Join 3,411 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


America: Have vs Have-not
April 4, 2010 1:00 PM   Subscribe

The Obama Coalition "These general findings suggest the possibility that the political strength of voters whose convictions are perhaps best described as Social Democratic in the European sense is reaching a significant level in the United States. With effective organization and mobilization, such voters are positioned to set the agenda in the Democratic Party in the near future."
posted by Glibpaxman (37 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
The greatest challenge for the United States of America in the next fifty years is not China, not Russia, and certainly not Iran. It is one of internal cohesion, how best to reconcile the desire of one part of the population to move towards some form of social democracy with the desire of another section to move further towards free market libertarianism.

I am struggling to see how it is possible.

Good luck.
posted by knapah at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


I think the notion of this intense insurmountable divide in this country is overblown. Its really the 24hr news cycle more than anything else driving the notion that the country is in sort of cold civil-war.

The government is still standing, and things are moving forward. Its painstakingly slow and drawn out, but building consensus is never speedy.
posted by rosswald at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Everybody sees themselves in Obama. Social Democrats are no exception.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:20 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is free market libertarianism? The govt via taxpayers bailing our the gamblers running various economic enterprises? Govt support for various occupations? As one libertarian told me some time ago, the last time we had a free market was under President Coolidge.
posted by Postroad at 1:22 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Free market libertarianism is the message that permits the state to act in the interests of the rich. It doesn't have to be reflective of reality.
posted by knapah at 1:24 PM on April 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


That was an interesting read. It'll be interesting to see how an aging once-majority of Christian conservative whites stands becoming the minority.
posted by codacorolla at 1:27 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I am struggling to see how it is possible.

Friendly Fascism is a good read on the subject. You can set up social insurance programs for proles, while allowing free market libertarianism for a few large corporations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:27 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, the two-party system has created a pair of coalitions rather than parties in the strictest sense of the word, since voters and candidates have "nowhere else to go." Both Democrats and Republicans have had problems in recent years with factional splits within the party, leading to the danger of a third party arising which, although unlikely to win any seats in Congress, much less the Presidency, is likely to attract disgruntled voters and effectively undercut the party's chances in the specific election. A system that allowed viable third parties would probably alleviate this, although not in a way the Democrats or Republicans would like.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:34 PM on April 4, 2010


Social Democrats are a fairly extreme minority in the US because they are by definition Marxists/Socialists/etc who believe in incremental change using the systems already in place rather than in the revolutionary platform of more traditional leftists. The Social Democrats think that the traditional Communists are placing their trust in an unreliable and dangerous revolutionary aspiration, the traditional Communists think that the ring serves only its master, and so on. They have a shared vision of the end game, but differ over how to reach it.

It's a sign that the American political Overton Window has shifted badly to the right that FDR New Deal-style liberalism is compared to Social Democracy; while New Deal-style liberals and Social Democrats agree on some policies, the liberals do not have the aim of using those policies in some vague way to advance a hard-left agenda.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:35 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good article. Long and a lot to absorb but worthwhile to take the time to read.
posted by stbalbach at 1:36 PM on April 4, 2010


European Social Democrats tend to distinguish themselves from socialists, who they see as farther to the left. As I understand it, they tend to think they live in a middle ground where markets may flourish, where private enterprise is encouraged, but also where the government assumes responsibility for a number of societal functions, .e.g, health care, education, assisted living and so on.

But these Europe/America comparisons always bother me a little, because we're talking about two wholly different political compasses. What's considered left, right and centrist in the US and in say, Sweden, are very dissimilar. Comparing US politicians to European political concepts is fun, but doesn't really tell us anything about what's going on in the US, apart from how it differs from Europe.

What I think is more interesting is how many Americans view a variety of concepts favorably or unfavorably. That gives you a clearer picture without the need from transcontinental metaphors that don't really fit.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:00 PM on April 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


A system that allowed viable third parties would probably alleviate this, although not in a way the Democrats or Republicans would like.

It might be enough of an alleviation that it would help both of those parties in the long run. Instead of worrying that the other side would win if a Ralph Nader or Ron Paul crops up (and I think I can fairly confidently state that such spoilers are only going to become more common in the future, if only for the fact that both parties have such a huge incentive to create them to bedevil the other side), it would mean they could still win so long as the third party doesn't get as many votes as they do.

