To further examine the role of government in America’s future, Democratic Perspective once again spoke with Lane Kenworthy, author and Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Arizona.
In his latest appearance on the program, we again asked Professor Kenworthy about American attitudes toward government. “Political and social scientists looking at public opinion surveys find that Americans say they don’t like big government,” he said. “But when asked about specific programs, they often say they would like to spend more. Of course, those programs added together equal big government.”
“The conclusion is that Americans are ideological conservatives, but programmatically liberal,” he continued.
“Take Social Security,” he said. “A General Social Survey found that, pretty consistently, just over half of Americans think we should be spending more on Social Security. It’s another example of insurance programs that are needed. As countries get richer, we tend to want more insurance.”
We then turned the discussion toward the falling wages of the middle class. “Right after World War II, the economy was rolling,” Kenworthy said. “All the way to the bottom, incomes were growing. That stopped in the 1970s. From then on, wages haven’t grown at all for the lower half of the income scale.”
“Since the 70s, household incomes have grown only because each household has two people working. Increases have been offset by inflation. Before the housing crash, people could fill in the gap through second mortgages. That’s no longer possible. Yet all of modern gadgets available make you feel as though you’re better off. But that feeling is coming to an end.”
The Occupy Movement is obviously a reaction to current economic disparity. So we asked Professor Kenworthy to assess the movement. In the short term, he said the movement has increased journalistic attention to middle class living standards. But he believes the long term effect of the movement is less clear. “It may change the dialogue,” he said. “There are two models for social movements: The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s obviously had a large and lasting impact. The results of the anti-war protests of the 1960s were more subtle. They probably caused a change in the outcome of the Vietnam War, but that’s unclear. It’s unclear which model the Occupy Movement will more closely resemble.”
To read more about Lane Kenworthy’s work, visit his blog, Consider The Evidence.