This test design for the Republican Liberty Caucus web page was created using PHP and CSS with the WordPress blog engine to manage the dynamic content. Note that this site is in no way official, and is just my personal take on a way of redoing the site - though I naturally hope that it will be put to use in some way.
It can provide internal and external links to discussions, articles and static data files. It also permits multiple level of secure access for an unlimited number of users.
This central section can be used to post current articles with or without attached comment sections. Articles shown here are past articles from my personal weblog included as examples of what the format could look like. It’s also possible to just post brief article summaries with links to the articles.
You can also now see to the right my slight redesign of Bill Westmiller’s new RLC logo. Hope it appeals.
In our industrial and social system, the interests of all men are so closely intertwined that in the immense majority of cases a straight dealing man who by his efficiency, by his ingenuity and industry, benefits himself, must also benefit others. — Theodore Roosevelt
There continues to be a great deal of muttering from the left and alarmism in the media about a trend towards growing ‘income inequality’ between the rich and poor in America. Most of this originates in a series of studies by Isaac Shapiro at a left-wing think tank, the Center for Budget Policy Priorities, which has as its main objective fighting any tax reductions and redistributing income from the rich to the government. Shapiro’s work is mainly analysis of figures on household income from the Congressional Budget Office, which show a historic trend of income increasing in all income groups, but by a larger percentage in the higher income groups than the lower ones.
Income is normally broken down into quintiles, and between 1979 and 2002, Shapiro shows a 5% rate of income increase for the bottom quintile compared to a 48% growth in income for the top quintile. Basically his figures show that the more you earn, the more your earnings increased during that period. Shapiro’s conclusions seem alarming. Though everyone gained in income, the gains for the rich are so dramatically higher than for the poor that one has to be concerned. Of course, this analysis of income for huge income groups rather than individuals, and over a period of 23 years, is ridiculously simplistic and overlooks key, obvious factors which definitively invalidate it, especially as an argument against tax cuts.
First off, it’s a gross analysis over a long period of time, and it’s also based on data which is several years old. It doesn’t include the most recent data, and by taking so many years together it overlooks year-to-year trends in income growth which are very significant. If you examine the trends on a yearly basis what immediately leaps out is that the greatest growth in income disparity happened not in recent years as Shapiro implies and as the media has made an issue of, but in the very beginning of the period, in the 1980s, when taxes were at a historically very high level and economic growth was slow.
In the 15-year period from 1979 to 1994 the bottom quintile gained only 2% while the top quintile gained 28%. The next 6 years - the time of the high-tech boom - showed the greatest economic growth and saw the poor gain 8.1% and the top quintile gain 12.7%, much closer together. The most recent era - the Bush era of recession and tax cuts - also shows slowing growth in disparity than the 80s and early 90s, with both rich and poor losing income. The bottom quintile is down 8.5% in the last 5 years, and the top quintile is down 3.3% in the last 5 years, again a relatively close ratio. Overall during the 23 year span the ratio of income growth between the rich and poor is 9.6:1, but in the first 2/3 of the period, from 1979 to 1994, that ratio was 14:1 and, in the last 5 years, it was only 2.6:1. So the trend that everyone is alarmed about is actually a trend which has been declining in recent years and is only looks like a dramatic trend because of the rate of growth in wealth disparity in the beginning of the period studied.
What those who are alarmed about income disparity have latched onto is the single biggest comparison between rich and poor over 23 years, but because of how Shapiro presents the data, most who have looked at the issue miss the fact that the rate of growth in disparity is decreasing rather than increasing. The rich are actually getting rich less quickly relative to the poor than they were 20 years ago.
The next problem with the analysis of this data is that it is looking at statistical groups rather than changes in the income of individuals over the period studied. What it completely ignores is the fact that the people in the bottom quintile in 1979 are not the same people who are there 20 years later. The reality is that most of the bottom quintile is made up of the elderly, recent immigrants, and young people just entering the work force. The last two groups move up in income rapidly and are overwhelmingly not in the bottom quintile after only a few years have passed while the first group die off also leaving the bottom quintile.
A study by the House of Representatives shows that the bottom quintile has the highest level of upward mobility of any group. In a 10-year period, 86% of the people in that quintile will have moved up one or more income brackets. What’s more, the top quintile has the highest level of downward mobility. In a typical 10-year period, 35% of the people in the top quintile will have dropped down at least one bracket.
