Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Economic self-interests?

Since the victory of the Bushies in last November I have noticed one question come up in several liberal blogs and editorials: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic self-interest? After all, there are so many poor and lower-middle class voters, in poor and lower-middle class Red States.

As Seppo pointed out in one of his comments to this blog, I think the whole victory-by-moral-values schtick was overdone by the media. I doubt many Americans would put such factors irrelevant to their own lives as gay marriage (as if the Republican position is the moral one in the first place!) at a higher priority than their own economic interests.

I think there is something deeper in our North American culture and mindset at work here.

I once read (forget where) that Europeans were baffled by our North American-ism of taking drives around rich neighborhoods and fantasizing about the big houses. As I kid I sometimes bicycled around rich neighborhoods in the summer, knowing that I would live in them one day. (Needless to say I had no inkling I would end up in Tokyo but that is another issue...)

Somewhere deep down we think we have a shot at the lifestyles of the rich and famous. I think it is an essential part of who we are. Ours is a culture of aspiration.

So voters do not want to help the less fortunate mainly because they can't believe or accept that they may potentially be one of the less fortunate themselves.

I think we have a "chutzpah" tradition, where the little guy acts big. This bluffing stands him in good stead and he gets the job and the girl. We idolize this archetype in our movies, books, folklore and mythology.

On an individual psyochological basis this is a very positive and healthy trait, much more so than thinking of oneself as a victim, needless to say.

However when we collectively think that way there is a risk that the basic social safety net can unravel. The fact is that not everyone is going to be wealthy and successful. Without that safety net many people (possibly a scarily high percentage) will fall through the cracks. It is already happening.

But I am not worried, maybe I can strike gold before it happens to me!


randy said...

I disagree with a lot this, Arka. First, when I drive around rich neighbourhoods, I think the people in those house are pathetic because they are so far out of touch with real life, authentic living, that is, the joy and impending gratification of struggle.

2nd, I think the poor in the red states support Republicans for valid economic reasons, that is, that most of the butt-fuck towns in middle America depend on polluting industries like oil and coal (and the business that support them) that Kerry had threatened to shut down.

Arka Roy said...


I think it is a generalization to say that all people living in rich neighborhoods are out of touch with authentic living and the joy of struggle.

There are as many personal stories in rich neighborhoods as there are people, something that also goes for poor and middle-class neighborhoods, and slums in Mumbai for that matter.

You may be right that the percentage of assholes might be greater. But when I was a kid admiring rich neighborhoods I don't think I was fantasizing about being an asshole!

As for the second part, you're right, the poor often have short-term reasons for voting for the party that will screw them in the long term. Particularly in the deep South there is a great tradition of pork-barrel politics by the Republicans, and jobs are often created as a result.

Ian said...


Nice Post - I think you're on the mark regarding attitudes toward upward mobility.