Another County Heard From

In 2004, Darke County, in which I live, went 70% for George Bush. While I was under no illusion that Obama was going to win in my county, I was curious as to whether 2008 vote totals would be substantially different — that is to say, whether another four years of misadventure on the presidential level would have peeled away a substantial number of votes away from the GOP. The answer, as you can see above: No, not really. McCain did very nearly as well as Bush did in 2004, and since Obama got exactly the percentage of the vote that went to Kerry in 2004, that means when people did abandon the GOP, they went to a third party candidate rather than him. The moral of this story: Darke County is a Republican county and likely to remain that way for a long time.

This isn’t in the least bit surprising, of course. Darke County is Republican because demographically speaking Darke County should be Republican. It’s a rural, blue-collar county (its main industries are farming and manufacturing) whose population is overwhelmingly white (98.1%), and of whom only 6.5% hold a college degree, and whose largest town has a shade over 13,000 souls in it. This very nearly the definition of a Republican stronghold county. As Bill Bishop wrote in Slate today, looking at the data from the election and discussing counties where one candidate saw a vote margin of 10% or more, “Republican and Democratic counties were entirely different kinds of places. The average population of an Obama landslide county was 278,601. The average McCain landslide county had 37,475 people.” At 53,000 people, Darke is slightly larger than the average McCain county, but that’s the only substantial difference.

Darke County is a typical GOP county — it’s “real America,” to use that quaint phrase — but I’m not sure that’s something the GOP should be happy about. Darke County, like lots of other small, rural counties, is spinning its wheels: it’s slowly losing population and what population is here is slowly growing older, and it’s the sort of place where the loss of a single manufacturer will take down a bunch of jobs and the economic health of the county with it. It’s a lovely place to live — just ask me — but it’s not a place where a political party wants to see as its future, especially in a country that is increasingly multicultural and whose economy is moving away from agriculture and manufacturing.

After election night, some analysts have started to wonder if the GOP isn’t turning into a specialized, regional party rather than a true national party. I don’t think the GOP needs to worry about not being national — there are small, white, rural counties in every state — but if it pins its hopes on counties like mine, it’s not going to get back into power any time soon. The country is changing, and its future does not look like Darke County.

69 thoughts on “Another County Heard From

  1. My natal county, McDowell County WV, was one of a handful of counties in that state to go for Obama. It’s population makes Darke county look crowded. Main industries are coal mining, moonshining, and pot farming. (Oddly enough, all 3 are for export, not internal consumption.) Major ethnic group seems to be my kinfolk. It is remote and usually held to be the poorest county in a poor state. But the county has a long history of being liberal and Democratic. How liberal? Well, Grandpa Blevins and a whole lot of other men pushed for the right to vote being extended to women way before it was. And it was the only county in Virginia (before the Civil War split) that banned slavery. While it may look like it is a natural GOP area it breeds Democrats and folks farther to the left. Why I do not know. But I do know that the Republican Party has more or less given up on this county. Too few votes and far too much work. Besides, everyone has guns and McDowell is just south of Bloody Mingo County, where they shoot at the slightest reason. (Hatfield/McCoy feud, Matewan Massacre, Coal Field Wars, mine strikes, having out of state license plates, you name it.) I think the GOP is scared of the place.

  2. Our Reddest County in Texas stayed red, but we went from 71% for Bush to 63% for McCain. Not a huge difference, but our precinct went from 70% to 59%. But then, I live in a very diverse neighborhood. which is not the norm.

    We’re diverse, and we have trees! (That’s a bit of a local joke. On the other side of town the developers razed the land flat and put up zero lot line McMansions with the obligatory seedling in the front yard.)

  3. Meant to add that our county is a mix of suburbs and farm land. I’m solidly in suburbia, but there’s an organic dairy about a mile from here.

  4. Virginia looks pretty much the same. The small counties (by population, some of them are huge, in terms of miles^2) went overwhelmingly for McCain, while Northern VA, Richmond Metro/Charlottesville, and large swathes of Hampton Roads (ie, where all the people live) favored Obama.

  5. Well, political parties exist for the purpose of winning elections, and our electoral system inevitably leads to a two party system. So if the Republicans become irrelevant, and refuse to remake themselves to win sufficient votes to capture elections, then some other party will arise and cannibalize the remains, plus some parts of the Democrats, to make a new second major party. Much the same as, come to think of it, the Republicans did to the Whigs.

    The Democrats or the Republicans could either one of them capture the whole field. But not for long.

  6. I think the future of the Republican part lies with economics, not religion. During Bush’s eight years, the Republicans pretty much abandoned their stance as the Government Thrift party, and chased the evangelical carrot. And look how well that worked out!

