Will It Work?

I have previously made the point that solving our social and political animosities requires an accurate diagnosis of their causes–or at the very least, recognition of the elements of contemporary life that are feeding those animosities.

If, as many sociologists and political scientists believe, the roots of much contemporary discord can be found in the economic inequality that characterizes today’s U.S.–if that inequality provides the fertile soil for the racism and tribalism that are tearing us apart–then efforts to address economic insecurity should substantially ameliorate that discord. 

In one of her daily Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson assumes the accuracy of that diagnosis, and notes that the Biden Administration is pursuing policies that should  mitigate some of the worst of our current economic disparities:

Trump and his loyalists feed off Americans who have been dispossessed economically since the Reagan revolution that began in 1981 started the massive redistribution of wealth upward. Those disaffected people, slipping away from the secure middle-class life their parents lived, are the natural supporters of authoritarians who assure them their problems come not from the systems leaders have put in place, but rather from Black people, people of color, and feminist women.

President Joe Biden appears to be trying to combat this dangerous dynamic not by trying to peel disaffected Americans away from Trump and his party by arguing against the former president, but by reducing the pressure on those who support him.

A study from the Niskanen Center think tank shows that the expanded Child Tax Credit, which last month began to put up to $300 per child per month into the bank accounts of most U.S. households with children, will primarily benefit rural Americans and will give a disproportionately large relative boost to their local economies. According to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “the…nine states that will gain the most per capita from the expanded child allowance are all red states.”

Other elements of administration policy should also be ameliorative: the infrastructure bill will bring high-speed internet to every household in the U.S.; it will also provide $3.5 billion intended to reduce energy costs for more than 700,000 low-income households.

Richardson is a historian, and history teaches us that economic distress has often provided an impetus for the surfacing of bigotries that folks are less likely to express in more prosperous times. A number of scholars, for example, have pointed to Germany’s runaway inflation–and national humiliation–in the wake of World War I as one reason for the country’s receptivity to Nazism and willingness to express long-simmering anti-Semitism, and more recent academic literature supports the thesis that that economic scarcity promotes racial animus. 

As an article in Time Magazine reported, numerous studies have demonstrated that economic scarcity influences how people treat those outside of their own social groups. (There is also a “chicken and egg” element to the relationship between economic anxiety and racism–a column in the Washington Post reported on one study that suggested racial resentment may be driving economic anxiety, not the other way around.)

Democrats often bewail the tendency of low-income voters to cast ballots “against their own interests”–a complaint that assumes (I believe incorrectly) that those interests are economic rather than cultural. A somewhat different but related question is whether a significant improvement in the economic situation of low-income Americans will “take the edge off” and moderate the expression of their cultural fears.

The Biden Administration’s policies will go a long way toward answering that question–and America’s future is riding on the result.


  1. Big money capitalists have rigged the game since the beginning of the European invasion of North America. They are addicted to their wealth growth curves. The Reagan/Regan cabal fed these people their drugs free of charge. Now, the big money capitalists are true money junkies and will NEVER accept reason and fairness. Citizens United and the moronic opinions of the Republican Justices like Scalia was the finger in the eye to the lower 90% of income earners in this country.

    Good luck with getting the big money capitalists to pay their fair share of taxes. Taxes of ANY amount are anathema to these greedy bastards. Look at their growth model. It assumes that resources will be limitless and do NOT invest or plan for limited growth, the depletion of resources (OH. And how about that lovely depletion allowance of almost $60 billion per year paid to the oil companies?) and the growth of poverty. At the same time, these “gb’s” want to cut welfare or any civic help to the poor and destitute because “they didn’t earn their keep.”

    Talk about self-anointed hubris… Unless the red states rise up and realize that supporting Republicans just feeds the maw of their own demise economically – and now socially – then our Republic and way of life will remain in grave danger… danger until it collapses altogether.

    As Sheila points out, we can see it coming.

  2. Well, Sen. Todd Young has already said he’s not supporting the infrastructure bill until maybe after Congress “fine tunes it.”

    They’ve already nailed Manchin, and his coal connections and Pelosi’s funders are the ones stopping Biden from writing off student debt after this country shifted the cost burden on students and couldn’t produce the jobs to help them pay off the debt.

    The child tax credit goes to the end of the year, then stops.