It would mean they cared more about the other side losing than themselves winning. If both the parties were to support such a system (the easiest way it could come about, short of a constitutional convention kind of arrangement), it would mean they were interested in hedging their bets against losing. The parties are getting angry enough at each other that one could see them trying such a system out.
posted by JHarris at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2010


According to the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the share of total personal income in the United States that comes from government transfer programs – Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits, unemployment compensation, etc. – has grown rapidly over the past six decades, from 5.9 cents of every dollar in 1950, to 8.5 cents in 1970, to 11.8 cents in 1990, 12.5 cents in 2000, to 17.3 cents in 2009. In addition, according to BEA, another 9.8 cents of every dollar went, in 2009, to salaries for state, local and federal government employees, a figure that does not include costs of fringe benefits. In other words, more than a quarter of all personal income in the United States is paid for with tax dollars.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:19 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


A system that allowed viable third parties would probably alleviate this, although not in a way the Democrats or Republicans would like.

Your options are:

- Instant runoff voting (several practical problems, being used in various localities now)
- Range voting (well-suited to our candidate-based politics, not tried anywhere)
- Proportional representation (Proven in many countries, barely tried here)
- Lots of others I can't think of right now

I'd back any of these, but they'll have to start at the local level, then percolate up to the state level. So, go out and push for one of those in your town. I'd root for range voting in particular, if only because no one has done it yet.
posted by Xezlec at 3:59 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Social Democrats are a fairly extreme minority in the US because they are by definition Marxists/Socialists/etc ...

Oh, lay off the Glenn Beck.

Whoever wrote the wikipedia page had it right:
"the goal of social democracy is to reform capitalism through parliamentary and democratic processes in order to achieve a welfare state, government regulation of the market, and various state sponsored programs to ameliorate and remove the inequities and injustices inflicted by the capitalist market system."

What part of that idea suggests collective ownership of the means of production to you? It sounds pretty conventional to me (ok, well as long as you interpret "welfare state" as "social safety net").
posted by kiltedtaco at 4:14 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


i hope i'm wrong, but i think that the fact that white conservatives are thinning out makes it a more scary time.

to riff offa what cordolla said
posted by angrycat at 4:19 PM on April 4, 2010


codacorolla
posted by angrycat at 4:20 PM on April 4, 2010


When I want information about the left, instead of talking to the left I read wikipedia.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:23 PM on April 4, 2010


"Social democracy should neither expect nor desire the imminent collapse of the existing economic system … What social democracy should be doing, and doing for a long time to come, is organize the working class politically, train it for democracy, and fight for any and all reforms in the state which are designed to raise the working class and make the state more democratic." Eduard Bernstein

Communist bastards!
posted by Splunge at 5:16 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


tl;dr: Just because people don't have jobs, doesn't mean they don't want healthcare.
The numbers are bad enough, but there is a growing consensus among economists that the unemployment problem is likely to become structural—no longer a temporary phenomenon.
I agree. In the 1930s, about a third of the workforce worked on farms. Today it's something like 2%. We still grow the same amount of food, more even. There's no reason the same thing couldn't happen with manufacturing. It can all be done by robots. If not today, in 10, 20 years. And the greatest advances actually applied technology and productivity actually happened in the 1930s. Because companies turned towards technology in order to boost productivity because they were short on cash.

So I think in the future you're going to see, you're going to have to see a society where unskilled labor is just not needed. Everything will be done by robots. But what happens to all the unskilled workers? They can't just starve to death, obviously.

Economic conservatism is just not a workable solution for the future.
posted by delmoi at 5:34 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Whoah, whoah, whoah. Are you suggesting welfare for ROBOTS?!

Now I've heard EVERYTHING!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:37 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


(ok, well as long as you interpret "welfare state" as "social safety net").

Ironically, despite all the negative connotations the right-wing reality confabulator has loaded the term with in recent years, I'm pretty sure the authors of the US constitution took a much more positive view of Welfare, particularly since they saw fit to include it among one of the upper-cased guiding principles described in the preamble to the US constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

And the courts have even ruled as much in the past:

In interpreting whether the proposed project constituted a "public use", the court pointed to the Preamble's reference to "promot[ing] the general Welfare" as evidence that "[t]he health of the people was in the minds of our forefathers." "[T]he concerted effort for renewal and expansion of hospital and medical care centers, as a part of our nation's system of hospitals, is as a public service and use within the highest meaning of such terms. Surely this is in accord with an objective of the United States Constitution: 'promote the general Welfare.'"

Surely, it follows by this logic that even something as socialistic as single-payer government sponsored health care, is a public service within the highest meaning of such terms and in accord with an objective of the United States Constitution.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:43 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Governments could decide to provide the proles with their bread and circuses leaving the real decisions, actions, and information for the economically viable. I definitely see strains of that within American thought of all political persuasions. The left wants to buy off the poor and the right wants to distract them. Everyone agrees that decisions should be left to my betters.

