Arnold Kling  

The Emerging Stagnant Majority

Krugman Killer Quote... North, Wallis, and Weingast...

William Voegeli, in an article for the Claremont Review called "The Wilderness Years Begin," cites an article by Ronald Brownstein.

Start by considering the electorate's six broadest demographic groups -- white voters with at least a four-year college degree; white voters without a college degree; African-Americans; Hispanics; Asians; and other minorities.

Now posit that each of those groups voted for Barack Obama or John McCain in exactly the same proportions as it actually did. Then imagine that each group represented the share of the electorate that it did in 1992. If each of these groups voted as it did in 2008 but constituted the same share of the electorate as in 1992, McCain would have won. Comfortably.

...Imagine that the major demographic groups voted as they did in 2008, but cast a share of the vote equal to their expected share of the population in 2020. (For argument's sake, let's divide whites among college and noncollege voters in the same proportions as today.) In that scenario, Obama beats McCain by nearly 14 points -- almost twice as much as in 2008. Demography will indeed be destiny if Republicans can't broaden their reach.

I call this the emerging stagnant majority, because I see it leading to political stagnation, which in turn will reinforce economic stagnation.

I am in the middle of reading Violence and Social Orders, by Nobel Laureate Douglass North, John J. Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast (NWW). The theme of the book is that political and economic development is part of the same process, which they call the social order. The developed world enjoys an open-access order, in which both politics and economics are highly competitive. The rest of the world is in a natural state, in which only the members of the governing coalition are fully free to own property, participate in the political process and--most importantly--form durable organizations.

The United States is currently taking a giant step backward in the direction of a natural state. NWW would say that we are still an open-access order. However, the importance of the rule of law is declining, and the importance of political connections to the elite is increasing. I think we will see this trend emerge much more strongly over the next decade, as it becomes clear that the Republican Party is not going to win another national election. Interest groups will lose hope in competitive elections, and instead they will focus on accomodating the Democrats, which in turn will consolidate the power of the ruling party.

In economics this leads to stagnation, as we shift from an economic system dominated by competition and change from the bottom up to a system of rent-seeking and centralized management. There will be less creative destruction and more redistribution.

In the NWW world, an open-access order avoids stagnation because of political competition. It is in the interest of those out of power to develop attractive alternatives, and it is in the interest of those in power to provide economic growth. However, that assumes a competitive electoral process. The demographic picture, in which traditional Republican voting groups are shrinking as a proportion of the electorate, means that the Democrats have to worry less and less about alienating economic elites, as long as they can maintain an identity politics that appeals to non-whites.

Given this view, libertarians may have the basic economics right when it comes to open borders. Other things equal, more immigration is much better for the immigrants and somewhat better for the native population.

But other things are not equal. Taking into account the effect of immigration on the political equilibrium, Steve Sailer may have it right. We may have seen the last of America as a dynamic economy with a competitive political system. Instead, we may be headed toward a stagnant economy and a one-party political system.

Have a nice day.

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The author at The Plank in a related article titled The U.S. As One-Party State? writes:
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COMMENTS (24 to date)
Corey writes:

I agree with the idea that less political competition ultimately means a less robust republic. But I think it's a bit weird to throw up your hands to demographic inevitabilities and blame immigration for killing the Republican party - they'd go a long way towards making voting blocs competitive again by stopping the promotion of policies that are punitive towards gays and minorities.

Eventually this economic crisis will end, and some people will go back to a more conservative economic philosophy. It's the nonsense hatred of gays and minorities that's turning voters off to the party permanently.

John Singleton writes:

I was considering reading that book this summer.

Do you recommend it?

ryan yin writes:

This doesn't necessarily change the basic thrust of the argument, but why are we holding constant the platform of both parties? Did the two parties' platforms just happen by coincidence to match up pretty well with the electorate's ideology?

For that matter, why are we holding education levels constant?

JP writes:

It doesn't seem to make sense to treat Hispanic and Asian voters as, in each case, uniform. In other words, I think middle- and upper-income Hispanic and Asian voters cannot be expected to vote in the same way as the lower-income members of each group. The middle- and upper-income members could be more receptive to a message of economic freedom, if the current Democratic government continues to overreach, and if Republicans are able to recover some credibility as supporters of fiscal responsibility.

Walt French writes:
It's the nonsense hatred of gays and minorities that's turning voters off to the party permanently.

Hear, hear!

If the Democrats of 2008 were pushing the agenda of 1936, they would be viewed by right-wingers as fellow-travelers. There has been a steady evolution of our society's thinking on important social, political and economic matters, an in too many cases to enumerate, the Republicans have chosen to identify with the pre-FDR, pre-Federal Reserve era.