    There is a huge spending bill after the infrastructure bill goes through. They are testing a GPS tracking system to raise fees for their infrastructure bill since the CBO says we are grossly underfunded. Amazingly, they said they could use our phones. Sorry, does anybody want the government to use your location data? Except, they already are using it.

    I don’t think American’s economic issues are going to ease their class/race issues. It would be nice, but there is too much going on. Of course, it doesn’t help that our MIC is fanning the flames of war against Asians, either.

    The “political leaders” can’t get us vaccinated, and they are preparing major surprises for the coming elections. You talk about out-of-control fires when election outcomes are overturned by GOP officials in the Red States.

    Heather may want to lay down her rosy glasses cause I see major chaos brewing just in starting schools under a growing pandemic.

  3. Gee I dunno.

    There seem to be a lot of people, and especially Hoosiers, who make $100K+/yr and who are just as racist, supportive of nihilist policies of the QOP, and are sympathetic to an authoritarian form of government.

    They have college degrees and send their kids to Carmel or Hamilton Southeastern schools or Park Tudor.

    They drive Land Rover’s, Audi’s, BMW’s, Volvo’s and Ford or Chevy pickup trucks.

    They live in McMansions subsidized with ridiculously low mortgage interest rates by the Federal Reserve and a down payment from Grandma and Grandpa.

    They shop at IKEA, Whole Foods and Target, but never never at a Wal-Mart, and they don’t hesitate to ask to speak with the manager.

    They belong to a local church that they don’t attend very often but that supports their competitive and materialistic lifestyle.

    They hate abortions, gun regulations, masks, and mandates of any kind.

    They love bragging about the balance in their 401(k) accounts and how their financial adviser has never underperformed the S&P500 index. Ever.

    They listen to the Outlaw Country channel and a guy named Joe Rogan on Sirius/XM.

    And they believe that 100% of who they are and what they have achieved is of their own doing and no one else’s.

    At the heart of Bill Clinton’s successful bid for the Presidency in ‘92 was the slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid”.

    I think in ‘24 it will be : “It’s our culture, stupid”.

  4. “The…nine states that will gain the most per capita from the expanded child allowance are all red states.”

    This won’t change the minds of the Trump supporters. Like Trump, they are too convinced that they are playing a zero-sum game. While they may like that they are getting money, surely convinced it’s their due, they will still be very unhappy that “others” are getting money, too. I’m sure there will be conspiracy theories that suggest those “others” are unfairly getting more money or other benefits. (I’m sure Fox will start the “questioning.”) The issue is: how do we instill in these people the simple idea that we can all prosper more by working together? And that this is a good thing!

    In the dark of the night I suspect that we just can’t. Not without some paradigm shift that I can’t envision.

  5. Geez! Coffee just didn’t cut it this morning. After reading Sheila down through Patrick … I turn to the news to find something that sheds a glimmer of hope. Ohh! The United Nations announced climate change toward a hellish existence is now irreversible.

    Makes you just want to crawl under a beaver pelt in the submissive pre natal position and hope for one last permafrost. ?

  6. Patrick calls ‘em like he sees ‘em. Drive up through the northern burbs that are deep, deep red and see for yourselves.

  7. I’m one of those who doesn’t believe it’s the economy, stupid or not. It’s the permission. For most of my lifetime it has not been considered a good thing to be a racist pig. Now it is okay. We have seen the most vile element among us achieve the highest office in the land. We know he lies, cheats, steals, and believes he is above the law, but that just might be our dream come true.

  8. @Patrick and @JD … if you look for dark side human behavior in the suburbs, inner city and rural, you will find it. If you look for people who shine their light with generosity toward others, you will find them abundantly. Seek, and ye shall find. It begins with your demeanor and equanimity of mindset. Be well. Be strong.

  9. Patrick – truth telling is painful – well said. It’s complicated. More people of color voted for The Former in ’20 than ’16. The good and the not so good are scattered among us…

  10. Many years ago, I read somewhere that the KKK enrolled young white men by making them believe that African-Americans were going to steal their good factory jobs. These young men were not, of course, highly educated.

    Robert Reich had a documentary on Netflix “Inequality for All”. In that documentary he asserts that America has suffered the most divisiveness during times of significant wealth inequality. If you have not watched that, I would recommend it.