While it would certainly solve the problem of long term structural unemployment we're already at a point where the "haves" need the "have nots" to consume way more than produce. The next step is just stopping the "have nots" from thinking.
posted by Glibpaxman at 5:48 PM on April 4, 2010


I don't really understand why the author of the article is surprised by middle income people feeling like they are getting the shaft from health care reform. They ARE getting the shaft from health care reform. They have been getting the shaft from the system all along and health care reform isn't really doing too much to change that. They have to buy insurance or pay penalties, but they make too much to get subsidized. I don't really see anything in health care reform that is going to make insurance any cheaper.
posted by jefeweiss at 5:51 PM on April 4, 2010


When I want information about the left, instead of talking to the left I read wikipedia.

Meaning what? Leftists don't write Wikipedia pages?
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:56 PM on April 4, 2010


They have to buy insurance or pay penalties, but they make too much to get subsidized. I don't really see anything in health care reform that is going to make insurance any cheaper.

The vast majority (>80%) of middle income earners already have insurance, and will keep the insurance they already have.

It will become less expensive because the law creates a requirement that 85% of all insurance premiums be spent on medical care costs (rather than on administrative costs and insurance company profits), because the pool of insured will be larger, and because there are many, many pilot programs included in the bill designed to explore techniques for bringing costs down (and presumably, the more effective among these programs will eventually be adopted for the long term).

Also, in addition to seeing cost reductions over the longterm, middle income earners will no longer have to worry about losing their insurance when they lose their jobs, or being denied coverage for preexisting conditions. That means they'll have a lot more flexibility to choose different insurance providers, with the exchanges also helping to make insurance more accessible, which will increase the competitive pressures on the insurance industry to reduce costs.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:14 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates> "Whoah, whoah, whoah. Are you suggesting welfare for ROBOTS?!

Now I've heard EVERYTHING!
"
Trickle-down charging.
posted by Decimask at 6:20 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know what? I wish and hope this is true, but fuck The Atlantic.
posted by mwhybark at 6:22 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I think the notion of this intense insurmountable divide in this country is overblown. Its really the 24hr news cycle more than anything else driving the notion that the country is in sort of cold civil-war"

I don't know. I live in Texas. (These two statements could be considered redundant, I realize.) The Republicans around here are beyond insane. They are close to being beyond human, even. I don't know what they are. Space aliens from planet idiot. It is very difficult to communicate with them, I do know that.
posted by smcameron at 7:21 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Middle income earners that already have insurance will keep their insurance, if they can continue to afford it. Health insurance portability is nice, but it doesn't really do you any good if you can't afford it.

I'm looking, but I'm not seeing what is going to keep costs down. Most insurance plans already pay out more than 85% of medical costs, the exceptions would be really small group plans. Counting on the free market to bring costs down any more than they have been is wishful thinking. This plan involves how health care is financed. It's like saying that you can keep your cost of living down by paying with a debit card instead of using cash. In the big picture, it doesn't really matter how the money gets from point A to point B.

In a free market the cost of something is related to supply and demand. So if you want something to be cheaper, you have to increase the supply or decrease the demand. If anything, this plan is going to increase demand, because more people will have insurance and more people will be covered for more conditions.

Part of what got us the reform that we have is that people didn't want to be told that they have to reduce their demand for health care. Given that, pretty much the only choice to decrease the cost of health care would be to increase supply. There have been some minor steps with forgiving student debt for doctors who work in under-served areas, but we aren't graduating enough doctors and nurses to keep costs even.

I supported Obama and I agree with most of what he has done, but expecting this plan to lower health care costs just doesn't make any sense.
posted by jefeweiss at 7:23 PM on April 4, 2010


Health insurance portability is nice, but it doesn't really do you any good if you can't afford it.

If the premiums cost more than you can afford, as a percentage of income, then you qualify for subsidies.

Costs will go down. Wait and see. Even if congress has to take additional steps, they will go down, if only because the political costs otherwise would be too great. And insurance regulators always have the option of rejecting rate hikes.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:20 PM on April 4, 2010


I'd back any of these, but they'll have to start at the local level, then percolate up to the state level. So, go out and push for one of those in your town. I'd root for range voting in particular, if only because no one has done it yet.

Interesting proposition, however I think it assumes that voters are intelligent enough to decipher rationally between candidates, which I think is unlikely. The extremes have the right to vote in our society, as unfortunate as it may be at times, but this would give the well educated, more informed voters the upper hand. I think that could be a good thing, personally, however, someone would find a way to tweak the system. And education would become indoctrination I believe (as it already is at times, see Texas).

