In another neo-liberal victory, health and welfare spending shares have doubled in the last 50 years

What was the impact of neoliberalism on welfare spending in the USA?

Total Welfare Spending Since 1950

via Social Security Disability Insurance is Vital to Workers With Severe Impairments — Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Hauser’s Law of marginal tax rates and tax revenue

No matter what the tax rates have been, in post-war America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5% of GDP.

marginal tax rates and income percent of GDP

via Political Calculations: Hauser’s Law.

The working class is missing from US political discourse

One of the things I noticed in the 2008 US presidential campaign was everyone was appealing for the middle class vote. Presidential primary and general election debates were about how things were getting harder for the middle-class and the Republican or Democratic candidate who happen to be pitching for votes would stand up for the middle-class better than their competition in the presidential primary or general election at hand.

Another big feature in the 2008 presidential campaign was Joe the plumber. This was the small businessman who asked then candidate Obama at a rope line three days before the final presidential debate about his plans to put up taxes. Obama replied he wanted to spread the wealth around. Obama’s response was

It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance at success, too… My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody.

If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off… if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody

Andrew Cherlin did the service counting up references to the working class in State of the Union addresses since President Obama was elected.

In his State of the Union addresses, Obama has used the term middle class 28 times. But he has never said “working class” except in 2011, when he described Vice President Biden, who was seated behind him, as “a working-class kid from Scranton.

This dearth of references to the working class is no surprise in light of Director’s Law and the median voter theorem. Politicians who do not pitch to the American middle class will not win elections unless there is a lot of expressive voting by the educated middle class. In general social surveys of Americans, 44% identify as working class and 44%  identify as middle class.

Republicans consistently win voters making $50,000 or more – the U.S. median income. The margin doesn’t vary much: In 2012, Mitt Romney got 53% of this group’s vote; in 2010, Republican House candidates got 55%.

The margin by which the Republicans win income brackets above 50,000 doesn’t vary much if you just look at those earning above $100,000 or those earning between $50,000 and $75,000. These margins only matter in a close election, a very close election.

Democrats consistently win voters making less than the median but the margin varies.  Whether the Democrats win these voters earning less than $50,000 by a 10-point or a 20-point margin tells you who won every national election for the past decade.

The Democrats would also do well among the college educated vote. Obama won this over Romney and 2012 by 10 percentage points. This may explain why the Democrats are slightly conflicting: they must win the working class vote as well as the college educated vote to win.

Andrew Cherlin didn’t give many reasons for the disappearance of working class from modern American political discourse, but he showed some insight into expressive politics when he observed that:

Politicians may prefer to call working-class families by the class position they aspire to rather than the one they hold.

Suburban rent seeking and green rent seeking are a dangerous brew for housing affordability


The relative importance of capitalism and the British welfare state in abolishing destitution

HT: Andrew Newell


Friedman on Assigning Public Schools by Home Address

Why Middle-Class Americans Can’t Afford to Live in Liberal Cities – The Atlantic

via Why Middle-Class Americans Can’t Afford to Live in Liberal Cities – The Atlantic.

David Friedman on Director’s law and and poverty and inequality under capitalism

HT: Cafe Hayek

Director’s Law of public expenditure and the survival of the modern welfare state

Sam Peltzman pointed out that most of modern public spending is supported by the median voter –  the ‘swinging’ voter. Governments at the start of the 20th century were a post office and a military. At the end of the 20th century, governments are a post office, a larger military and a very large welfare state.

Studies starting from Peltzman in 1980 showed that governments grew in line with the growth in the size and homogeneity of the middle class that was organised and politically articulate enough to implement a version of Director’s Law. George Stigler published an article on this law because Aaron Director published next to nothing for reasons no one understands. Director founded law and economics through teaching at the University of Chicago law school.

Director’s Law of public expenditure is that public expenditure is used primary for the benefit of the middle class, and is financed with taxes which are borne in considerable part by the poor and the rich.

Based on the size of its population and its aggregate wealth, the middle class will always be the dominant voting bloc in a modern democracy. Growth in the size of governments across the developed world took off in the mid-20th century as the middle class blossomed. Peltzman maintained that:

“the leveling of income differences across a large part of the population … has in fact been a major source of the growth of government in the developed world over the last fifty years” because the leveling created “a broadening of the political base that stood to gain from redistribution generally and thus provided a fertile source of political support for expansion of specific programs. At the same time, these groups became more able to perceive and articulate that interest … [and] this simultaneous growth of ‘ability’ served to catalyze politically the spreading economic interest in redistribution.”

After the 1970s economic stagnation, the taxed, regulated and subsidised groups had an increasing incentive to converge on new, lower cost modes of income redistribution.

  • Economic reforms ensued, led by parties on the left and right, with some members of existing political and special interest groupings benefiting from joining new coalitions.
  • More efficient taxes, more efficient spending, more efficient regulation and a more efficient state sector reduced the burden on the taxed groups.
  • Most of the subsidised groups benefited as well because their needs were met in ways that provoked less political opposition from the taxpaying groups.

Sweden, Norway and Denmark could be examples of Gary Becker’s idea that political systems converge on the more efficient modes of both regulation and income redistribution as their deadweight losses grew in the 1970s and 1980s and after. Unlike some of their brethren abroad, more of the Nordic Left and, more importantly, the Nordic median voter were cognizant of the power of incentives and to not killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Taxes on income from capital are low in Scandinavia.

The rising deadweight losses of taxes, transfers and regulation all limit the political value of inefficient redistributive policies. Tax and regulatory policies that are found to significantly cut the total wealth available for redistribution by governments are avoided relative to the germane counter-factual, which are other even costlier modes of redistribution.

An improvement in the efficiency of either taxes or spending reduces political pressure from taxed and regulated groups for suppressing the growth of government and thereby increases total tax revenue and spending because there is less political opposition. Efficient taxes lead to higher taxes.

Improvements in the efficiency of taxes, regulation and in spending reduce political pressure from the taxed and regulated groups in society. This suppressed the growth of government and thus increased or prevented cuts to both total tax revenue and spending since 1980. Economic regulation lessened after 1980 and there were privatisations, but social and environmental regulation grew unabated.

The post-1980 reforms of Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton, Hawke and Keating, Lange and Douglas and others saved the modern welfare state for the middle class. Most income transfer programmes in modern welfare states disproportionately benefit older people. With an aging society, that trend can only continue.

That is why these reforming policies survived political competition, election after election. The political parties on the left and right that delivered efficient increments and streamlined the size of government were elected, and in turn, got thrown out from time to time because they became tired and flabby.

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