- When I graduated from high school in 1966, I could not have married my current wife in about 1/3 of the country due to widely accepted, but blatantly racist, anti-miscegenation laws. (She's "Mongoloid," to use the charming label on the old charts.) The identical arguments, with identical (il-) legitimacy, are used today to try to deny gays and lesbians equal treatment under the Law.

-FDIC insurance is just one instance of a pro-business regulation that protects banks from runs, with many times more economic benefit to banks than costs. Yet "anti-regulation" types would have us revert to the era of banking and currency crises that ran rampant in the decades before Congress created centralized, but minimally-politicized control over money.

-As much as some Republican promoters want to whip up their base by raising outrage over a Supreme Court nominee (doesn't matter who... just pick one so we can get into robo-calling frenzy mode!), the Public is in no mood to totally reverse Roe-v-Wade or otherwise pretend that we all live, or want to live, in a caricature of fifty years ago.

There's nothing in the Constitution that requires the Republican party to continue to exist, and there are certainly many in it who would proudly drive it into the ground, protecting profoundly non-political views (non-political in that there isn't even a snowball's chance of success). After all, you still see Confederate flags celebrating the most catastrophic failure of a political mindset that this country has ever seen. I personally believe that Barack Obama couldn't have won without George Bush and others having totally abdicated his claim to the Center, certainly not, say, against Reagan, who presided over a very different America.

So it's also silly to believe that splinters can't form from the Left, creating a new dynamic. This country has idealists all over the political spectrum. These "assume X remains unchanged" exercises create the very ossification that they protest against.

david writes:

This leads to the interesting conclusion that libertarians should have allied with the progressives rather than throwing their lot in with the cultural conservatives and religious right. By refusing to yield on any key libertarian issues - thereby allowing a progressive coalition to steadily build up without them - libertarians now get to enjoy having no say at all.

It's regrettable, really. It's not as if there no issues that libertarians and liberals share: the drug war. Corporate welfare and lobbying. Expansion of the police state and domestic surveillance. Military adventurism. Unilateral foreign policy. Or even homosexual rights. Building a stronger voice on any of these could have bought libertarians a seat in an earlier liberal coalition. Now, not so much.

Blackadder writes:

I don't get the urge to despair after a single election defeat.

There are two problems with Brownstein's example. The first is that a significant amount of the difference in voter demographics is due to differences in turnout rather than differences in the composition of society (Brownstein notes this for African Americans but doesn't seem to consider that it may be true for other groups as well).

The second problem is that Obama's vote percentages among minorities were higher than has historically been the case. Clinton got 31% of Asians in 1992, Obama got 62%. Clinton got 83% of blacks in 1992, Obama got 95%. Clinton got 61% of Hispanics in 1992, Obama got 67%.

Both of these factors would seem to have more to do with the fact that a minority was on the ballot (and with the generally low state of the GOP) than with broader demographic trends. I'm not saying that changed demographics played no role between 1992 and 2008, but whatever effect it had is so overwhelmed by other factors as to make the example meaningless.

Richard writes:

"It's the nonsense hatred of gays and minorities that's turning voters off to the party permanently."

Wrong. Most Americans don't favor gay marriage, which is why even Obama is against it. The Republican position on gay marriage is gaining the party votes, not losing them.

And the notion that Republicans hate "minorities" is just hogwash, with absolutely no factual basis whatsoever. Only someone who cannot understand principled objections to racial quotas and to the expansion of the federal government at the expense of state autonomy thinks that the motivation is hatred for minorities.

Most polls show that Republicans are *less* racist that Democrats, no more. See, e.g., here:

Get your facts straight.

Lord writes:

The reason here would be the failure of Republicans to deliver though neither party has distinguished themselves. Nor would this be new, but has been trending this way for years, and in many ways is a repeat of the Depression era. Prosperity may reverse this but could take years and the alternative may no longer be Republicans or at least very different Republicans such as big city mayors. It may take longer for Republicans to change than for prosperity to arrive though. A two party system is an expensive luxury.

Bill Woolsey writes:

In the post civil war South, the Whig party disappeared and the Republicans were only popular among the disenfranchised black minority. So, the real elections were the Democrat primary. These were competitive. And while the loss of power by the conservatives and the rise of the populists was a move from bad to worse from a libertarian perspective, the elites were entrenched by single party rule is false.

If the Republicans have really self-destructed, then everyone will soon be voting in Democratic primaries. This will destroy Democrat coaltion voting (we have to get the support of everyone in the coaltion to win in November.) And, of course, the Republican coalition will be gone as well.

For some reason, Kling appears to identify the fate of the Republican Party with political compeition in the U.S.

Zdeno writes:

I disagree. The Left has been making gains over the past 80/150/300 years and we haven't seen Republicans or the Right in general just fold up and die. They concede ground and the political "center" is continuously re-defined.

