Monday, September 27, 2010

Wealth, Education, Youth, Ethnicity And The U.S. Economy's 'New Normal'

By Manifesto Joe

Judging from what the polls are telling us, the American people are on the verge of being rendered a drooling mass of chumps yet again -- by Republicans once more calling for continued low taxes on the wealthy and big corporate interests, while relentlessly whittling away at the labor arrangements and social safety net that made the U.S. middle class of the 20th century possible in the first place.

The most recent comprehensive polls in Texas put President Obama's approval rating in the state at 36.8%, compared with 57.5% of likely voters who disapprove. The approval rating for Obama is much lower in some of the major population areas, like where I live. Even though gubernatorial challenger Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, has distanced himself from Obama, what this probably means is that Texans are going to re-elect Governor Rick "Goodhair" Perry, who would then be on track to be the state's chief executive for 14 years.

The poll, conducted Sept. 15-22 by Blum & Weprin Associates, also breaks down in some interesting ways. Obama does best among certain distinct groups.

Young Voters

Among those under 30, Obama gets 52.3% approval, compared with 38.7% disapproval. This could be spun in different ways. Republicans would suggest that Obama has retained popularity among inexperienced idealists. Democrats would suggest that perhaps the younger voters have not yet been so thoroughly immersed in the right-wing brainwashing that seems to pervade the current U.S. political climate.

Ethnic and/or Racial Minorities

Obama has a 93% approval rating among African-Americans, compared with only 5% disapproval. The obvious GOP spin: Obama is black. The Democratic spin: African-Americans are also much less likely to believe much of what the likes of Fox News disseminates. Me thinks they've been lied to before.

Among Hispanics, the trend is similar, though not as overwhelming. Some 66% approve, and 28% disapprove, of Obama's performance.


I suppose this should be a no-brainer, since wealthier Americans have enjoyed lower taxes than residents of the rest of the developed world for many, many years, and they want to keep it that way. Obama isn't even suggesting dramatic changes, but any changes are enough to piss off richer people. That's the kind of self-centered society Americans consist of now. Those making $100,000-plus a year disapprove of Obama, 64-30. As one moves down the income categories, Obama's popularity shifts among Texans making under $30,000 a year. They like him, 51-45.

Republicans would resort to obvious elitism here -- the "successful" people tend to dislike Obama, and the "layabouts" figure him as a more likely source of new handouts. An opposite spin -- it's been my experience that most people in higher income brackets have always been there, and have no serious idea of what life is like for less fortunate folks. The latter group knows all too well.


This may be the most revealing statistic. Obama doesn't do badly, in Texas at least, among the least educated. Less than high school: 44% approve, 53% disapprove. Among high school graduates, it's 43-53, statistically the same. Obama fares worst among those with "some college" -- only 18% approve, while 71% disapprove. It gets a little better among college graduates, at 32-63.

But here's the part that may be the most telling. Among Texans reporting "college-plus" as their education -- people with graduate or professional degrees -- Obama gets a 56% approval rating, compared to 41% disapproval.

We can get into some serious elitism here. There's an old saying that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, hence the Tea Party level of popularity of Obama among Texans reporting "some college." If I remember students like these accurately from my college days, they lasted in the academic world just long enough to get the idea that they really knew something, when they actually didn't know much at all. They often lacked either the intelligence or the discipline to finish the job.

Of course, the Republican spin on this would recall former House Majority Leader Dick Armey's condemnation of fellow academics. Such people, Armey said, have absolutely no idea of what it's like to go out and make a living in the real, private-sector world. This from a guy who came to prominence as an economist teaching at a state university, who was on the public payroll for years and years before gaining a more lucrative position on the public payroll as a member of Congress.

As a person who lasted in the academic world long enough to get a master's, my observation is that my peers are intelligent enough to know that the current economic morass took 30 years to make. It didn't start as soon as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took the reins of Congress in January 2007. But, it's often quite convenient for Republicans to be one-dimensional thinkers, and even to distort the facts as they see fit. If you happen to be holding the bag right now, it doesn't matter to such political opportunists what kind of policy travesties were ongoing in the 1980s. (What we have here is often too many business administration courses, and not enough history and economics.)

The New Normal

The two obvious megatrends in the U.S. economy from the 1970s until late 2007, when the bubble burst, were: (1) deregulation, particularly in the realm of high finance, and (2) "supply-side" economics, the remarkable belief, even against empirical evidence, that giving tax bonanzas to rich people and big corporations will create jobs and put the economy in overdrive.

Call it the New Gilded Age. This ruse went on for so long that, despite its rather obvious cumulative failure, "supply-side" still has a huge following. I can understand how it started. By 1980, the U.S. was suffering from what is called demand-pull inflation -- too many dollars chasing too few goods. An economic correction was admittedly needed.

But once Reagan and his cronies got in office, their long-range intentions quickly became clear. Cut taxes on the rich and on corporations, while quietly raising them on working people in the form of high Social Security payroll taxes. Look the other way while companies are exporting jobs to low-wage countries. The wealthy types that these people represented never liked the higher marginal tax rates needed to maintain even a modest welfare state, nor did they like the labor arrangements that forced them to pay living wages to Middle America. The middle class of the 20th century is gradually dismantled, leaving the U.S. with an ever-richer elite while the rest of us settle for scraps from the rich man's table.

It worked just well enough, and just long enough, for some Americans to prosper and become true believers. As for me, and many others like me, I'm still waiting for my "trickle-down" from the first time. It always felt and smelled more like "tinkle-down" to me.

Here's a link to a good article on the subject: "The New Normal: What to Expect of Our Economy."

Even a crusty old capitalist like Henry Ford understood that the economy doesn't do as well if you're not paying working people enough for them to be able to actually afford the products that they are making. Now, they often can't even afford the ones being imported from Mexico and Indonesia, being made by people who now have the jobs that used to exist here.

The demand side matters, too. But the poll numbers are clear. Americans are being duped, yet again. It looks like they are going to need more than one lesson.

And it looks like they are going to get more than one lesson.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Jack Jodell said...

"If I remember students like these accurately from my college days, they lasted in the academic world just long enough to get the idea that they really knew something, when they actually didn't know much at all. They often lacked either the intelligence or the discipline to finish the job."

That was a very apt observation with which I totally agree. I also agree wholeheartedly that 1980s higher ed concentrated far too heavily on business administration and nowhere near enough on history, geography, and economics.
I think you have made a brilliantly accurate and concise summation of the fallacies conservative economists and politicians have been feeding us for the past 30 years, You have also plainly laid out the damage implementation of such policies has done. As far as I'm concerned, the deregulation and "trickle down" tenets these same groups have been preaching are absolute economic heresy. Hats off to you for this post, Manifesto Joe! Now all we4 need is for the duped fools to wake up and see the light!

Tim McGaha said...

"What we have here is often too many business administration courses, and not enough history and economics."

At one time, I had a t-shirt that read:

"lim(GPA->0){Engineering} = Business Degree"

My wife (the accountant) didn't think it was funny.

But yes, there are a lot of chuckleheads over in the Business Building. Math is hard, and they avoid it whenever possible.