Josh Barro on the Demographic Characteristics of Anti-Government Groups

I have been puzzling over the following remark by Cliven Bundy, who has objected to the granting of government subsidies while arguing for no-cost use of government lands. As quoted in Barro/NYT:

Where is our colored brother? Where is our Mexican brother? Where is our Chinese [brother]? Where are they? They’re just as much American as we are, and they’re not with us. If they’re not with us, they’re going to be against us.”

I have been wondering who constituted “us” and who constituted “them”. Here is Barro’s interpretation:

Mr. Bundy, weirdly, is onto something here. The rush to stand with Mr. Bundy against the Bureau of Land Management is the latest incarnation of conservative antigovernment messaging. And nonwhites are not interested, because a gut-level aversion to the government is almost exclusively a white phenomenon.

A 2011 National Journal poll found that 42 percent of white respondents agreed with the statement, “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” Just 17 percent of blacks, 16 percent of Asians and 25 percent of Hispanics agreed. In 2011 and 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of Asian-Americans and fully 75 percent of Hispanic-Americans say they prefer a bigger government providing more services over a smaller one providing fewer services, compared with just 41 percent of the general population.

A purely interest-group based interpretation would argue that these groups hold these positions due to the over-representation in lower income households. However, as noted in this post, such a characterization does not seem to apply to Asian-Americans.

If I have any difficulty with Mr. Barro’s interpretation, it arises from the following observation: As has been amply documented, those groups that object to TANF and food stamp expenditures seldom seem to be so exercised about Medicare expenditures. This suggests to me that the point is not an objection to government expenditures per se, but rather an objection to expenditures falling upon a different group. For instance, the perceived right to exemption from grazing fees for use of Federal lands makes perfect sense if one believes those are a proper entitlement. It’s a kind of tautological worldview, but I think it is a plausible model for explaining the seeming internal contradictions of such statements as “keep your government hands off my Medicare” [1]

Personally, my view is that I have a right to drive and park a car in any manner I wish, and imposition of car licensing fees, and fines for speeding and parking in areas marked as no-parking is an abrogation of my rights (once again, for the benefit of the humor impaired, I’m just kidding).

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25 thoughts on “Josh Barro on the Demographic Characteristics of Anti-Government Groups

  1. Rob

    My parent’s, and many of my friend’s parents (all retired), are of the view that they paid for any aid (SS & Medicare) they currently receive from the “government.” They perceive SNAP (food stamps), and all other forms of payments to poorer folks as welfare, i.e., something for nothing.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Rob: Yes, that explains in part the disjuncture, even if actuarially unsound in view. But I don’t recall hearing about Cliven Bundy’s family paying into the grazing fees fund so that they should receive the benefit of no-cost grazing.

  2. dwb

    Fundamentally though this is just an argument for consolidating programs and giving everyone the same pile of cash instead of benefits, letting them do what they need with it. That way, there cannot be any argument as to who gets more. Everyone gets the same basic income, and people who work get more. No more laundering benefit cards for sodas.

    Speaking of speed limits-if you have not seen it you might be interested in this one from volokh: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/04/17/speed-limits-immigration-and-the-duty-to-obey-the-law/

  3. John Cummings

    Your also forgetting the point of Bundy’s family lineage (very close to the Bushs) and his talking points were out of Murray Rothbard’s playbook.

    The arguement was that the standard bearer of whites knew they lost control of the “colored” people by the mid-20th century and thus hatched a scheme to control them through gentrification, subsidies and other “degenerative welfare” actions. Alex Jones saying blacks replaced poor whites as the democrats soldiers in the KKK is the similiar based Rothbardian playbook. So blacks degenerated, lost businesses, youth lost hope by the 60′s, moved into criminal circuits in the ghetto. Classic use of “anarchist” logic. Rand of course hated that PR.

    Rand hated this knowing without the federal government, Clive Bundy’s property would not exist and thus Bundy would not own anything legally. “Anti-Government” is so………meh. Let’s say they are anti-”reform” liberalism. Government creates “owning”. The real goal is to destroy the FDR/TR linage. Using “anarchist” tactics is one way Rothbard could ‘galvanize’ liberalism against traditionalism(fascism) and socialism. Once the FDR/TR linage is destroyed, whites would find things not so great imo and the ‘state’ then would be armed to follow the property owner’s every whim.

  4. jonathan

    The conundrum reappears when you look at the areas that receive high levels of government assistance. If indeed it were simply “Medicare is something that’s mine ’cause I paid for it”, that can’t explain why very highly white counties that receive significant benefits like food stamps and Medicaid not only vote GOP but appear to respond very positively to the anti-government message. In some poor white counties, over half the adults are on assistance and yet they vote almost as one for politicians who would, if taken seriously, cut those benefits. And in less poor white counties, we see the same.

