Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nearly three decades of Republican dominance may be coming to an end:

The central con of the political coalition assembled by Ronald Reagan and maintained by his successors was that government was a common enemy. Middle-class social conservatives loathed the government for legalizing abortion, forbidding prayer in schools, and coddling minorities through welfare and affirmative action. Upper-class libertarian conservatives loathed the government for soaking the rich through the income tax and weakening businesses through burdensome regulation. The only useful function of the federal government was to provide for the common defense. This was a con for two reasons.

First, the middle and upper classes were both dependent on the federal government for a variety of benefits, including Social Security, trade protection, scientific research, and assorted localized spending (termed "pork barrel" by those who don't receive it and "economic development" by those who do).

Second, the distribution of this government largesse greatly favored the rich. In the April 1992 Atlantic, Neil Howe and Philip Longman, citing unpublished data from the Congressional Budget Office, reported that U.S. households with incomes above $100,000 received, on average, slightly more in federal cash and in-kind benefits ($5,690) than households with incomes below $10,000 ($5,560). This was four years before the Clinton administration eliminated Aid to Families With Dependent Children, the principal income-support program for the poor. When tax breaks were added to the tally, households with incomes above $100,000 received considerably more ($9,280) than households with incomes below $10,000 ($5,690). Clinton subsequently expanded tax subsidies to the poor through the Earned Income Tax Credit, but not enough to undo this disparity. "[I]f the federal government wanted to flatten the nation's income distribution," Howe and Longman concluded, "it would do better to mail all its checks to random addresses."

11:53 PM