A survey described by the Wall Street Journal heralds one of the most astounding failures of left-wing messaging in recent years, rivaled only by the failure of the cultural and political elite to browbeat more than 18 percent of Americans into agreeing there is anything wrong with the name “Washington Redskins.” The subject of this survey is much more important than sports trivia:
Surveys of 3,000 Americans conducted between January and March of 2014 by the Global Strategy Group found that fully 78% thought that it was important for Congress to promote an agenda of economic growth that would benefit all Americans. Support for policies that help the middle class and bolster equal opportunity for everyone were also highly rated. Strategies to spread wealth more evenly and reduce income inequality received the least support; 53% believe that fostering economic growth is “extremely important,” compared with only 30% who take that view about narrowing income inequality.
The Global Strategy Group even found a substantial level of agreement about the way to promote growth. A majority of all Americans endorsed policies to make college more affordable, modernize our infrastructure, provide additional job training for workers, invest more in basic research, technological development and K-12 education, and reduce outsourcing by American companies. They favor policies that would raise wages and increase fairness???if those policies boost growth.
These views have political consequences. By 59% to 37%, Global Strategy Group found that Americans prefer a candidate who focuses on economic growth to one who emphasizes economic fairness. By a remarkable margin of 64 percentage points (80% to 16%), they opt for a candidate who focuses on more economic growth to one who emphasizes less income inequality.
Commenting further upon this survey, James Freeman at the WSJ notes that the Global Strategy Group is no right-wing outfit, and hypothesizes that their poll was – to put it mildly – under-reported because it would have deflated the absurd slobbering over French socialist Thomas Piketty’s dopey book, and Barack Obama’s nothing-but-redistribution economic plans.
It would be interesting to chart the demographic breakdown of attitudes about growth versus redistribution over time. If younger people are growing more amenable to redistribution, the Left would count it as a great victory, even if big majorities are still opposed, in much the same way you can find those who think nursing support for forcing the Washington Redskins to change their name from virtually zero to 18% represents a messaging triumph. Conversely, if this Global Strategy Group survey said the majority of people favored redistribution over growth, conservatives would be told they were foolish to look for signs of opinion moving in their direction. A great deal of success in a long-term issue debate revolves around managing expectations – convincing your side to find reason for optimism, and the other side to accept defeat.
Considering the enormous political and social pressure brought to bear on “income inequality” and “economic fairness” and such, it’s remarkable that a survey would find such deep support for The Rising Tide That Lifts All Boats. It speaks well for the enduring optimism of the American people, who have not accepted that they live in a zero-sum world where everyone who prospers does so at the unfair expense of those who do not.
Redistribution is something many people can be bludgeoned into accepting, but not many affirmatively support it. They’re vaguely agreeable to the notion of soaking rich people who can afford to pay more for government, but when you get down to brass tacks and talk about “spreading wealth more evenly,” they grow uncomfortable. The idea that wealthy people have somehow benefited unfairly from public resources, and should “repay” their debt to the People and their government avatar through higher taxes, is probably going to be an easier sell over the long run for the Left than “income inequality.”
But the biggest problem with that “paying their fair share” argument, and a great opportunity for conservatives, is the way Big Government has been failing on everything at an epic scale, while wasting heroic amounts of money. The section of that Global Strategy Group report that dealt with specific policies is interesting: “A majority of all Americans endorsed policies to make college more affordable, modernize our infrastructure, provide additional job training for workers, invest more in basic research, technological development and K-12 education, and reduce outsourcing by American companies.” Why, exactly, do you suppose college has become unaffordable, folks? You’ve already got the most expensive public education in the world – what makes you think pouring more money into the same system is going to produce better results? Why do workers need “additional job training” after growing up with that insanely expensive universal public education system? Why would you trust the government that brought you the Solyndra debacle to wisely choose which “basic research” programs need more investment?
The enthusiasm for growth over “fixing income inequality” tells me a sizable portion of the American public is willing to hear both the moral and practical arguments against top-down centrally-planned socialism. Conservatives should seize this moment by making both arguments with gusto. Most people would agree that the quality of goods and services is not determined solely by their price tag. Why should anyone judge government that way? Bigger and more expensive doesn’t mean better, and it certainly doesn’t mean more efficient.
And you most assuredly aren’t going to see any great “economic growth” unless you make the private sector larger, which by definition means making government smaller. At this point, nobody should have a hard time making the case that prosperity will not be commanded into existence by almighty politicians, or engineered with billion-dollar Washington bureaucracies. I suggest making the case that politicians can’t “fix” income inequality, either… but the growth that flows from economic liberty will make a difference. When people understand that growth vs. equality is a false choice, we’ll really be getting somewhere.