    I think it’s only explainable if we think in terms of identity, that many white people feel “besieged” by change – which Obama represents simply because he’s not one of them. That change comes in part from outside the country, as jobs have flowed into Mexico and to Brazil and of course all of Asia. People talk all the time about calling customer service and speaking to someone in Bangalore or Manilla, which drives home the idea that even if you live in rural Kansas or E. Kentucky you have a direct contact with the way the world is whacking on America.

    And of course change from within. Racial intermarriage is still a big issue in many places; it’s tolerated but seen as something others do. But gay marriage? I think the problem many people have with the notion of gay marriage is that means they’d be sharing a label with those people. When you think in terms of identity, the label becomes important.

    So in voting and attitudes, Obama is a socialist though he’s historically center to center right because he’s one of them. We see a clearer example in the attitudes toward law enforcement: as state and local police militarize, the feds are viewed as outsiders while the local police are “us”. We see that in the idiotic Bundy case: he refuses to accept that anyone other than the county sheriff has police power to arrest. The local sheriff is “us” while the Feds are “them.”

    My experience looking at identity issues in other countries is they reflect a digging in against change. In Latin America, for example, it’s been very difficult to convince the relatively small number of “owners” that loosening restrictions in the economy will benefit them as opposed to the poor, often unwashed and usually either darker or more native (or both). They see downside in change. This btw is an effect of inequality, something we’d see pretty easily if we hadn’t been comparing ourselves against the USSR for so many years.

    1. Nick G

      Fear of change is very important ,no question. Demagogues use that to create fear of “them”, and scare people into voting against their own best interests.

      A quibble: when one says “That change comes in part from outside the country, as jobs have flowed into Mexico and to Brazil and of course all of Asia.” one plays into the fearmonger’s message. For better or worse, the majority of job losses in the US come from increasing labor productivity, not off-shoring. For instance, nothing could have saved the million UAW jobs that have been lost due to a relentless reduction in the labor required to make cars.

  5. Joseph

    Nick G: “For better or worse, the majority of job losses in the US come from increasing labor productivity, not off-shoring.”

    GM now has 75,000 U.S. employees and 125,000 foreign employees. That’s not an insignificant amount off-shoring.

  6. benamery21

    While Cliven Bundy is a self-caricature, his lunacy is profound enough that it is not necessary to further caricature the nature of the original dispute with BLM and DOI.

    I have extended family (Hispanic) by marriage that own several sections of Western grazing land and operate a cow-calf operation on 240 sections of USFS land. They have been on the land longer than the USFS, the USDA, or the U.S. have exercised jurisdiction over it. Grazing rights were originally ‘awarded’ to many such residents, in tacit recognition of their rights. Preference for renewal continues to be given to current holders and owners of “base property.” This is not a situation where rights (not constitutional rights, but customary rights) are solely a matter of entering into a free and open purchase from the government. In similar fashion, unrecognized Native American rights and claims to land and/or restitution are not obviated in merit by the current state of law, in my opinion. Nominal fees on grazing have not been set to maximize returns to the government, in recognition of these rights and the productive value of such use (which is now more questionable than when policy course was set) and, under the law, have often been met “in-kind” by users with improvements to public lands (such as fencing and erosion control and cattle guards and wells and stock tanks), rather than with cash. Should one happen to be in a dispute with a government agency, one suspects they might fail to recognize such in-kind payments. If as a small (and arguably non-integral, but contributory) part of a land management decision based on environmental impact on the desert tortoise, one was ordered to remove his cattle from the customary family pasturage to which he held grazing rights, and failed to pay fines (not usual grazing fees) related to failure to comply with that order, I could sympathize. Being ordered off land of which the customary use is a defining aspect of one’s heritage is not a small grievance. It might or might not be necessary and appropriate for the government to do this, depending on circumstances , but a democratic government should not do this arbitrarily, or given reasonable alternatives. The extent to which Bundy’s situation meets the above description is not something I intend to investigate, he’s clearly a loon, and we all have better things to do.

    http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/grazing.html

    1. 2slugbaits

      benamery21 I haven’t followed the story all that closely, but the CNN online version I read did in fact say that the primary complaint against Bundy was precisely the endangered desert tortoise issue. Much of what he owes are fines rather than fees. While I don’t think the federal government should just willy-nilly abrogate longstanding customary grazing rights, the fact is that Bundy has enjoyed ample court hearings and he’s lost every time. It’s not like the federal government hasn’t been patient with this clown. Basically he’s a freeloader. And if the situation was reversed and he owned the land, does anyone doubt that he’d be the first to call the sheriff to forcibly evict trespassers off his land? Bundy’s argument seems to be that the state and federal government cannot own property because they are not private entities. Apparently property can only be privately held. This refutes about 5,000 years of legal history, but nevermind.