Factoring in economic mobility totally destroys the Shapiro thesis that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Let’s assume that people in the top and bottom quintiles only rose or dropped one quintile in income over the 23 year period studied, which is ridiculously conservative. Based on the percentages who moved up and down, that means that, on average, the 86% of the poor who moved up actually increased their income by 274%, while 35% of the rich decreased their income by 46%. So using those figures you can adjust Shapiro’s percentages for upward and downward economic mobility and you end up with the poor gaining 236% on average, and the rich actually 27% on average. That’s pretty damned far from the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Everyone is getting richer, and as a percentage the poor are probably rising farther and faster than anyone.
When people look at data they usually see what they want to see. In the world of groups like the CBPP, groups matter more than individuals so the upward movement of individuals is less important than the fact that 18-year olds working at MacDonalds aren’t earning much more now than similar first-time workers were 20 years ago. Never mind that the 18-year old they looked at 20 years ago is now earning 3 times as much and in some entirely different profession.
There are some other good sources for analysis of this subject. Take a look at the overview of income mobility from Daniel Drezner, and the article from March 23rd on Economic Trends. The Heartland Institute also has a look at the subject from a different perspective, and another good article can be found at the Heritage Foundation. Those last two are right-wing think tanks as suspect as the CBPP in their own way, so look at the original data for yourself and draw your own conclusions. For the source data on income growth during this period, take a look at the tables in this Census Bureau PDF, and for trends in income mobility look at this House of Representatives Joint Economic Study.
Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. — George Washington, Farewell Address
With a couple of big elections coming up in the near future, everyone is wondering whether the shortcomings of the Bush administration are enough to drive voters away and give the Democrats a chance to regain power. As with every election, victory largely comes down to who can win over the independent voters who make up about a third of the electorate. As elected officials from both parties underperform and disappoint the voters the number of independents has been growing as disaffected members drift away from the parties. These alienated voters are the key to winning more and more elections.
While both parties can count on their partisans fairly reliably, the independents can go either way so most campaign efforts are directed at winning them over. Although their core constituency is slightly smaller, in recent elections the Republicans have won over more of the independent vote and that has given them victory after victory. To reverse that trend the Democrats need to find a way to appeal to those independents more than the Republicans do.
As has been demonstrated again and again since campaigns started heavily ‘going negative’ in the 1980s, voters find it a lot easier to focus on the negative than the positive. It’s easier to win votes by smearing your opponent than by promoting your own ideas and it’s easier to lose an election by committing a faux pas than it is to win an election by doing good works.
In this negative atmosphere both parties tend to be judged by their most extreme elements. And both parties certainly contain some wacky extremists whose views are shared by only a fraction of their own party, much less the general population. Independents are mostly relatively moderate politically, so they often face the unpleasant challenge of figuring out which party’s radicals hold positions they find least unacceptable.
It is this dynamic which has paid off for the Republicans and will likely continue to do so in the future unless the Democrats find some way to control or eliminate their ideologically unappealing fringe. The problem for the Democrats is that the key to the independent voter is that they tend to vote based on their obvious self-interest. They’re alienated from politics, hostile to government and to both parties and they mostly want to be left alone. They vote their pocketbooks, on the basis of their family’s welfare and on what is likely to be best for their friends and neighbors. You might call them selfish, but basically they’re realists who know that the best kind of government is one which does the least harm. They’ve gone beyond expecting a government which looks out for their interests and are willing to settle for a government which isn’t trying to screw them at every turn.
Independent voters want to protect their interests and protect their rights. They know that the activist extremes of the two major parties have agendas which involve whittling away their rights in all sorts of areas, in service of religious, moral and political ideologies. They also understand that the parties have to cater to these extremes in order to turn out reliable, core votes. But above all, they have a simple agenda of their own. They want to be left alone and to protect their families, their property and their wallets. In picking how they will vote independents have to decide which party’s extreme agitators are more threatening to them.
This is where the Republicans tend to win out. While the radicals of both parties want to limit liberty and impose intrusive restrictions on people to further their marginal causes, the general threat level of the Republican extremists is more acceptable, however reprehensible their specific issue positions may be. Most of the ways that extreme Republican factions want to persecute people and take away their rights apply primarily to small groups who are relatively politically unpopular and to rights which many people see as being of secondary importance. In contrast, the radical elements of the Democratic party tend to promote policies which impact very fundamental rights and which would affect much larger portions of the population. In grade-school terms, the Republicans are like playground bullies who are going to take lunch money away from the whiney unpopular child who picks his nose in class, while the Democrats are the crusading parent who wants to ban recess for everyone because someone could get hurt on the playground.
