October 16, 2003

Unenlightened Self-Interest

Homer's BrainWhy did people support Bush's tax cut even though it would result in very little benefit to them as individuals, a larger rich-poor gap, and budget deficits?

In the most extensive analysis yet available, Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton University, gives a simple but persuasive explanation: "unenlightened self-interest." Middle- and lower-income Americans supported tax cuts they suspected went largely to the rich because they thought they, too, would benefit, if only by a small amount, and because they failed to connect the tax cuts to rising inequality, their future tax burden, or the availability of government services
The story in the NYT explains "Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind."
Larry Bartels concludes that "most Americans support tax cuts not because they are indifferent to economic inequality, but because they largely fail to connect inequality and public policy." In this sense, Homer Simpson had it backward when he said, "Just because I don't care doesn't mean that I don't understand."

Posted by James at October 16, 2003 11:38 AM
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To Larry Bartells's point: Several years ago, a study was published in which 19% of those surveyed thought they were in the top 1% of the income bracket in this country.

In short: people have little idea about money. Look at all the people who can't control their credit card debt? If something as simple as "don't spend money you don't have" is too hard to comprehend, well, where's the surprise over tax cuts?

People _want_ to believe they're going to get something out of it.

Posted by: Patti M. at October 16, 2003 2:27 PM

Why, Al Gore, why couldn't you have just said "those making over $200,000 a year" rather than "the top 1%"?!

How about the estate tax? Do you know how many average Americans that benefits?

Of course, the American public overwhelmingly prefers smaller government and more social programs, and wouldn't know a contradiction if it bit them in their wallet.

Posted by: Bil at October 16, 2003 4:30 PM

My mother thinks she and my dad have a total "estate" over $1million. What they actually have is a huge mortgage and a lot of junk from Wal-Mart. I don't know how big the insurance policy is, but it's probably not big enough to qualify them for the estate tax (I'm not sure insurance money even counts towards that).

Posted by: julie at October 16, 2003 6:44 PM

These posts prove my point that people are completely mystified by money--theirs and others.

We have no concept of our own worth or how to figure it. We also don't seem to have a clue about how much things cost and where the money comes from.

Witness the huge push to reimport prescription drugs from Canada. Has anyone thought of why the drugs there are cheaper? Could it be that Canada has a government-run healthcare system? Hmm...government price controls=cheaper drugs.

Government control! It's bad. No, it's good. No, it's bad. Good. Bad. AAHH!!

As the cartoon in the Globe said this week, "Why not import the Canadian healthcare system instead?"

God forbid we ever institute a comprehensive healthcare system in this country. Sadly, Americans would never go for this because it would mean that there might be some restrictions.

We want access to everything, and someone else should pay.


I got mine, screw everyone else.


I want my share.

Posted by: Patti M. at October 17, 2003 10:16 AM

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