Fuck The Poor?
Last month, Digby read an interesting study that helps explain why European Parliaments aren't overstocked with multimillionaires unable to relate to or have empathy with ordinary middle class citizens. We've been decrying DCCC recruitment of self-funding multimillionaires like Sean Eldridge this cycle and conservative New Dems John Delaney (MD), Elizabeth Esty (CT), Suzanne DelBene (WA), Scott Peters (CA), Patrick Murphy (FL), Bill Foster (IL), etc, last cycle. But Digby is disputing the assertion by the Washington Post'sTimothy B. Lee that congressmen should be paid more so they can feel equal to others of their elite social status.
But they're not supposed to be "elites." They're supposed to be representatives of the people who voted for them, which means they should not think of their "peers" as bankers, entertainers, executives etc. (at least not most of them.) Perhaps if they spent more time among the former instead of the latter they wouldn't feel so cheated and would have a better idea of who it is they should be identifying with. In fact, the problem may be that they actually make too much money which explains why they no longer understand the needs and wants of 95% of America.Digby can't recall which study she was thinking about but I found one from Harvard that seems to cover the bases, Why Doesn't The United States Have A European-Style Welfare State?. They endeavor to investigate why European governments redistribute income among their citizens on a much larger scale than our own government does, why European social programs are more generous and reach a larger share of citizens, and why European tax systems are more progressive. The U.S., they point out, doesn't have proportional representation, which played an important role in facilitating the growth of socialist parties in many European countries. America has strong courts that have routinely rejected popular attempts at redistribution, such as the income tax or labor regulation. The European equivalents of these courts were swept away as democracy replaced monarchy and aristocracy. The relative political stability of the United States over more than two centuries means that it is still governed by an eighteenth-century constitution designed to protect property. As world war and revolution uprooted the old European monarchies, the twentieth-century constitutions that replaced them were more oriented toward majority rule, and less toward protection of private property. They dismiss "American exceptionalism" in a way very different from how U.S. elites see it and discuss it an deal with reciprocal altruism as a possible behavioral explanation for redistribution. Reciprocal altruism implies that voters will dislike giving money to the poor if, as in the United States, the poor are perceived as lazy. In contrast, Europeans overwhelmingly believe that the poor are poor because they have been unfortunate. This difference in views is part of what is sometimes referred to as “American exceptionalism.”
I can't remember where I read about it, but there is a theory that Europe managed to create a strong welfare state at least partially because its system of elections makes it easier for members of the working and middle classes to run for office whereas the US has always made their representatives into higher status "elites." I don't know if that's the sole cause of our flaccid safety net, but I'm willing to bet that it's contributed to it.
Moreover, it's laughable that people who think they are underpaid compared to those they see as their peers will be appeased by a few hundred thousand dollars. If there's one thing that's obvious about human nature it's that those who see money as a sign of their comparative worth will never have enough of it. There are always going to be people who are richer than members of congress no matter how much we pay them.
In the world of elites, the congressman's power is his currency. And it's worth more than money. They know that the minute they are ready to give up the prestige and celebrity of being a public official, they can go into the private sector and command many times $172,000 per year if that's what matters to them. And so do their wealthy patrons.
Don't feel too sorry for them. They know exactly what they're worth on the marketplace and they'll be very handsomely compensated when they decide to cash in their chips.
[A]t the end of the nineteenth century, the United States had a minimal welfare state similar to that of the European countries at the time. The welfare system that did exist was based on veterans’ pensions that grew more and more generous over time and had more and more relaxed eligibility requirements. Several social reformers viewed this program as the steppingstone upon which to build a universal social security system. However, their efforts were halted by several factors. One of these was a general mistrust in the administration of the veterans program, and another the fact that it emerged from the divisive experience of the Civil War, rather than from a cohesive one such as an external war. Second, the U.S. courts during this period systematically rejected any legislation that was perceived as anti-business. In doing so, they appealed to the principle of protection of private property against government intervention; often the doctrine of freedom of contract was invoked. Most strikingly, in 1895 the courts declared the U.S. income tax to be unconstitutional, and it took a constitutional amendment to undo this decision. The pro-property actions of the courts were influenced both by the U.S. Constitution, which was designed by property owners in part to protect property from democracy’s excesses, and by incentives that firms created to influence judges.I haven't seen any academic studies that delve into the impact of a Congress filled with multimillionaires and of two political parties actively recruiting multimillionaires and actually discouraging candidacies by teachers, union members, or any ordinary middle class workers. How many bakers, bricklayers and candlestick makers are in Congress? Perhaps this will give you a hint:
Different legal systems (for example, the French versus the Anglo- Saxon system) attribute very different roles to the courts, whose institutional structure also differs across countries. The involvement of the courts in social legislation in the United States has been a constant feature of the U.S. experience, unlike that in countries whose legal tradition is based on the French or the German model. Indeed, the power and independence of the U.S. courts are unique, unmatched even in England, where parliamentary dominance is much more established. In the United Kingdom, the House of Lords was the closest equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court until its power was stripped from it in the triumph of parliamentary democracy.
Given the relative failure of public provision of welfare in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, social assistance took a turn toward private initiatives, which permeate U.S. society even today.
…The Great Depression could have galvanized socialist ideals in the United States. However, with the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Party managed to co-opt important fringes of the left, which might otherwise have strengthened the Socialist Party. At the same time, the Socialists persisted in not understanding and in not accommodating “distinctive elements of American culture, anti-statism and individualism.” These cultural features were of course at odds with the socialist emphasis on taxation and heavy government intervention. American socialists were systematically less successful than their counterparts in other Anglo-Saxon countries, such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom itself, in working with these cultural characteristics. Finally, one should not forget the role of repression of communism and socialism in post–World War II America.
The electoral system also made it difficult for a third party to move into the political arena, as emphasized, for instance, by Lipset. This observation is consistent with the econometric evidence described above on the importance of proportional representation. However, the interpretation is different from those of the models sketched above. The U.S. electoral rules, by making it difficult for third parties to enter, contributed to the failure of socialist and communist parties in the United States.
…The writers of the U.S. Constitution chose to establish a federal system with strong separation of powers, a bill of rights, and proportional representation. It is very clear that the Founding Fathers, James Madison in particular, were focused on protecting American citizens against the “encroaching spirit of power” and “the violence of faction.” The authors of the Constitution make it clear in the Federalist Papers that they are disturbed by the possibility that, in an unfettered democracy, “measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party; but by the superior force of an interested and over-bearing majority.” They therefore tried to design the Constitution so as to protect private rights against factions, even if those factions include a majority of the population.
Last month, when Roll Call released its annual-- very popular-- list of the wealthiest members of Congress, David Hawkins noted that the very wealthiest aren't just different from their constituents, they are also different from the other, merely wealthy, Members. Even the "poorest" Members can count on $172,000 a year plus very generous expense accounts and perks.
At first glance, our annual roster of the wealthiest people in Congress brought to mind one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most quoted lines: “Let me tell you about the very rich,” goes the opening of The Rich Boy, his 1926 short story. “They are different from you and me.”
But a more careful review of the exhaustively researched report quickly conjured up this codicil: The 50 Richest are profoundly different in many important ways from their own colleagues, who in the aggregate are still a whole lot better off than the vast majority of people they represent.
The median net worth of the top 50 was $14.3 million, a number made all the more astonishing by the fact that it’s 46 times as much as the median net worth ($306,000) of all the other members of Congress last year. And that lesser amount, in turn, is more than quadruple the median household net worth in the country.
Beyond that, the calculation of every member’s net worth shows that the super-rich are making a stronger-than-ever showing at the top levels of the congressional power structure. The 50 Richest list includes both of the minority leaders, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California at No. 15 and GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky at No. 39, as well as the chairmen of a half-dozen committees-- three each from the GOP-majority House and the Democratic-run Senate.
…With the impasse over the budget threatening a government shutdown in two weeks and a potential default within the next two months, the next decisions driving the deficit and debt will engender another wave of discussion about the federal government’s role in redistributing wealth-- either through the tax code or through spending on social programs.
And the obvious point is this: The people doing the talking at the Capitol will come disproportionately from one side of that divide-- way more than 1 percent of lawmakers are in that top percentile of American prosperity. Just edging onto the 50 Richest, the wealthiest 9 percent of the 535 voting members, required a 2012 net worth of more than $6.6 million.
|If the Dems manage to get Sean Eldridge into Congress, the average net worth of Members will rise dramatically|