Much of the problem is social networks. Recent research by Nancy DiTomaso finds that favoritism perpetuates inequality, even in the absence of racial bias. She finds that most employees relied on social networks to obtain a majority of the jobs they held in their lifetime. Because social networks tend to be segregated, this fosters occupational segregation. Miles Corak shows that many children get their first job through their parents, further solidifying the effect of social networks on occupational segregation.

Marianne Bertrand finds that changing the names on résumés to those that are traditionally white or black affects call-backs for jobs. White-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview. She also finds that whites with better résumés were 30 percent more likely to get a call-back than whites with worse résumés, but for blacks, more experience only increased call-backs by 9 percent. Another barrier to employment can be social networks.

4. Wealth gaps

Wealth is an important part of a middle-class lifestyle. When a family or individual is struck with illness or the loss of a job, wealth provides support. When a child attends college or is trying to get on his or her feet, a family with wealth can help pay the bills. The large wealth gaps between black families and white families, then, helps explain why black families have such high levels of downward mobility. The recently released Survey of Consumer Finances allows us an opportunity to examine wealth gaps. Matt Bruenig finds that, “The median white family has a net worth of $134,000. The median Hispanic family has a net worth of $14,000. The median black family has a net worth of $11,000.”

Between 2007 and 2010, all racial groups lost large amounts of wealth. However, the effects fell disproportionately on Hispanics and blacks, who saw a 44 percent and 31 percent reduction in wealth, compared to an 11 percent drop for whites. This was due to blacks and Latinos disproportionately receiving subprime loans, both because of outright lending discrimination and housing segregation. A recent research brief by the Institution on Assets and Social Policy finds that the wealth gap between white families and African-Americans has tripled between 1984 and 2009. They find five main factors responsible for driving the gap, which together explain 66 percent of the growth in inequality. The factors, in order of importance, are number of years of homeownership, household income, unemployment, college education and financial support or inheritance

5. Two-tiered education system

The U.S. increasingly has a two-tiered education system, with students of color trapped in underfunded schools. (Source)  A recent study finds that, “schools with 90 percent or more students of color spend a full $733 less per student per year than schools with 90 percent or more white students.”

Schools today are becoming more segregated, rather than less segregated. The average white student attends a school that is 72.5 percent white and 8.3 percent black, while the average black student attends a school that is only 27.6 percent white, but is 48.8 percent black. These schools are underfunded and understaffed. In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit after 18 public schools had “literature classes without books,” computer classes where students discuss what they would do if they had computers, “classes without regular teachers” and classes without enough seats where students stood in the back.

Mazumder finds that student scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (a comprehensive test taken toward the last few years of high school) can help explain differences in upward mobility between blacks and whites. He also finds that completing 16 years of education is a crucial factor in upward mobility. The fact that AFQT scores help predict upward mobility is often used by those who argue that racial differences in intelligence largely explain differences in upward mobility. However, since the AFQT is taken in high school, a better explanation is that differences in AFQT scores represent the combined impacts of poverty, bad schools, wealth gaps, substandard healthcare and segregated employment opportunities working together to reduce long-term mobility.

The idea that there are biological factors reducing upward mobility for African-Americans is both odious and entirely false. As Nathaniel Hendren told me when discussing his research,

We can absolutely reject that theory. In order to believe that theory, you have to believe that the spacial differences across the U.S. are differences in some kind of transmission of genes. Suppose you move from one area to another and you have a kid. Does your kid pick up the mobility characteristics of the place you go to? Now obviously, your genes don’t change when you move. What we find is that kids start to pick up the mobility characteristics of the place they move to, and they do so in the proportion to the amount of time they end up spending in that place. The majority of the differences across places are casual. If people lived in different places, they would have different outcomes.

This all leads to the saddest conclusion — were it not for poorly conceived policies, we could have more upward mobility in the U.S. While conservatives like to point at cultural factors and throw up their hands, a far more productive solution is to redress our massive public policy problems — like the war on drugs and dropout mill schools — that are proven to reduce upward mobility.

