Saturday, February 2, 2019

Who Gains from Bad Economic Times?

Tom Edsall's latest New York Times column makes an interesting point about how bad economic times in many parts of the country appear to have advantaged the Republicans, not the Democrats. He wonders whether, in a sense, the GOP now has a vested political interest in keeping those bad economic times going.
Edsall reviews some relevant literature on the right populist upsurge and notes:
"The results here and in England reinforce the conclusion that the worse things get, the better the right does.
As a rule, as economic conditions improve and voters begin to feel more secure, they become more generous and more liberal. In the United States, this means that voters move to the left; in Britain, it means voters are stronger in their support for staying in the European Union."
I agree. By and large, the left has achieved much more success when times were good than when times were bad. Hard economic times and rising inequality, rather than generating broad support for more democracy and social justice, more typically generate pessimism about the future and fear of change. In contrast, when times are good, when the economy is expanding and living standards are steadily rising for most of the population, people see better opportunities for themselves and are more inclined toward social generosity, tolerance and collective advance.
This insight is poorly understood on the left I think. If it was, I believe more would see that the way to defeat Trumpism in the long run is not simply to win some elections, but actually to bring good times back to communities that feel they have been left behind. That's the real challenge for today'a left.
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