Tag Archives: Tea Party

Who’s a Freeloader?

By James Kwak

A year ago, Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin published a paper based on their in-depth interviews of Tea Party activists. A longer presentation of their research was published as a book a few months ago, and I was reminded of it by historian Daniel Rodgers’s review in Democracy.*

Rodgers’s review is titled “‘Moocher Class’ Warfare,” picking up on one of their key findings: in general, Tea Party members like Medicare and Social Security, which they think they have earned through their work, but don’t like perceived freeloaders who live off of other peoples’ work. From the paper (p. 33):

The distinction between “workers” and “people who don’t work” is fundamental to Tea Party ideology on the ground. First and foremost, Tea Party activists identify themselves as productive citizens. . . . This self-definition is posed in opposition to nonworkers seen as profiting from government support for whom Tea Party adherents see themselves as footing the bill. . . . Tea Party anger is stoked by perceived redistributions—and the threat of future redistributions—from the deserving to the undeserving. Government programs are not intrinsically objectionable in the minds of Tea Party activists, and certainly not when they go to help them. Rather, government spending is seen as corrupted by creating benefits for people who do not contribute, who take handouts at the expense of hard-working Americans.

Let’s leave aside the self-serving nature of this distinction—I deserve my entitlement programs, but you don’t deserve yours. Does it even make any sense?

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Straight Out of Antiquity

By James Kwak

In their paper on the Tea Party, Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin (Chrystia Freeland summary here) argue that one of the central principles of the Tea Party is a division of the world into workers who deserve what they earn (including Medicare and Social Security, which they like) and undeserving “people who don’t work”—by which many mean the young, or even their own younger relatives.

We are the 99 Percent, the tumblr associated with Occupy Wall Street, is, among many other things, a kind of response to that worldview. The introduction takes it on directly:

“They say it’s because you’re lazy. They say it’s because you make poor choices. They say it’s because you’re spoiled. If you’d only apply yourself a little more, worked a little harder, planned a little better, things would go well for you. Why do you need more help? Haven’t they helped you enough? They say you have no one to blame but yourself. They say it’s all your fault.”

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Baseline Scenario Goes Glossy

By James Kwak

Simon and I wrote an article for the November issue of Vanity Fair about—well, about a lot of things. It’s about the eighteenth-century rivalry between Great Britain and France, the lessons of the American Revolutionary War, the Hamilton-Jefferson debates (again), and the War of 1812. It’s also about present-day fiscal policy and budgetary politics. The main question we take up is what the Founding Fathers (from the Constitutional Convention through their involvement in the War of 1812) thought about a strong central government, the national debt, and the taxes necessary to pay for them, and what that means for today. All that in less than 3,000 words, so there isn’t a lot of room for all the details.

You can read the article online here.

Happy Constitution Day

By James Kwak

(Actually, it was on Saturday.) I just read Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (W.W. Norton, 2009), by Kim Phillips-Fein. It’s a history of the resistance from the business community to the New Deal and how it gave birth to at least one major strand of the modern conservative movement. One of Phillips-Fein’s major points is that the conservative movement is not just a reaction to the civil rights movement, the 1960s, and the women’s liberation movement (and Roe v. Wade). Those trends gave the conservative movement more energy and support, but business leaders had for decades been trying to build an intellectual and political movement that could reverse the New Deal. And while some of them talked about Christian values, what they really cared about were breaking unions and lower taxes.

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A Foray into Monetary Policy and Tangentially Related Speculations

By James Kwak

Yesterday I wrote an Atlantic column about the bizarre situation that the Federal Reserve is in. Ordinarily, we think central bank independence is important because it permits the bank to take unpopular, anti-growth steps when the political branches of government want popular, pro-growth steps. But today we’re in Bizarro world: the political branches are intent on strangling the economy, so the Fed should be ignoring the political winds and stimulating the economy—especially since it’s clear that fiscal policy is off the table. Rick Perry just provided a last-minute dose of color.

Obviously Perry and the Republicans don’t want the Fed to stimulate the economy because they don’t want the economy to recover before the 2012 elections. But I think there’s something deeper here, which Mike Konczal gets at in this great post. Konczal summarizes the nineteenth-century gold-standard ideology this way: “Paper money decreases the power of the husband over his wife and the father over his family, loosens the natural leadership that serves as the best protection against ‘effeminate’ manners, and gives us a democracy without nobility.”

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