The conservative mind-set is ahistorical — we are told to throw away the legacy of slavery and segregation and expect blacks to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, ignoring the structural dynamics keeping them down. Research by Graziella Bertocchi and Arcangelo Dimico finds that counties with higher concentrations of slave ownership in 1870 had higher levels of poverty and racial inequality in 2000. Matthew Blackwell finds that Southerners who live in counties with higher levels of slave ownership in 1860 express more racial resentment and are more likely to oppose affirmative action. As Marx noted, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

 

 

This article originally appeared on Salon.

How to tap latent conservative support for global warming policy

Both last month’s Senate Climate Talkathon and Tom Steyer’s $100 million dollarpledge to back environment-friendly candidates indicate the same thing: Democrats are getting serious about global warming again. But even when Democrats have managed to close ranks behind previous legislative efforts like Waxman-Markey, Republicans have stymied them. Can the left forge a coalition to tackle the problem?

The environment was once a bipartisan issue. The 1970 Clean Air Act, the 1972 Clean Water Act, and the 1973 Endangered Species Act were all passed with bipartisan support, as was legislation strengthening those acts in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, the environment has become increasingly divisive. Data from the Pew Research Center show that the decrease in support for environmental protection is not only very recent but also one-sided:

Despite that decline, Republican support for environmental causes is stronger than it might appear. Two Ph.D. students at the University of California Santa Barbara, Phillip Ehret and Aaron Sparks, found that a quarter of individuals self-identifying as “very conservative” or “conservative” support environmental regulations, even if they risk harming the economy. A Yale Study finds that 85 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans favor “regulating CO2 as a pollutant” and majorities from both parties favor investing in renewable energy. If Republican voters are concerned about the environment, haven’t we seen an action?

One explanation is that the framing of environmental issues is often anathema to conservatives. Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer’s important paper on the subject, “The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes,” finds that liberals view environmental issues as moral concerns informed by a harm principle, while conservatives view environmental issues through the lens of purity, and particularly for religious people, stewardship.

In 1971’s Octogesima Adveniens, Pope Paul VI laid out a religious case for protecting the environment, using the language of responsibility, duty to future generations, and purity—in other words, the conservative framing under Feinberg and Willer’s standards:

Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation … thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable …. The Christian must turn to these new perceptions in order to take on responsibility, together with the rest of men, for a destiny which from now on is shared by all.

In his 2006 “Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor,” E.O. Wilson showed how to use the religious framing in defense of the environment:

You have the power to help solve a great problem about which I care deeply. I hope you have the same concern. I suggest that we set aside our differences in order to save the Creation. The defense of living nature is a universal value. It doesn’t rise from, nor does it promote, any religious or ideological dogma. Rather, it serves without discrimination the interests of all humanity. Pastor, we need your help. The Creation—living nature—is in deep trouble.

The environmental movement has stumbled because it has not framed the issue as Wilson and Paul VI did. A 2012 study by Matthew C. Nisbet, Ezra M. Markowitz, and John E. Kotcher found that climate campaigns overwhelming frame the issue in terms of harm and care, fairness, and oppression of marginalized groups. These frames fall into what Feinberg and Willer would consider left-wing frames, alienating conservatives.

Adopting a more conservative framing wouldn’t lead to liberals winning more elections. More likely, moderate Republican and centrist thought leaders could make green policy a bipartisan initiative of the sort that was common during the Eisenhower, Nixon, and Bush Sr. days. There are already right-leaning pro-environment groups, like Atlanta’s Green Tea Coalition and Ducks Unlimited. That’s unlikely to be enough to bridge the divide. Because people are more likely to respond to arguments made by someone within their community than outside of it, progress depends on more Republican voices.

