Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘We Teach These Things to Each Other’ (Part 8 of 9)

This is the eighth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

Cramer claims in Chapter 8 that

Beyond garnering the insight that people use social identities to think about politics, this book also shows how social group divides can operate as the central narrative by which people understand the political landscape and by which they structure their ideas about which candidates to support. In this politics of resentment, when we tell ourselves and others about the reasons behind how events have unfolded, the stories hinge on blaming our fellow citizens. What I am calling the politics of resentment is a political culture in which political divides are rooted in our most basic understandings of ourselves, infuse our everyday relationships, and are used for electoral advantage….

When has this not been true? Evening setting aside her earlier & false claim that small government advocacy stems from resentment against economic in interests (and only as Cramer defines those interests), have not large-scale political movements almost always involved ‘social group divides’ and accusations of blame (including toward the blameworthy)?

There’s nothing new on display here; Cramer esteems her work too highly.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 456, and 7.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, Concluding Thoughts (Part 9 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Reactions to the Ruckus’ (Part 7 of 9)

This is the seventh in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 7, Cramer describes the conditions immediately before, during, & immediately after the Great Recession, with consideration of Obama and Walker’s candidacies. With regard to Barack Obama, there’s much here that shifts, if not contradicts, Cramer’s earlier insistence that race isn’t a primary motivation in sentiment among rural voters.

In Chapter 3 Cramer contended on both sides of this issue (that race was and wasn’t important):

So yes, it is highly likely that when people refer to “those people in Milwaukee” they are often referring to racial minorities. But notice how complex this is. The urbanites that rural folks were referring to were not predominantly racial minorities. When white outstaters (i.e., those living outside the major metropolitan areas) complained of the laziness in the cities in these conversations, their comments were almost always directed at white people: government bureaucrats and faculty members at the flagship public university.

In that way, antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color. At the same time, given the way arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness, these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.

Cramer frames this so that she can insist race isn’t involved (“antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color”) except that it always is (“these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned”). She knows this not specifically about the residents with whom she converses, by the way, but because “historically [arguments] been made by equating deservingness with whiteness.” Even if Cramer should be right about this general historical truth, she imputes the generality to particular people and conversations. If others can’t see what she sees, well, it’s because she’s more discerning, and knows “these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.”

Now consider in Chapter 7 how Cramer describes reactions to Barack Obama:

In general, white people across all types of communities seemed uncomfortable talking about the fact that Obama is African American….At the same time that people seemed uncomfortable with Obama’s race and race as a concept in general, Obama’s theme of change and unity resonated with people—or at least they believed it resonated with others. The professionals in central Wisconsin might have found it necessary to qualify his appeal as a certain “kind” of African American, but they also nodded as one man said, “He is the one with the best truth out there.” I heard glimmers of hope that he was a different kind of politician, one not entrenched in Washington, and one who, especially compared to Hillary, was closer to the people.

When Cramer writes that “white people across all types of communities seemed uncomfortable talking about the fact that Obama is African American” she cannot possibly mean all communities in Wisconsin. It’s simply absurd to contend that whites in Dane County, for example, were uncomfortable with Obama. Here, she must mean rural whites (and perhaps suburban ones).

If this should be so, in her estimation, what does it say about her earlier contention that “antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color”? Of course it’s not simply that, as though the supposed resentment were of one kind only. Yet, if her work should be social science, and not mere political commentary, how much of the resentment she sees is racial in motivation?

Cramer is evasive, but assures us (almost like Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about obscenity, ‘I know it when I see it’) that she’ll let us know when she spots something racist.

A more interesting inquiry for Cramer would have been to consider how views on gender affected the Obama-Clinton primary in 2008. Cramer observes that she, herself, met with sexual harassment from rural residents, but leaves aside a more thorough consideration of gender when describing views of Hillary Clinton.

(Cramer also implies that rural harassment was worse than what a woman might have encountered at university; sexual harassment and assault on college campuses is too often downplayed, and federal Clery statistics do not reflect the extent of actual campus harassment & violence.)

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 45, and 6.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ”We Teach These Things to Each Other” (Part 8 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Support for Small Government’ (Part 6 of 9)

This is the sixth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 6, Cramer declares that

In this chapter, I am going to make the bold claim that support for small government is more about identity than principle.

Cramer explains to readers why she calls this claim ‘bold’:

Why is this a bold claim? We can look back on “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” and note that which side people took is related to partisanship. And we can say that whether people side with Republicans or Democrats in general is related to their attitudes about the appropriate role of government (e.g., Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002; Goren 2005; Carsey and Layman 2006). But those correlations do not help us understand why someone without teeth would not support government- funded dental care. Is it really the case that such a person is thinking to himself, “In principle I believe the less government the better; therefore, I am going to vote for the Republican Party and against single-payer health care, even though I need health care myself”? I don’t think so.

There are three components to these assertions: (1) primarily that one’s support for small government is identity-motivated, not principled, (2) that professions of support for small government among rural voters are false, although perhaps unknowingly so, and (3) that the alternative in health care to the market is single-payer.

Her first assertion is profoundly ignorant, so much so that one would think – and from her work might assume – that there had never been principled arguments against government intervention. It’s hard to get a full grasp of how unknowing Cramer must be: it’s as though she’s never read even a small part of classical or neoclassical economic theory, and its philosophical derivatives. Centuries of economic and philosophical literature: just identity politics in disguise, you see.

