What If They Gave a Pitchfork, And Nobody Noticed

Ryan Avent marvels that “It’s striking how little inchoate public rage has actually boiled to the surface in the rich world” and elaborates:

In America, the language of the angriest is very similar to that of the plutocrats themselves. Indeed, the complaint that today’s elite lack the noblesse oblige of the aristocrats of old, and are therefore risking public anger, seems to badly misread American public opinion. The middle class doesn’t want hand-outs from condescending rich people. They want moralistic language and complaints about deficits.

Kevin Drum endorses this, but I think it’s really mistaken. The only problem here is that populist rage in America doesn’t happen to line up with the policy objectives of the mainstream Democratic Party.

Every poll I’ve seen shows strong support for higher taxes on rich people and lower taxes on non-rich people. That’s straight-up redistributive politics relative to the status quo and it’s what the public wants. Democrats flirted with making this part of their agenda, but ultimately blinked. And it just wasn’t the centerpiece of their agenda in 111th Congress which, instead, was focused on stabilizing the short-term economy, expanding the welfare state, trying to grapple with climate change, improving US immigration policy, and reducing the level of discrimination against gays and lesbians. Personally, I think all those things were important. But from the point of view of an insured employed middle aged middle class heterosexual legal resident of the United States its not an agenda that has a lot to do with his family. By contrast, a drive to permanently push his tax rate lower than where it was under George W Bush while pushing rich peoples taxes higher than they were under Bill Clinton would be a juicy populist agenda. And it polls well. But it wasn’t on offer because leading politicians didn’t—and don’t—want to offer it.

But people sure seem plenty mad to me.