I think the article is one of the best analyses of American politics I have ever read, and it will be interesting to see how middle class white voters react to future changes as they become ostracized. Hopefully it will not lead to increased unrest against non-whites, or worse some sort of civil war. Some of the comments on articles across the web, that I read from Conservative Americans are increasingly vitriolic and at times outright hateful/violent. I've seen the trend increasing steadily over the past 10 years. Just follow any link from the Drudge Report, or read some of the comments from the Atlantic article linked above.
posted by Slash_fan at 11:05 PM on April 4, 2010


jefeweiss : U.S. health care is expensive for various reasons, but almost 33% is the insurance company overhead, which mostly gets spent working out out how best to avoid paying. Health care providers then spend another sizable chunk working with or around these insurance company games. Insurance is mandatory in Germany but private insurers are not permitted to make their own or the provider's lives complicated, which saves enormous amounts.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:19 AM on April 5, 2010


jeffburdges: "jefeweiss : U.S. health care is expensive for various reasons, but almost 33% is the insurance company overhead, which mostly gets spent working out out how best to avoid paying. Health care providers then spend another sizable chunk working with or around these insurance company games. Insurance is mandatory in Germany but private insurers are not permitted to make their own or the provider's lives complicated, which saves enormous amounts."

I'd be curious to see where that 33% figure comes from. Most figures that I have seen are not that high. I would guess that Medicare/Medicaid performs somewhat better than private insurance on administrative costs. It would certainly depend on the size of the plan that you are talking about. A large health plan would probably be much closer.

Switching to single payer would most likely provide a large savings that would be partially offset by the costs involved in setting up the system in the first place. But if health care is still consumed in the same way, costs will continue to rise regardless of how the care is payed for. If you reduce health care costs one time by 20% (which would be a very optimistic projection of what you could save by going to a single payer system), all other things staying the same at an annual cost increase of 6% the savings will quickly disappear.

Denying care was the insurance industries way of trying to reduce demand for health care. People obviously don't like it when other people make decisions about how much and what type of health care they need, regardless of whether it is the government or a private insurer. There were certainly abuses of this by the insurance companies.

The reasons behind the rise of health care costs are certainly complex. At least some of the cost is attributable to administrative costs, but I'm not sure that an increase in administrative costs what is driving the increase of the costs of health care. In the end, the cost of anything comes down to supply and demand. There has been a great increase in the demand for health care, particularly for more expensive prescription drugs, tests and procedures. If the answer to controlling health care costs is not to limit demand, then the only way to control costs is to increase the supply.

Personally, I would like to see the government more involved in supplying health care, rather than paying for it. The government could provide more free clinics, use these clinics to train doctors and nurses, provide free generic prescription drugs and provide preventative care and education.
posted by jefeweiss at 7:23 AM on April 5, 2010


I'd expect that you've seen numbers that talk about insurance company profits, while the larger percentage comes from gross premiums vs. total payouts, i.e. even their corporate income tax gets counted.

Yes, there are numerous other factors increasing the costs of health care in the U.S. For example, drug companies obviously work very hard pushing people towards the most expensive drugs.

You'll see the insurance factor immediately however if you ever visit a doctor in Europe. I've seen several French doctors and dentists, but I've never seen even one who employed a secretary.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:18 AM on April 6, 2010


That was a really good article. In the US one has a very limited view of society. I live in Rhode Island, I worked for the state, my friends are almost all left-leaning (with some exceptions) and most come from middle-class backgrounds. It's hard to get a feel for how things are trending and this very careful analysis of public opinion data is very interesting.
posted by Kattullus at 7:34 AM on April 6, 2010


jefeweiss:

I think you're missing some important facts in your argument that this bill won't do anything to lower health care costs.

First off, rather than increasing demand for health care services, I'd argue that this reform will have the effect of moving demand from high-priced emergency services toward lower-priced preventative services.

Think about it - hospitals are already required to provide emergency services to any person who requires them, regardless of that person's insured status, ability to pay the bill, or even his citizenship status. This means that emergency services demand is not going to go up because of the new reform.

And, since more people will be insured, they will be able to get cheaper preventative care, hopefully resulting in a lowering of the demand for expensive emergency services.

Furthermore, it will end the loathsome practice whereby younger middle class Americans decide that they'd rather have a new Lexus rather than health insurance, gambling that they won't need the health insurance while they're young. Unfortunately, these people also get sick and have accidents, and often end up getting 'free' emergency care (free because they often have to file personal bankruptcy since they're uninsured and don't have the resources to cover the bills). If these people are forced to pay into the insurance pool, you've got more money going to health care to cover the costs for the demand that already exists.

I'd write more, but I have to run. I'll look back in later today and maybe share an anecdote about such a middle class couple who decided that a Lexus was more important than health insurance, and chose to gamble that they wouldn't need the insurance, anyway, since they were young and healthy (they lost that gamble, and American taxpayers and insured Americans picked up the tab).
posted by syzygy at 5:06 AM on April 7, 2010


« Older Unvarnished: A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Defama...  |  The Supreme Court of Canada ha... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments