Last year, in the wake of the US election, the blogosphere spent much energy debating Thomas Frank’s thesis that working class Republicans voted against their economic interests:
Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, noted in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, that the poorest county in the United States, Loup County in Nebraska, “a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns” gave George W. Bush a majority of over 75% in 2000. Frank writes:
“When I told a friend of mine about that impoverished High Plains county so enamoured of President Bush, she was perplexed. “How can anyone who has ever worked for someone else vote Republican?”, she asked. How could so many people get it wrong? Her question is apt; it is, in many ways, the pre-eminent question of our times. People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about. This species of derangement is the bedrock of our civic order; it is the foundation on which all else rests.”
He goes on to say:
“If you earn more than $300000 a year, you owe a great deal to this derangement. Raise a glass sometime to those indigent High Plains Republicans as you contemplate your good fortune: It is thanks to their self-denying votes that you are no longer burdened by the estate tax, or troublesome labour unions, or meddlesome banking regulators. Thanks to the allegiance of these sons and daughters of toil you have escaped what your affluent forebears used to call “confiscatory” income tax levels. It is thanks to them that you were able to buy two Rolexes this year instead of one…”
However, reflecting on my professed support for non-authoritarian and participative administration, isn’t it possible that poor people in late modern States face a culture of control and coercion from Government? A culture of surveillance and harrassment from authorities of all kinds – cops, social workers, welfare bureaucrats? Anyone had much to do with Centrelink or the Job Network lately? Maybe there’s some reason in the appeal of the small government message to those who are burdened with mutual obligations?
Addendum: Some clarification of the argument of this post in this comment.