Keeping them down

Following up on a previous post about, once again, inequality, it occurred to me that there are groups of people bent on making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Certainly the rich prefer this. But an entire political party may see their fortunes improved by increasing income inequality. That’s one of the takeaways from Thomas Edsall’s piece in today’s New York Times.

Citing recent research, he writes:

If Voorheis, McCarty and Shor are on target, Republicans have a vested political interest in exacerbating inequality because inequality moves voters to the right.

The three researchers opine:

We find that income inequality has a large, positive and statistically significant effect on political polarization. Economic inequality appears to cause state Democratic parties to become more liberal. Inequality, however, moves state legislatures to the right overall. Such findings suggest that the effect of income inequality impacts polarization by replacing moderate Democratic legislators with Republicans.

Once Republicans dominate legislatures, they steadily resist efforts to redistribute incomes via tax schema, thereby intensifying inequality, leading to the election of more conservatives, and so on. Edsall concludes:

Finally, and most important: Republican success at the state level – in contrast with control of the United States House and Senate – has empowered the party to actually make policy without the crippling effects of partisan gridlock.

More law and regulatory policy – much of it conservative and controversial – has been enacted at the state level than at any other level of government in the past five years. In terms of policy initiatives, the 24 states where Republicans are in full control are the most productive of all: the 11 Confederate states, except Virginia, along with Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska (with a nominally non-partisan legislature), Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah.

It is in these states that the retrenchment from social and economic liberalism is moving into high gear, as much of the rest of the country and the federal government remains mired in conflict.

The structural changes in the political system have, then, put the Republican Party in the vanguard of action on a gamut of issues from voting rights to union rights to reproductive rights; from taxation to health care and environmental policy to spending on the poor to education.

Democrats may have the edge in presidential elections, but Republicans now have the advantage where it counts: in the states, where they can set the policies that govern a majority of citizens’ daily lives.