Frequent readers know that I subscribe to mimetic theory, which points out that equality, not inequality, is the cause of social strife.
A recent article by Phil Gramm and Robert Ekelund offers proof of this, and explains why Trump won over middle income voters. By including transfer payments and taxes in calculation of spendable income, the gap between the income quintiles is drastically reduced.
Hardworking middle-income and lower-middle-income families must have recognized that their efforts left them little better off than the growing number of recipients of government transfers. The perceived injustice of this equality helped drive the political shift among blue-collar workers, many of whom supported the pro-growth candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016 despite having voted for Mr. Obama in the two previous presidential elections.
The bottom quintile earned 2.2% of all earned income in 2013, but after adjusting for taxes and transfer payments, its share of spendable income rose to 12.9%—six times its proportion of earnings. The second quintile’s share more than doubled, rising from 7% of earned income to 13.9% of spendable income. For the third quintile, middle-income Americans, the increase was much smaller, from 12.6% to 15.4%.
Not surprisingly, high earners lost a considerable share of their earnings after taxes and transfers are taken into account. The fourth quintile’s share fell from 20.5% to 18.6%, while the top quintile dropped from 57.7% of earnings to 39.3% of consumable income. In other words, the top quintile’s share of earnings was 26 times that of the bottom quintile, but after taxes and transfer payments its share of spendable income was only three times as much.
In short, the middle quintiles in income work much harder than the bottom quintile, but see only a small rise in how much money they have to spend.
Even more startling is the near equality among the bottom three quintiles. The bottom quintile, which earned only 2.2% of all earned income, had virtually the same share of spendable income as the second quintile, lower-middle-income Americans. This equality is despite the fact that lower-middle-income workers earned more than three times the share of income and worked 2 1/2 times as much, measured by comparing each group’s number of full-time workers relative to its working-age population. Middle-income workers earned almost six times the share of income and worked almost four times as much compared with the bottom quintile, but they enjoyed only about 20% more spendable income.
Aside from the fact that they have no money to donate, the working class is not going to be a great target for Democratic efforts, because appealing to them would force the candidates to propose more stringent rules for health insurance subsidies, housing and food subsidies, eitc and other transfer payments to another major constituency of the Democratic Party.