It’s astounding that Cramer ignores a vast literature – one that has in contemporary times produced over a dozen market-supporting Nobel laureatures in economics & other fields – and reduces this to a Republicans versus Democrats debate. (Most of these laureates where from neither major American political party.)

An omission like this is so great that the entire work begins to look like a political tract masquerading as ethnography. 

Because, you see, all these economists and philosophers weren’t advocating principles, they were either in the grip of identity politics, or committed to ensnaring others in that grip.

Under Cramer’s reading, rural voters – if not urban sophisticates – support small government for irrational reasons, contrary to their economic interests, interests they are too resentful to see clearly.

Finally, and almost as absurdly, Cramer particularly implies that economic interests are a choice between markets and single-payer healthcare (‘I am going to vote for the Republican Party and against single-payer health care’). Single-payer? Senator Sanders might have wanted as much, but neither Pres. Obama nor Sec. Clinton nor most Democrats in Congress pushed for single-payer, the alternative Cramer posits was before rural voters.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 4, and 5.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Reactions to the Ruckus’ (Part 7 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Attitudes toward Public Institutions and Public Employees’ (Part 5 of 9)

This is the fifth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 5, Cramer describes conversations she had with rural residents. In the early part of the chapter, she recounts discussions about the university system. Some rural residents tell her they don’t like Madison (and UW-Madison) because they see it as politically liberal:

Glenn: UW is the only place where you can be a hippie for forty years and not be out of place. [chuckles]
Dan: Sometimes you can’t tell them from the professors, either. [laughs]
Tim: Well that’s true, too.
KJC: Right, right.
Glenn: UW and San Francisco got about the same initials. [chuckles]
KJC: So what do you think the UW–Madison should be doing here in [this town]? And I mean that very broadly, like from students to ordinary folks who live here, you know beyond student age, are there things they should be doing?
Tim: I don’t know what they could do—I guess I’m like Glenn and the rest of ’em as far as the liberal—I’m not a Madison person. There’s a reason that I don’t live in Madison, I like [this town]. I don’t like Madison at all. It’s big, it’s . . . to me, I don’t like to drive in the city—
Glenn: Best part about Madison is the fifty-five miles that it is away.

But that’s not their primary objection, it turns out:

KJC: Why don’t [students from here] go to Madison? I mean I have all kinds of guesses why, but why do you think?
Tim: Cost is the biggest thing.
Dan: Tuition is higher in Madison than it is in La Crosse or Platteville [cities with other UW System schools] for one thing.

In any event, the university is a topic (but of uncertain priority) because Cramer’s made it one:

My presence alone, though, brought the university into the conversations. The first thing I usually said to these groups, especially during my first visits in 2007 and 2008, was, “Hi! I’m Kathy. I’m from the UW–Madison.” So I want to acknowledge up front that it is likely that these groups would not have talked about the university and higher education as much if I hadn’t inserted myself into their conversations. But my focus was not how much they talked about the university or other aspects of government, but how they made sense of it when they did so. Their conversations about UW–Madison provide a window to their attitudes about government and public employees more generally.

Here, Cramer’s claim about negative views of the university is tenuous, because she can’t show what priority the university has in residents’ minds. (In fact, she guesses they “would not have talked about the university and higher education as much if [she] hadn’t inserted [herself] into their conversations.”)

Oh my: Cramer wants to define a rural consciousness, but by her own admission the role of UW-Madison within that consciousness depends not on residents’ priorities but her own questioning. This is simply flimsy. (It’s for lack of a solid prioritization, presumably, that Cramer offers unquantifiably and nebulously that their responses are a “window to their attitudes.” How big and how clear a window neither Cramer nor we know, as she can’t reliably say.)

Cramer exhibits guilt about her role as an academic:

To be honest, I felt sheepish explaining to people during my first year of fieldwork that I wasn’t teaching any classes. In the midst of conversations about the wear and tear of common rural occupations on one’s body, I had a difficult time thinking of my job driving around the state, inviting myself into coffee klatches as hard work.

An honest admission, but nonetheless an admission of a bias (one that could be both more pronounced in focus-group questioning & less susceptible of review than it would be in data-released opinion polling).

Indeed, Cramer acknowledges that scientific opinion polling reveals that suspicion about education’s value extends far beyond a rural demographic:

Let me end this chapter by acknowledging that people of many walks of life feel distant from institutions of higher education and also public employees. First, consider that public opinion surveys suggest that many people feel a sense of disconnection from institutions of higher education. For example, a December 9–13, 2009, Public Agenda poll of 1,031 U.S. adults found that 60 percent of the public perceives that “colleges today are like most businesses and mainly care about the bottom line,” as opposed to “colleges today mainly care about education and making sure students have a good educational experience.”16 Also, that same poll found that 33 percent “agree strongly” and 27 percent “agree somewhat” that “colleges could take a lot more students without lowering quality or raising prices.”

If so many feel this way (however regrettable those views may be), we can be certain that this skepticism is not unique to a supposed rural consciousness. And as it is not unique, and even appears in rural residents’ conversations at Cramer’s admitted instigation, identifying anti-educational views with rural residents seems truly uncompelling to anyone other than those who would expect to find such views primarily in rural communities.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, and 4.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Support for Small Government’ (Part 6 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Context of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 4 of 9)

This is the fourth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

If in Chapter 3 Cramer sought to provide the contours (outlines) of a rural consciousness,  in Chapter 4 she attempts to describe the context (the circumstances around it) of it all.

Cramer sees the obvious challenge to her work:

I know many readers will be wondering whether this thing I am calling rural consciousness is justified—that is, whether it reflects real or simply perceived disparities in government resources, concern, and attention.

(She doesn’t concede so plainly other challenges to her work, however: that a small government preference is not necessarily a rural product, any more than a socialist one might not be a rural product, that the divide in large areas is more than rural and urban, indeed more than economic, and that ample work across centuries in market theory sits outside her urban-rural framework but has nonetheless shaped life across this continent and planet.)

And yet, and yet, here’s Cramer’s answer to this question, as she frames it:

I know this because when I describe complaints of injustice among small-town residents to urban audiences, I am almost always asked whether it is actually the case, for example, that rural areas get fewer public dollars than urban areas do. In the conversations I observed in rural Wisconsin, many people thought they were getting the short end of the stick with respect to taxpayer dollars. But was that really the case?

The evidence is mixed.

That’s quite the concession. Imagine someone asking about the effectiveness of a medication, or of a parachute, and receiving that reply: the evidence is mixed.

Here’s how Cramer describes basic fiscal policy for rural and urban Wisconsinites:

In Wisconsin, rural counties do receive fewer public dollars than urban counties. In the aggregate, measures of both state and federal government expenditures at the county level in fiscal year 2010 show that more than 75 percent of this money went to counties with urban metropolitan communities (fig. 4.1)

However, there are far fewer people living in rural counties than urban ones, so a more apt comparison might be one that uses a per capita basis for comparison. Figures 4.2 and 4.3 show two correlation plots, with each dot representing a single county in Wisconsin. This pair of figures shows almost no relationship between how rural a county is and the dollars it receives in expenditures per capita from the state and federal government.1 Excluding outliers, a slight upward trend is evident, with more rural counties receiving slightly more dollars per person; however, the relationship is weak.2 But the evidence certainly does not support the notion that urban counties receive far more than their share of tax dollars per resident.

(Emphasis mine.)

Seeing this, that in fact rural residents aren’t short-changed in the amounts that they receive, Cramer must – if she believes that a rural consciousness depends on rural residents accurately and correctly observing a disparity with urban areas – find another economic explanation.

She does:

While this evidence does not back up the perceptions I heard among many rural residents that there is vastly disproporationate spending in urban counties and higher tax burdens falling on rural communities, many would also be quick to point out that what these numbers do not reveal is how effectively the money was spent. Even if the spending were proportionate across type of place, if the spending failed to meet the needs of people living there, it really would not matter. Some services simply cost less per capita in cities because of economies of scale.4

Where, though, does this economies of scale endnote (#4) lead? Here: “I am sincerely indebted to Ben Toff for these analyses and to Sarah Niebler for a similar set of analyses in the early stages of this project.” That is, Cramer’s presumably thanking Toff and Niebler for their data collection for the preceding Figures 4.1 to 4.9, not to an economies of scale analysis. She offers no such analysis here.

If Cramer cannot provide compelling data for her claim that a supposed rural consciousness rests significantly on an actual mis- or under-allocation of government funds to the detriment of rural residents, then she’s left either with (1) her own misperception of a rural consciousness, (2) rural residents’ misperception of their own condition, or (3) both.

By her own account, she cannot offer, so to speak, unmixed economic data.

That’s quite a predicament for her thesis.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Attitudes toward Public Institutions and Public Employees’ (Part 5 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Contours of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 3 of 9)

This is the third in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

The simplest way to think about Cramer’s work, by analogy, is to think of it not as a scientific poll of attitudes and preferences, but as a series of considered focus groups. Considered, to be sure, because Cramer ponders at length about how she should interact with rural residents, and has read well of academic literature on interactions like the kind she undertakes.

And yet, for it all, her work is truly the focus group work of a Wisconsinite who (at seemingly every turn) exhibits her own class consciousness, all the while insisting, in effect, that she’s suitably tamed that consciousness.

Consider how Cramer describes her role (effectually as a focus group moderator):

My obvious status as an urbanite very likely made the out-group of urbanites more salient (Turner et al. 1994). But rural consciousness was not an artifact of my presence. I say this for a variety of reasons. Rural consciousness was not just about rural versus city folks. It contained perceptions of the distribution of power, values, and resources that could not have been constructed suddenly in my presence. Second, the people I listened to revealed the perspective of rural consciousness quickly, suggesting that they used this perspective quite a bit, not suddenly when meeting me. Third, for the people who used this perspective, it was so fundamental to the way they talked about politics that when I asked about it directly they were often downright astonished that I found it necessary to do so.4

Cramer’s sure that her rural interlocutors lack awareness of their own perspective, but that her own role as an ‘urbanite’ is obvious. Perhaps so obvious to her, in fact, that she lacks an understanding of how quickly she assumes others’ imperception.

As for one rural coffee klatch she describes in Chapter 3 (jokingly named by its members as the ‘The Downtown Athletic Club’), their composition is hardly representative of must rural residents:

I quickly learned that all four of those men were former public school teachers. One had been a principal. Right away, they voiced concerns about state legislators raiding tax dollars out of the highway fund (they wanted that to stop), the liquor tax (they wanted that higher), the price of gas (they wanted that lower), and the cost of health care (they wanted someone to do something about it).

Most rural Wisconsinites aren’t teachers; many are not college educated. A focus group of retired rural teachers is not simply a focus group of rural residents.

There’s nothing unscientific about this methodology; the point is, rather, that there’s nothing exclusive (and so nothing conclusive) to it, either.

