Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Five Economic Reforms Americans are Open To

with 3 comments

Last week, Jesse Myerson caused a major stir with a Rolling Stone piece, Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For. It’s a great piece, and we should all be fighting for them.

It’s a new year, but one thing hasn’t changed: The economy still blows. Five years after Wall Street crashed, America’s banker-gamblers have only gotten richer, while huge swaths of the country are still drowning in personal debt, tens of millions of Americans remain unemployed – and the new jobs being created are largely low-wage, sub-contracted, part-time grunt work.

Millennials have been especially hard-hit by the downturn, which is probably why so many people in this generation (like myself) regard capitalism with a level of suspicion that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. But that egalitarian impulse isn’t often accompanied by concrete proposals about how to get out of this catastrophe. Here are a few things we might want to start fighting for, pronto, if we want to grow old in a just, fair society, rather than the economic hellhole our parents have handed us.

The piece did two things. First, it drove conservatives absolutely insane, and second, it led to a serious discussion of these policies that previously were largely at the margins of the agenda.

Why did conservatives lose their mind? Well part of it seemed to be that they recognized how much of their power on an individual level depended on other people being desperate. This is conservatism understood as the battle over “the private life of power”. Even though none of the policies suggested taking away people’s homes or possessions, that seemed to be a theme in the push back. Some were horrified at the idea that we might owe something to each other on the basis of mere existence–that our common humanity would bring about deservingness (a view I think we ought to explicitly embrace, for what it is worth).

But when they weren’t insisting that no one could take their homes or making threats or accusing Myerson of being insufficiently masculine or hetero, they were insisting that these things were impossible or if possible, something that would only be attempted in the Soviet Union.  But as a number of commentators have pointed out, including Myerson himself, four out of the five of these already exist somewhere in the United States, often in deep blue states. Conservatives have gotten a lot of mileage out of chasing ideas off the agenda. Now that they have had a good deal of success, dominance is maintained via the idea that left policies are impossible. Successful effort to challenge that, then, are a challenge to that political dominance. (I’d suggest this is what leads them to attack the fast food strikes, Occupy, ACORN, etc., as well.)

While there hasn’t been much push back from Democrats, we do know what they often say in response to proposals that are outside the range of legitimate debate within the Beltway. They tell us, often in the face of strong evidence to the contrary, that the public is implacably against it. Indeed, as I’ve argued here before, even advocates of change often read the evidence in ways that make their case seem less popular than they actually are.

This poll helps us address those sorts of concerns. Here are the full results:

Would you favor or oppose a law guaranteeing a job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector?
Strongly favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22%
Somewhat favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25%
Somewhat oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13%
Strongly oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12%

Would you favor or oppose expanding Social Security to every American, regardless of age, to guarantee a basic income to every American?
Strongly favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18%
Somewhat favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17%
Somewhat oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16%
Strongly oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11%

Would you favor or oppose replacing all individual and corporate taxes with a single tax on land ownership and financial investments?
Strongly favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10%
Somewhat favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15%
Somewhat oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15%
Strongly oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30%

Would you favor or oppose creating a government run “sovereign wealth fund,” which would buy and hold corporate stocks and pay a dividend to all U.S. citizens from the profits?
Strongly favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12%
Somewhat favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19%
Somewhat oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11%
Strongly oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24%

Would you favor or oppose creating a government run bank in every state as an alternative to private banks?
Strongly favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10%
Somewhat favor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17%
Somewhat oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16%
Strongly oppose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40%
Not sure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17%

The job guarantee polls best at 47%, none of the others poll better than 35%.  The land tax is worst at 25%. Then again, as Mike Konczal pointed out, the Republican plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system polls at about 35%–they certainly don’t mind pushing ideas with that level of support. Given our obsession with a civics version of the democratic myth in interpreting politics, it’s not surprising that some, including the Huffington Post, are treating this as bad news for these proposals.  There are a few places where the wording seems to be more favorable toward opposition than support–for example, proponents typically call it a “public bank” rather than “government run bank,” and they do in fact operate more like a non-profit than an agency of government. The same holds for the sovereign wealth fund question. (“Government run” is the frame conservatives use to try to undermine broad support for “public schools”.)  And earlier study asking a similar, yet differently worded question on a job guarantee showed 53% support.

More generally, it’s important to note that opposition is not overwhelming to any of these proposals. In addition, all of them run contrary to the dominant discourse of our politics, and none are the sort of thing that the average person would likely have heard the arguments in their favor. Imagine what support for these policies would look like if people got to hear arguments in favor of them.  My take away is there is plenty of potential support to mobilize people around these ideas, which is the only way to advance significant change anyway.

Now, a couple of caveats. First, people’s views are at least partly a result of media discourse, which is itself largely, but not entirely, driven by elite politics. When demonized, policies people would otherwise support can be made controversial. Second, public opinion doesn’t drive policy. While a mobilized public can strongly influence policy, for the most part the public isn’t mobilized and doesn’t have much influence. This is why there are many large gaps between what polls say people want, including what they say are most important, and what political and media elites treat as worth talking about.

Still, this poll suggests that the public does not necessarily recoil from these types of proposals. It’s the donor class, not the public, who oppose serious efforts at addressing poverty and inequality. There are many barriers to overcome, but widespread public opposition isn’t one of them. Politicians and journalists who pretend otherwise, on the other hand, are a serious barrier.

About these ads

Written by David Kaib

January 14, 2014 at 10:42 pm

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. While there hasn’t been much push back from Democrats, we do know what they often say in response to proposals that are outside the range of legitimate debate within the Beltway.

    And this is what they often use a crutch for anything else us DFH’s suggest. It’s like these people forgot what RFK said. We’ve tried market-based bullshit for 30+ years now and gotten a shit sandwich in return.

    Phil Perspective

    January 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    • We’re starting to get some more concern trolling. The most popular item on the list isn’t idea (given a whole lot of questionable assumptions)!

      David Kaib

      January 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm

  2. […] * It’s the donor class, not the public, who oppose serious efforts at addressing poverty and inequal… […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,066 other followers

%d bloggers like this: