by Cliff DuRand, John Mason, and Peter Weisberg
As the US election fever built in the media, on August 29, 2012 the Center for Global Justice held a discussion that went beyond the horserace coverage and the attack ads. The panel examined some of the broader questions affecting our quadrennial spectacle. Why do some sectors of the electorate vote against their own interests? What difference does it make which party wins in November? What can be done to save our disappearing middle class? What can we do to change the sorry state of public affairs? Our three panelists were Peter Weisberg, social philosopher Cliff DuRand, and John Mason.
The Disappearing Middle Class
By Cliff DuRand
[presented August 29, 2012 in a panel discussion “Election Fever”]
Myth of the Middle Class
One of the central issues in the election campaign is who can save the threatened middle “class”. Both parties claim to champion this massive block of voters who hold the key to this election. However, there are two problems with this view. 1) The first is that there is no such thing as “the middle class.” It is not the name of a class, but rather refers to the position of a class in the social hierarchy, somewhere between the top and the bottom –the middle. And there is not a single class in that middle position but a number of classes. In the middle we find blue collar and white collar wage laborers of various skill levels, small business owners (the petty bourgeoisie), professionals, supervisory personnel, and managers – hardly a single coherent social grouping.
Generally those who talk about the middle “class” as if it were a single entity define it in terms of income levels. They are actually talking about a statistical category, e.g. those whose incomes fall between __$x__ and ___$y___. Just what values are used for x and y is a matter of choice by the statisticians who compile the numbers. So, ‘middle “class”’ refers to those whose incomes are below top income receivers and above bottom income receivers – those in the middle. E.g. one recent author [Jeff Faux, p.265 n2] defines it in terms of the middle 80% of income earners, with the upper class being the top 10% and the lower class the bottom 10%. The income differences between the upper portion of this statistical category and the lower end of it is $100,000 or more. Clearly such a middle stratum is not a single coherent class.
2) The other problem with the view that the two parties are vying over who can better protect the middle “class” (i.e. middle income earners) is both parties have long embraced basic public policies that have been undermining the economic security of the millions in that middle income range. This is fully substantiated by Jeff Faux in his new book The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class. He argues that “the elites are unanimous: lower everyone’s wages and standard of living –except they don’t say it out loud.” Both parties favor no-strings Wall Street bailouts, expanded unregulated trade, weakened unions, and fiscal austerity as an economic priority, even though that means shredding social programs. There may be some difference in degree on these issues, but both parties are in basic agreement. “The mantra of both candidates is ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs.’ What they leave out is they are unwilling to confront the power of Wall Street and the Pentagon, job growth in America now depends on driving labor costs lower and lower to attract business investment” [cf. Faux on AlterNet, July 19, 2012]
This bi-partisan consensus is illustrated by Senate approval this last winter of the free trade agreement with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. While all politicians were calling for more jobs, they approved a free trade agreement that they knew would destroy jobs. This was evident in the fact that approval of the free trade agreement was accompanied by extended unemployment benefits for displaced workers. It’s like they just can’t help themselves when an opportunity arises to favor transnational corporations.
The Usefulness of a Middle “Class”
It is generally accepted that a large, prosperous middle “class” or middle stratum is vital to the future of the US. There are both economic reasons for this and political reasons. Economically, the health of capitalism requires a large sector of consumers with sufficient income to be able to buy what is produced. Without effective consumer demand capital cannot realize profits. That is a reality that has become evident today in the long recession the economy is in. Businesses are not investing and jobs are not being created because there is low consumer demand due to high unemployment and high consumer debt. But that then results in higher unemployment in a vicious downward spiral that is evident to all those whose perceptions are reality based. This has been pointed out twice a week by Paul Krugman in his New York Times column. And now the point has been made by another Nobel economics prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz in his new book on inequality. [The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future (W.W. Norton, 2012).]
Politically, prosperous middle strata are important for stability. As the term middle “class” is usually used today, it involves an expectation of upward mobility, rising income and a comfortable and secure standard of living. It is this upward mobility that is of particular political importance. Political stability is enhanced by having a sizable sector of the population who believe they have an opportunity to improve their condition in the existing system – or at least their children do. That is why the existence of a middle “class” is widely considered to be of crucial importance for a stable democracy of the US type. It is at the heart of The American Dream.
But this dream has become more of a nightmare as more and more in the middle strata are experiencing downward mobility. In fact, of all the advanced countries, the US has the lowest upward mobility of all. [ “Harder for Americans to Rise from Lower Rungs” New York Times, January 5, 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/us/harder-for-americans-to-rise-from-lower-rungs.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha23 ]
America is no longer the land of opportunity as incomes of those in the middle have stagnated for the last 30 years and wealth has also declined sharply since the mortgage bubble burst in 2008.
It once was the case that a young man could enter the workforce right out of high school and get an unskilled assembly line job in a unionized industry with high enough pay to be able to start a family, buy a house and enjoy what was called a middle “class” lifestyle. Under the illusion they were no longer working class, they thought of themselves as a new class in the middle, somewhere between the poor and the rich. And they could enjoy economic security and a rising standard of living, even sending their kids to college so they could rise even more in the hierarchy of US society.
As economist Ric Wolff has pointed out, over 150 years (from 1820 to 1970), real wages for US workers rose each decade. [Capitalism Hits the Fan, chapter 3] In the quarter century from 1947 to 1973 average real wages rose an astounding 75%. But that shared prosperity came to a halt in the mid 70s. In the next 25 years from 1979 to 2005 wages and benefits rose less than 4%. [Faux p. 47]
This stagnation of working people’s wages was not the result of some impersonal natural force. It was the result of deliberate economic and political decisions. The basic reason for these decisions was set forth with unusual candor by former IMF Director Jacques de Larosière. In a 1984 policy address he said
Over the last four years the rate of return on capital investment in manufacturing in the six largest industrial countries averaged only half the rate earned during the late 1960s…. Even allowing for cyclical factors, a clear pattern emerges of a substantial and progressive long-term decline in rates of return on capital. There may be many reasons for this. But there is no doubt that an important contributing factor is to be found in the significant increase over the past twenty years or so in the share of income being absorbed by compensation of employees…. This points to the need for a gradual reduction in the rate increase in real wages over the medium term if we are to restore adequate investment incentives. [Quoted by William I. Robinson A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), p. 108.]
In other words, in order to ensure “adequate” profits to capital, workers incomes had to be curtailed.
The policies that made this suppression of incomes possible came to be called neoliberalism, a public ideology represented by President Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in England. It involved a withdrawal of government from directing the economy, leaving it instead to market forces. This meant deregulation, privatization, and free trade. And that required weakening the collective hand of workers by an assault on unions and social benefits so as to strengthen the hand of capital.
“Free trade” policies of our political elite were a key part of the neoliberal offensive against labor. Trade agreements like NAFTA promoted the export of entry level jobs to low wage countries of the global South. With globalization, beginning in the 1980s those entry level industrial jobs that had made possible mobility into middle income levels were the first jobs to be sent off-shore where they could be done by low wage workers in the Third World. For instance, Economic Policy Institute has recently calculated that in the last decade US trade with China has cost us 2.7 million jobs.
And for those jobs that did not emigrate, there was a downward pressure on workers wages and benefits. As a result there has been wage stagnation for the last 30 years, even as worker productivity rose sharply. This is shown clearly in the following graph.
Capital took the bulk of productivity gains (shown by the upper pink line) over the 1993-2006 period by holding wages down (shown by the lower blue line). But then with the 2008 financial crisis, median family income declined further, by nearly 10%. Jeff Faux projects over the next decade another 20% decline in real wages for average USians. [p. 223
For a while wealth had appeared to increase for average USians because of inflating real estate values. But the financial crisis of 2008 wiped out that fictitious wealth. Median family wealth in 2010 was the same as it had been 20 years earlier. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/business/economy/family-net-worth-drops-to-level-of-early-90s-fed-says.html?_r=1
Today 80 % of the world’s industrial workforce is now in the global South. This is in no small measure the result of corporate policies over the last 30 years – policies encouraged by our political leaders – to off-shore those low skilled industrial jobs that used to be the entry point to the middle “class” for many USians. That may create the conditions for middle “classes” in Brazil and China and even in Mexico, but it shrinks the middle “class” in the US, pushing people’s living standards downward. Basically, capital is destroying the middle “class” at home and reconstituting it in parts of the global South.
This can be seen in Table 1 (below) which shows how leading US based transnationals have shifted operations abroad where they now have a majority of their sales and workforce outside the US. This is the basis for formation of new consumerist middle classes.
In the 90s we were told by Robert Reich, Labor Secretary in the first Clinton administration, that to remain competitive in the global economy, US workers needed to upgrade their skills. The new knowledge economy would save the middle “class,” we were told. But now we are increasingly finding that these jobs are also being off-shored to countries like India. The knowledge workers there will work for far less than in the US. And many of our college graduates today are saddled with heavy debt and are unable to find work.
Table 1. Foreign Assets, Sales, and Employment of Top 18 U.S. Nonfinancial Multinational Corporations (Ranked by Foreign Affiliate Assets), 2000 and 2008
Source: UNCTAD, World Investment Report (New York: UNCTAD, various years).
* Figures are for 2001; † Figures are for 2003.
Increasingly transnational capital is free to roam the globe looking for the cheapest, most compliant labor force for its various operations. The US political elite has been vigorous in promoting such free trade, even at the expense of their fellow citizens. That is the central contention of my book Recreating Democracy in a Globalized State.
Our political elite identifies the national interest with the interest of the big corporations, not with the people. They still believe that what’s good for GM is good for America. To be sure, some try to also accommodate the interests of voters, but when push comes to shove, capital trumps the citizens.
While there is some significant difference between the two political parties on some issues of importance (women’s health and Supreme Court nominees come to mind), when it comes to arresting the decline of the middle “class”, i.e. the downward mobility of many USians in the broad middle, both remain wedded to policies that are tending to the Third Worldization of the US. On this vital issue of the decline of the country, the difference between them is only how rapid this decline will be.
Impact On Supreme Court by 2012 Election
By John Mason
- OBAMA AND LOWER COURT PICKS
- Dozens fewer lower court appointments than both Clinton and Bush ons a lower 43
- Judicial nominations a lower priority.
- Senate Republicans resisted approving nominees from Obama.
- Bush 43 quickly nominated a slate of Appeals Court judges early.
- Obama picked moderate jurists, hoping to avoid provoking wars with Congress.
- Obama appointed TWO Supreme Court Members. This was the same number as Clinton and Bush 43 in their eight years in office.
- Obama got 30 Appeals Court judges (on average); this was the same as Clinton and Bush 43 (each term).
- Obama’s impact on lower Courts is UNEVEN. He’s had a major impact on some Courts, while others are untouched.
- For Federal District Courts, Obama appointed 125 Judges, compared with Clinton’s 170 and Bush’s 162 in each of their first terms.
- Obama will surely leave more Federal Judgeships vacant at the end of his first term than he inherited from President Bush.
- The Judges appointed by Obama are four years older (on average) than those appointed by President Bush.
- When Bush 43 left office, conservative legal movement had made remarkable gains on the Appellate Bench. Republican presidents had controlled appointments for 20 of the previous 28 years.
- Today, Democratic appointees make up 49% of Appeal Court judges, up from 39% when Bush 43 departed. Democrats are majorities on 6 of 13Circuits, up from ONE before.
- If Obama is reelected, he still faces problems due to possible Republican control of the Senate, liberal filibuster rules and overall Congressional resistance to his nominations.
- POSSIBLE IMPACT OF ELECTION ON SUPREME COURT MAKE UP AND ACTIONS.
- One can’t know the number of Court vacancies during next Presidental term since Justices are appointed for life.
- Likely, one or more Judges will retire. On the present Court, four Justices are over 74 years old. Also, Justices often retire for personal reasons, such as Justices O’Connor and Souter.
- With the number of 5-4 Court Decisions, many existing laws could be changed with a change in the make up of the Court.
- Should Obama win a Second Term as President, existing laws like Campaign Finance and Gun Control could be reversed.
- Should Romney win, Gay Rights, Abortion, the Death Penalty, Affirmative Action and HealthCare could all be reversed by a new Court.
- The next decade of the Supreme Court will be exciting, to say the least.
How Can They Vote for That Guy?!!!
By Peter Weisberg
The headline that jumped out at me after seeing the results of the Wisconsin recall election this past spring was the 38% of union households that voted for Gov Walker, an out of the closet anti-union cheerleader. I was not the only one looking wide eyed at this statistic. Everyone interested in the outcome of elections looks at these numbers and asks why. Why do working class and middle class whites vote so consistently for Republican candidates, when we all know it is not in their economic interest.
A common explanation we hear on the left is, “They were duped” or tricked by those nasty conservatives. But this explanation falls far short of a more rigorous examination and in fact does a real disservice to mounting any kind of viable movement whose goal is to create a more socially just and truly democratic country/world.
The Wisconsin election is a good jumping off point for exploring this social phenomena and seeing whether we might even come up with some strategies for moving the population to the left. Many progressives believed Wisconsin would be a great unmasking of the conservative agenda. A turning point in the fight against austerity and for fairness in the USA. A quick summary of some key statistics shows the following;
- 53% vs 46% was the overall result in favor of Walker. This is similar to the 2010 election.
- 59% white voter turnout vs 50% non-white turnout. The differential is consistent with national figures.
- 73% turnout in suburban and rural areas which are over 93% white. Led by 4000 out of state Tea Party members going door to door, Republicans got out the vote in the white suburbs. Their rallying cry was “Save Wisconsin, save the country”. Their messages were; anti-union, anti-environmental, pro Christian nationalism, anti-gun control, anti-tax and yes, racist. “White flight”, the migration of whites from urban centers, has been leaving the larger cities like Milwaukee in dire economic straits for the past 20 years. Infrastructure collapse, jobs, many of them union, and money have fled the cities, while the suburbs have grown economically and politically.
- 51% urban turnout which is 39% non-white in a state that is 91% white; Barrett was the mayor of Milwaukee. His candidacy did not excite the cities African American voters nor did it get the youth vote out. The urban vote only accounts for 21% of the total Wisconsin vote.
- 38% voted for Walker in union households This figure is not inconsistent with national figures, which surprised me. There was very weak support for Barrett from the National Democratic Party and the national union leadership. Moreover, the public unions; teachers, fire-fighters, state government workers, etc were unsuccessful in getting the private sector union rank and file to get behind the recall. There seems to be a lack of solidarity between public and private sector unions both local and national.
- 47% turnout of 18-29 year olds see #4 Additionally, there was a concerted effort to block college students from voting, specifically those that were out of state students in Madison. Voter suppression continues to be a Republican strategy as the country moves closer to a non-white majority.
- 59% of men voted for Walker vs 47% of women. Women get it while men continue to vote for the strong authoritarian figures.
- 56% of voters with an income of under $50k voted for Barrett and 56% with incomes between 50 & 99k voted for Walker. The poor and lower middle class continue to vote for Democrats but not by overwhelming numbers. Again we are scratching our heads over the number of lower income voters who vote Republican.
- Independent voters favored Walker, 54% to 45%. On the national level, many analysts think that the number of truly independent likely voters is as low as 6-7%.
- We are all aware that the Republican machine outspent the Democrats by approx 8 to 1. This is a issue for another day and one that needs to be addressed if we want to hold on to any notion at all that the US is a democracy.
Given the Wisconsin results, I thought it would be interesting to gain an understanding of the factors that account for voter decisions from the point of view of several well known writers. Thomas Frank, George Lakoff and Jonathan Haidt. And more importantly, I wanted to see whether their theories might assist us in winning the hearts and minds of larger numbers of the 99%. After all, it does us no good if a significant percentage of the 99% do not identify as being part the movement trying to wrest control of the worlds future from the 1%.
