Thursday, October 7, 2010

Random Thoughts: On Elitists and Inflation

"Liberals" and Democrats like to argue that poorer Americans vote Republican because they are misled by rich people and corporations. (See Frank Thomas's What's the Matter With Kansas, which argues that conservatives have manipulated poor people into voting for the GOP and against their own self-interests.) This smug, self-serving thesis puts liberals in a position to "help" the poor, usually through more government programs.

In reality, poorer people vote based on their economic circumstances and tend to focus on economic issues because they know the value of a dollar. In contrast, rich people's life experiences tell them that money is abundant and can be spent and created again. For example, blue state residents tend not to be offended when the federal government prints money and puts their grandchildren in debt. Unsurprisingly, West/East coast liberals (blue states) have higher salaries and earnings than Midwestern and Southern conservatives (red states).

The problem is that the perception of money as an easily renewable resource leads to inflationary policies that create higher costs of money for those on the lower end of the income scale who tend to be net borrowers of money, not lenders or large savers. (Printing more money also causes the devaluation of the dollar, decreasing the purchasing power of the poor, but that's a separate and more complicated issue).

Also, poorer people intuitively understand that injecting more money into something causes inflation. For example, if you pay LeBron James more, the cost of NBA tickets increases, because the owners have to make more money, and most businesses make more money by raising prices. For poorer people, inflation tends to show up in higher prices, making it more difficult for them to buy things (like a good seat in an NBA game).

Another example: it's much easier for poorer people to buy a decent house in a decent neighborhood if a house costs 100K and the median price is 150K, than if a house costs 400K in a neighborhood where the median price is 600K. Think about why house prices tend to be so much higher on the coasts compared to the Midwest and South, and why someone in the Midwest or South wouldn't want his/her children to pay 400K to live in a decent neighborhood. (Why increase the cost of living in a decent neighborhood if you don't have to?)

Rich people, unlike poorer people, tend to be the beneficiaries of inflation--when it happens, their salaries go up along with prices, so they notice no changes or believe they are doing even better. (Think about it: 80% of Americans would never pay $650,000 for a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house in a so-so school district, but rich people in the Bay Area do this all the time and rely on continued inflation to increase their home's value.)

Bottom line: if you don't have much of something, it becomes more precious to you, and you can't stand to see too much of it being used or spent. Generally speaking, abundance mitigates caution and tends to cause inflation. Inflation tends to be bad for poorer people and good for some people, especially educated and affluent people. Therefore, poorer people tend to vote for fiscally conservative candidates because they want to keep their costs low, and they intuitively understand that more money tends to lead to higher prices.

Bonus: historically, the Democrats have favored bigger government. Well, big government costs money, and paying government workers higher salaries and expensive benefits costs money, and they both cause inflation. Inflation hurts poor people. Ergo, in most blue states where Democrats have controlled the legislature for long periods of time, it is harder for poor people to buy homes, afford to live in decent neighborhoods, etc. It's really interesting that anyone would actually think that the Democrats help the poor when it's harder in most blue states for a family making 30K to buy a home and be debt-free than it is for the same family in most red states.

2 comments:

Jamie said...

Why should $30k get you the same quality of life in every state or even city in the country?

Do you really think fresh produce ought to cost the same at Safeway in Central California as it does in Juneau?

Also, of the people I knew from high school who ended up applying themselves (well, somewhat arbitrary standard but too bad) ended up doing pretty well. Maybe we could have gotten the same education in Ohio or Tennessee, but the only colleague of mine who came from the South did not have positive things to say.

K_Yew said...

@Jamie: didn't you attend high school in an area where most houses are now worth around 700K?

Can you see how such high living expenses would hurt the poor, even as they benefit the upper middle class, the rich, and their children?

How can the child of a person making minimum wage or 30K/yr move up the socioeconomic ladder when buying a house in a good neighborhood is so far out of reach?