      Regarding Josh Barro’s point, I think there’s a simpler explanation and that’s just that human beings have a remarkable ability to hold cognitively dissonant ideas at the same time. People on welfare are unproductive; but rentiers are “job creators” and the engines of economic growth. Medicare is for the lazy hammock class; Medicare is something that is owed to the current generation of retirees…but of course, not the next generation. State and local government retirees on pension plans rather than Social Security are the source of state and local fiscal budget crises; but Social Security promises for private sector retirees are inviolable. And while we’re on Social Security, how many times have critics of Social Security argued both that it’s in trouble because it’s too generous and that we need private plans because Social Security yields such a bad return? That’s always been one of my favorites. And then we have the argument that government subsidized abortions are abhorrent for Catholics because they are morally opposed to abortions, but deducting church donations from your taxes is somehow not an imposition of religious beliefs on others. Voter ID laws are needed in order to guarantee honest elections, but somehow unequal allocations of voting machines and polling places do not affect the integrity of the election process. And in every sport the referee only makes bad calls against your team. I could go on.

      What makes a nutjob like Cliven Bundy so interesting isn’t just his cognitive dissonance…he’s hardly unique in that regard; but his ability to spin wildly implausible theories to try and justify his actions. He doesn’t just live with cognitive dissonance, he actually tries to rationalize it, and that is unusual. It’s also a sign of dementia, which is why I was surprised that Barro didn’t mention it given his own family history. I don’t think it’s an accident that some of the most extreme, whacked-out views on politics are coming from old conservative men. It’s not that conservatives are demented or even prone to dementia, but dementia does lead to a kind of hyper-rationality applied to an out-of-touch-with-reality worldview. So we see a lot of Cliven Bundy types spinning elaborate theories that appear completely rational to them but are also completely out-of-touch with reality. And it’s really hard to spin these crazy theories within a more liberal worldview, so as people become more demented they also tend to become more extremely conservative. I’m not being snarky here. I’ve known plenty of people who were liberal until dementia set in only to become extremely reactionary and ultra-libertarian. I once took a course on Freudian political theory and the relationship between psychological autarky and extreme views was a recurring theme.

      1. Hans

        “I’ve known plenty of people who were liberal until dementia set in only to become extremely reactionary and ultra-libertarian.”

        This why the ,gov has greatly expanded medical research into dementia..

        “People on welfare are unproductive; but rentiers are “job creators” and the engines of economic growth. Medicare is for the lazy hammock class;”

        “And while we’re on Social Security, how many times have critics of Social Security argued both that it’s in trouble because it’s too generous ”

        ” And then we have the argument that government subsidized abortions are abhorrent for Catholics because they are morally opposed to abortions, but deducting church donations from your taxes is somehow not an imposition of religious beliefs on others.”

        “Voter ID laws are needed in order to guarantee honest elections, but somehow unequal allocations of voting machines and polling places do not affect the integrity of the election process.”

        “I think there’s a simpler explanation and that’s just that human beings have a remarkable ability to hold cognitively dissonant ideas at the same time.”

        The only quote I concur with is the latter.

      2. Hans

        Rothbard writes:

        “The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society. Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation.
        The classic paradigm was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the time span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.”
        […]
        Once a State has been established, the problem of the ruling group or “caste” is how to maintain their rule. While force is their modus operandi, their basic and long run problem is ideological.
        For in order to continue in office, any government (not simply a “democratic” government) must have the support of the majority of its subjects. This support, it must be noted, need not be active enthusiasm; it may well be passive resignation as if to an inevitable law of nature. But support in the sense of acceptance of some sort it must be; else the minority of State rulers would eventually be outweighed by the active resistance of the majority of the public.
        Since predation must be supported out of the surplus of production, it is necessarily true that the class constituting the State—the full-time bureaucracy (and nobility)— must be a rather small minority in the land, although it may, of course, purchase allies among important groups in the population. Therefore, the chief task of the rulers is always to secure the active or resigned acceptance of the majority of the citizens.”

  7. Patrick R. Sullivan

    Again, the ‘liberals’ want to gang up against the little guys. Perfectly in character, Menzie. Here’s another way of looking at the problem;

    http://www.tysknews.com/Depts/Environment/driving_them_1.htm

    —————–quote————
    Back up near Elko, Bertha Gardner tells me they’ve been waiting “10 years” for a simple adjudication of the water rights to one of the seasonal creeks that flows under the road near their ranch in the Ruby Valley. Trying to play by the bureaucrats’ rules is like Chinese water torture for such can-do folks. One might even begin to suspect the slow-downs aren’t part of some calculated plan, as the federal government systematically reduces and abrogates grazing allotments across the West.

