I’ve written a lot around here about the fact that we do have more or less a class war. But it isn’t like conservatives would have you believe. It isn’t that the poor are jealous of the rich. It is that the rich just hate the poor. As I show in It’s the Poor, Stupid, in general, the poor vote liberal and rich vote conservative. That’s just everyone voting their own self-interest. How can I say that the rich hate the poor?
Yesterday, Paul Waldman wrote a very interesting article at The American Prospect, Why Can’t You Miserable Commoners Be Happier With Your Lot? In it, he quotes a study by Page, Bartels, and Seawright, Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans (pdf). Unlike pretty much all polls that at most look at people in the broad category of making “over $100,000 per year,” this study looks at the truly rich. And it finds that the rich are downright mean (my word, not theirs).
The best example is how people responded the statement, “The government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job.” The general public was in favor of this with 68%. But the rich? Only 19% of them were in favor of this. We’re not talking about giving a handout here. We are talking about government policy to allow people to earn a living.
The only justification I can think of for this is that the rich believe that if the government helps in this way, it will raise wages. The poor won’t be as dependent upon the rich and thus the rich will lose money and power. That’s a vile attitude, but it is also stupid. The economics are not that simple. It’s funny that the rich believe that “a rising tide lifts all boats” when it comes to enriching the rich. But when it comes to enriching the poor (where it’s more true), they don’t believe it.
Another interesting aspect of the report is spending priorities. These range from -100 (meaning they really want to cut them) to +100 (meaning they really want to fund them). The general public gave education funding +50. The rich still support it, but not as strongly: +31. Never believe a conservative who tells you they support equality of opportunity. Similarly, they are against Social Security with a score of -33 compared to a general public score of +46.
This is sad but not surprising, because it’s human nature. And given this, there are obvious policy implications. In the United States, we have a democracy only in a theoretical sense. Our elected officials listen almost exclusively to the rich. It’s even worse than that. There is a widely held belief that the rich are disinterested truth-tellers while the poor are self-interested. This is, of course, self-serving. It provides our leaders with the justification for ignoring the thoughts and needs of the vast majority of the country.
There is at least one thing we can all do: vote. Even the problems with the Democratic Party’s move to the right over the last four decades can be reversed if the poor start voting as much as the rich. Voting is the one aspect of democracy that we still have control over.
I do wonder, though. If the poor really did start voting and the country started being a real democracy, would the rich find a way to stop this? I’m not just talking voter ID laws. Look at Michigan with their anti-democratic state-imposed city “managers.” In general, you can count on the elites not believing in democracy and we see them more and more willing to admit it publicly.