Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Why Voters are Disillusioned with Politicians

Policy makers in the United States state as a principal objective the achievement of strong economic growth to bring about greater opportunities and higher living standards for all Americans. At the same time, they express concern over the widening gap between the richest and poorest members of society. These twin concerns present a conundrum because it has proven difficult to achieve both objectives at the same time despite efforts at redistributing income through progressive taxation, public expenditure programs, thousands of regulations, and other economic policy tools. The mismatch between these and other stated goals and outcomes has led to public disaffection with politicians and the government.

Let’s examine this conundrum, and several others, to see why they are so difficult to resolve.

We are told every day that the gap between rich and poor is widening in the United States, threatening social stability, and preventing millions from achieving their dreams. One purported cause is globalization in which well-paid manufacturing jobs are being outsourced to China and other low-cost manufacturing countries. Another, and perhaps more direct, cause is the millions of illegal immigrants who enter the United States to take low-paid jobs that citizens presumably will not perform. By definition, large numbers of a steady inflow of low-paid workers widen the gap between well-paid, middle- and upper-middle class residents and low-paid immigrants. One solution is to stop illegal immigration of low-skilled persons or, going further, deport millions of illegal immigrants. The federal government has yet to make a serious attempt to address the problem lest the U.S. economy suffer a shortage of labor to harvest and process agricultural products, make beds, wait on tables, collect garbage, paint homes, install roofs, and perform other manual tasks.

Another source of the gap is the advancement of women in the labor market and professions. A majority of students in U.S. universities and colleges is women. They constitute half or more in many law, business, medical, and other professional schools. Highly-educated women who earn large incomes tend to marry well-educated men who also earn large incomes, producing couples with extremely large incomes. The education and professionalization of women, a great achievement of feminism, and their choice of partners are another cause of the gap. Dual high-income couples often hire low-wage day care, gardeners, and housekeepers, thereby exacerbating the gap. The children of these marriages begin life with much greater economic opportunities and prospects than those of single heads of household and low-income families living in poor neighborhoods with bad schools.

High housing prices in well-to-do suburbs and cities make it difficult for such modestly-paid public servants as police, fire, health, and other mid-level government employees to live in the communities in which they work. The well-to-do gnash their teeth and wring their hands over this situation, saying that there is a need to build affordable housing for these dedicated public servants. Yet proposals put forth by property developers for low- or medium-cost housing are often rejected or downsized on such grounds as additional traffic congestion, overcrowding, pressure on schools, and environmental degradation. More likely is that owners of expensive homes do not want to live near lower- and lower-middle-income classes. American communities are increasing segregated along economic and racial lines, with an increasing number of gated communities, guards, and barriers to entry.

We are told that economic and tax policy should encourage saving and investment as a means to foster growth. However, we are simultaneously told that tax cuts to stimulate saving and investment disproportionately benefit the wealthy. How can we increase saving and investment if policies directed to those ends disproportionately benefit the wealthy, thereby widening the gap between rich and poor? Indeed, many politicians on the left propose, if elected, to raise taxes on saving and investment.

We are told that there is a rising tide of negative sentiment towards the United States all around the world and that U.S. enterprises exploit workers, especially illegal immigrants. If true, why have some ten-twenty million illegal immigrants entered the United States from Central and South America, and why do millions more try to cross the border from Mexico each year? Why did tens of thousands of Irish sign up for the citizenship lottery some years ago?

Some politicians of the left dislike the U.S. military, regarding it as a source of global oppression. Yet these same politicians love military bases in their states and districts, fighting tooth and nail to prevent their closure every time a base-closing commission is established to reduce wasteful military spending and rationalize the country’s military bases.

Underlying these and other conundrums is an assault on logic and evidence as the basis of reasoned discourse, which makes intelligent discussion of public policy so difficult and the resolution of social problems almost impossible.