Archive for September 4th, 2011

Rationalizing Voter Suppression

Sometimes I run across an article that causes my jaw to drop in amazement that anybody would write such a thing.    A recent article at the website “American Thinker” is one of them.   In that article they say registering the poor to vote is un-American because the poor don’t pay taxes.    The article itself, apparently trying to rationalize voter suppression and create resentment of the poor, is a mess.   Most of the time it focuses on hard core Marxists of over forty years ago and even Trotskyists.   Apparently the author wants to somehow link these to Barack Obama and current democrats.

There are three especially perverse aspects of that argument.

1.  The article suggests that the Democrats want the poor to be poor in order to get votes through bribery.  In other words, all the rhetoric about wanting equal opportunity, helping those who have difficulty, insuring people get access to quality education and health care — as well as food for children — is a lie: to them, the Democrats don’t care about the poor except to get votes.

That would be despicable if it were true.   But Democrats from hardcore activists to people whose political action doesn’t go beyond voting are motivated by a desire for justice and to help people improve their lives.   Now, it may be that the Democratic approach is wrong — there are many good arguments one can make against a myriad of social welfare programs.   But the argument made in the article in American Thinker does go that route.   They say that the poor are just being bribed, that the Democrats are shaking down the rich to buy off the poor.

That is a fascistic argument.  I’m not saying that to call names, but fascism essentially operates by trying to deny the existence of politics.   Fascism sees politics as mob rule, destined to fail as politicians play populist games to get votes.   Therefore fascists try to deny the legitimacy of political differences and instead paint their opponents are morally depraved or fundamentally dishonest.   In the article the real issues of how to deal with social problems are defined away; rather you just have bad Democrats trying to bribe greedy poor people.

It’s also an insane argument.   The poor rarely vote.  You’re not going to win elections by trying to simply give to the poor.   The reason Democrats want to register the poor is to get them involved in the process.  The more involved you are in the process the more likely you are going to take your community seriously and improve your life.   The poor voter is more likely to work his or her way off welfare than one who is alienated.  The writers’ argument is not only wrong, if followed (dissuading the poor from voting) it would make the poor more likely to stay dependent on the state.

2.  It is clear class warfare, an effort to breed resentment of the poor and cause middle class folk, especially whites, to think that the Democrats simply represent lazy freeloaders.   Some poor folk may be lazy,  but most working class poor have recently lost a job, have had unexpected health care costs, or really want to find a way to make it on their own.    If their kids don’t get a solid education, health care, and basic nutrition, they won’t have a real opportunity to succeed — meaning a perpetual cycle of poverty and an increased chance of crime.

For the rich to resent the poor is perversion.  It’s the “haves” looking down their nose and scoffing at those who do not do as well, and then telling them “you should have no voice in the political system because you’re a loser.”   When President Obama wants to close a few loopholes people scream that he’s demonizing the rich — which he’s not.   The rich do very well in the US, we have the wealthiest top ten percent of income earners in the world by far.   Our bottom 10% are closer to third world states, and even our bottom sixty percent aren’t that well off relative to other countries.  If there’s class warfare, it’s coming from the right.

3.  The argument ignores reality.   Another blogger linked an article the other day from the CATO institute.   Like the American Thinker article, it plays rhetorical games but ignores reality.    Their claim:

Did you know that in Denmark, the poorest 30 percent pay 14.1 percent of all taxes and the richest pay 48.7 percent, while in the United States, the poorest 30 percent pay just 6.1 percent of all taxes and the richest 30 percent pay a whopping 65.3 percent?

From there the author asserts that our poorest pay less and get more, while our wealthy are bled.  Of course, the reality is quite different.    First, Scandinavian countries have poor pay in and then get more reimbursement — it’s only the reforms of Ronald Reagan that actually ended the poor paying in first.   Reagan was proud to get the poor off the tax roles.

However, to measure progressivity the only way is to look at the GINI index and see the before tax and transfer and after tax and transfer rate. The GINI index measures income distribution. 0 would be everyone earning the same, 1.00 would be one person with everything and another with nothing.

The US pre-tax and transfer GINI index is at .46, while Sweden is at .43, and Denmark and Norway are at .42. That means pre-tax they are slightly more even in income distribution, but not much. Germany has a bigger pre-tax gap between the rich and the poor than the US at .51.

After tax the US GINI index moves to .38 — a modest improvement.  After taxes and transfers Denmark is at .23. That’s right, taxes and transfers equalize wealth dramatically, the gap between the rich and the poor is least in all the industrialized world. This means the poor are much more even with the rich in Denmark. Sweden is also at .23, Norway is at .28, while Germany’s disparity narrows from .51 to .30. All of those systems are much more progressive than the US.  Most wealth stays with the rich here, the gap between the rich and the poor is higher in the US than ALL other OECD states except Portugal, with which we’re tied.  Poland is slightly better at .37 after taxes and transfers.

These arguments are signs that far right are relying on false arguments, based on distortion.   They do not have facts on their side.    It isn’t bad for the poor to vote, we do have the largest gap between the rich and poor, and our wealthy are doing very well.

This doesn’t mean Democratic programs work.   This doesn’t even mean that the Republicans don’t have better ideas.  It’s only that people making these kinds of arguments (glibly, talk radio style arguments) don’t even try to engage Democratic ideas or support Republican ones.   They evade the real issues and appeal to emotion, often with very misleading information.   The left spins as well, neither side is immune from the temptation to twist things their way.  But these examples are a bit over the top, especially the desire to demonize the poor in the American Thinker article.   It’s another example of how the far right is ‘jumping the shark’ and may be past its peak.