But Republican thought leaders and policymakers have abandoned the environment in droves. ThinkProgress calculates that 56 percent of Republicans in the current congress deny anthropogenic global warming. Among the general public, 26 percent of adults don’t believe global warming is real (although only 11 percent of Democrats do, versus 46 percent of Republicans and an astonishing 70 percent of Tea Partiers). Deborah Guber, a professor at University of Vermont,argues that there has been a concerted effort among right-leaning elites to downplay the environmental issue. “Partisan conflicts are not inherent in the subject of climate change,” she writes. “Party sorting seems to occur only as citizens acquire information and become familiar with elite cues.” This helps explain the lack of political movement, despite evidence that conservative voters are concerned about the degradation of the environment.

Guber notes the infamous 2003 Frank Luntz memo arguing that the environment was the issue on which Republicans were most vulnerable. “The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science,” Luntz wrote. “A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth.” Funders took Luntz’s idea and ran with it—with impressive success. A Drexel University study released in December bolsters the idea of a concerted denial campaign led by elites. The survey found that the climate-denial movement consists of 91 organizations supported by 140 primarily conservative foundations.

“The Republicans and (at least a large part of) the business community are against doing anything about climate change, because doing something about it would mean government intervention in the economy, which is ideologically bad but also having tangible and real economic costs on certain segments of the business world,” Benjamin Radcliff, a professor of politics at Notre Dame, told me.

Regulating greenhouse gases would hurt some big businesses. If IPCC estimates are correct, some 80 percent of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain unused. That presents a risk for companies like Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil—companies whose donations give them an outsize influence on the political process. Recently, Exxon said it is “highly unlikely” that governments would implement policies to significantly reduce emissions. (Just to be sure, the company has donated millions to climate denial groups.)

Tom Steyer’s example aside, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page find “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” And elites are less likely to be concerned about climate change than other citizens. Benjamin I. Page, Larry M. Bartels, and Jason Seawright have found that the issue ranks below “the loss of traditional values,” budget deficits, and inflation among policy priorities for the wealthy. While the wealthy in their study generally favored reducing spending on the environment (the difference between “expanded” and “cut back” was -8) the public strongly favored increasing spending (+29).

Internationally, the environment isn’t so polarized. Right-leaning politicians like David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have embraced the environment, and Angela Merkel won reelection in part by promising to phase out nuclear energy in favor of renewables. And within the U.S., some Democratic governors in red states have had success pursuing environmental issues. In Wyoming, the most conservative state in the country, Dave Freudenthal’s administration focused on a long-term strategy for resource extraction that included, among other things, preserving the state’s forests and regulating hydraulic fracking. The result: a reelection margin of 20 percent and a reputation as one of the most popular governors in the country, including 66 percent approval among Republicans.

But at the national level in the United States, environmental progress has been stymied by elites with a vested interest in fostering denial and the economic means to do so. This is not an easily surmountable challenge, but the polling reveals that underlying support offers hope for moving climate-change policy forward; and unlike hot-button issues like abortion or gay rights, the policy solutions are well agreed-upon. Yet the environmental movement has not helped itself by framing the issue in terms that appeal mostly to the converted. Activists will find more success if they focus on promoting sanctity and responsibility, showing how protecting the environment is economically beneficial and leaving a legacy for future generations.

Originally published on The Atlantic.

The plight of conservative comedy: Where’s the right’s Daily Show?

Fox News has astronomically high ratings. Rush Limbaugh rules talk radio. But liberals dominate political comedy. The few attempts to create a conservative satire show have either not found mainstream success (News Busted, a YouTube series with views typically in the low 30,000s), aired far outside of prime time (Red Eye, filling Fox’s 3 a.m. slot), or been promptly cancelled (Half Hour News Hour, with 13 episodes on Fox). Are right-leaning satires doomed to failure?

The creators of Flipside don’t think so. Their once-a-week program, in the vein ofThe Daily Show or The Colbert Report but with a generally conservative tilt, hosted by comedian Michael Loftus, will premiere this fall. Can it work?