Cramer defines her terms:

“Rural consciousness” is the term I am using to describe a strong sense of identity as a rural person combined with a strong sense that rural areas are the victims of injustice: the sense that rural areas do not get their fair share of power, respect, or resources and that rural folks prefer lifestyles that differ fundamentally from those of city people….First, rural consciousness was about perceptions of power, or who makes decisions and who decides what to even discuss. Second, it showed up with respect to perceptions of values and lifestyles. Third and finally, it involved perceptions of resources or who gets what.

How is this different from other possible perspectives? A sense of oneself as a rural person, to be sure, but otherwise? One can be confident that residents of Staten Island and Los Angeles are concerned about ‘perceptions of power,’ ‘perceptions of values and lifestyles,’ and ‘perceptions of resources or who gets what.’

Cramer learns that rural residents don’t like high gas prices:

Few people like rising gas prices, but to people in rural communities—who typically drive long distances to everything—they are a major source of concern. By the time I met this group, I had come to realize that there was something important about the way many people in small communities thought about their towns in relation to more urban places.

Wouldn’t commuting – with gas or rail transit costs – be a concern just as much of suburban commuters near Washington, D.C. or Chicago? This simply isn’t exclusively or primarily a rural concern. For commuters in these areas, one might as easily come to realize that there was something important about the way many people in suburban communities thought about their housing developments in relation to more urban places. Wouldn’t transportation costs matter as much to poor urban residents without cars, without money for auto insurance, and the daily managing of public transit fares and schedules?

Cramer’s not sure how racial views play in all this:

So yes, it is highly likely that when people refer to “those people in Milwaukee” they are often referring to racial minorities. But notice how complex this is. The urbanites that rural folks were referring to were not predominantly racial minorities. When white outstaters (i.e., those living outside the major metropolitan areas) complained of the laziness in the cities in these conversations, their comments were almost always directed at white people: government bureaucrats and faculty members at the flagship public university.

In that way, antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color. At the same time, given the way arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness, these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.

Cramer believes that ‘arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness,’ a claim that shows only how shallow her understanding of neoclassical economic and libertarian theory truly is. For Cramer anti-distributionist arguments rest – using the qualifier historically – on ‘equating deservingness with whiteness.’ Friedman, Hayek, et al., are here either ignored or misunderstood (likely both).

Worse, I think, is that this view of racism – that anti-urbanism is the general problem – dilutes particular racial injuries into a larger anti-urban potion. It’s an exoneration to say that people don’t dislike, let’s say blacks,  because they actually dislike urban residents. Those being subjected to stop-and-frisk in New York, for example, aren’t just urbanites; they’re disproportionately black or Latino.

(For a different assessment from Cramer’s of Wisconsin-specific views on race, consider Alex Macgillis’s 2014 essay on Wisconsin politics.)

In this way, Cramer’s concern about race is both too broad and too narrow.

That’s a bigger concern than how a group of retired, rural teachers perceives a woman in a VW Jetta.

Previously: Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Context of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 4 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘A Method of Listening’ (Part 2 of 9)

This is the second in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

One might think that Cramer’s second chapter, ‘A Method of Listening,’ would be a dry (but useful & necessary) description of her methodology. It’s far from merely that: it’s an oddly personal description of her own class consciousness. So much so, in fact, that I’m not sure whether it’s a confessional of sorts, or an attempt to reach out-of-Wisconsin urbanites through tales of adventures among rural natives.

Cramer describes her thoughts when presenting herself to rural Wisconsinites:

My identity as an urbanite matters for how I perceive things. But it also matters for the way I presented myself. My training, like that of political scientists in general, was predominantly positivist. In other words, much of what I learned in school was how to analyze causation. I learned that the goal of a good social scientist is to approximate the scientific method as closely as possible. In such an approach, one aims to have little or no effect on the research setting.

Reasonable enough, of course.

Yet, indeed, she goes on at some length about visiting towns in the state, despite having lived in Wisconsin for most of her life:

When I first started my fieldwork for this study, I tried to wear the same outfit to every research site in a given round, or set of visits. My purpose was to try to interact with each group in precisely the same way, to act as a scientific instrument as much as possible. But as my work went on, it seemed that it did not matter that I dressed the same across groups. Blue-collar groups in low-income communities knew I was wealthier by virtue of my job. They knew I was different because I rolled up to their diner or gas station in a Volkswagen Jetta wagon, and parked it next to a bunch of Made-in-USA pickup trucks. I learned that, rather than obscure who I am, I had to be a human being in order to be welcomed into their conversations.

When would Cramer, dressed in whatever fashion, not been a human being to her fellow residents, or thought of herself as such?

To have a certain class consciousness is, itself, no impediment to understanding. Indeed, to acknowledge as much is mere self-understanding.

(It’s fair to say that I have a sense of this, coming from a pre-Revolutionary family. Yet, it’s never been so pronounced that I thought this simple truth made my fellow residents alien to me. I’ll readily acknowledge that listening to a white resident insist that his family’s three or four generations here entitles him to something more than others is both laughable and contemptible to me: the obvious truth is that he didn’t earn his family’s arrival, and many non-white families were brought here in bondage far earlier than a few generations ago. The past is a burden, not an entitlement, but burden in ways far different from being merely a socioeconomic bugbear.)

Cramer also ascribes to her rural visits a common gender bias from men in those communities:

In my daily life, I do not experience a lot of overt ogling. But I got ogled on these visits. People asked me out on dates, despite the wedding ring on my hand at the time. On my first round, when I traveled with a visibly pregnant belly, several groups of men joked with each other about which member was the father of my child-to-be. Walking in the door to a men’s group with one of the men resulted in a pretty embarrassing barrage of comments assuming we had just had sex….”

I don’t doubt Cramer’s accounts, nor do I condone any of these remarks directed to her; on the contrary, these comments made to her or about her are wrong in part and full. I’ve no desire to excuse any of them.

It does seem to me, however, that to imply that these conditions are worse in rural areas is to understate the subtle-yet-as-destructive harassment that women experience in urban and supposedly cosmopolitan places areas.

There are countless women at university, for example, who would not describe harassment as a primarily rural problem…

Postscript:

Yesterday, in Part 1, I expressed surprise that Cramer had a narrow, distributionist outlook that ignored the complexity of economic and philosophical critiques of state power (“Cramer gives not the slightest hint that there might be a vast body of liberty-oriented theory (including a libertarianism of the left as well as the right) stretching back centuries in America and thousands of years across civilizations earlier”).

A remark from Chris Hayes, the progressive author of A Colony in A Nation, Twilight of the Elites, and MSNBC host (published just after I posted yesterday) nicely summarizes the importance neoclassical economics (an understanding absent from Cramer’s first-chapter):

The entirety of the corpus of Hayek, Friedman, and neoclassical economics. I think it’s an incredibly powerful intellectual tradition and a really important one to understand, these basic frameworks of neoclassical economics, the sort of ideas about market clearing prices, about the functioning of supply and demand, about thinking in marginal terms.

I think the tradition of economic thinking has been really influential. I think it’s actually a thing that people on the left really should do — take the time to understand all of that. There is a tremendous amount of incredible insight into some of the things we’re talking about, like non-zero-sum settings, and the way in which human exchange can be generative in this sort of amazing way. Understanding how capitalism works has been really, really important for me, and has been something that I feel like I’m a better thinker and an analyst because of the time and reading I put into a lot of conservative authors on that topic.

I wouldn’t describe these ideas as conservative, but Hayes assesses them soundly. There’s not the slightest evidence Cramer sees that they might offer insight into Americans’ economic conditions before or after the Great Recession.

Previously: Part 1.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Contours of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 3 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Making Sense of Politics Through Resentment’ (Part 1 of 9)

In a series of posts over the next week or so, I’ll consider Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. Cramer’s a native Wisconsinite teaching at UW-Madison.

Today, I’ll summarize her thesis, as she presents it in the first chapter of PoR,  ‘Making Sense of Politics Through Resentment.’

Cramer makes five principal contentions in the chapter:

1. That there is a partisan divisiveness in Wisconsin that “reflects broader trends in the United States. The country as a whole has seen increasing partisan polarization since the mid 1970s. (Layman, Carson, and Horowitz 2006; McCarthy, Poole, and Rosenthal 2008; Barber and McCarty 2013.)”

2. Cramer asserts that these divides are, in her words, more than ‘ideology’:

Some argue that the public is not actually polarized, that people are just better sorted ideologically into partisan camps than in the past (Hetherington 2009; Fiorina, Abrams, and Pope 2010). But others observe that there is more at stake here than ideology. Divides between identifiers with the two parties in terms of religious preferences, attitudes toward race, and racial demographics themselves are deeper than ever (Abramowitz 2013, 2014). The divides are not just about politics but about who we are as people.

3. This observation leads Cramer back to another one, that is in fact political and philosophical:

These divides are also reflective of the central debate in American politics today: What is the proper role of government in society and who should pay for it (Stonecash 2014)? There are those who believe government ought to be expanded in order to deal with the challenges we face, and there are those who feel that government itself is a major obstacle that should be shrunk.

4. Cramer contends that “another key feature of the times we live in is economic inequality (Piketty and Saez 2003)” and it puzzles her that

[t]here seems to be less support for redistribution here than in other countries with similar levels of economic inequality (Kenworthy and Pontusson 2005). Why? Why is it that most voters continue to elect officials who apparently do not represent the vast There seems to be less support for redistribution here than in other countries with similar levels of economic inequality (Kenworthy and Pontusson 2005). Why? Why is it that most voters continue to elect officials who apparently do not represent the vast majority of us?6 Or if one does not believe that interpretation, why is it that many low-income voters who might benefit from more government redistribution continue to vote against it? Why, in times of increasing economic inequality, have the preferences of the lowest-income voters moved in a conservative, rather than liberal, direction?

5. Cramer offers her answer, one that is the eponymous thesis of Politics of Resentment:

Listening closely to people revealed two things to me: a significant rural-versus-urban divide and the powerful role of resentment. This book shows that what can look like disagreements about basic political principles can be rooted in something even more fundamental: ideas about who gets what, who has power, what people are like, and who is to blame. What might seem to be a central debate about the appropriate role of government might at base be something else: resentment toward our fellow citizens. This book shows people making sense of politics in a way that places resentment toward other citizens at the center….I want to know what it looks like when people use social categories to understand the political world, and how they connect resentment toward particular groups to the broader stance of wanting less, not more, government redistribution.

Cramer’s work addresses a supposed rural consciousness she discerns among many Wisconsinites, and it rests on her assumption that they approach economic concerns in a particular way, one that flows from this rural consciousness.

