Important Addition to Edsall Column on the Politics of Resentment: Downward Mobility Was by Design

December 13, 2020

Thomas Edsall had an interesting piece last week on the politics of resentment. The gist being that a large portion of non-college-educated whites are voting based on their fear of losing their social status.

While there is undoubtedly much truth to Edsall’s argument, there is an important point that Edsall leaves out. He tells readers:

“Voters in the bottom half of the income distribution face a level of hyper-competition that has, in turn, served to elevate politicized status anxiety in a world where social and economic mobility has, for many, ground to a halt: 90 percent of the age cohort born in the 1940s looked forward to a better standard of living than their parents’, compared with 50 percent for those born since 1980.”

The key point is that this level of hyper-competition, which is driving down the living standards of large segments of the population, is by design. Politicians in both political parties have deliberately structured the market in ways to redistribute income upward.

We could have structured globalization to put doctors, dentists, and other highly paid professionals into direct competition with their much lower paid counterparts in the developing world, instead of just subjecting manufacturing workers to this competition. We also structured the rules on finance to allow great fortunes to be made in this sector at the expense of the rest of the economy. And, the government has made patent and copyright monopolies ever longer and stronger over the last four decades, giving more money to people like Bill Gates at the expense of the rest of the workforce.

Resentment likely comes not only from the actual upward redistribution of income but from the continual efforts by our elites to pretend that it was a natural development of the market, rather than deliberate design. Major news outlets continually assert things that are not true to perpetuate this lie.


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