Saturday, December 10, 2016

Identity politics vs. economic self-interest

Both Paul Krugman and Matt Yglesias have interesting recent posts about how identity politics often matters more than actual economic self-interest. Hence, for example, white Trump supporters side with someone who shares their values about fast food, even though that person is engaged in an effort to shred their retirement and safety net benefits, and angrily reject candidates who favor their economic interests but come off to them as snobby elitists (e.g., because they want to steer people towards eating fresh produce).

This is an extremely important point about politics, obviously central to the 2016 election, and something I blogged about the day before the election in re. the irony of white seniors favoring the party that wanted to take away their retirement benefits, out of anger that the other party wanted to extend such benefits to non-whites.

As I noted in the earlier post, the paradox of voting (i.e., the fact that one's probabilistic effect on the outcome is too small to justify, not just the act of voting but even bothering to find out where one's interests lie) plays a large role in this.  So does our having evolved strong tribal instincts that served gene transmission well when human society consisted of roving 150-person bands that might encounter hostiles, and that also might have internal power struggles that would determine who got scarce resources.  It doesn't work quite so well in a mass society where people's lack of focus on their own economic interests, when choosing affiliations in the highly abstract political setting, makes them ripe for cold-blooded exploitation.

I am starting to see that the battle between elites, epitomized by the 2016 election, is actually a rich theme within the confines of my literature book.  I'm currently close (I hope) to finishing a chapter, on E.M. Forster's Howards End, that is the first work on my list to raise the issue of dueling business and intellectual elites.  What one can see there is interestingly related to what prevails in the U.S. today, different in key respects yet a recognizable precursor.

There will also be aspects of this theme in, say, Bonfire of the Vanities, in the Scorsese film Wolf of Wall Street (which I'm planning to discuss in the book's last chapter before the conclusion), and also in It's a Wonderful Life, which I also may discuss (as I've decided against books-only).

1 comment:

Stuart Levine said...

Charles Gaba has a good analysis of how many individuals who obtain insurance via the ACA voted for Trump who has promised to repeal the ACA.
(Of course, Trump's promised to replace with something that's "great." And, I can get you a good deal on improved property located at 38.9895° N Latitude, 76.3663° W Longitude.)