Candidly, an aside Cramer offers about driving a VW Jetta in Wisconsin leaves me puzzled. She writes that

As a female social scientist driving my Volkswagen Jetta out from Madison, the state capitol and the second largest city in the state, I heard a lot of criticism of cities from people in small-town Wisconsin.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with professional female colleagues who have enjoyed driving different makes and models of foreign cars, to places across Wisconsin, without rural residents looking askance at them for doing so. Indeed, many southern Wisconsin (and Illinois) families have properties in the sparsely-populated northern part of the state, and the sight of a VW, Audi, BMW, Lexus, etc. would not be unfamiliar to local residents.

It’s a significant exaggeration to say a woman driving a Jetta would get the sort of stares from rural residents that one might properly expect for a person riding a unicorn.

Cramer may be right about a rural consciousness, at least about Wisconsin, but her analysis – one that she confidently grounds in political science – omits any consideration of political theory (what was once called political philosophy). (Indeed, for a work about political claims, it’s telling that neither the terms liberty nor libertarian appear anywhere in the book.)

In her opening chapter, Cramer gives not the slightest hint that there might be a vast body of liberty-oriented theory (including a libertarianism of the left as well as the right) stretching back centuries in America and thousands of years across civilizations earlier.

This libertarian tradition (long before the term libertarian first came into use) does not rely on redistributive goals, but then it doesn’t suppose a theory of a rural consciousness of resentment, either.

A presentation that begins with a particular economic notion (that redistribution necessarily benefits many) and presents a perspective on rural consciousness as a social identity (one that has economic views within it) seems, at first blush, too much like a survey of world religions that considers only the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘A Method of Listening’ (Part 2 of 9).

Wisconsin’s Spring General Election

A few remarks on local and statewide races from the Spring General Election:

1. In Whitewater, incumbents seldom lose (and indeed, seldom have challengers). Yesterday falls within the realm of the seldom: a challenger in Whitewater’s District 1 race easily defeated the incumbent (Carol McCormick over Patrick Wellnitz, 164-87).

Whitewater’s challenge is not merely that candidates rarely run against (let alone defeat) incumbents. Her challenge is that individual candidates, however talented some might be, have trouble making a difference in a city that’s facing high poverty and economic stagnation. See, along these lines, Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way): “although members of the government are certainly also sharp and capable individually, they often produce collectively a product that’s beneath their individual abilities or that of other competitive Americans.”

On the national level, a choice between productivity and mediocrity presents itself, also, as Jennifer Rubin describes ably in Trump vs. an America that works.

2.  Statewide, Tony Evers easily defeated Lowell Holtz in the race for state school superintendent. Evers was well-liked and respected and Annyssa Johnson lists Holtz’s many self-inflicted liabilities (“Holtz had been dogged by ethical questions throughout the race, including accusations of nepotism, campaigning on work time, and an alleged scheming to land a lucrative state job with a driver and authority to dismantle the state’s five largest school districts“).

Marquette Law Poll, March 2017 (First Marquette Poll Since 2016 Election)

Selected results below, from among Wisconsin registered voters; full results are available online.


Trump Approval


Trump Disappproval


Trump’s Judgment


Trump’s Concern


Congressional Health Care Legislation


How Description of Law Influences Respondents’ Views


Undocumented Immigrants


Mexican Border Wall


Marquette Law Poll Results (Mid-September ’16 Edition)

The mid-September Marquette Law School poll results are out, and here are a few key findings from the 9.15.16 to 9.18.16 poll (the full results will be available online later this afternoon).


Clinton-Trump, Among LV:

Clinton-Trump-Johnson-Stein, Among LV:

Feingold-Johnson, Among LV:

Feingold-Johnson-Anderson, Among LV:


Marquette Law Poll Results (Late August Edition)

The latest Marquette Law School poll results are out, and here are a few key findings from the 8.25.16 to 8.28.16 poll (the full results will be available online later this afternoon).


Clinton-Trump, Among LV:

Clinton-Trump-Johnson-Stein, Among RV:

Feingold-Johnson, Among LV:

Feingold-Johnson-Anderson, Among LV:


The Water Problems in Wisconsin

WGTB logo PNG 112x89 Post 57 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.

I promised to begin reviewing by the particulars of a 12.15.15 discussion of waste importation. I’ll hold off to share news about a series just published over the weekend about environmental risks to Wisconsin’s water supply. Environmental issues are a huge topic for Wisconsinites elsewhere in the state – and in those places they attract concern from all parts of the political spectrum.

This series has been going on for a bit now, and one of the things that strikes me about the discussion in Whitewater, Wisconsin is that for full-time officials it takes place as though there were no other developments anywhere else in the state or nation (except occasional, brief & inapplicable mentions of supposedly successful projects outside the city).

One could say that part of this problem is one of the press – that the area near Whitewater is a black hole for good reporting – but that’s only part of the problem. One could say that some full-time officials who tout waste importation are ignorant, but that’s only part of the problem. For a place like Whitewater, it seems clear that some topics don’t come up because some officials – despite formal schooling – simply shy from considering them, or concoct nutty theories of biology, etc. (There’s more of the latter in the 12.15.15 discussion.)

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, there’s far less quiet, and far more discussion.  See, Despite state efforts, arsenic continues to poison many private wells in Wisconsin.

