Thursday, March 24, 2011

Empirical Evidence That Proves Conservatism is Destroying America

Here is a link to a DailyKos blog in which the writer took the time to assemble the list of the states that perform worse on a number of measurable social indicators. The ten states with the lowest median household income are almost all solidly Republican / conservative states. The states with the worst health-care systems are almost all solidly Republican / conservative states. The states with the highest divorce rates are almost all solidly Republican / conservative states. The states with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy are almost all solidly Republican / conservative states. The states with the lowest ratios college graduates are almost all solidly Republican / conservative states.

I write "almost all" because that centerpiece of modern American entrepreneurship, and one of the hot points in the mortgage financial meltdown, Nevada, often shows up in these lists.

Finally, the writer notes,

Conservative presidents are bad for balancing the budget:
"Dwight Eisenhower was last Republican President to preside over a balanced budget. He had a balanced budget in 1956 and 1957.

Since then, there have been two presidents to preside over balanced budgets, LBJ in 1969 and Clinton in 1998 through 2001.
During the last 40 years there have been five budget surpluses, all five were under Democratic Presidents: 1969, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.
I've seen these lists before, but never all of them pulled together in one location. Links are provided for the sources in the diary.

But even more impressive is this recent observation by David Sirota, who appeared last week in FireDogLake's Book Salon to discuss his recently released Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now — Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything: that the glorification of greed and self that began under Ronald Reagan has created a steep increase in cultural and social narcissism that can actually be seen in certain measurable indicators:
We moved, for instance, from a culture that valued “we’re all in this together” to a culture that now values “greed is good.” (comment 91) . . . . In my set of chapters called “The Jump Man Chronicles” (named after that iconic Nike image of the individual Michael Jordan soaring above everything else), I go into the data that shows how those social bonds broke down. It’s fascinating – and disturbing. And it’s really incredible how empirically you can document that cultural shift. (comment 84).
In an excerpt of his book posted on In These Times, Sirota mentions two of these empircal indicators:
. . . Meanwhile, participation in civic organizations dropped precipitously. Between 1980 and 1995, the number of Americans who said they attended even one public meeting (PTA event, town hall meeting, etc.) declined by 33 percent, and between 1985 and 1994, active participation in community organizations dropped by 45 percent.
At the same time participation in public and community-oriented institutions and causes started declining in the 1980s, participation in the self-help industry started skyrocketing. So it wasn’t just a matter of time being lost, it was also a matter of time being diverted into more self-centric activities.
The excerpt of his book is particularly thought-provoking and should do a good job of afflicting almost anyone's comfort zone.

UPDATE 04-15-2011: The newest edition of the U.S. Peace Index, developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace, shows that the nine of the ten most violent states are in the South, led by Louisiana. According to the Huffington Post: "Generally, Southern states tended to be the least safe, with the region scoring 3.13 on the index, compared with the Northeast, calculated to be the safest region with a score of 1.99."


  1. While I suspect the DailyKos writer is correct, all that data actually proves is that there is a correlation. Have those states always been that way, or have they become worse as their politics and cultures have become conservative? Or do conservative ideas in America appeal to people who are already relatively desperate and poor, so that the causation is actually reversed? Of course, in that case you could argue that conservatism has probably not helped them become less poor... As I said, I suspect you are correct anyway, but that Kos diary is only going to convince those who don't need convincing.

    Also, that statement about conservatives being bad at balancing the budget is actually damning of liberals--the budget balancing of both LBJ and Clinton led directly to recessions. Preoccupation with nonsense like managing and balancing the federal budget has caused enormous damage in the past couple decades and liberal governments have been the only ones misguided enough to try it (as opposed to conservatives who just talk about it, though we'll see where things end up in the next few years--they might make the liberals budget history look good by comparison).

  2. Let me defend Tony here. While Bolo is correct (at least according to the statistics I was taught) this doesn't mean that the idea that conservative thinking is always bad, and has been always bad for the economy is wrong.

    It stands to reason--whenever a culture has a "golden age" it happens when the important people decide to spend a lot of money. This gets folks spending and soon, the prosperity has spread so widely that everyone starts talking golden age. This spending can come in the form of highly practical things like the Canadian Pacific or Trans-Siberian railways. Or it can be utterly frivolous like the Vatican, Versailles, or anything dreamed up by Mad Ludwig.

    I came from a tribe, the Norse, who did highly entertaining things in spite of seriously bad weather and darkness. I have found over the years that how a Nordic male responds to winter explains a great deal about his character. The conservative instinct tells a Viking that the safest way to survive winter is huddle under heavy quilts and wait for spring.

    The progressive says to himself, "Since I cannot go anywhere, what can I do to make my world better where I am?" And so the Norse became wonderful builders of damn near everything. Obviously, as a patented inventor, I am clearly in the progressive world. I have precious little time for the pull the blanket-over-your-head types even though at least half the people I know are in that group.

    The austerity ghouls are classic blanket-over-head conservatives. When times get tough, they want to hunker down. And quite honestly, I don't know what to do with such folks because it seems the desire to hunker down is hard-wired into their personalities.

  3. Jonathan: I agree with you, and hope I wasn't too strident in my comment aimed at Tony's post. It's just that the whole "conservative" vs. "liberal" dialogue in the US has little to do with reality anymore (if it ever did) and is more about tribal affiliation and views on very specific, carefully de-limited issues. I'm highly skeptical of any claims that this tiny ideological divide is the reason that some areas of the US are poorer than others.

    I run into liberals every day who believe we need to cut Social Security and reform Medicare or else the country "will go bankrupt." I'd argue that a solid majority of the nation, on both sides of the aisle, is actually conservative by our definition (you, me, Tony, etc.) of the term.

    And I'd agree that generally speaking, conservative economics does not help people. Perhaps the reason that the states from the Kos diary are so far behind is that they never really experienced an economic era with large amounts of public investment for the common good, whereas the rest of the US (well, NY, CA, etc.) did get this for a little while.

  4. My question is: in valuing self over community—which community? Part of the back-to-the-self movement of the 1980's forward was a reaction against what were perceived as failed senses of community, almost nihilistic in nature. Don't believe in the government, don't believe in the church, don't believe in the guru, the rock n roll star left me in the lurch...

    What I see in the communities I am active in now, is that we simply don't know how to be part of a community honestly. Our older metaphorical groundings have lost credibility, or at least enough credibility that we are unwilling to jump up and down and have a hoedown on top of them. We trust God, maybe, if we do, and if we do we still have to qualify that trust. We trust the government except for the parts we don't. Cultural icons all have feet of clay in a tabloid-journalism world. So it remains an open question: just what community can we trust enough to throw ourselves headlong into?

    Just came across this blog today, BTW, and am really enjoying it. Thank you for this.

  5. @ natcase
    Glad you found us. Welcome aboard. Please spread the word.

    I think the question of self vs. community is VERY interesting. It is one I have been addressing most of my life. I grew up around Mennonites who tend towards communal. I also spent part of my childhood in western North Dakota where it was easy to find the individualists who refused to be told how to do anything by anyone.

    The folks who annoy me are the ones who believe everything should be decided by the group (Communists) or that nothing should be subjected to group control (Ayn Rand Libertarians). Extremism like this led to the Cold War (among other abominations).

    I am pretty sure that the most successful societies are those that balance those thing that should be private and those things that belong to the larger group.