    We saw this with the Romney/Huckabee schism during the Republican primaries. Romney, in spite of his LDS membership, was the economic candidate. Huckabee was the evangelical candidate. Romney could have beaten McCain had the Huckabists not refused to vote for the Devil Mormon with the good hair.

    If the Republicans continue to pursue the evangelical vote at all costs, they will continue to be branded as the anti-intellectual party, and if they cannot recover any kind of reputation as a force for smaller government, they will indeed be consigning themselves to minority party status for a long while yet.

  7. “Darke County is Republican because demographically speaking Darke County should be Republican. It’s a rural, blue-collar county (its main industries are farming and manufacturing) whose population is overwhelmingly white (98.1%), and of whom only 6.5% hold a college degree”

    Why does that follow? What do Republicans do for those people? My grandfather worked in gas processing in rural Oklahoma and he voted straight Democrat his whole life. My mom said when Eisenhower won she was convinced that they were going to have to live on soup based on what she heard adults saying beforehand.

  8. The Republican Party has been chasing the religious right since the 1970s. And it hasn’t been the thrift party since at least as far back as 1981: Reagan beat up Carter over the huge 1 trillion dollar national debt, then proceeded to run it even higher. Yes, it’s all the fault of those big, bad Dems in Congress, except for the fact that the debt went up during Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, and went down during Clinton.

    The Republican Party has morphed into a bunch of social conservatives who are extremely bad with money. I don’t know what you can do with that, but I’m confident they’ll find enough easily-confused voters to continue on. And the Democrats will help them by stepping on themselves.

    By the way, the county I’m from in upstate New York–conservative, heavily agricultural, with the largest town having a population of 7,500–voted 54.5% for Obama.
    That’s change you can believe in.

  9. Amen Sub-Odeon (pun intended),

    That’s how I see it. The Republicans ARE the anti-intellectual party. Kinda funny since they are supposed to be all biz-like, and rational and stuff.

    Sadly for all you good fiscal conservatives, it looks like y’all let the silly evangelicals take over. And somehow they convinced ya to advocate government bail-outs for the free market.

    Dude, your party needs serious treatment for bi-polar issues.

  10. Completely unrelated to the election, but my ancestors lived in Darke County for most of the 19th century. I wouldn’t be surprised if some distant cousins are still running around. I think they moved there from Delaware in the late 1700s, but don’t have my notes handy.

  11. How weird is it that low-income blue-collar whites always vote Republican?

    I mean, I can understand the base self-interest that leads someone in the above-$250k tax bracket to vote Republican. But for the lower income to do so… it makes no sense whatsoever.

  12. As evidence by Prop 8 passing in CA. Too bad nobody is explaining how “values” can also be bigoted and narrow-minded.

  13. Luke wrote about people who are not rich voting Republican: “But for the lower income to do so… it makes no sense whatsoever.”

    Well, some of us vote Republican because of economics and psychology. The economics of it is I do better when I am taxed less! Also, I am a producer, I make more than I take, and I worry that liberal social programs will give my tax money to people who do not work, but should.

    The psychology of it is that liberal social programs seem to be based in an alternate universe where that which you subsidize diminishes. Here in this universe, subsidizing a problem leads to more of the problem you subsidize.

    So that makes sense to me.

    Trey

  14. I concur with the political polarization that you notice. Here in Tennessee, we became more Red than ever! For the first time since Reconstruction, we have a Republican Senate and House.

    Not that I trust the Republicans so much, I am not one of them, they just make more sense when they are not spending my money like it is my money and not theirs.

    Many states are Red states with Blue cities.

    Trey

  15. JLR,

    With how the evangelicals treated Romney (aka: The Devil Mormon) I am in no hurry to play nice with them. If that means fracturing the Republican base, fine. I’d rather the Republican party become religion-neutral and economy-strong, than remain as it is.

    Evangelicals have chosen the path of anti-science, and I’m in no hurry to get taken down with them.

  16. My personal theory is that the homogenizing of the Republican party is one of the reasons the Democrats had such trouble getting organized until Bush managed to repeatedly shoot himself in the foot while hanging from a hemp rope. Socially conservative Evangelicals and those who agree with their beliefs seem to be a far narrower group than the Republicans are/were banking on, and as I result I think the Democrats are picking up most of those who jumped ship. That means the Democratic party theoretically has people all the way from the anarchist left up through conservative moderates. Given that makeup, when the objective is to get rid of the other side all the Dems can agree, but beyond that it starts to get fuzzy.

  17. demographically speaking Darke County should be Republican. It’s a rural, blue-collar county (its main industries are farming and manufacturing)

    Holey moley. I’d say that’s a demographic that should be voting *Democrat*, not Republican. Unless you’re rich or a religious nutcase, your interests are not well served by the typical Republican politican.