(Whitewater postscript : Throughout this series, local full-time officials have repeated the same irrelevant claims, and the same false claims, no matter how often refuted. Part of the value of the discussion at the 12.15.15 meeting is to show how someone like Whitewater’s wastewater superintendent simply repeats falsehoods and refuted claims with abandon. Taking his remarks over these years, word by word, and showing them to others would, by itself, be a memorial of municipal mendacity. So, to be clear: I’m not alleging there’s arsenic in Whitewater’s water; I’m showing the clip to illustrate that Wisconsinites are concerned about environmental issues, generally. It’s a growing topic across party lines in other parts of the state.)

WHEN GREEN TURNS BROWN: Appearing at whengreenturnsbrown.com and re-posted Mondays @ 10 AM here on FREE WHITEWATER.

4 Points About Public Records Requests

So a local paper complains that a local school superintendent won’t comply with a public records request, won’t put the paper on a media contact list, and simply ‘must’ improve communications.  

A few points —

1.  Compliance with a public records request isn’t a ‘communications’ issue; it’s a legal issue, of rights of residents under Wisconsin law.  

2.  Perhaps there would be a greater willingness of public officials to comply with the Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39) if newspapers hadn’t made clear that they’re too weak or too miserly to challenge officials’ non-compliance at law.

3.  A newspaper can say all it wants that it’s the ‘leading media company’ of its area, but that doesn’t mean much in a diverse media environment in which newspapers are doomed (as almost everyone knows them to be).  

In any event, social media messaging in many communities – by itself – vastly outstrips the reach of any media company.  Sorry, gentlemen, there is no ‘leading’ force anymore.  

4.  When a resident or publisher thinks about pursuing an issue in which a public records request might be needed, he or she should consider what might be next if officials slow-walk, respond only in part, or simply deny the lawful request.  One would prefer that local officials felt a duty other than self-interest disguised as public interest.  What one would prefer describes – less and less – the environment in which we live.

Residents, bloggers, and community groups that seek information under a public records law should be prepared to defend that request at law.  One hopes that won’t be necessary, but rights are more than hopes, and so one should think ahead, even before a request is submitted: what’s next at law if officials obstruct this request?  See, along these lines, Steps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal.

That’s a big commitment, but a commitment one should be prepared to see through.  

Wisconsin Ill Serves Her Nationally-Ambitious Politicians 

Over the last generation, Wisconsin has had her share of politicians with national ambitions, to cabinet offices or elected executive office (Democrat Les Aspin, Republicans Tommy Thompson, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker among them).

They’ve not fared so well; Gov. Walker’s effort is still ongoing.  

All of those I’ve listed were regarded in Wisconsin as especially skilled before they took cabinet positions or sought federal executive, elected office.  

When serving federally or running, however, they all hit (or are hitting) difficult waters. 

I’d say part of the reason is that our state press may be critical, but many reporters ask only one (critical) question, if that. There’s either no follow up, or weak follow up to an odd answer.  Politicians here get to slide on shaky claims.

Nationally, there are enough inquisitive reporters, editorialists, and bloggers so that an easy pass isn’t possible.  

One can rise far in a local arena without persistent follow up, but across America, there are competitive Democrats and Republicans who grew up in a more demanding environment.  When Wisconsin politicians meet rivals from other parts of the country, they find themselves facing foes (often within the same party) that are more adroit.   

These rivals are not smarter, truly, as much as they’re more adroit from a demanding environment.

As it turns out, a national-level of conditioning matters a great deal.  

By the time an aspiring politician sees this, however, it may be too late to acquire the necessary skill and insight. 

It’s simply prudent, locally or nationally, to try (as best one can) to meet a national standard all along.

The Public Records Law Still Stands

After a push to alter Wisconsin’s Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39), we’re now secure with the original law intact.  

Below one will find a recording of Wisconsin A.G. Brad Schimel’s Open Government Summit, held earlier this week at the Concourse in Madison.  

J.B. Hollen, Schimel’s immediate predecessor, started strongly in favor of the Public Records Law but was less supportive in his second term.  A.G. Schimel’s approach is better for the public, although it’s disadvantageous for public officials seeking to conceal information from the very residents to whom they are legally obligated.

(It’s also helpful that support for the law is widespread, and not confined to the party in opposition.  Two of the key opponents of gutting the law have been the MacIver Institute, a conservative think tank, and Rick Esenberg’s Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative-leaning public interest firm.)

But one has this problem, that has grown worse over these last few years: too many officials, in cities, towns, and universities, have decided that they can reply to a public records request however they’d like.  Replies like this are dares: will you go to court over this?  Alternatively, will you accept what we’ve supplied, however inadequate in reply it so obviously is? 

Some denials may be over fair questions of interpretation; that’s not what I’m describing.  Many denials are a test of one’s citizenship, of one’s rights in a free, well-ordered society: can someone successfully compel others to accept less than their rights require, consigning them to an inferior position in disregard of the law?

There’s no way to know how a requester will respond to an insufficient reply until the need arises, of course.  It’s helpful, though, to state plainly a path one will follow.  Having stated as much, officials will not be able to say they’ve been blindsided.

This summit was long, I know, and time is precious.  Still, there’s much in here, useful for thinking about government, on one’s own, rather than relying on officials’ superficial, self-serving declarations.  

The State’s WEDC and Whitewater’s Facsimiles

Ongoing revelations about the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are a double concern: they’re stories of statewide malfeasance, and those revelations beg the question of how local officials in Whitewater are managing their own pools of public money.

First, the latest stories (it’s a steady stream) of state-level error, waste, and negligence:

Madison— Failing to run adequate checks, Wisconsin’s flagship jobs agency gave two awards worth more than $1.2 million to a financially troubled De Pere businessman who had not disclosed his problems to the state, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review has found.

