Class warfare in Dixieland

Despite platitudes about opportunity, America's southern states suffer the greatest income inequality

Published December 20, 2013 8:26PM (EST)

                      (<a href=''>PhotosbyAndy</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(PhotosbyAndy via Shutterstock)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetThe website was established this year by four leading economists from Harvard and Berkeley, and it now headlines their major findings, “Mobility in the 100 Largest Commuting Zones.” It ranks all 100 largest U.S. cities for the chances of a person born poor to rise from the bottom 20% to the top 20%.

Whereas all of the top 21 cities (NYC being ranked #21) are shown clustered there closely around 10% for the given place’s odds that a resident born in the bottom 20% will rise into the top 20%, all except just three of the bottom 21 cities are in Old Dixie. Here, the probabilities of rising from the bottom 20% to the top 20% range widely, between just 6.7% (one-third less than in the best locales) down to merely 2.6% (around one-quarter of the probability in the best locales), among these 21 bottom-ranked cities.

In other words: virtually all of this nation’s class-rigidity still remains in the U.S. South, even after the Civil War. New Dixie has replaced the aristocracy’s black slaves of Old Dixie, by the local (white) aristocracy’s institutionalized bigotry against poor people, now of all ethnic groups. What used to be their purely racist bigotry has, it seems, devolved into a crushing, pervasive, classist, bigotry in the South.

Explaining this would produce controversy, and unfortunately the researchers don’t even try. However, it is a striking finding, which demands an explanation.

For a century after Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, the North’s Protestant aristocracy increasingly supported the Republican Party, which gradually became, in a sense, the new version of the old aristocratic Southern Democratic Party, but now spread nationwide: oriented more toward concerns about the “free market” than about democracy. Government became subordinated to economics—not just any economics, but “free market” economics, whereas economics had virtually nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution, which was instead concerned with political matters: government.

With the advent of Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his “New Deal” reforms and regulations during the Great Depression, and his starting of the Social Security system, this aristocratic hostility toward the Democratic Party intensified even more.

In FDR’s re-nomination acceptance speech in 1936, he said, “Economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution.” This was a speech that could be given today.

Then, as if to add insult to Protestant aristocratic outrage, the Catholic Democratic President John F. Kennedy finally committed the Democratic Party against the unquestionably bigoted South; and next, the remarkably progressive Democratic Texan President Lyndon Baines Johnson fatefully sealed this FDR-type Democratic Party, with the Civil Rights Acts, and also Medicare and Medicaid —all done to serve mainly the very same people, the middle-class and the poor, whom aristocrats traditionally have wanted instead to be suppressed, if not again enslaved (such as was the case in the Old South). For example, labor unions are routinely suppressed by aristocrats, because such unions challenge the "free market”— they challenge aristocrats’ hired managers, who no longer possess unrestrained control when a labor union is present.

Aristocrats call this "free market" of theirs simply “freedom,” meaning their own freedom, but also meaning (though never mentioning) the “freedom” of millions of have-nots to suffer unto their graves (via such class-rigidity as prevails especially in the South, and in underdeveloped countries around the world). These financial elite also sometimes call this free-market economics “tough love.” But no matter what the rationalization, the result for its victims is basically like a kiss of death; this is more that type of “love,” even when the proponents themselves actually sincerely believe it to be some sort of “love,” for the people who are actually suffering from this one-sided “freedom” of the aristocracy.

Republicans are proud of this “freedom,” or “discipline,” or “tough love”: they even sometimes call it the "opportunity society." That’s what pervades the South, the very same region of this country where economic opportunity is actually the lowest.

However, apparently enough Americans support this Orwellian operation, so that Republicans constitute a major party, which includes some of the very same people who suffer from it. This is the only way to explain the continued existence of the Republican Party as being a major political party in the U.S.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that today's Democratic Party is actually in favor of the poor—the Democratic Party of today just doesn't hate them as Republicans do. The clearest evidence of this came in a different study.

Princeton’s Larry M. Bartels posted to the Internet in 2002, updated in August 2005, his article,  “Economic Inequality and Political Representation,” which examined the votes of U.S. senators on eight bills. He found that, “Republicans were about twice as responsive as Democrats to the views of high-income constituents,” but that, “There is no evidence of any responsiveness [of Senators] to the views of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution, even from Democrats.”

Furthermore, “For Republican senators there is no evidence of responsiveness to middle-income constituents,” but only to the views of high-income constituents, and, “Democrats seem to have responded at least as strongly to the views of middle-income constituents as to the views of high-income constituents—though, once again, there is no evidence of any responsiveness to the views of low-income constituents.”

The popular myth has always been promulgated by Republicans that Democratic politicians engage in class-warfare against the middle-class, on behalf of the poor; but that’s just a blatant lie, whose purpose is to hide the very real class-war, by Republicans, against the middle-class, which is being waged successfully on behalf of the rich—the exact opposite of Republican claims.

Furthermore, “Senators seem to have been a good deal more responsive to upper-income constituents when a Republican was in the White House ... than they were with a Democrat in the White House.”

Perhaps this is the reason why even with a conservative Democratic president such as Obama, today’s far-rightwing Republican Party cannot get much of its wish-list filled. Bartels found “surprisingly strong and consistent evidence that the biases I have identified in senators’ responsiveness to rich and poor constituents are not due to differences between rich and poor constituents in [electoral] turnout, political knowledge, or contacting.”

In common parlance: Bartels found that ideology alone accounts for this difference.

He also considered the possibility posed by a 1995 study, which had shown that, “citizens in the top quarter of the income distribution ... provided almost three quarters of the total campaign contributions.” Could that be the answer —senators were simply voting for their contributors? Bartels found that only “two of the eight salient roll call votes [concerning the minimum wage, and abortion]” in his study could reasonably be explained on the basis mainly of campaign contributions; the other six could not.

A pronounced ideological component seems to have been involved in most senate votes. Republican senators voted overwhelmingly in favor of the rich, and Democratic senators voted equally often in favor of the rich and of the middle-class. Only in about one-quarter of the instances could political donations reasonably account for that.

It might also be worth noting that, even today, the purely racist tendency of the aristocracy is so great that it often is strong enough to outweigh their greed—discrimination is practiced even when it's unprofitable. So: the traditional leftist "explanation" for conservatism (that it's purely based on greed) is false. The understanding that leftists have of rightists is basically the mirror-image of the way Fox News characterizes leftists.

The scientific studies that are being reported here constitute solid scientific findings, not opinions, and reporting them might come as interesting news to many readers, because our news-media unfortunately tend to be reluctant to report as news even the best scientific findings about ideology. But there is a difference between reporting on ideology, versus applying ideology (which an op-ed is supposed to do). This is therefore a news story, which brings together many studies that concern people’s ideology. If it happens to surprise anyone, then that would be simply because the major mainstream news media’s “neutrality” and “nonpartisanship” have required that they avoid reporting such facts as have been reported here. A lot of important facts are unreported for that reason. However, their being unreported has nothing to do with there being anything dubious about them.

By Eric Zuesse

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of Christ's Ventriloquists: The Event that Created Christianity.

MORE FROM Eric Zuesse

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Alternet American South Class Income Inequality Inequality