This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, April 20, 2015:
Careful observers of Hillary Clinton’s brief announcement for the presidency on April 3 noted one word missing: redistribution. She alluded briefly to how “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” but she focused instead on wanting to be everyone’s “champion,” supporting strong families, same-sex marriage, and economic opportunity.
She and her advisors no doubt read and took to heart the latest from Gallup. In 2006, by a margin of more than two to one, 69-28, those surveyed said that the federal government should guarantee health care for all citizens. By 2014, that percentage had dropped by an astounding 24 percentage points, to 45 percent. The number of those who said health care is not a federal responsibility doubled, to 52 percent.
When history is written about the present age, it’s becoming increasingly likely that ObamaCare will be noted as the high-water mark of federal intervention as citizens confirm that government not only can’t deliver on its promises, it can’t even be trusted to try.
This first became obvious early in 2013 when a gaggle of left-wing economists from Berkeley, MIT, Harvard and Columbia, hoping to confirm a favorite progressive meme – that economic inequality would require federal intervention – found that most Americans disagreed vehemently. They were astonished to learn that even when Americans learned about the supposed gap between rich and poor in America, they not only refused to accept the meme that the government had to “do something” about it, they learned further that Americans increasingly distrusted the federal government in attempting to do anything about it! Said Professor Emmanuel Saez, the spokesman for the study:
We find that information about inequality also makes respondents trust government less – [our survey shows trust in government] decreases by nearly twenty percent….
Emphasizing the severity of [the] problem appears to undercut respondents’ willingness to trust the government to fix it….
[This] could act as evidence of the government’s limited ability to improve outcomes more generally.
Saez and his cohorts simply didn’t know what to make of it. Here’s a perceived problem Democrats like Clinton sorely want to solve, but Americans are increasingly distrustful of the very tool those Democrats want to use: the federal government:
Standard models predict that support for redistribution should increase with income inequality, yet there has been little evidence of greater demand for [government] redistribution over the past thirty years in the US, despite historic increases in income concentration….
A possible explanation is that the [proposed federal government solution] also decreases trust in government, potentially [rejecting] respondents’ willingness to connect concern about inequality into government action.
If this study were an anomaly it would, of course, never have seen the light of day. But another study, done six months later, confirmed what Saez and his cronies discovered: even if income equality were a problem, government is most certainly not the tool to use to fix it, according to those polled. Wrote Matthew Luttig, in a study published by Oxford University in October, 2013:
Numerous political theorists suggest that rising inequality and the shift in the distribution of income to those at the top should lead to increasing support for liberal policies.
But recent evidence contradicts these theories….
In general, the evidence supports the claim that rising inequality has been a force promoting conservatism in the American public.
This was further confirmed by Gallup back in March when it noted that, for the last four months running, Americans named the federal government as the number one problem in the country. This is no fluke, either, according to Gallup, which said that “while dissatisfaction with government is by no means a new issue to the American people, it has not in recent months been as clearly the leading problem as it is now.”
Liberal editorial writer for the New York Times Thomas Edsall blames the shift on ObamaCare. Now that the rules are beginning to bite and those without coverage are having to pay penalties (which are due to increase substantially over the next couple of years), while those with coverage are seeing their premiums increasing greatly, other pieces and parts of the law are persuading Americans that ObamaCare isn’t working and as a result, earlier trust in government to make it work is now perceived to have been misplaced. With federal government intervention between a patient and his doctor, with abortion still anathema to millions, and with innovation being stymied by taxes on “medical devices,” Americans are finally waking up to the fraud that government can fix this. As time passes, and doctor shortages grow increasingly obvious, the push-back against government solutions to such perceived problems will only grow stronger.
And it makes Edsall exceedingly nervous:
The conservative shift in public attitudes on health care and on issues like redistribution and inequality pose a significant threat to the larger liberal agenda….
[Saez’s study] suggests that Democratic programs providing tax-financed benefits to the poor are facing growing hostility.
Hillary hasn’t changed her spots, just her message. Knowing that the words “income inequality” and forced government “redistribution” are becoming anathema to more and more Americans, she is leaving them out of her message.
This isn’t something Republican candidates are likely to avoid mentioning. As Edsall noted, this puts Clinton, and the Democrat party in general, in a bind:
Neither core Democratic constituencies on the left nor Republicans on the right will permit Clinton to remain guarded [read: evasive] on these issues.
If conservative beliefs are strengthening … Democrats are caught in a policy bind that has no short-term solution … the redistribution [meme] is in trouble.
Thomas Edsall’s op-ed in the New York Times: Has Obamacare Turned Voters Against Sharing the Wealth?
The Oxford Study: The Structure of Inequality and Americans’ Attitudes Toward Redistribution
Gallup: Americans Name Government as No. 1 U.S. Problem
Professor Saez’s study: HOW ELASTIC ARE PREFERENCES FOR REDISTRIBUTION?
The New American: ObamaCare: Stifling Innovation