* * *

Most explanations for why Republican-friendly satire struggles pin blame on conservative philosophy. Comedian Mike Macrae told me in an email,

Most American comedy traditions stem from the concept of resisting or questioning authority on some level. Our comedy is about rascals and rule-breakers. Mark Twain skewered the notion of Europe’s cultural hegemony over the rustic New World and its new nation of upstarts. Most Marx Brothers movies are essentially about them evading some arbitrarily deputized authority figure, be it the hotel detective or the sailor in charge of finding stowaways. Cheech and Chong wouldn’t be as funny if marijuana weren’t made pointlessly illegal by right-wing cultural pressures. The common thread in these and other American comedy staples has been that the foils are generally motivated by values that we tend to associate with conservatism or, in some cases, the Republican Party platform itself.

Alison Dagnes, an academic who examined politics and comedy in her book A Conservative Walks Into a Bar, came away with the conclusion that:

The nature of conservatism does not meet the conditions necessary for political satire to flourish: conservatism is harmonized and slow to criticize people in power, and it originates from a place that repudiates humor because it is absolute.

These theories may sound attractive—especially to liberals—but suffer from deep deficiencies. For one: Humor doesn’t rely on the objective nature of the social structure, but rather, one’s subjective understanding of it, which is often fraught with bias. For instance, majority of Republicans think that racial discrimination against whites is as bad as discrimination against minorities. “During the last four decades the Republicans and conservatives in general have conceded a lot of the progressive premises,” Kfir Alfia, one of the executive producers of Flipside, told me. “I would question that premise that conservatives are in a state of, or a position of authority.”

What’s more, skepticism of authority is a conservative tenet itself. It was the great conservative philosopher was Edmund Burke who said, “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” In the Obama era, there are plenty of liberal institutions ripe for mockery. South Park has brilliantly lampooned many of the left’s excesses, from PETA, to raceenvironmentalismAl Gore, San Francisco smugnessabortiontoleranceanti-smoking activists and celebritieslots of celebrities.

So philosophy isn’t the problem. Indeed, history shows that conservative-leaning comedy isn’t inherently unviable. Half Hour News Hour, for example, did well in its time slot despite weak reviews. Financial concerns, not low viewership, killed it. “Essentially, they were trying to run a broadcast show on a cable budget,” Matthew Sheffield, an executive producer atFlipside told me. “It was a lot cheaper to run Oliver North’s ancient war clip show than it was to do that.”

Before Comedy Central settled on the Colbert Report/Daily Show model, it hadTough Crowd With Colin Quinn, a well-liked panel comedy show with many very funny conservative commentators in conversation with liberal ones. (For a representative segment, watch the famous Giraldo/Leary fight over North Korea.)But Tough Crowd struggled with ratings, especially with younger audiences, so it was cancelled to make room for Colbert. Before Tough Crowd, there was Bill Maher’s Emmy-winning Politically Incorrect, which, unlike his current show on HBO, Real Time, had more equally balanced panels and less demagoguery.

* * *

So if philosophy isn’t preventing conservative comedy from flourishing, what is? Structural, demographic, and financial issues.

Successful comics often rise up out of thriving, crowded standup scenes, which tend to mainly exist in urban areas. Jon Stewart, for instance, spent five years in the New York City comedy world before landing a show on TVBig cities tend to be liberal, and it stands to reason that so would be the people who attend comedy clubs in them. Funny urbanites who are conservative may decide that there just isn’t much of a market for their political material. One comedian who I was referred to declined to be interviewed because, the comedian said, the conservative label, “has never been good to me.”

Similar impediments exist in the entertainment industry, which has a not-undeserved reputation for being run mainly by liberals. “People always ask why there aren’t a lot of really big conservative comedians but I think the deck is stacked against that and I doubt it will ever happen in my lifetime,” Nick Dipaolotold The Daily Caller, mentioning that he suspected that his politics were why HBO wouldn’t air a recent hour-long special he taped. There just aren’t many outlets for conservative comics. The feeling, as Stephen Kruiser writes on Breitbart, is that “most liberals in the entertainment industry expose themselves to conservatives about as readily as they would a leper colony.”

But the problem for right-leaning televised comedy may also have to do with audiences. Historically, it’s young people who have favored news mixed with humor, and polls have shown young people trending liberal for years. Fox News’ viewership is older, of a different generation than any up-and-coming standup comics, and many of its members hold pretty traditional views. That’s not exactly the audience that’ll help nurture boundary-pushing, conversation-making comedy. On Half-Hour News Hour, for instance, one writer complained that “the best material we wrote was rejected because the network considered it too controversial.”

In fact, the closest thing Fox News has to The Daily Show (Red Eye) is broadcast at 3 a.m. In Fox style, the show primarily takes the form of a panel and doesn’t include the more expensive-to-produce field pieces. Its racy humor might be off-putting to much of Fox’s primetime audience, but it’s doing relatively well with young people.

* * *

Loftus already has had a successful career as a comic and a writer. He has an hour-long special to his name (You’ve Changed) and he can woo a city crowd (he often stops by Hollywood Improv in LA for a set). Though I’m a liberal, I’ve enjoyed his bits before (and was excited to see him hosting the show).

If Flipside succeeds, it might be because in this era where high-quality web videos for niche audiences are thriving, it can avoid some of the structural obstacles other attempts at conservative satire have faced. Flipside’s looking for broadcast distribution, but it’ll also try to build an audience online. One of its producers, Kfir Alfia, has worked in TV before and seen “really, really funny things go through a horrible development process and have the funny squeezed out of them,” he says. “We’re not going to have a board of directors with a stick-up-their-ass network to have battles regarding content.”

The pilot episode of Flipside proves there’s plenty of potential material, though the punch lines could use some tuning. One bit mocks Harrison Ford for warning about the effects of global warming and then “flying his plane to get a hamburger.” It’s a promising setup, but the payoff—Mattera spraying aerosol cans in studio—falls flat. Another bit lampooning the possible Hillary Clinton documentaries is funny, but a jab about her attractiveness stuck me as gauche.

Of course, politically infused comedy from both sides of the spectrum is tough to pull off. As Norm Macdonald put it to me, “The problem with coming to comedy with any ideology is the surprise is gone. We know the punchline.” Marc Maron told me that he moved away from his more overtly liberal jokes, because “when you’re doing ideological comedy, from a point of view that pre-exists you, it’s very tricky not to carry water for someone else’s agenda.” The Daily Show, for example, seems aware of this. Jon Stewart happily mocks Democrats, drawing vituperative harangues from lefty viewers. The first great conservative comedy show will put humor before ideology. As Mark Twain noted, “Humor is never artificial.”

Originally published on The Atlantic.

Do Conservatives have a philosophy? Do Liberals?

Jonathan Chait is great.

When he’s not writing on the Keystone XL pipeline he’s generally pretty solid; I imagine we have deep disagreements, but presently, with a Republican party largely off the hinges, he’s writing on stuff I agree with. One qualm I stumbled upon:

And not because conservatives are necessarily more stubborn. (Indeed, on an individual level, liberals may well be just as stubborn as conservatives.) Rather, conservatism, unlike liberalism, overlays a deeper set of philosophical principles.Conservatives believe that big government impinges upon freedom. They may also believe that big government imposes large costs on the economy. But, for a true conservative, whatever ends they think smaller government may bring about–greater prosperity, economic mobility for the non-rich–are almost beside the point. As Milton Friedman wrote, “[F]reedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself.”

As far as I can tell, this is total bunk. For one, I’ve met a lot of liberals and all of their political decisions are formed by deeply philosophical principles. Chait essentially contradicts himself in his next paragraph:

We’re accustomed to thinking of liberalism and conservatism as parallel ideologies, with conservatives preferring less government and liberals preferring more. The equivalency breaks down, though, when you consider that liberals never claim that increasing the size of government is an end in itself. Liberals only support larger government if they have some reason to believe that it will lead to material improvement in people’s lives. Conservatives also want material improvement in people’s lives, of course, but proving that their policies can produce such an outcome is a luxury, not a necessity.