Despite those omissions in 2011 and 2012, Gov. Scott Walker’s administration kept working with Ron Van Den Heuvel and his clean energy company, Green Box, into 2014, state records show.

There is no record of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. notifying the city of De Pere about the company’s money troubles even though Green Box was working with the city in an unsuccessful attempt to get tax-exempt bonds — in part to repay the state’s soured loan.

It’s the second case disclosed in recent weeks in which WEDC failed to catch omissions by businesses about their troubled finances and then continued to work with them….

Via Jobs agencies loaned $1.2 million to businessman with troubled finances.

Yet make no mistake – even after being thrust into the spotlight WEDC is pressing on in issuing unmonitored awards. Just this past Monday [7.20.15] – four days ago – Walker took a break from his campaign to drop in on the agency’s quarterly board meeting. While that $500,000 loan [for William Minahan] was on the public agenda and one board member openly wondered why there hadn’t been “a giant red flag to cease and desist all activities,” the agency’s staff quietly presented a different proposal: to cut the number of tax credits [that] the agency audits from a required 100% (which it has never managed to comply with), to just 25%.

Via Brian Murphy @ Talking Points Memo

Second, inevitable concerns arise about local distributions after a stream of state-level reports: should a reasonable man or woman believe without careful inquiry & verification that state officials have managed these kinds of public funds poorly but that local officials (the CDA, Tech Park Board, etc.) have performed better? 

Put another way: Does anyone think that state officials are less competent and diligent than their local counterparts?

I don’t know.

At the very least, Whitewater – her city government, her Community Development Authority, all with pools of taxpayer money to dole to so-called startups, etc. – the officials responsible owe as much of an accounting of actual performance as any state official. 

In a well-ordered community, these local distributions would be periodically and independently audited. 

Libertarians (and others of different views) know well that any number of special interests – business, labor, political – will seek to ensconce themselves into government positions, directing government work to their own selfish ends. 

One would prefer a community requiring no political concerns.  A serene place like that would perhaps be a world only of cat videos and puzzles; we do not live in such a place. 

Grants and loans of public money to white-collar firms, an addiction to tax incremental financing, sketchy claims of job creation, expensive buildings at public expense, public men who present themselves as development gurus, the selling of public property to business interests too cheaply – this gutter economics infects the CDA and other public agencies in Whitewater. 

In a city with so many who are poor, these distributions to white-collar professionals have been utterly ineffectual for the many, and useful only to a few (for their immediate gain or in scrapbook headlines).

In any event, no one owes these few their claims on faith alone; they’ve wasted too much already in this city. 

Perhaps it is enough – Dieu aidant – that some are naturally inclined to review, first from curiosity and thereafter in root-and-branch scrutiny. 

Wisconsin on Pace for Most Layoff Notifications Since WEDC Created

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Now I thought, as it’s what I have heard again, again, and again, that the WEDC was the Laser-Focused Semi-Private Job Creator of Wisconsin™. 

How odd, then, to read that since the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s inception, Wisconsin is on pace for more job layoffs than ever. 

What a shock: who would have imagined that the grand claims of cronyism would meet their refutation in actual human experience?

When the first round of WEDC funding hit Whitewater (it’s been many trips to the trough since), one heard how this was to be a grand and astonishing triumph for the city.

It was, instead, what anyone might have guessed: water on sand, negligible and of no benefit to the many thousands of this city. 

The P.R. men, 501(c)(6) big-business lobby, and sycophantic officials who peddle these shoddy goods will keep trying.

It is impossible, nonetheless, that dollops of money preferentially allocated will produce a meaningful, lasting result for Whitewater. 

That’s why I have described these white-collar welfare schemes as an expression of a gutter ideology – they are such, as they are both intellectually, ethically, and in practice inferior to alternative methods of allocation.  (See, along these lines, Local Crony Capitalism via the WEDC (and similar schemes).)

I have every confidence in allocation of capital, goods and labor through free markets. 

However, to be clear, almost any allocation to the poor would be vastly better on moral and practical grounds than a compulsory allocation through taxes to well-fed, avaricious, big-business leaders and their unctuous flacks.

Jobs, jobs, jobs?  Not through the WEDC.

Budget First

Last week, Gov. Walker declined to answer Englishman’s question about whether he, Scott Waker, believed in evolution.

Today, in the Journal Sentinel, one learns that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos does believe in evolution

(I’ll bite: I was raised in a liturgical, high-church tradition that taught that the theory of evolution was consistent with faith.  I was well into my teens before I even met someone who contended otherwise.)  

Yet, let me ask this question, faith-and-evolution-reconciling man that I am: does it truly matter to the immediate politics of our state whether Walker or Vos believes similarly? 

If you’re a conservative, do you feel less inclined to either Walker’s or Vos’s policies knowing that Walker won’t answer affirmatively, but that Vos will, on a question about evolution?  

If you’re a liberal, do you feel more inclined to either Walker’s or Vos’s policies knowing that Walker won’t answer affirmatively, but Vos will, on a question about evolution?  

Let’s assume that Walker rejects evolution, and Vos accepts it.

What practical difference will an answer make – this year, in this budget, for the next biennium – to our state? 

The answer does have meaning; I see that. 

It’s simply that it doesn’t matter in a way that changes our politics (or should change our politics) between now and the next state fiscal year. 

There’s a budget proposal before us; it’s the allocation of those billions, for millions of Wisconsinites, that’s the key question in the months ahead.