Will Americans Prioritize the Unsustainable Cost of Living Over Political Pageantry This Election Season?

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is originally from Williamsport, PA and holds a bachelor's degree in English. She enjoys writing about health and social justice issues. When she isn't writing, she can usually be found curled up reading dystopian fiction or hiking and searching for inspiration. If you like her writing, follow her blog, So Well, So Woman.

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51 Responses

  1. Chip Daniels says:

    In every crisis, an opportunity.

    America is in crisis right now, and if we can defeat the white supremacists, I believe there is a real base for populism.

    The economic anxiety invoked by the Trumpists was largely a euphemism, but there is a real unease, I think, among even the GOP base that our economy just isn’t producing jobs and wages of sufficient levels to sustain prosperity.Report

    • j r in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      if we can defeat the white supremacists, I believe there is a real base for populism.

      I’m not sure if you noticed this, but the white supremacists are populists. And many of he populists are white supremacists.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to j r says:

        Oh I have, which is what prompts my comment.

        When I hear Trumpists mouth phrases like “crony capitalist” and sound like college sophomores leaving a Noam Chomsky event, I understand that most of them are insincere, but some of them really mean it as a critique of the capitalist global order.

        We just need to find a way to destroy the appeal of white supremacy. Right now, when white supremacy meets economic populism, white supremacy wins every time.Report

  2. Pinky says:

    Your first link goes to an article about Australian cost of living. You didn’t cite the actual US statistics anywhere in this article. I think it’s worth noting that, while median household income has been stagnant for a while now, this decade is on track to have the lowest inflation rates since the 1930’s.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Pinky says:

      Sorry, second link. abc.net.au is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Pinky says:

        Yes, but the cost of living is still unsustainable. Have you seen the liquor and cigarette prices down there? A year or so ago I ran the numbers on the sale price of an ex-Soviet Whiskey class submarine, assuming that all the torpedoes were replaced with an equivalent weight/volume of bourbon to smuggle in. You could pay off the sub in one or two trips. As for smokes, Asians are smuggling them in inside stuffed toys and crockery. Joe Kennedy would have leaped at the opportunity.

        So something certainly needs to be done, whether by the Liberal party or Labor.Report

  3. Dark Matter says:

    According to real voters, we need common-sense legislation to protect working, unemployed, underemployed and otherwise down-on-their-luck Americans from the parasites who work to maintain the illusion of scarcity, the illusion of a lack of good-paying and relatively future-proof jobs and the illusion that asking billionaires and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes is the ticket to economic ruin.

    “Common-sense legislation” is often code-speak for laws which will make the situation worse.

    Housing is expensive because there’s too much demand and not enough supply; Rent control, zoning, etc will further restrict the supply and make things worse.

    A lot of “cost of living” issues come down to “businesses pass their expenses off to their customers so they don’t pay taxes, just collect them”, so when you pay for stuff you’re paying multiple sets of taxes.

    We’ve already seen the GOP’s plans for gutting rent assistance for the poor. It’s time to hold ourselves collectively accountable for how we treat the less fortunate instead of looking down on them and using them as political scapegoats.

    From your own link

    Rental assistance recipients currently spend about 30 percent of their adjusted income on housing, with subsidies picking up the rest. Under the proposal HUD is sending to Congress, recipients would have to contribute 35 percent of their gross income or 35 percent of their income from working 15 hours a week at the federal minimum wage…. Meanwhile, tenants’ incomes would be verified less frequently — once every three years, instead of annually — to “encourage renters to increase their income without adversely impacting assistance…

    creating jobs programs to get the unemployed back to work in future-friendly industries.

    Because clearly jobs, especially good jobs, can only come from the government, as opposed to having the gov get out of the way.

    Republicans control government right now. Believe it or not, we all want what they claim to want: a true American meritocracy. But that only works if everybody who lives in this country has, with an acceptable margin for error, most of the same opportunities when they start out in life.