    It is obvious to me that the so call 1% who have the most wealth do not understand that they are not immune from pandemics and climate change. They have bought into the insane delusion that wealth will protect them from the negative forces of epidemics and global warming. They also do not understand that without the people who work so hard to earn a living, their wealth would not exist. I suspect that many of the venture capitalists are addicted to their wealth. They think they can buy security and love. You cannot buy either. I’ve heard that the wealthy have bunkers to protect them from global catastrophes. Why would you want to be confined to a bunker?

    I think President Biden believes he can narrow the wealth gap with an infrastructure bill and his budget proposal. Republicans, of course, are now crying about the deficit which they ballooned with their tax reform. Sooner or later, Congress has to wake up to the economic truth that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Unfortunately, the lobbyists from the oligarchy are convincing them otherwise.

    The other challenge for saving the earth is to convince China and India to move rapidly towards transitioning their economies from fossil fuels to solar, wind, and other forms of energy. China has suffered floods. India has had a huge loss of human life from COVID. The Ganges is highly polluted around the cities. And of course, that pollution moves down stream.

    Everyone talks about carbon capture. It’s really quite simple. Start covering the earth with trees and practicing good forest management. Save the rain forest and use its resources to create new organic medicines. And, of course, the other challenge is getting each individual to become a true conservationist.

    And in the mean time, if you want a break from all the bad news, watch “Fantastic Fungi” on Netflix. Without the fungi neither we nor plants nor animals would be here.

  11. The Trumpet continues his quest to maintain leadership of the GOP with acts of sabotage. The Big Lie about Biden being a fraudulent President continues to resonate in the GOP. The Covid Vaccine and wearing masks have become a litmus test to divide the people into Libs, (who will follow guidance by medical professionals) and those of the Reactionary Right Wing who believe their personal freedom to infect themselves and others supersedes all other considerations.

    The Trumpet has also weighed in against the Infrastructure Bill. From the Guardian:

    Trump, who maintains a strong grip on the party and intense popularity with much of its base, also throw a spanner (wrench) in the works by attacking any of his party who back the bill.

    “Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is a disgrace,” he said in a statement and then added that it “…will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal.”
    Of course the GOP has no plan of their own. The majority of the Elected GOP Officials take their ques from fantasies swirling around in The Trumpet’s head.

    I think with confidence I can predict even if the Infrastructure Bill passes into Law, and actually helps the people as a whole it will not move the GOP Base.

    I would agree with Peggy’s statement:

    “For most of my lifetime it has not been considered a good thing to be a racist pig. Now it is okay. We have seen the most vile element among us achieve the highest office in the land.”

    The Trumpet with his open meanness, vendettas and cruelty has given his GOP Base permission to express all the vices of his personality as virtues.

  12. As contributors to this blog know, I look at virtually all our issues both foreign and domestic through an economic lens, and (next to Trumpism) have assigned wage and wealth inequality as the numero uno domestic issue we have today, a day unlike the pre-Reagan days of the New Deal when median wages and the Dow moved upward in tandem.

    As to the topic today, I think that whatever the political outcome, government redistribution of our tax resources to those with children and/or who are otherwise sick or injured is the right thing to do. Morality is in the mix? Yes! I think rural citizens in red states should benefit from progressive and moral policies whether they vote as I would have them vote or not, and I also think that their right to receive such assistance as measured by their mere citizenship is a better measure than a redistribution of the wealth to the rich and corporate class (such as the Trump/Ryan giveaway tax bill by a lame duck Congress in December 2017), where such giveaway to the superrich was measured by the recipients’ “campaign contributions,” which to such extent amounted to a redistribution of the wealth to Republicans in Congress themselves, not to mention the benefits personally flowing to the personal investment accounts of Trump and Ryan themselves.

    Larcenies in plain daylight? You be the judge.

  13. I remain highly concerned over the general acceptance of the child tax credit going to people not hurting much. The estimated US median income per household was $78,500. Massive credits are going to singles and families making much more…why?

    How hard is it to sell helping the needy?

    No wonder GOP voters see the money floating to the “doing ok” and think”socialism”…

  14. Lester – in two words – “Very hard”
    If you only give it to those who need it, it will get cut; if it goes to everyone, it gets saved.
    That’s either human nature or US nature, but that seems to be how it is.

    Perhaps in the future, once it is established as “not just for the undeserving poor”, they may put some kind of index where everyone gets $50 and then scaling up as income goes down.

    For now, better a child tax credit for everyone, that may help some people who don’t need it, than a tax cut just for the rich.

Comments are closed.