I mean, why would the Left want to get rid of the Republican party? The most recent 8-year administration oversaw massive increases in discretionary spending, foreign campaigns to spread progressive ideals worldwide, and the expediting of demographic trends that will inevitably lead to a more socialist USA. With friends like these, who needs enemies?



mike shupp writes:

So Brownstein's hypnotized by race. Must the rest of us be?

A century and half ago, apartment owners in NY preferred black tenants to Germans-- Germans were trash! It took a while for that perception to change. The Irish ("Micks") were equally despised; it wasn't really till Kennedy's inaugeration that they were actually viewed as genuinely "White." Poles, Italians, and Spaniards ("Polacks, Wops, Guineas") also took their time in gaining acceptence in White America, but had mostly pulled it off by mid century. Orientals ("Nips, Chinks, Gooks") didn't reach honorary White status until maybe the Reagan administration, but their status seems safe now. Even Jews (I forebear) became acceptable as Whites in this country somewhere after 1950, and in recent years American Indians have acquired Honorary White status.

We're going to look at Asian Indians and Hispanics with a friendlier eye by the middle of this century, is my suggestion. Brownstein should throw his racial characterizing aside and start thinking in terms of economic and social class.

Troy Camplin writes:

The Democrats are engaged in coalition politics, which will work so long as the groups they have put together don't reflect too long on what the other coalitions want. The Democrats have pieced together unions, those for abortion, gays, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, feminists, and welfare recipients (including the poor and the elderly) -- with guilty white rich people for flavor. Should the African-Americans and Hispanics ever come to realize that the Democrats' support for abortion and gays goes against their social world views, the Democrats are in trouble. Also, if the gays realize that the Democrats only ever give them lip service, but have no intention of giving them things they want, like the right to marry, they could easily lose them. The same is true of Hispanics in regards to immigration and the Democrats.

In the end, if there is no real difference between the parties when it comes to economics (other than on taxes, which is superficial at best), then we are left with what they say they support on social issues. And if neither are in fact any different on social issues, why not support those who at least say they support what you want, even if they never deliver? It's 0.01% better than someone who openly opposes you but otherwise treats you the same.

Please notice that the Republicans do well when they support free markets. There is, of course, Reagan. Then Bush promised to continue Reagan's policies -- and when he didn't deliver, he lost. Gingrich both promised and delivered, and got a GOP majority in Congress. The socialists in the party got rid of him, and they lost the Congress. Bush II promised a return to Reagan. All we got was a tax cut, and welfare state light. But when he threw the free market system under the bus in the last few months, with the support of McCain, it was clear there were no real differences on economic issues, so in came Obama.

Give me a GOP that is truly Constitutionalist, actually supports free markets, and will reform our system in that direction, supports the rule of law, supports free movement of people (including a generous worker program that people can sign up for on this side of the border), and doesn't have an opinion on gay marriage or other gay rights except to support rule of law in that area as well (as it is not the government's role to even have an opinion on such things), and you will have a GOP that can win.

In other words, first they have to get rid of all the Keynesians in their midst. Let the Democrats own the most incredibly wrong theory of economics since scientific socialism and Marxism came along.

Political Observer writes:

One point does not indicate a trend. It is easy to assume that members of a group tend to follow the same path each time. Instead let's understand what happened over the past 4 years. The Republicans lost their brand - they essentially became Democrats in their spending and government interference - only on issues different from the Democrats. The voters wanted less government not just less of one thing or another.

Second, the Republicans selected a lackluster candidate who could not inspire the base. John McCain had no reason to be president except that he has wanted it for so long. He did not express any positions that resonated with the base and he refused to challenge Mr. Obama's socialist viewpoint because he didn't really disagree with most of it. When McCain accuse Wall Street greed as the sole cause of our economic mess - he lost my interest and my vote.

Third, Mr. Obama effectively dealt a death blow to public financing by raising huge sums of money (some of questionable legality) that simply buried the limp message of John McCain (the champion of government financed campaigns).

The list can go on but I suspect that there is a growing concern among the public that we are clearly on the wrong path with Mr. Obama and the Democrats. The uncontrolled spending and intrusion of government into every nook and cranny of our lives is becoming all to apparent. And they have just begun. Consumers are fearful of that their jobs will end and they don't see the prospects of the economy recovering any time soon. And they are beginning to believe that the policies of the Democrats are only making matters worse. And I say this across all demographics. People are beginning to realize that they will in one way or another pay for all of this government and they are not happy about it.

Greg writes:

Pish. I agree with some of the other commenters that extrapolating from a single point isn't very useful. In addition, politics is a self-referential loop - increasing dominance by one group or party causes complacency in that group, greater turnout in those out of power, adjustment to more competitive positions on issues, and so on. The political landscape will also change in many ways that are simply impossible to envision now. The "if Republicans can't broaden their reach" in the quote is more than a little important.

This may be an out-of-left-field analogy, but your conclusion is like saying in 1997 that AOL would eventually monopolize Internet access and advertising.