Thomas Frank wrote the book “What’s the matter with Kansas” in 2004. The book attempts to understand how Kansas went from being a state with a long history of left wing populism during the late 19th century to become the poster child for conservative populist politics. His description of this shift to the far right is in many respects a mini-history of the Tea Party. For many years, the Republican Party in Kansas had a strong moderate wing, whose main emphasis was on fiscal conservatism. A smaller segment of Republicans were “social conservatives”. This latter group focused more on several hot button moral issues; abortion, Christian ethics, gay marriage, gun control. Up to the 1990′s, the mods controlled the party and could count on the cons vote, even though the social issues they were most concerned about were only given lip service. The mods blamed the “liberal elites” in Washington DC and the Democratic Party for the failure to legislate on the “traditional” moral issues. By 1992 this started to change. Frank calls this process “a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymus Bosch: of sturdy blue-collar patriots reciting the Pledge while they strangle their own life chances”. The number of Kansas voters who put moral issues at the forefront of their concerns grew rapidly and candidates who previously could get away with just paying lip service to these “fringe” issues now had to embrace them if they wanted to be elected. The entire party accepted fiscal conservatism as the norm. Political battles became focused on the explosive social issues. Working class voters put their own economic interests on a lower priority than their moral interests. Sound familiar? This micro history looks a lot like the broader political landscape currently unfolding in the US. Were the issues underlying the left populist movement of the late 19th century the same ones fueling the “Tea Party” movement of today? Additionally, it’s my view that accepting “fiscal conservatism” is no longer the domain of just the Republican party. The majority of Democratic representatives also seem willing to embrace austerity measures as the correct medicine for debt relief and economic stagnation.
I did come across a study written by Larry Bartels in 2005, an associate at the Dept of Politics at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & Int’l Affairs at Princeton, which refutes the main Frank thesis. Bartel’s research, uses data from the NES(Nat’l Election Study) survey. He states that the statistics do not bare Frank out. He summarizes that white working class voters have actually become more reliable Democratic voters, altho they identify less as being Democratic Party members. He also says wwc voters have not become more conservative over the past 30 years, and that economics does not trump social issues nor religious beliefs. The major shifts in voting patterns he states, are in the wmc and upper income voters. Again, this study was done in 2005, before the current recession started eroding the ranks of the middle class and causing greater strain on the lives of the working class as a whole. Bartels insists that the strategy of the Democratic Party must focus on appealing to the more affluent whites who are more socially liberal without alienating the core wc voters who are drawn to the party for economic reasons. In the 7 years since this study was written, I believe the Dem Party has all but abandoned the wc in deeds for sure, and increasingly so even in words. As stated earlier, the backing of Barrett by the National machine was anemic at best. The main difference between the DP and the RP in regards to austerity measures that overwhelmingly punish working people is one of degree or severity.
The next person I selected for insights was George Lakoff, the intellectual leader at the Rockridge Institute,a progressive think tank in California. He urges us to think about the decision making process in terms of “frames”, which he states, are the way humans think. Frames are the conceptual end point of neural pathways that establish themselves in the brain, almost like a desktop icon on your computer. Frames are strengthened thru repetition, almost in a Pavlovian manner. You hear or see a word or phrase and your brain immediately takes you to that “frame” in your brain, bypassing a long rational thought process and jumping to an associated conclusion.
The process is easier describe by way of an example; take, “tax revolt”. The word revolt brings to mind a group being treated unfairly and they are rising up to correct the wrongs being perpetrated on them by their rulers. When you place “tax” in front of revolt, one might think that the taxes are an unfair penalty and the people must rise up to correct this wrong. The words elicit an immediate value set in the mind of the individual. Lakoff says that conservatives and progressives have different frames. The conservative frame is built around the strict father. Since the 1970s,(and in response to the culture wars of the 60′s) conservatives have been reinforcing and building on their frame sets. They have done this thru a focused and coordinated effort centering around their numerous think tanks and disseminated thru conservative political candidates, media outlets and religious institutions. The strict father morality says that; the world is a bad place and needs a strict and punishing father to make it better. Thru discipline a child learns right from wrong and self-reliance. Thru discipline one can make the right choices and become rich. In fact, wealth is an indicator of righteous living. The government, thru welfare and other entitlement programs, spoils people and makes them dependent on programs that unfairly penalize those who have worked harder, are self-reliant and have earned their success by listening to the strict father morality. Government should exist only to promote and protect the family, discipline those who are not willing to be self-reliant, and maintain order so that the well behaved can continue to accumulate wealth. Gov’t money acquired thru taxes should never be given to the undeserving and undisciplined children, who are too lazy or willful to be successful.
Progressives on the other hand, see the world as being basically good. It is thru a nurturing relationship, be it the father/mother or the gov’t that we can build a better world or create a better life for the individual. Gov’t promotes this process thru fair use of the commons; public schools, civil liberties and an even playing field upon which we can all enjoy opportunities for personal success. Responsibility goes beyond individualism, encompassing everyone, including the less fortunate, because we share a moral obligation to care for each other.