The main bugaboo of the Republican party is the religious right. They’re mostly out to get homosexuals and to ban abortion. Both of these issues target relatively small and unpopular segments of the population. Homosexuals are everywhere, but they’re less than 10% of the population and they’re out of the mainstream by definition. They are seen as alien, threatening and objects of derision by a lot of people, even though they may know better. Everyone knows that unplanned pregnancies are a problem, but underlying the surface sympathy is a resentment of the mother and a condemnation of the presumed promiscuousness which created the situation. Again, women seeking abortions are a small and powerless group and one which doesn’t evoke a lot of genuine sympathy. In both of these examples most independent voters can easily say “what do I care, I’m not gay and I’m not going to get knocked up with an unwanted baby.”
The same holds true with the issues of the extreme ‘law and order’ Republicans. Most people don’t plan to commit a murder so they don’t mind the death penalty. Most look down on drug users so they put up with the War on Drugs. Most can even look at infringements of privacy rights under the 4th Amendment and not worry because they aren’t criminals or terrorists and therefore have nothing to hide. Restrictions on social service programs are an acceptable evil because those people should work harder and provide for thesmelves. This attitude even extends to some degree to situations like the War in Iraq. It mostly afflicts people in a foreign country, and a very small number of US soldiers who volunteered to be there in the first place. In all these cases the independent, self-centered voter can frown and say “What does it matter to me? I’m not really directly hurt by any of this.”
The independent voter may not like any of these programs. They may be nominally pro-gay and pro-choice and anti-war and pro-drugs, etc. But when it comes down to making a choice most of them ultimately decide that if it doesn’t hurt them directly it’s an acceptable compromise.
In contrast, the more radical elements of the democratic party promote policies which independent voters find much more generally threatening. These are generally political objectives which go against the three most basic rights of life, liberty and property and which apply to the majority of people in the society.
Social reformers on the left want to implement ‘economic justice’, which to the independent voter means higher taxes to pay for more social welfare programs. That hits most voting citizens directly in the wallet. They aren’t targeting some small and isolated group. They’re threatening to take money away from everyone and give it to someone less deserving. That’s very troubling to someone who votes mostly based on the interests of themself and their family. Social Security is a perfect example of this. It’s a Democrat program which takes money from every citizen and eventually pays back a terrible return, while creating massive debt which may eventually cause it to fail alltogether and make your money just disappear. That’s a lot to answer for and the Democrats are answerable for it to every single taxpayer.
There are many other issues as well. Many Democrats want to restrict gun rights. To the independent voter - who may not be a gun nut at all - that still adds up to restricting the right of every citizen to defend their property, their family and their own life. The internationalism which is popular with many Democrats falls under the same umbrella. There’s a constant fear that if we give up some sovereignty to the United Nations or international courts, those bodies will take the rights we’re guaranteed under our Constitution. Environmentalism is another threat. While independent voters understand the desirability of the longterm goal of protecting the environment, like most people they’re short-sighted and they see the loss of their SUVs and other aspects of their consumer lifestyles as a much more immediate and serious threat. The same pattern of widespread threat is demonstrated in the education system, which is largely a product of the policies of the left and their enslavement to special interests like the NEA. Schools are clearly failing and thus threatening every child and alienating every parent.
The same pattern shows up in other areas as well. The Democrats like to tackle big issues and provide blanket solutions which end up drawing everyone into the problem one way or another. Even if these policies of the left are intended to be positive for society and individuals, they are easy for their opponents to convincingly paint in a negative light and then point to every voter and tell them that they will be directly harmed. It’s a believable argument, because education and taxation and public safety are of concern to everyone regardless of party or lack of party.
It’s not a pretty picture, but we’re a country built on self-interest and the rights of the individual. If you ignore those interests and threaten individual rights on a broad basis, you pay the price at the ballot box. If you just threaten small and marginal groups it’s an acceptable political risk. Deny gays the right to marry and you lose 100,000 independent voters. Make SUVs more expensive and you take money out of the pockets of 1,000,000 independent voters and their votes go with their money.
When it comes down to it, the moderate elements of both parties are willing to take away peoples rights to pander to their extreme wings and thereby advance their power and achieve their objectives. The rights which Republican extremists target are less fundamental and do less harm to fewer people than the rights which the Democrats target. That being the case, the person in the middle, owing no hard allegiance to either party, will decide in his own best interest, and for more of these independent voters that means siding reluctantly with the Republicans, even when that means putting up with some extreme policies which they disagree with but, more importantly, aren’t the target of.