    My kids have two adults preparing them for life, that’s an absurd advantage over someone who has one. Much worse, we’re both high functioning, so my kids have beyond an absurd advantage over kids that have no high functioning adults in their life.

    That’s the root of the problem, and the solution is… what? Pretend this isn’t a problem? Take all children at birth away from parents? Figure out a way to punish my kids for the crime of having functional parents? Pay people for being dysfunctional?Report

  4. Pinky says:

    “Either because they’ve made their fortune already or because they believe supply-side economics actually works, many in the current Republican Party are turning prosperity and opportunity into exclusive, zero-sum games.”

    I have a problem with this formulation. It seems to me that there are two approaches to prosperity and opportunity: through creation or distribution. The former means increasing the size of the pie, while the latter means dividing the pie. This article is almost exclusively about distribution-related policies, which imply or permit zero-sum thinking. Supply-side economics is all about creation of wealth, which is the opposite of zero-sum thinking.

    Now, I guess you could be making the argument that supply-side thinking doesn’t work, so it results in zero benefits, and that redistribution improves future growth, which would make it non-zero-sum. But there are a lot of arguable assumptions behind that, and I’m not sure that’s the argument being made here anyway.Report

  5. Brandon Berg says:

    Hooooly Gish gallop!Report

  6. North says:

    Fine passionate piece but a bit light on the details. Housing costs are, after all, by and large determined at the local level not the federal level.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    I largely agree with the shadowstats premise that inflation and cost of living increases have been lowballed in the official stats for a long time now.

    But housing affordability is not a national issue; it is regional one. The federal government only should have a significant role insofar as some regions cross state lines, and our system requires federal government involvement in any governance that transcends state lines.

    Note that though all the big metros in California don’t cross state lines. California has it entirely within their power to do something about housing affordability.

    If the Democrats that run the state wanted to, that is.Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:

    But if a Democrat can’t describe his or her political ethos without using the word “Trump” or “impeachment,” it means they’re a part of the McResistance, and they have no real intention of addressing any of the underlying problems in America. Namely: the unforgivable and ever-worsening inequality of income and opportunity.

    I disagree with this part. For better or for worse, negative partisanship works wonders. This is probably a for worse situation but it is what it is. Opposition to Bush II is what gave the Democrats a huge victory in 2006. Likewise, opposition to Obama gave the Republicans huge victories in 2010 and 2014. Now it is Trump’s turn to potentially experience the joys of negative partisanship.

    A lot of the polling indicates that Democrats are more enthusiastic about this election than Republicans and that they are really driven by how disgusted they are with Trump and his actions as the past few days have shown.

    This essay also indicates another problem in punditry where a lot of people armchair along the lines of “If the Democratic Party campaigned on stuff that I care about, they would be unbeatable!!!” The Democratic Party does stand for stuff but it always seems to get lost in the fray because it isn’t exactly what random further leftie person has in terms of priors and pet causes.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The Pundit’s Unicorn:
      My most important animating preference is to inflict pain on liberals, urban people, immigrants and Muslims.
      But I would totally vote Democratic if they just adopted the policy preferences that they have repeatedly adopted in every platform since 1936.

      Its like a variant of Murc’s Law, filtered through Schrodinger’s box.

      The actual Democratic Party platform never exists, regardless of how many times it is spoken or endorsed.
      But it must forever be invoked at every opportunity as the reason they lose.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        I don’t think that is what Kate is doing here. There are plenty of left-leaning types that seem equally unaware of the Democratic Party platform. They are also complained about on LGM all the time. Unlike the GOP, we do seem to have a leftier-than-though contingent that would rather score points against the Democratic Party than anything else.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I should have made clear, I was thinking of the Beltway pundits who never tire of seeking that unicorn Reagan Democrat who would come home if only the Democrats would be Democrats again.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            Don’t forget the loud subset of a wealthy “pundits” who think what American years for is tax hikes coupled with slashing the safety net and regulations.

            Yeah, that’ll turn them out to vote. “We’re gonna hike your taxes — not mine, but yours — while also slashing all the stuff I’ll never need, but you might, like SS”.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Standing behind the shield of historical accuracy appears to reduce the sting of a surprise win where a rout was anticipated.

        It’s market economics to me.
        One side adds as many planks to their platform as they can while getting voters to still vote for them, and the other side does the same, while voters shop features and value.

        Lefty Playbook:
        When fielding consumer complaints regarding the platform, always refer the complainant to historical accuracy. Makes the CSA feel better.

  9. Swami says:

    I fail to comprehend any substantive evidence of the crisis. I could easily empirically show that…

    1). Median living standards are the highest ever in the US, up over 40% from a couple of generations ago.
    2). Median living standards are among the highest of any large, diverse nation now or ever.
    3). Inflation (cost of living increases) are among the lowest they have been for several generations. And most likely overstated to boot!
    4). Poverty levels, when adjusted for transfers and taxes are at historic lows, despite an influx of over 40 million immigrants.

    Granted, health care costs are out of control, local taxes and home prices are out of control in a few isolated pockets, and college costs are fubar, but these can be addressed at the root causes (health care reform, relocation and more building, control of government bureaucracy, and putting stings on college loans).

    I find no accuracy in how this author is portraying anything.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Swami says:

      I fail to comprehend any substantive evidence of the crisis.

      Exhibit A: The election of one Donald J. Trump.

      Apparently from the data collected by numerous Cletus Safaris, it was the economic distress and anxiety across America that caused them to reject the elitist candidate of Goldman Sachs and elect a populist man of the people who promised to bring down the globalist economic order.Report

      • Swami in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Empirical data shows living standards are better now than pretty much ever, inflation is lowest in generations and unemployment rates are at historic lows. But somehow the explanation for a Red Tribe President must be “bad economy,” and the solution to the “bad economy” is to vote for the Blue Tribe.

        Sounds like the real crisis in America is bad political rhetoric.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Swami says:

          Well, don’t ask me, ask them.

          Why did they vote for him, if things are so great?

          Why is he busy blowing up the globalist trade structure, to the cheers of his supporters?Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Swami says:

          People tend to be unmoved by empirical data. On a statistically level, Cuba was doing all right by Latin American standards when Castro took over. Only the southern cone countries of Latin America were wealthier. It was even doing all right by global standards. Cuba was definitely a wealthier place than Africa and Asia. It didn’t stop people from feeling that they were getting the pinch under Batista. Humans are emotional beings more than rational beings on the hole.Report

          • Swami in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Agreed. Another way of saying it is that people are suckers for convincing rhetoric. Imagine how much better off Cubans and North Koreans would have been today if they had kept clearer heads.Report

  10. Burt Likko says:

    The issue is wages, not prices. Despite rises in productivity, in some industries dramatic rises in productivity, inflation-adjusted wages, and the purchasing power of regular workers, have been flat for decades.

    If our economy is expanding and wages aren’t rising, where’s all that money going? The answer, as we all know already, is “Wall Street.”

    When given tax cuts, some companies pay out bonuses and dress up ordinary COLAs as resulting from the cuts, but more of them initiate stock buybacks and layoffs anyway. Executive bonuses are obnoxious but probably negligible on the macro scale. Dividends and buybacks are what matter.

    Too much of this for too long, and it’s no wonder things start to smell a little bit like Versailles in the mid 1780’s. Brioche, anyone?Report

    • Swami in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Nonsense. When you adjust for inflation, family size and benefits, median incomes are up 40 to 60 percent since 1980. And this ignores the influx of 40 million immigrants pulling down the statistical average (while actually gaining even more by moving here). And if you add lower tax rates for the bottom two quintiles, take home pay is up even more.

      The real question is why when things are going so well, do people buy into this absurd rhetoric.

      Your comment is fundamentally adopting the zero sum fallacy. Returns are up on entrepreneurial investments and innovation as the market is signaling and incentivizing capital investments and skilled labor over low skilled labor. It would be more appropriate to characterize the situation as one where the improved fortunes of the entrepreneurs are stimulating the improved standards of living of the median.

      Empirically, it is easy to show that inflation is historically benign, unemployment rates are historically low, median incomes are higher than any time since this nation was founded.

      The truth is, you And the author of this post WANT it to smell like Versailles. If it doesn’t, you will just pretend it does and hope nobody questions your fragile group think.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Swami says:

        The real question is why when things are going so well, do people buy into this absurd rhetoric.

        YES. This. Is. The. Question.

        Without even arguing over the numbers, the question is, why are Americans so unhappy, to the point of electing a man who promised to burn down the world?

        Right now, your set of facts don’t explain the observed phenomena.Report

        • Swami in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Liberty, you are question begging. You assume people couldn’t have elected Trump for anything other than belief in pending economic calamity. I am sure there were tens of millions of reasons why he was preferred over the other alternatives.

          I certainly share your disdain for the man, but you really need to drop this crazy belief that his existence proves your priors.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Swami says:

            But they themselves say they voted for him out of economic anxiety.

            Are they lying? (I think they are!)

            Because his election is a direct refutation of your thesis.Report

            • Swami in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              So you think they are lying about the economy and you are convinced it was the economy. Can you do so at the same time, or do you jump back and forth?

              Have you ever considered that there were many competing reasons? That one of these reasons is that people like you are peddling doom and gloom so much that people actually start to believe it?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Swami says:

                The actual Trump voters were mostly comfortably middle class white people, with some working class white people, wealthy white people, and evangelical white people, suburban white people, and rural white people.

                There isn’t really any definable economic demographic to Trump voters.
                The most accurate variable to predict a Trump voter is their attitude towards race. No other variable breaks so strongly in his direction.
                Sorry, them’s the facts.

                Is your theory is that the economy is doing well, but the economic fears are illusory, some sort of national delusion like Satanic child sex cults or something?Report

              • Swami in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Dude, you have somehow managed to completely contradict your starting position.

                No, I do not blame the satanic cults. But speaking of the occult, here is a better analogy… Halloween.

                Remember when parent felt safe allowing their kids almost unlimited free reign to Trick or Treat? HW wasn’t destroyed by poisoning and razor blades, but by parents, and media TALKING about poisons and razors. There was no children harmed by candy crisis ever. It is empirically a non entity.

                Halloween was killed by rhetoric, not evildoers.

                We live in an empirically bountiful age with median, average and bottom tier well being far above the historic average, yet Kate and the various political parties and the media, and talking heads and pundits and people trying to sell books have found they can thrive by peddling doom and gloom. So they do.

                The economy when Trump was elected was clearly better than it has been for 99.99% of humanity. It has since gotten even better. Yet pundits assure us Trump was elected because of the horrible economy and now Kate assures us we need to vote against him for the same reason.

                There are worse things than Trick or Treat which can be destroyed by harmful rhetoric and gloom peddling.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Swami says:

        I have to admit that I kind of find it hilarious that your posting this but your gravatar is Zorro. Its like defending the wealthy but having a Robin Hood gravatar.Report

        • Swami in reply to LeeEsq says:

          I am defending the median. Only by adopting an invalid zero sum bias can one assume that improvements to skilled labor, entrepreneurial activity and investment returns come at the EXPENSE of less skilled labor. They are complements, not enemies.

          The reason median incomes are up in the US (40-60%) and are up even more globally is not despite the gains at the high end. It is in many cases in part because of these gains. Capital, entrepreneurial creativity, skilled labor and less skilled labor are complements not oppositional forces (and the same person can move between categories).

          Economics makes no sense with a zero sum mindset, yet for some reason, a substantial share of people just can’t make grasp the insight.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Swami says:

            As I pointed out above, most people operate on the realm of emotions rather than statistics. They also operate on how they perceive themselves to be doing rather than how everybody is doing or how they are doing. As I pointed out above, Cuba was doing rather fine on a statistical level before Castro took over. Most Cubans believed they were getting the pinch though and working way too hard for way too long without getting their fair share. Castro made arguments that were very persuasive to them.

            Free marketers have to deal with people the way they are and not the way the want them to be like every other political group. You aren’t going to get people not to feel the pinch simply because your statistics tell them not to be. I’d even argue that free marketers should be more sensitive to the fact that people operate on an emotional level than other groups. You can’t bedazzle people with glamour and luxury through advertisements but expect them not to get angry when they can’t get the nice things they see no matter how hard they work. Reminding people that they are doing better now than their ancestors did a generation or more ago isn’t going to cut it. Leftists have the advantage that they believe things like yachts are bad things. Their vision is one of necessities for all rather than luxury.

            From my perspective, even though the world is materially wealthier than it was at any other time in human history, we are seeing a global age of anxiety. People feel that they are struggling to keep their heads above the water everywhere in the world. Your statistics aren’t going to make this change.Report

            • Swami in reply to LeeEsq says:

              In other words, Castro sold envy and economic voodoo to people who bought it? Their loss, I guess.

              You seem to agree that people are getting wealthier, liesure is increasing, housing sizes are increasing (poor here live in bigger houses than the average European), and so on. Thus we are better off, on the median, with the essentials.

              I offer an impartial view of whether we are doing better than we were 5, 20, and 100 years ago. Yet, in a post where the author basically makes up a rhetorical case of impoverishment and misery, and tries to sell more voodoo and envy your concern is that Free marketers are being tone deaf?

              I agree completely that people are better off, yet they are often feeling that the situation around them is getting worse. They are being conned. Politicians, the media, and various interest groups are peddling doom 24/7. The author here is a case in point.

              The problem is not economics, it is rhetoric. If we want people to feel better we need to continue to do better and start stomping out the bad rhetoric. What says we start on this site?Report

            • Dark Matter in reply to LeeEsq says:

              As I pointed out above, most people operate on the realm of emotions rather than statistics. … Free marketers have to deal with people the way they are and not the way the want them to be like every other political group.

              Yes, for obvious reasons, but also No. Big picture is the Free marketers are backed up by a major Theory (like the Theory of Gravity).

              Smoot and Hawley intended to go down in history as heroes, not idiots, but facts are stubborn things.

              Leftists have the advantage that they believe things like yachts are bad things. Their vision is one of necessities for all rather than luxury.

              Unfortunately they never run out of “necessities” and their vision always requires “more”.

              Thankfully the world has multiple countries so we always have current examples of the Leftists creating problems (up to and including burning down economies) on a scale of less than world wide.

              …we are seeing a global age of anxiety. People feel that they are struggling to keep their heads above the water everywhere in the world.

              We have several real issues backing up those feelings.

              1) We’re staring at the end of a global credit cycle. Interest rates will go up, perhaps to their historical averages, and lots of groups/governments will find they have too much debt. The cycle is longer than a human career so we forget just how painful deleveraging can be. Gov backed Pensions and medical benefits will be cut. pensiontsunami.com tracks this if anyone is interested.

              I’d think this the real issue except afaict very few people are paying attention to it. The vast bulk of people still think future politicians will find the money.

              2) Local news is being reported as national or international news. We haven’t adjusted to this yet, but the worst event in the country/world is reported hourly.

              3) 63% of people don’t have $500 in savings for an emergency. This is a reflection of human nature, not economic trends. Most people don’t save, many spend every dollar they get their hands on. The exception is in periods of growth spending habits don’t ramp up quite as quick.

              This isn’t a “poor” thing, most people at every income level do this. Johnny Depp is a wonderful example, he’s even claiming his fiscal problems are someone else’s fault because his spending can’t possibly be the problem.Report

              • Swami in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “63% of people don’t have $500 in savings for an emergency. This is a reflection of human nature, not economic trends. Most people don’t save, many spend every dollar they get their hands on. The exception is in periods of growth spending habits don’t ramp up quite as quick.”

                A couple of years ago I was in Hawaii and heard an NPR report by some guy that wrote a book on this “crisis.” He shared that he made WELL over a hundred thousand dollars and sent his kids to private schools, but was unable to come up with $500 dollars without charging it in emergencies.

                I agree completely with you. We are seeing the dark side of cultural or biological habits (probably a mix of both). The problem isn’t economic growth (we really are 30X richer than historic average) it is with people who can’t seem to live within their means, and plan for the future regardless of how little or much they make.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Swami says:

        I thought this was a kick ass rejoinder, when combined with the citation from @dark-matter , infra, except for two points.

        1. @swami accuses me of adopting the zero sum fallacy. I don’t think that’s true: I argued that the economy is expanding, and argued that the gains are going to the top. The gains are not at the expense of the middle class or poor, they’re just being monopolized by the rich. The data from the Minneapolis Fed suggests that this second argument I offered may be wrong, in that if real middle class incomes are actually rising then the middle class is at least getting a piece of the action.

        2. @swami also accuses me of WANTING it to smell like Versailles. Not sure where the idea that I WANT that came from. A revolution is about the last thing I want. If only out of self-interest: there is about zero chance I wind up on the winning side of such a thing, no matter who is perpetrating it and no matter who wins it.

        Nevertheless, I acknowledge the data proffered infra and shall consider my thoughts on wages in the role of a seemingly difficult economy further.Report

      • Murali in reply to Swami says:

        Well, inflation may very well be too high. The problem is that nominal wages are somewhat sticky. (More sticky downwards and upwards). Inflationary monetary and fiscal policy will thus depress real wage growth. And that can be a problemReport

      • Dave in reply to Swami says:

        Swami: The real question is why when things are going so well, do people buy into this absurd rhetoric.

        If you can’t answer that question, then your grasp on the real world is shakier than what I see out of most leftist economic progressives, which is to say they’re clueless.

        I live, eat and breathe in the healthcare capital markets so people citing high level macro stats and carrying water for the free markets cheerleaders aren’t people I find particularly helpful to addressing the real world concerns I see every day. I guess the good thing about the internet is that it can make a genius out of everyone.Report

    • Dark Matter in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The issue is wages, not prices. Despite rises in productivity, in some industries dramatic rises in productivity, inflation-adjusted wages, and the purchasing power of regular workers, have been flat for decades.


      • Swami in reply to Dark Matter says:

        Exactly. To quote the conclusion (right after the chart showing incomes are up 40-60 %)…

        The claim that the standard of living of middle Americans has stagnated over the past generation is common. An accompanying assertion is that virtually all income growth over the past three decades bypassed middle America and accrued almost entirely to the rich.

        The findings reported here—and summarized in Chart 8—refute those claims. Careful analysis shows that the incomes of most types of middle American households have increased substantially over the past three decades.”

        And, I need to again add, that this is after tens of millions of new immigrants entered, and it kind of ignores that most families move constantly up and down the quintiles (mostly moving up until pre retirement and then back down again).

        Anyone believing that human beings living in North America ever had it better should please supply the supporting evidence. Please supply the year, average lifespan, the median income, the percent in poverty, the inflation rate and the unemployment rate for that year. If you want bonus credit, please let us know the literacy rate, the childhood fatality rate and the measures of equality of opportunity in this imagined golden era.

        We live in an era of peak doo doo peddling. Not peak doo doo. Peak doo doo peddling.Report