Blue to red states? Try stagnating wages as a source of resentment

A reporter named Alec MacGillis did a fine piece in this Sunday’s New York Times on what has become a perennial question for the last generation of analysts: why have formerly blue states turned red? Why are so many Americans voting Republican when our nation’s safety net has been so important for them?

MacGillis interrogates several voters who are disturbed by the dependency of lower income Americans on this very safety net. They seem to believe they are exploiting programs like food stamps and disability insurance, which are supported by taxpayers.

But I think the elephant in this room is as it has long been. Working-class Americans and middle-income Americans are not doing well. Wages have stagnated. How many times do we have to say it? They may have jobs but they are still barely making ends meet.

In such an environment, it is easy to get resentful of those who are getting some government help—even if you once got help yourself. When wages stagnate, as they have not for so many since the 1980’s or even the 1970’s, resentment is easy to tap.  That’s what’s going on. Voters vote against their interests out of spite. They are angry at those who don’t work, but government programs are not why such workers are not making ends meet. The right wing ploy has long been that social policies reduce growth and wages for the working class.  It just ain’t so.

It’s austerity in America (which is even worse in Europe) that has suppressed economic growth. If we had more fiscal spending for infrastructure and, yes, for social programs, many workers would be making more money. Their resentment would be reduced and they probably wouldn’t be so angry at helping their brethren down the block who are poor for any of a variety of reasons.  Let’s get this straight.

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