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March 08, 2016


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Pessimism, particularly among the base Republican voter. Why pay for services when you have no future? My experience in West Virginia is that ennui and malaise are widespread beyond the few college towns and DC suburbs. There's a who gives a damn attitude that looks at the EBT/soda racket and the declining coal economy and wonders why bother. By the way WV is the oldest state outside of New England and its population is shrinking faster than anywhere else.

There are true believers in the Midwest who accept the cuts in their services to their direct personal detriment because they believe it will strengthen the state in the long run. They view it as a patriotic sacrifice.

Needless to say, it also fuels their contempt toward people who don't think of it as a noble sacrifice but as a crazy policy decision. They're seen as people who put their personal short-term gain over the greater long-term good, imprudent types who always want free stuff and don't give a damn about the direction of this country. You see how the emotional appeal works.

I don't know if that's what's happening socially in West Virginia, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Building on Dave K's statement, I always figured that elderly people who are not earning wages are not anxious to see taxes rise, as they fear being unable to make ends meet. A state with a lot of elderly people might see this behavior.

JKR: On one level, that makes sense. The taxes were on tobacco, phone lines (cell and land), and professional services (except doctors). It's easy to imagine the elderly opposing them.

Except on another level, it seems incomplete. First, WV isn't that old. Here's the 2010 population pyramid: http://proximityone.com/chartgraphics/pp54000_2010_001.htm It's old and low fertility by American standards, but it isn't old in any absolute sense.

Second, with little in-migration, the children in WV really are the descendants of the elderly voters! So the typical ethnic succession story doesn't apply. (Historical data here: http://www.be.wvu.edu/bber/pdfs/population.pdf.)

Dave and Carlos's stories are ones of dashed expectations and ideological predilection. In Dave's story, the state's age profile is a side-effect of decline; in Carlos's age isn't relevant.

There's more than age, I think.

Ideology in the broadest sense, but not a systematic or partisan ideology. They couldn't write down the premises, and it would be easy to trap them in contradictions (which would only make them angry, and not change their minds).

I would say internal conviction. It's closer to a faith. If things get better, they are vindicated: their sacrifices were not in vain. If things get worse, they are also vindicated: their sacrifices are still necessary. How do you break through?

(Are populations that non-rational over the longterm? I would analyze it differently: their convictions have great value to them. They'll say so, they'll tell you it personally. It should be possible to estimate the shadow value of their conviction.)

I remember a broad consensus hardening sometime around the early 1990s that "the deficit", in some vague sense that was broader than the mere literal Federal budget deficit, was our biggest economic problem, and that the tough-love, hard-nosed way to attack "the deficit" was always to cut spending, not to raise taxes. It was strongest on the right but really it was bipartisan; there were Democrats who made that their brand as well, though they were more likely to mention tax increases along with the cuts.

I think a lot of people came away with a hard-to-shake intuition that if the economy is doing badly, it's because the government is spending too much of your money, and they should stop doing it and things will eventually get better. So there's this death spiral that happens in which the response to bad times is to cut vital services. It's a positive feedback loop.

...I vaguely recall reading of a town-hall meeting that Bill Clinton did around that time in which some woman in the audience asked him what he was going to do about "the deficit", and he immediately decoded what she was really asking about and started talking about stimulating the economy and helping people who were in dire straits, not about the deficit at all. This is the kind of thing that made Bill Clinton win elections.

Of course, the welfare-reform plan he signed also cut services... and the federal budget deficit also actually disappeared during his time in office! That didn't last.

I'm with Carlos here. Trying to put it in a positive light, there's a general sense of an American work ethic that says you should go it alone and not depend on government. Live a simple life with simple needs. Expensive government services are a sign of moral weakness. Very western Virginia and West Virginia.

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