Friday, October 11, 2013

Elites great and small

Here are two articles that I think illuminate each other when read in conjunction:

The first article argues that the Tea Party’s social base “consists of what, in other countries, are called the ‘local notables’ … the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce”:

These are not the super-rich of Silicon Valley or Wall Street (although they have Wall Street allies). The Koch dynasty rooted in Texas notwithstanding, those who make up the backbone of the Newest Right are more likely to be millionaires than billionaires, more likely to run low-wage construction or auto supply businesses than multinational corporations. They are second-tier people on a national level but first-tier people in their states and counties and cities.

The second, on the other hand, as its title implies, argues that local notables no longer exist:

Today’s ruling class exercises its power from a much greater geographic distance than its predecessors ever did. Political and economic power were once concentrated at the local level. Every city and town had, for better or worse, its own distinctive elite. Now power is concentrated at the national level. … The hometown economic elite—rich local families or individuals whom people used to praise or revile, read about in the society pages, and gossip about incessantly—disappeared from most American cities decades ago.

Hang on, you might say  aren't these two articles contradictory? Surely both can’t be correct. Actually, they can be; just insert the word “big” between “most” and “American” in that last sentence. That is to say, local notables aren’t a big deal in big cities, which have largely been absorbed into an international corporatist system, but they’re still the folks who matter in places like Lancaster and Williamsport, the two places I’ve lived over the past decade. 

This is a key difference between Red America and Blue America and a big reason Red and Blue politics are so different. Blue America’s corporate elite feel fairly secure in their position (as they should; pretty much everything has flowed their way over the past decade or so). Red America’s small business owners (the sort of folks depicted in The Millionaire Next Door) do not, and as the "Newest  Right" article points out, they’re reacting accordingly. 

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