Analysts have been conducting studies since 1994, trying to discern political polarization. These three charts look at the years 1994, 2004, and 2017.
Even as late as 2004, notice the broad crossover between the median Democrat and median Republican. And then notice how wide the divide is today.
Not only are the median positions of both parties further apart, but both parties have also shifted farther to their respective extremes in the last 13 years. The middle ground is much smaller, and to my eye it looks like the Democratic group is somewhat bigger than the Republican. You can see the same thing in the breakdown of the vote by states and counties; but since political commentary is not my genre, I’m going to avoid going any further down that rabbit hole.
But I will say that the internet, social media, and the media we consume on TV have allowed us to live in echo chambers where we are not really hearing much from the other side. We talk to people who think like we do and who tend to confirm that we are correct in our beliefs. That constant cycle of reinforcement makes our positions even more hardline, to the point where we trivialize or disparage the other side. It has seemingly become acceptable for an American congressman to say that he doesn’t feel sorry for those killed in the mass Las Vegas shooting because they were likely Trump supporters and against gun control. And for white hate groups to blatantly and publicly espouse racist positions. Antifa groups can call for the random killing of white people, simply for being white. And fewer than 30% of Millennials think that democracy is clearly the superior system of government.
And that is where we are today. Where are we going to be when unemployment is well over 12% and rising to 15%, the government is routinely running multitrillion-dollar budget deficits, state and local pensions are defaulting, and taxes are high and still rising?
And all this is going to happen at a time when wealth and income disparity are going to rising even faster than they are today. It’s all there in the data if you take the time to look. I am working hard to document not just the technological changes but the social, demographic, and political changes, along with the economic realities we will face in the book I’m currently writing. My greatest challenge will be to keep it under 300 pages!
And so, yes, when people ask what is in my worry closet, it is the fragmentation of society. As a country, we are going to have to begin to think the unthinkable. We really don’t know how to accurately measure GDP or inflation, and we certainly don’t have any way to statistically measure the improvements in lifestyle over the years. And we will need those tools. As conservatives and Republicans, we are going to have to think about something like universal basic employment, as opposed to universal basic income. Good work and participating in society give us meaning in life. Income just gives us a way to scrape by, but not personal life satisfaction or meaning, which is why we have an epidemic of opioid deaths, suicides, and rising deaths from alcoholism in the United States among white unemployed workers between 45 and 54. They have lost meaning and hope in their lives.
The calls for a guaranteed basic income (like Mark Zuckerberg’s) are just beginning, but that is going to become a major political theme in our future. Like King Canute, we cannot stop the tides – but perhaps we could get creative and channel that tide. What do we think of shorter work weeks? Just as Roosevelt put men to work during the Depression, maybe we need to think about finding jobs around our communities that need to be done. Guaranteed basic employment. Mull that over….
Yes, that offends every Hayekian neuron in my brain, but in a world of an unimaginable and unmanageable future, we are going to have start thinking the unthinkable.
Voters are going to want politicians to solve their problems. Politicians can’t really solve the problems we already have, let alone the problems of the future, so I expect we are going to see shifts from one political extreme to the other.
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