In this scenario, taxes thus become looked at as the dues one pays for being a member of our society and are to be used to promote and maintain the common infrastructure upon which both society and individuals can succeed. It takes a huge amount of money to protect and promote our commons. Paying your fair share is morally correct. Evading your fair share of taxes is “stealing” from the commons and deprives other members of society at the opportunity to participate in this social treasure trove.
If we wanted to develop a progressive frame for taxes, consider those who; off-shore income, use tax havens to shelter profits, create and abuse loopholes for the corporate strata and wealthy, as “tax thieves”, greedy entities, both individuals and corporations who are willing to hurt their country and the 99% by stealing from the common good, upon which we all depend.
Gay marriage is another wedge issue that has been framed by the right. Lakoff thinks that the conservative frame for gay marriage is tied closely to the sexual act. The idea of gay marriage horrifies many on the right. If the issue was re-framed from the progressive moral foundation, it should be seen as an issue of “the right to marry”. He believes this would garner a lot more conservative support. In the battle over entitlements, such as Medicare and Social Security, a more effective frame might refer to these programs as “Earned Benefit Plans”.
Candidates can get voters to identify with them thru effective framing. Effective framing can build a moral pathway to progressive values. To date, conservatives have made framing their tool, and they use it effectively and often. Every year they update the phrases and key words that persuade voters to their perspective. Progressives, he says, need to get into the game. It is not something that can happen over night. A coordinated progressive framing effort will take generations to become an effective tool for changing the course of history.
Economic systems have a deep morality. Policy and laws are human constructs, and express a distinct moral/values viewpoint. We live in a society of warring viewpoints; individual greed vs collective advancement, the self-made man myth vs the reliance on the collective for the advancement of the commons and the common good upon which one measures the overall health of a nation. For progressives, the Private is dependent upon the Public. For conservatives, the Private is considered to be self-sufficient. “i can make it on my own and if I don’t make it, it’s my own personal failure”. Those in the 99% who vote for conservative candidates, identify with the conservative frames, frequently in conflict with their economic needs. Gov Walker and Paul Ryan are the embodiment of the conservative morality. Cut funding to the public sector, an undisciplined and spoiled segment of society. Austerity is the economic tool used to discipline these unruly children and impose a conservative economic morality. At the same time, reward the deserving 1%, who by their discipline and hard work, have achieved economic success. Punish the 99% thru government imposed austerity. Reward the 1% thru laisse fair policies and self-serving tax loopholes
For Lakoff, hope lies in independent voters and convincing Democrats that his theories are accurate. Individuals who have both conservative and progressive frames in their brain. They can be reached by a constant re-enforcing of the progressive frames. The correct language stimulates liberal morality which can lead to an economy for the 99%.
A word to the Democrats here today. It takes more than words to create change. Words and rhetoric alone are just another source for cynicism. Lakoff and the Democrats can frame all they want in their rhetoric. Obama can try and gather all the support he had in 2008 with campaign speeches in 2012. Chances are that will not happen again. His rhetoric far surpassed his actions the past 4 years. We all know it takes real policy development and the implementation of real plans to make concrete change. Progressive framing is nothing without progressive legislation. Obama and the Dems have shown little inclination to fight for progressive values.
Jonathan Haidt is the last of the writers I explored for this presentation. Up to 2009, he considered himself a partisan liberal. Since then, he calls himself a centrist. He is a social psychologist who recently published a new book, “The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion”. As with Frank and Lakoff, he notes the phenomena of people voting for their moral interests. Where Lakoff looks at “frames” as learned values, Haidt implies that all humans have an undergrid of shared common morals. He examined a broad cross cultural sampling and determined that in most situations, people make decisions based on these core moral values. He believes that humans are generally intuitive, not rational. He quotes David Hume, “reason was fit only to be the slave of the passions.” All of us no doubt have first hand experience in trying to communicate with someone who holds a different political or religious belief. It’s beyond difficult. Haidt says that people reach their conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they have already decided. If you want to change someone’s mind, he says don’t try and appeal to them thru reason. Reach them thru their underlying moral intuitions, whose conclusions reasons defends. He sees humans from almost all cultures having 6 basic and common moral cornerstones; care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, liberty, in-group loyalty, authority/respect and sanctity/purity. As these are shared values, effective politics than becomes a process of appealing to as many of these core values as possible. Republican’s do this much better in his opinion. Liberals are focused primarily on fairness and caring, while conservatives hit on all moral cylinders.
Looking at a couple of concrete examples will help us get an understanding of how his theory works in practice. The reason why so many voters accept the idea that welfare is bad, lies in the notion of fairness; people do not support equal benefits when contributions made are unequal. In an article entitled “How to Get the Rich to Share the Marbles”, he suggests that rather than focusing on “distributive fairness”, liberals should make their argument based on “procedural fairness”, that is, how the rich acquired their wealth thru a rigged system that unfairly legislates to their advantage at everyone else s’ expense. He also states that most people support order over equality. Anything that endangers the fabric of a society is disruptive to authority and therefore discouraged . Taxes interfere with the natural process of reaping what you sew. Gay rights interfere with the sanctity of marriage. In a time of economic uncertainty, people cling more closely to their moral core. Obamacare challenges the sense of individual liberty, as it makes mandatory the purchase of healthcare insurance. Caring lies in the domain of the family, not the state, so “why should I have to buy insurance so that other people outside my group should get the benefit of healthcare coverage?
Haidts work implies that humans put more faith in smaller social units than larger social configurations. Family, tribe, community. Beyond that, bonds seem to lack the moral adhesive. Anything that challenges the authority of these smaller groups is viewed with fear and anger. “Parochial altruism” is the term he uses to describe this behavior. His idea of Human nature is the cornerstone of his theories and pivotal to changing human activities.
Liberals, according to Haidt, do not understand conservative values and they have no awareness that this is even an issue. Liberals pride themselves on being rational and open-minded and it is this pride that blocks them from accepting the idea that other people might be motivated by other underlying values. This is one of the underlying reasons for the effectiveness of the hatred directed at the liberal elite. And isn’t their some level of irony that it is liberals who want to define an individuals “interest” in economic terms? Commodification anyone?
Haidt does not have many practical solutions to bridging these cultural gaps. He hopes his writing will help us “understand and overcome our instincts”, thru an evolutionary process of increased “sociality.”
So where do our three writers agree? Well, all 3 acknowledge that voters frequently make choices based on their moral values, not economics. Even if economics were the key to the vote, when asked which candidate was more apt to advance their families economic interests, research polls done by the Washington Post indicate that amongst white voters with no college education, they still chose Romney over Obama 58% to 37%. Sobering thought… All 3 also agree that the Republican party has greater moral clarity and that these core values tend to be more parochial in nature as opposed to global.
Where do we go from here.
In the face of economic instability and the lack of a strong movement with progressive vision not to mention progressive institutions, these entrenched moral values might be more conducive to and lead toward solutions that are conservative by nature. The left remains splintered and ineffectual in the US.
Democrats need to look closely at these findings and find a way to fight for a strong progressive vision and platform within their own party. (Good luck with that.) There has to be more of a reason to vote for Obama than the composition of the Supreme Court, a non-democratic institution. Most voters rightly see both parties as bought and paid for by the 1%.
For those like myself, who believe that capitalism does not hold the answers to the long term problems facing the world, another language and vision needs to be born; one that will provide real solutions to the economic, environmental and social challenges we all face. Building a mass movement is essential to creating real change. Democratic solutions that encourage everyone to participate in the process are essential. Economic solutions that address the quality of work as well as the distribution of wealth is also critical. Building progressive frames that clearly show the real connection and interdependency all of us on this globe share is essential to a new value system. Truth like perspective, is an ideology.
Is the Wisconsin recall election a portend of things to come? One way or another, change is happening now and deeper changes are coming. All of us have a say in the shape of that change. The challenge is made even greater if as all 3 writers are correct in their assessment that logic, statistics, and rational thought(the liberals tools of choice) are ineffective tools in the battle for changing how people vote. We must reach hearts as well as minds if we are to make the 99% a cohesive mass force that is moving toward a participatory democracy.