Thursday, November 3, 2016

If You Think They Don’t Care, You’re Right

One of the most basic tenets of Republican policy – from populist Trump to old world McConnell – is a stubborn adherence to the notion that de-taxing and de-regulating the rich frees up capital which they instantly deploy to create good jobs. It is called “supply-side” or “trickle-down” economics, sometimes stimulating the “job creators,” and I have repeated blogged how that theory has never, never worked. From the left, you get the expected rejection of the theory – from economist Paul Krugman to Pope Francis himself. And from the right, you get staunch supporters of that theory who get badly burned when that act on it. The most recent example is Kansas governor Sam Brownback, whose recent massive state tax cuts in Kansas not only did not produce new solid jobs, they have virtually bankrupted the state and slashed the public school budget into oblivion.
We know that rich people, unless they just inherited their wealth and live without working, do not take newfound cash and just start hiring. They didn’t get rich by being stupid; if there is no business reason to hire new workers or launch new enterprises, they don’t. It’s not about how much money they have; it’s how much more money they expect to get! Duh! Sure there are very rich people with so much money that they start giving away billions and billions because they cannot spend even a small amount of their wealth on themselves or their families. They have policy beliefs and the money to control their implementation. And sure, many of them have altruism at their core.
But when you hear down and dirty GOP dogma, there is very little empathy for those who have not made it through bad neighborhoods with worse schools, those who have fallen on hard times, displaced by global competition and automation or simple obsolescence. Whether they believe in Darwin’s “theory” of evolution, many do believe that nature has selected those at the bottom… out. The GOP notion is that that charity should always be voluntary; governmental social safety nets need to be repealed.
To them, it’s raw capitalism at work, supply and demand. Wrong choices and misfortune are the product of any society, any country. It’s called “history,” and there are winners and losers. The rich are the winners, and those seeking to ride their backs for unnecessary jobs or taxation for social programs are whiners and losers. Life is hard, but except for voluntary charity, why should rich people have the slightest responsibility for the less fortunate? Really, Peter, you’re saying that too many well-heeled elites lack empathy? Yup! That’s exactly what I am saying.
“There’s a growing body of research showing how having money changes the way people see—or are oblivious to—others and their problems. The latest is a paper published in the journal Psychological Science in which psychologists at New York University show that wealthy people unconsciously pay less attention to passersby on the street.
“In the paper, the researchers describe experiments they conducted to measure the effects of social class on what’s called the ‘motivational relevance’ of other human beings. According to some schools of psychological thought, we’re motivated to pay attention to something when we assign more value to it, whether because it threatens us or offers the potential for some kind of reward.”, October 23rd. Simply put, those with money don’t even see those at the periphery of their economic world… literally. They are invisible. To me, on political terms, the GOP notion is that that charity should always be voluntary; governmental social safety nets need to be repealed.
The above-noted report, Social Class and the Motivational Relevance of Other Human Beings - Evidence From Visual Attention (compiled and analyzed by Pia Dietz and Eric D. Knowles from New York University’s Psychology Department) examined, through a series of detailed experiments, what rich and non-rich people actually saw in their environment. Published October 3rd in Psychological Science,here is their summary abstract:
“We theorize that people’s social class affects their appraisals of others’ motivational relevance—the degree to which others are seen as potentially rewarding, threatening, or otherwise worth attending to. Supporting this account, three studies indicate that social classes differ in the amount of attention their members direct toward other human beings. In Study 1, wearable technology was used to film the visual fields of pedestrians on city streets; higher-class participants looked less at other people than did lower-class participants. In Studies 2a and 2b, participants’ eye movements were tracked while they viewed street scenes; higher class was associated with reduced attention to people in the images. In Study 3, a change-detection procedure assessed the degree to which human faces spontaneously attract visual attention; faces proved less effective at drawing the attention of high-class than low-class participants, which implies that class affects spontaneous relevance appraisals. The measurement and conceptualization of social class are discussed.”
This report is hardly an isolated observation. “Past studies have investigated the myriad ways the rich interact differently with their community, and the results have not been pretty.
“For instance, in a series of studies published in 2012, psychologists from University of California, Berkeley, had college students watch two videos—one of a man explaining how to build a patio, and another depicting the lives of children with cancer—and found the wealthier participants were less likely to report feeling compassion for the children and their families in the second video. (The researchers controlled for factors like ethnicity, spiritual beliefs and gender, all of which also influence compassion.) As they watched the videos, all of the participants also wore heart monitors, because research has shown that our heart rate will slow down when we’re tuning into the feelings of another person. This reaction was noted in the less wealthy participants as they watched the second film, but not the wealthier subjects.
“An earlier study published in Psychological Sciences, and led by a University of California, San Francisco psychologist, found that people of a higher socioeconomic status are not as adept at reading other people’s emotions accurately, compared to less affluent peers. What’s more, in a 2009 study, college students of a higher socioeconomic status tended to pay less attention to a stranger with whom they were paired to speak for few minutes, even if the conversation partner was equally affluent. The wealthy, psychologists believe, pay less attention to everyone, regardless of status, which may affect their relationships with friends and family.”
The lesson here is that if you really want to support those who simple are too old, too disabled, mentally inadequate, addicted, or simply have not figured out how to prepare themselves for life, the notion of cutting the social safety nets does not result in massive charitable support. They just suffer and die. So if we care as a society, if the notion is “there but for the grace of God go I,” then corrected for fraud and those who just do not like to work but can (for which even I have little sympathy), if we believe we are an empathetic or sympathetic society, we need to care and support that with tax dollars wisely spent.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we cannot take care of our own, what does that say about our character as a people?

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