Now, liberals do have an underlying set of philosophical principles, i.e. utilitarianism. Conservatives, in Chait’s telling are more concerned with ideology i.e. government is always bad. In this paragraph it is the liberals with the deep philosophical claims, while the conservatives are simply reactionary. I would argue that, in fact, conservatives are likely right that a material improvement in someone’s life should not be the end-all, be-all of politics, because millenia of existing as human beings confirm that far more important to well-being are family, community, a sense of purpose and fulfilling work.

There was a time when conservative philosophy was represented in Republican policies, and not a reactionary conservatism, a conservatism that was logically coherent and powerfully persuasive, one that made you think (read: Michael Oakeshott or Leo Strauss or Carl Schmitt and, if I’m being gracious, Chesterton – though never Lewis). Now, that tradition is in shambles, mainly because the Republican party is no longer informed by a coherent set of underlying principles. That’s why Jon Stewart can satirize them so successfully, they are entirely nihilist. Chait recognizes this, in his newest piece on the EITC when he talks about a proposal that is once accepted by Republicans is immediately denounced when their opponents cite it. This is not philosophy, it is, ultimately, nihilism.

I grant that in politics, the lines of your philosophy are blurred. But you can still get a general reading. The humor that Stewart creates is in showing that all of the modern Republican party’s pretensions toward traditions and such are empty – their goal is to forward the plutocratic agenda, it is pure class politics. Chait believes Republicans want small government for no reason. What? No one just hates government out of nowhere; Republicans have a reason for it – primarily, helping those who benefit from smaller government (i.e. richie riches). I don’t know inside their hearts, but I’m guessing this because when big government helps wealthy donors (farm subsidies) the party has trouble getting rid of it. There are libertarians as well, their political program is also informed by philosophical principles – different from my own, but philosophical nonetheless.

I wish there were more people like Andrew Sullivan who really wrestled with their traditions to come up with a realistic conservative political program. When that happens, we could say that the right was infused with political philosophy. As it is, it’s just naked class interests (which is why Sullivan has distanced himself from the Republican party). Liberals, as far as I can tell, have a better, if not incomplete political philosophy, rather than a reactionary program of class interest.

If conservatives aren’t funny, are they wrong?

I’m in the final editing process of a piece for The Atlantic about whether conservatives can be funny. It’s been a long time in the making, so I’m really excited to get it out there. Today at the gym I was watching the Nantucket Film Festival’s Comedy Roundtable 2012 with Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jim Carrey and Bill Hader.* At one point in the discussion (around 15 mins) Carrey interrupts and asks what makes something funny. After some discussion (at 18 mins), Ben Stiller says, “the truth.” I don’t want to give away my take coming up, but if “truth” is funny, and someone is arguing that conservatives aren’t, isn’t she saying that conservatives can never say anything true? Is that a proposition she wants to accept? Can she avoid arguing that?

P.S. Not going to lie, neither of these roundtables are particularly impressive. Far better is Talking Funny

* They’ve done two and so far had no female panelists and Rock was the only black one. In a very embarrassing moment in the 2012 one, the panelists are asked to name a female comedian they admire and Hader forwards Wiig. She is the only female comedian mentioned in the entire round table. **

** This is, of course, absurd. I regularly go to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and frequently see hilarious female comedians. Off the top of my head, Amy Shumer, Kathleen Madigan, Aubrey Plaza, Maria Bamford, Natasha Leggero…

 

Edit: I realize that if you don’t know what I’m writing about, these questions sound logically absurd. That is, many, if not most truths, are not funny. What I mean by my question is that, if there is truth in conservatism, than it could most certainly be expressed in a funny way. So is the idea that conservatives can’t be funny just a sneaky way of saying, “facts have a well-know liberal bias”? Is it hubris?