  18. I voted Dem during the Clinton years.

    If the Dems under Obama can be fiscally responsible, I will vote Dem again.

    It’s really that simple.

  19. Good grief, people…we’re at 20 comments and no one has commented on the fact that Scalzi lives in a placed called….Darke County?!?!

    Darke County being staunchly Republican seems like too easy a joke, I admit.

    Quite honestly, the Republican’s fractured party made anyone a hard sell. Despite what sub-odeon thinks, I don’t think Romney had a solid shot. Not because he was a Mormon (in fact, Romney had already shown that he could run a state without his personal religion interfering, something deserving of respect in any candidate)…but because he was solidly stuck in the same place that Keyes and Huckabee also found themselves: as a candidate widely viewed as defined by his religion (fairly or unfairly).

    The Republican party is split between social conservatives, federalists and capitalists…and rarely can more than two of these groups agree for significant periods of time any longer .

  20. As fellow not far away in Montgomery County I really wish the Republicans would split apart. It would be interesting to see how Ohio played out if you had the neocon fascist christian party fighting the fiscal conservative party. I certainly know which I would rather win and have to face the democrats, it wouldn’t be the party I would sort of be okay with in power…

  21. The thing about voting against their self-interests, I’ve seen a lot of people complain since the election that their “hard earned money” is going to go to people who would rather buy a self phone and designer clothes than pay their mortgage.”

    And I just want to say, “Oh, so YOU make more than $250,000?” (No, they don’t.) They honestly think this “wealth distribution” comes down to merit-not income. Since they perceive themselves as working hard, they will get screwed. Any one who makes less than them (or budgets differently than them) must inherently be lazier and they will inherently benefit from a tax break. The actual facts of the BO tax plan seem to have no bearing on their perception.

    (The other one being that any small sole proprieter making $250,000 will go bankrupt. When they don’t understand that this tax is about INCOME, not PROFITS. A sole proprieter can pay himself anything he wants and invest the rest back in the business.)

    So, I think that yes, they vote on values and not the economy. But they screw up economic policy with values policy instead of just looking at the numbers.

  22. John, “economics” and “values” aren’t necessarily different things.

    Remember, the man who is considered the father of economics considered himself not an economist, but a moral philosopher. Adam Smith considered “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” his seminal work, one that led to “On The Wealth of Nations.”

    Let’s put it another way. Blue-collar folks understand what you could term “peasant values” more thoroughly than others. “Peasant values” are what you have to do to survive and thrive when you don’t have much economic cushion for stupid decisions.

    You have to be mature in your decision making because one misstep can cost you everything.

    It seems those with higher education (outside of the hard sciences, though they’re not immune) seem to think water CAN run uphill. People that have to do practical things for a living aren’t allowed to forget that, knowing if they do, it’s at their own peril.

    Promising an income tax cut for people who don’t pay income tax in the first place might benefit them in the short term, but they know in the long run that policies like that will kill the economy and their chance to earn a living.

    They get it. Too many others have bought into pipe dreams, and we all may pay the price for it.

    Hope I’m wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

  23. I’d be curious to know if your old county here in Virginny went blue (or was it blue before?). I can’t remember what part of the state you said you lived in.

    Good old Albemarle county (which always goes blue – since C’vill is smack dab in the middle) went blue again! Yay us.

  24. I’m still giddy over living in the great BLUE state of Indiana. Of course, I live in Delaware County, home of Ball State University, which also finally voted blue thanks to a massive student turnout as did the counties that house Purdue, IU and Indiana State. So while I’m feeling quite full of myself, I do feel compelled to hug and kiss every college student I see on the street.

  25. It’s not just taxes. I’m solidly middle class. I’ve had the tax cuts. Then I watched as my local property taxes went through the roof and the insurance and electric companies were allowed to raise rates with fear little of more than a slap on the wrist. (Here’s the way it works: they ask for an exceedingly huge increase and get granted a “merely” huge increase. In fact, our insurer asked for another ginormous rate increase just the other day.)

    This is why it’s important to pay attention to the so-called “downticket” races. We’ve had enough of a shift in our state Leg that it may make a difference, but I’m not holding my breath. If I could breathe, that is. The polluters are winning here, too.

  26. I think the future of the Republican part lies with economics, not religion.

    Then they are so doomed. For quite a while
    .
    The basis of conservative economics had it’s guru – Alan Greenspan. He himself admits that his economic philosophy has an inherent flaw – corporations, when asked to self regulate, will instead screw up the marketplace to make a fast buck. Until there’s a substantial shift to what Republicans understand about the economy, that flaw remains unfixed, and is considered to be a feature, not a bug by Republicans.

    Banking on Democrats making things worse is not a stable basis for political gains, but that’s what I hear all of the Republican pundits saying. None of them seem to consider the possibility that things might improve under Obama for a majority of Americans. Take “Dave in Georgia” as an example. He’s banking on things getting worse as proof of his economic theories. The thing is, plenty of social liberals in the US have a decent grasp of economics, and can provide for growth, as long as the global economy doesn’t prevent it.

    Take a look at the coastal cities, the reliable “blue” states. Are they providing solid input into the GDP? If they are, liberals running those states might know a thing or two about how to create prosperity. John’s point about the reliably “red” areas being economically depressed is a good one. Centers of commerce, industry and innovation look pretty “blue” to me.

    I’m not saying I have proof of a direct correlation, but dismissing all liberals as economic catastrophes waiting to happen is just dumb.

    So please, GOP. More of the same. Keep the course *just* the way you’ve been doing it.

  27. Dave in Georgia, thanks for the first big laugh I’ve had all morning. I don’t know what sort of Blue-collar working utopia in which you have the pleasure to reside — filled with the hard-working “practical” pragmatics making tough, mature decisions–but I sure would like to go there. My experience with them has been far messier.

    I’d love to see a study of how many in the “hard sciences” voted for McCain and “Adam-rode-a-pterodactyl” Palin.

  28. Josh Jasper,

    Sorry, but you can’t repeal the laws of supply and demand. You get the behavior you reward.

    Where is the growth going to come from if you discourage people from economic activity (the proposed tax increase on $250k+ earners)? Where is the incentive for people to do for themselves if you just hand out stuff (give a man a fish, or that bike you saved for as a kid).

    Corporations will do their best to use government to shut out competition. Don’t look at them for model behavior.

    And social engineering is the worst basis for economic policy. Just look at the mortgage mess, a prime example of social engineering gone wild.

    All this bailing out is going to haunt us down the road. The government is looking more and more like the mafia these days. They’re busy creating bust-out joints all over the financial industry. Only problem is, instead of the insurance money, what’s in it for the government when the burn down the businesses they’ve looted?

  29. I moved away from the West Tennessee country where five generations of us had lived, and four of us are buried, because of the kind of thing Trey is spouting. The party of Lincoln is now in the hands of the Confederates’ heirs, and things are only getting worse.

    I’m really bothered by the implication of something that has been said here and elsewhere, which implies (to me) the argument made so blatantly in 2000, that votes of city-dwellers are not as valid as those of folks in the country.

    That was horseshit when Jefferson said it, and remains so now.

  30. The economics of it is I do better when I am taxed less! Also, I am a producer, I make more than I take, and I worry that liberal social programs will give my tax money to people who do not work, but should.

    From blue states to red states? Hmmm.

    That said, fiscal conservatism makes sense as a philosophy. I just have problems with people who claim to be fiscal conservatives, but spend like crazy.

  31. Dave in GA @# 33: “Where is the growth going to come from if you discourage people from economic activity (the proposed tax increase on $250k+ earners)?”

    I suspect the blue-collar folk making the median household income in Darke County, OH ($44,700) are not thinking that they need to shift their investments into tax-advantaged munis to avoid the incremental tax hikes.

    “Just look at the mortgage mess, a prime example of social engineering gone wild.”

    If by “social engineering” you mean “mortgage brokers disregarding default risk because they were immediately securitizing mortgages and had no exposure, investment bankers repackaging mortgages and reselling tranches that provided buyers no visibility into the risk associated with the underlying assets, credit rating agencies defaulting on their responsibilities to provide unbiased assessments of security risks, and the use of credit default swaps for unregulated and unmonitored speculation rather than risk hedging,” then I’d agree with you. But if by “social engineering” you mean the impact of efforts to make home ownership more viable for lower-income buyers by reducing equity ratios and increasing the availability of mortgages, then I think you’re focusing on how well the deck chairs were or were not aligned on the Titanic.

  32. Dave in Georgia at #33:

    Where is the growth going to come from if you tax more over $250K? Probably the same place it was going to occur if you didn’t tax. Just because the tax rate goes up, doesn’t mean small business is going to go extinct. Yes, more money will go to the government, but that does not equal zero or negative growth. Small business owners will continue to have a profit motive. They may decide not to hire as many people, or spend less on supplies, but small business owners are not simply going to give up or something.

    As for the incentive to work – I direct a program serving the homeless. All of the services we provide are free. The most common reaction I get from people who come into my office needing help is shame, and a desire to be self-sufficient without help. Pride and a desire to be busy, to be working, is very powerful. That is the incentive. The picture you paint is just plain wrong. There are certainly people who abuse free services – in my experience though, it’s five to ten percent of those receiving services. To generalize from that tiny minority out to say that free stuff = disincentive to work is just plain wrong. I am so tired of hearing that argument from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

    Your comment at #27 was also problematic. I have a Master’s, the higher education as you put it, and my day everyday is filled with helping people make practical decisions. How do I fill out applications for jobs to best position myself for an interview? How do I run a four person household on $1300 per month (before taxes)? How do I negotiate complicated legal systems regarding eviction because my cancer laid me up and I got fired from work? I don’t sit in an Ivory Tower, putting together complex moral philosophies like Adam Smith so I can be famous around town. So, you know, you might try not making so many dumb assumptions about people.

  33. See that blue county up there by Lake Erie? *points finger happily* Cuyahoga County? That’s my county. And it’s blue.

  34. After reading this, the only comment I have is:

    What a cool county name.

    Especially with that “e” on the end of Darke. (My last name is Sharpe, so you can see why I’m fond of the extraneous silent “e”.)

  35. @36 DG Lewis

    “I suspect the blue-collar folk making the median household income in Darke County, OH ($44,700) are not thinking that they need to shift their investments into tax-advantaged munis to avoid the incremental tax hikes.

    No, they know the bulk of the taxes will hit the small-to-medium businesses that hire the bulk of the people in this country.

    If by “social engineering” you mean “mortgage brokers disregarding default risk because they were immediately securitizing mortgages and had no exposure, investment bankers repackaging mortgages and reselling tranches that provided buyers no visibility into the risk associated with the underlying assets, credit rating agencies defaulting on their responsibilities to provide unbiased assessments of security risks, and the use of credit default swaps for unregulated and unmonitored speculation rather than risk hedging,” then I’d agree with you.

    Nice to know you agree with me. All this was made possible by the rules being relaxed in the mid-90′s in an effort to

    a) get more people in houses
    b) buy votes
    c) both

    I vote c. With our pals Fannie and Freddie backing these loans that would not have otherwise been made without the imprimatur of the government, the housing crisis became inevitable. With legislators of both parties (though primarily Democrats) running interference to see that nothing stopped the gravy train, the scope of the crisis was widened. And with the top guilty parties in the whole mess all being rewarded with either re-election, promotion, or more power through their party becoming more powerful, things only promise to get worse.

    But if by “social engineering” you mean the impact of efforts to make home ownership more viable for lower-income buyers by reducing equity ratios and increasing the availability of mortgages, then I think you’re focusing on how well the deck chairs were or were not aligned on the Titanic.

    THAT was a worthy goal. But by putting people into mortgages that were never going to be paid off, it only made their situation worse. Ah, but the votes to be bought in the short term!

  36. gwangung @35:
    Republicans do have a tendency to rediscover the virtues of reducing spending and limiting government power when they’re not the ones in control any more, so I would expect to see actual fiscal conservatism on the rise once again.

    If nothing else, based on the Clinton years, Republicans do seem to have the ability to actually be an opposition party, something which has been sorely lacking the last few years.

  37. #37 Todd Stull (sticking with quotation marks because italics are apparently too advanced for me!)

    “Just because the tax rate goes up, doesn’t mean small business is going to go extinct. Yes, more money will go to the government, but that does not equal zero or negative growth. Small business owners will continue to have a profit motive. They may decide not to hire as many people, or spend less on supplies, but small business owners are not simply going to give up or something.”

    Not hiring as many people or spending less on supplies is the whole point. Government is not the engine that drives this country. If anything, it’s the idiot hanging on the back bumper slowing things down by threatening to sue you if he falls off due to his own incompetence. Money that goes to the government by definition is going to someone who isn’t producing a damned thing that someone else wants to buy. And after a while, people DO give up. It’s just not worth the hassle anymore.

    “There are certainly people who abuse free services – in my experience though, it’s five to ten percent of those receiving services.”

    And thank God for that. But keep in mind — the more disincentives there are, the more people are tempted to throw in the towel. YOU GET WHAT YOU REWARD.

    As for the value of higher education, I’d like you to re-work your argument in the first paragraph of your post for internal logic.

    As for helping people, it’s great. Glad you’re doing it. If the people who you’re helping aren’t paying for your services, who is? If it’s a charity, you have my thanks and admiration, because that’s what America stands for — helping each other in tough times.

  38. It occurred to me the other day, after talking with my dad, that he’s Republican with the same organ that he’s a Detroit Lions fan, and he won’t shift from that any more than he’ll shift from the Lions because they go 0-16. I realized that he could no more vote for a Democrat than he could root for the Chicago Bears, or the Ohio State Buckeyes, or willingly move to Russia.

    That’s a problem I don’t have any idea how to overcome, and I don’t think he’s the only one out there like that, either.

    Probably the key is to teach the next generation not to have strong party loyalty of any kind – teach them to be suspicious of all of the political parties – and hope that the fanatical brand loyalty dies with the breed – but meanwhile, the party activists are pointedly trying to get eight-year-olds to commit NOW to being an X for life – because they *love* guys like my dad.

    Yeah, it’s a problem.

  39. Taxes do make a difference. Round about 1994, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling regarding tax deductions for in-home businesses.

    I closed mine because I couldn’t afford the tax increase.

    There are several self-employed people in my family – business owners and independent contractors. Many of them look at this $250K limit and say that they won’t take the risk of growing their businesses – hiring employees, buying supplies – because they don’t want to risk increased taxes.

    Dave in Georgia is right. This is going to slow down the ecomony, not bring it back.

  40. @dave in GA…
    Where is the growth going to come from if you discourage people from economic activity (the proposed tax increase on $250k+ earners)?

    Well, given that the tax rate will return to where it was during the Clinton years and those years saw good economic growth, I’m not too worried. Let’s dispense with the fiction that this is a huge new increase in taxes past what we’ve ever seen. It’s not. It merely does not continue the tax cut that Bush got.

  41. The GOP strongholds remind me of the former core demographic for Cadillacs: old guys who were slowly dying off. Not that the people in these counties are dying off, but the counties themselves are. There’s a net outflow. If that’s your core market, you’re in trouble.

    Of course, Cadillac did manage to re-brand itself eventually, though it may be too late for GM as a whole. (These metaphors only go so far.) The GOP might manage that, too.

  42. rick @ 46

    “Well, given that the tax rate will return to where it was during the Clinton years and those years saw good economic growth, I’m not too worried. Let’s dispense with the fiction that this is a huge new increase in taxes past what we’ve ever seen. It’s not. It merely does not continue the tax cut that Bush got.”

    A tax increase is a tax increase. The problem has to do with direction. Taxes are going up, which will cause a shrinking economy by its very nature.

    I’m waiting for a Smoot-Hawley-like move from Congress as well. Again, hoping (that’s not a strong enough word!) I’m wrong, but not that confident. The number of economic dunderheads in DC is frightening. That water-flowing-uphill-because-we-want-it-to thing reigns supreme.

  43. I once lived in Darke County (OH) – it seemed like for a long time, but in reality, it was for two years. I had a number of tangles in local politics – most of which left me older and wiser, once in a while furious.

    Another outsider and I had a saying, “They don’t call it Dark County for nothing.” sigh. The people were very nice, though . . . for the most part. Although there were a couple of people, I’d like to go back to see . . . so that I can dance on their graves. Some of those political battles left deep scars.

  44. There seems to be a strange idea about that Obama’s tax plan will actually make people earning over $250,000 poorer than those earning slightly less.

    I get the impression that a lot of people don’t realize that tax brackets are marginal. That is, if a higher tax bracket begins at $250,000 and you make more than that (in taxable income), the higher tax rate doesn’t suddenly apply to all your income, it just applies to the part of the taxable income that is over $250,000. Trying to avoid making that much money in order to avoid the higher tax rate makes no sense, unless you’re doing it out of spite–even if you get into the higher bracket, you’ll still take home more money, not less.

    That isn’t to say that there aren’t perverse incentives lurking anywhere in the tax code or elsewhere in the government, but tax brackets aren’t one.

  45. Maybe blue-collar people “vote against their self-interests” because they’ve got other standards beside whether they profit or lose by a policy.

    Thought experiment: You’ve stopped in a convenience store to grab a candy bar. The clerk is working in the back office, and the candy is in an aisle where he can’t see you at all when you’re there. You know for a fact that there are no other employees, customers, or security cameras in the store. It’s obviously in your economic self-interest to pocket the candy bar and leave. Do you?

  46. Matt McIrvin,

    At some point, it’s not worth the hassle anymore. That point is different for everyone.

    And calling the decision to not to work to make money you can’t keep anyway spite is illustrative of the problem.

    Dude, not a good attitude. It’s not YOUR money. It’s not YOUR effort, sweat, time that went into producing it. When you take that cash, you’re taking a portion of that producer’s life. And at some point, ENOUGH!!!

    Think about it.

  47. And one further addition to all this.

    After seeing the rather cavalier attitude toward raising taxes and the lack of understanding about what money represents by Obama supporters, it just reinforces the reasons I had for not voting Democrat.

    A rising tide lifts all boats. Cutting a hole in someone’s bigger boat doesn’t make your boat any better.

  48. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Clearly untrue, as the disparity between rich and poor in the USA has been increasing for the last decade or more, IIRC.

  49. Dave in Georgia – I’d like you to re-work you argument so that you say what you mean clearly.

    You say that money that goes to the government is by definition going to someone who isn’t producing a damned thing that someone else wants to buy. Really? So all that money that goes to the government to pay for jets and Humvees is really going to someone who isn’t producing a damned thing that someone wants to buy? The employees of Lockheed just called – they want you to know that you gave them a good laugh.

    Let’s move on to federal and state subsidized health coverage. So the money that is helping a minimum wage worker at McDonalds get health care for his child – are you saying that the worker isn’t producing anything someone wants to pay for? McDonalds just called – they want to teach you something about their stock dividends.

    Hmmm – how about helping people who are being foreclosed on…. So the working couple who bought a house with an ARM, and who recently got their hours downsized at Sears, in part because of a softening in the economy and freezing of the credit market – when they ask for a grant or loan from the government, they shouldn’t get it because their work at Sears is not actually worth anything? Sears just called – they want to…well actually, scratch that, Sears didn’t call, they can’t afford it because of bad business decisions. Of course, those bad business decisions were NOT the fault of the working couple. That social cost actually was the fault of the guys making over $250K.

    And here I thought that there were legitimate functions of government that meet the common good, and that the market is unable or unwilling to meet. Of course, as you so rightly pointed out, I’ve got higher education. That must mean I can’t form basic sentences, much less understand cause and effect, correlation, conflation, and, your favorite, bad analogies.

    I supported Obama AND I am an Independent. Maybe demonizing the Democrats is an easy way for you to oversimplify a complex issue. There are a lot of things about our federal government and its fiscal waste that I dislike. But I ain’t shedding a tear for people making over $250K a year.

    You did get one thing right Dave – people DO give up when they feel overwhelmed. They throw themselves in front of trains. They drink themselves to oblivion. They commit theft to survive, and sometimes, even to become incarcerated. At least you get three squares and a warm room. But I doubt you have the faintest grasp of how much charity is out there for Americans, and how the NEED, and not WANT, for this charity is devastatingly bigger than the supply. If you did, you would not be such a big believer in the idea that so many people are gaming the system and cheating all the rest of the taxpayers.

  50. ‘You have to be mature in your decision making because one misstep can cost you everything.’

    Which is why the rate of teenage pregnancy/motherhood is such a problem among the upper class and college educated.

    Who needs facts when you can have opinions?

  51. Dave @ 55 – A rising tide lifts all boats.

    A nice platitude, but during the fattest part of the past few bubbles, real wages remained flat for the middle class and poor. When you add that to rising health care costs, the middle class has been suffering, while the upper class has been getting richer.

    Perhaps if corporate America had actually paid people more for increased productivity and longer hours, instead of keeping the fruits of that labor for themselves, we wouldn’t be in this mess. If you’ve got a problem with the government redistributing the wealth of the wealthy, why don’t you have a corresponding problem with the corporate practice of paying people less for working harder and smarter?

    not_scottbot @ 58 – Keep in mind, the social conservative movement opposes abortion and access to / education about birth control. They do this mostly among the poor, white, middle class members of the movement, and by happenstance, among the urban poor.

    There hasn’t been a propaganda move towards encouraging birth control in the last 8 years. There is, however, a proven correlation between access to free/cheap birth control, education about how to use it, and a drop in unplanned pregnancies. Without that access and education, you get situations like Sarah Palin’s daughter being commonplace, expected, and tolerated.

  52. Let’s run some numbers, shall we?

    Obama’s plan would increase the marginal personal income tax rate by 3% for net income between $250k and $372,950, and by 4.6% for net income above $372,950. So take a successful small business owner whose business is currently generating $250k of net income. Note that this isn’t revenue (gross income from sales of goods and services); it’s profit that goes back to the owner after paying for materials, services, salaries, etc.

    So let’s say that our hypothetical SBO has an opportunity to expand his business. He could hire some more employees, buy some more supplies, and he expects that he’d maybe generate another $200k of revenue, and given the business that he’s in has a 25% profit margin, his net income would increase by $50k, from $250k to $300k.

    Under the current tax rates, the marginal rate for that additional $50k of net income would be 33%, so his additional taxes would be $16,500, and his income after taxes would be $33,500. Under the Obama plan, the marginal rate for that additional $50k would be 36%, so his additional taxes would be $18,000, and his income after taxes would be $32,000.

    “Well darn it,” says our hypothetical SBO, “right now I’m clearing $162k after federal income taxes, and I could grow my business to clear $194k — but if it weren’t for that redistributionist, socialistic tax plan I would have cleared $195.5k, so screw it. It’s just not worth the time and effort to only clear $32k instead of $33.5k.”

    Possible? Snark aside, sure – there may be some cases where the marginal cost (time, effort, energy) to the SBO is justified by a $33.5k increase in net income, but isn’t justified by a $32k increase in net income. But by the same token, there are some cases where the marginal cost would be justified by a $49.5k increase in net income but not by a $33.5k increase, and you don’t see anyone arguing that the marginal rate should be dropped to 1%.

    So the question is not one of black or white, “Increasing taxes on small businesses will destroy the engine of the economy” versus “Oh, so the rich bastards will have to take one less trip on the private jet to Aspen.” It’s a question of whether the societal cost incurred due to the cases where the tax increase does in fact generate sufficient disincentive to grow income is outweighed by the societal benefit of additional tax revenue. Some believe that the societal benefit of additional tax revenue is zero, and therefore any disincentive, however small, is unjustified. Others believe that the disincentive is de minimus and therefore any societal benefit of additional tax revenue is sufficient to justify the tax increase. Personally, I take a more centrist view, that there are non-zero costs and benefits on both sides, and that you have to actually evaluate the tradeoffs and come to a balanced decision.

    And the reason that I supported Obama was that I read in his writings a recognition of this need for analysis, for judgment, and for reaching a balanced decision, as opposed to the extremism of both wings that we’ve seen for the past 16 (some would say 28) years.

  53. I seem to remember right-wing shills crying about “unamerican” and “traitors” and “not supporting the troops” whenever someone was opposed to the neocons, even their most idiotic schemes.

    Well, now a few of the richest of you are getting a minor tax increase. You have the opportunity to not be an unamerican traitor who doesn’t support the troops. Pay your goddamn tax.

  54. Oh, and by the way. My marginal tax rate (in Norway) is around the 50% mark. I haven’t heard of anyone who can’t be bothered making more money because of that.

  55. Ha! I guessed right. Julie waaay up @ 2 said she was in the Red-est county in Texas.

    So I said to myself, “Self, I betcha she lives in Collin Co.” A quick check over at Stately Barrett Manor confirmed my suspicion :)

    So “howdy” from a fellow Planonian ;) (in the Fairfax Hill neighborhood, right across Preston Meadow from Gulledge Elem.)

  56. At some point, it’s not worth the hassle anymore. The point is different for everyone.

    What we’re talking about here is a difference of several pennies on the dollar, in a situation where the government’s taking a bit over a third of that dollar. I suppose that’s the point where incentive is completely extinguished for somebody, but it would be odd.

    In the 1950s, under Dwight Eisenhower (not generally thought of as a Maoist, though the Birchers weren’t so sure), the top marginal tax rate (for what was at the time a colossal income) was 91%. That’s a lot. I could believe that that’s actually past the hump of a real Laffer Curve, where you’re putting such a drag on the incentive to produce that the government actually loses revenue.

    But… then again… we don’t think of the 1950s as a time of socialistically induced poverty, at all. The era had its problems, but it was a time of broad-based prosperity and optimism–a time that conservatives still cite as the good old days before the hippies ruined everything! They generally don’t mention this detail, that taxes were so progressive then that even what passes for leftists in America find it hard to believe.

    And, anyway, what you’re objecting to is not even a handout per se. These people who don’t pay any income taxes still pay plenty of FICA, the payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare. Obama’s proposed credit is a FICA offset, a credit applied for taxes paid.
    In other words, Obama’s proposing lightening the total tax burden for all these workers–reducing the amount the government takes from every dollar for the vast majority of working Americans, at the expense of a few who can afford it much, much, much more.

    The many are working people who saw no benefit whatsoever from the last economic boom, while their productivity (until very recently) continued to rise and rise. What you’re asking me to believe is that the rich few who did benefit from the last boom are the true engine of the economy, and it will all go bust if their tax burden is increased even a little–while the tax burden of the poorer many, who also consume goods and services and do most of the work, somehow doesn’t matter.

    I don’t buy it. I don’t think the majority of Americans buy it any more.

    Conservatives have a rhetorical stance they’ve used for a long time, that they’re for reducing the total amount people pay the government. It’s become increasingly clear to more and more of us that it’s not about that–it’s never been about that. It’s about who pays, and who gets.

  57. Mike wrote: “which implies (to me) the argument made so blatantly in 2000, that votes of city-dwellers are not as valid as those of folks in the country.”

    Mike, I live in Nashville. It is a city. I believe in one person one vote, I am a conservative not a Republican. At no point did I state anything about rural people being smarter or better or anything over townies like me and my family. I was referring to voting trends.

    I do not know who said that city folk can’t vote right, but it was not I.

    How did you think that?

    Trey

  58. Gwangun wrote: “I just have problems with people who claim to be fiscal conservatives, but spend like crazy.”

    Me too brother. That is why I am not a Republican.

    Trey

  59. Roy wrote: “Oh, and by the way. My marginal tax rate (in Norway) is around the 50% mark. I haven’t heard of anyone who can’t be bothered making more money because of that.”

    Of course you haven’t! They all moved to Finland. 8)

    Trey

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