Yancey Ward writes:

The Democrats' present coalition will come apart as the minority ethnic groups (particularly Hispanics) make up more and more of the base. It is a complete mistake to assume that the so-called "white" voters of the coalition will find common cause with the ethnic minorities once those minorities become the dominant powers in the coalition, and it is a mistake to assume the other minorities will have common cause once the power center has finished its transition.

The future of the United States is a political divide along ethnicity/language. This will almost certainly lead to geographical rearrangement of the country's borders within 2 or 3 generations. The present demographic marginalization of the Republican Party is simply the first effect (and certainly doesn't foreshadow the party's demise). We have seen this process played out before in the US- who can guess the example?

Troy Camplin writes:

The ethnicity/language divide is being driven in no small part by Democrats and their coalition politics. They know what they are doing. But as an Anglo married to an Hispanic, I have feet in both worlds, and the only difference between an Hispanic and a white Southerner is cuisine. Well, and the non-Americanized Hispanics like to work. But on economic and social issues, if you talk to Hispanics about those things, they are Republicans through and through. But they believe what the Democrats are so great at selling: that the GOP is racist. So Hispanics, despite disagreeing with the DNC on almost everything, support them. THe minute someone in the GOP gets a clue that the Hispanic population is their best friends, the GOP will be a force to be reckoned with. But not until then.

Steve Sailer writes:

The last Republican Presidential candidate to win the Hispanic vote was Eisenhower.

Hispanic voters aren't really a swing vote, they mostly just go with the flow, about 18 to 25 points to the left of non-Hispanic whites. They tend to be culturally conservative but economically tax-and-spend voters, for perfectly rational reasons. Hispanic elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats: 92% in the last study I saw.

I don't think the GOP is necessarily doomed, but obviously it can't win under the 2008 conditions where the Democratic candidate excited a huge turnout of minority voters while the Republicans nominated a candidate who depressed white turnout by being notoriously pro-immigration.

drank writes:

Fortunately we have 220 years of observation of the US Constitution in action. We can say, with some certainty, that the "first past the post" voting rules will inevitably produce two major political parties who assemble coalitions of around half the electorate.

While you can tell a story about the growth of the constituent groups in the D coalition, the reality is that those groups are not monolithic, and some members are eventually going to decide that they can gain more by defecting than by waiting their turn with the Ds.

Both parties' dreams of permanent majorities are delusional.

Smiley writes:

This is much too deterministic.
I detest the GOP in its current guise, even though I voted twice for Bush II.
Who knows who the next Reagan/Thatcher will be?

The Snob writes:

How do we define stagnation?

- The Democrats controlled the House from 1950-1994.

- During that period, Democrats controlled the Senate for 36 out of 44 years

- Every Democrat president until Bill Clinton had a Democrat-controlled House and Senate for his entire term; WJC had it his first two years

- Out of 23 elections from 1950 until 1994, the percentage of incumbents returned to office never dropped below 78% (1975) and was over 85% in 9 elections. Since retirements and deaths of sitting members count as the loss of an incumbent, the actual re-election rate is several percentage points higher.

- You have to go back to 1895 to find a year in which fewer than 50% of incumbents were re-elected.

Control of Legislative & Executive branches

Congressional incumbent re-election rates

Billare writes:

This is an academic discussion. By 2040, I predict that this nation will be firmly entrapped in the thralls of ethnic bloc voting, and any overt ideology professed by either Party will be fully revealed for what it has steadily been becoming - a way to use government powers to further deeply personal ambitions. Only the West is foolish enough to combat over abstract ideas of governing in their politics. The rest of the world practices politics the old-fashioned way: getting for you and yours while the getting is good. Whether it is the Democrats or rather the Republicans which survive is immaterial; no matter the outcome, they'll both have the same policies and mindset at the end.

Billare writes:

The old rules of political equilibrium are gone. Since we are determined to import Mexicans, we also necessarily import the substrate of the Mexican politics - witness the dominance of the PRI in the Mexican political arena since the time of the Revolution for more than 70 years. The future amalgamation of both parties will contain both distinctly left-wing and right-wing elements, also characteristic of the PRI; for example, it will be deeply concerned with law-and-order issues, characteristic of the Republican Party, yet at the same time it will institutionalize affirmative action mechanisms and alongside, make-work jobs, to pay off to teeming underclass it supervises - a characteristic of urban Democratic politics.

In a biethnic state, politics turns into a spoils system. Will that occur in a multiethnic state? If a voting bloc in a multiethnic state tries grabbing too much, the other blocs can get together to stop it. (The arguments of the Federalist Papers apply just as strongly to a multiethnic regime as to a multiregional regime.)

It's possible immigration restrictions are causing a biethnic state to develop instead of a multiethnic state. It's easier to enforce restrictions on immigration from nations other than Mexico.

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