    “They’ll put me on the stand and ask how many years I have studied ecology, what college degrees I have,” says Cliff Gardner, both describing his past treatment and predicting the way things are likely to go, come February in Reno.

    “I’ll tell ‘em I’ve got a high school education so they’ll discredit me, see. But what I plan to testify is these people here — there’ll be a lot of ranchers in the audience — are my peers, they have the know-how to manage the range and make it pay or they’ll be put into bankruptcy and driven off the land. But these BLM and Forest Service people, they get their degrees and then they come out here and they’re the experts — they don’t have to test their theories against reality the way we have for three and four generations, that’s the real teacher. They can be wrong and it doesn’t matter. All they have to do is get more money for their department, grow the bureaucracy. And the way to do that is to create a villain, which is the rancher, and drive him off the land.

    “So they become spin doctors. If the studies show what would really help the deer and the sage grouse is more predator control, that the wildlife does better when there’s cattle on the land and their so-called preserves go to waste when they fence the cattle off, they just bury those studies, they never see the light of day if they don’t match up with their theories.

    They say we can’t know what we’re talking about because we don’t have any ‘peer-reviewed studies.’ Well there can’t be any ‘peer-reviewed studies’ because any of the ones that didn’t fit their theories were all suppressed and hidden. I’ve had a lot of people sneakin’ me studies who worked for the BLM and the Soil Conservation Service, because the agencies didn’t want the public to know about ‘em.”

    Cliff will stage his slide show at the drop of a hat, documenting the way Western wildfires have become more severe of late — not only larger and more frequent, but burning hotter and destroying even mature plants that might have survived earlier, milder fires — a phenomenon that Cliff links directly to the ever larger areas now closed to cattle grazing, thus allowing excess plant growth to go unused, the excess drying into fuel, awaiting the first lightning strike or careless campfire. (He might add the vast expanses now closed to logging — even to clear away deadfalls.)
    ————–endquote—————

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Patrick R. Sullivan: Is this the same Vin Suprynowicz who suggests making only net tax payers be able to vote, and locking up all the mentally infirm, based upon his definition of mentally unstable as a means of reducing gun deaths (heavens forbid stopping people from getting AR-15s). Why yes it is!

      Meantime, speeded-up commitment hearings for those who show evidence of being violent lunatics-in-waiting could be made a high priority. Ask members of their own FAMILIES whether they think they need closer supervision, for heaven’s sake.

      I think I now know why you hold the views you do.

  8. Hans

    Mr Barro, is just another thin-skinned liberal enjoining the race card.

    Had these remarks been made by Sharpton or Jackson or other
    prominent liberal figures it would have never entered the MSM.

    And when a few are reported on, they are quickly forgiven…

    1. Robert Hurley

      Hans . Exactly who is playing the race card? As this clown reveals, race continues to be an issue. It is also an issue whose adherents are found mainly on the right.

      1. Hans

        Mr Hurley, your side has for a generation over played racialism
        to a point where it has been meaningless..

        Rather than denouncing his comments as bizarre and non-germane,
        the left could not help itself but to beat the bigot drum..

        Mr Bundy’s comments were inane but does it make him a bigot?

    1. Hans

      Mr Sullivan, just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Just the facts, Mama…
      Of course, the left love this because it is complex and murky.
      That is why they have such a disdain for the US Constitution and
      the Bill of Rights.

      The US CONgress is one thing, it is indolent to the core…No supervision
      of federal agencies; no reviews of federal statutes; just more reams of
      federal laws.

      Regulation. without representation…Paradise for the left, hell for freedoms!

  9. c thomson

    Wonderful!

    Back to the old Econbrowser that we love!

    Some of these dudes could write for SNL or Jon Stewart. NB: a little work on spelling might be needed.

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      c thomson: And it is the ol’ c thomson that we love, who wrote:

      Paul Krugman is a great academic economist but anyone who knows a selection of east coast Ivy League Jews of Eastern European origin could guess his position on too many topics to list. Camp gays are seldom gomer Republicans. And so on.

      I take it you align yourself with Mr. Bundy’s views on subsidies and race.

      1. c thomson

        Align? Why?

        My previous point was that even brilliant men can be prisoners of their past and their social environment. This Nobel Prize winning academic economist is also a flack for the traditional NYT – or snivel – left. New thinking doesn’t come from such folks. They parrot-speak for their dismally predictable causes.

        Bundy is just a puppet. Who cares about him? Only the snivel left and the gomer Republicans. Material for SNL or Jon Stewart.

        No wonder we are gridlocked by the interaction of these two forms of conservatism. The liberals have educational pretensions so they are worse. “Pawk! Pawk! Tax the rich! Compassion! Woe! The little dear poor people; the poor little black people….”

  10. Hans

    “If I have any difficulty with Mr. Barro’s interpretation, it arises from the following observation: As has been amply documented, those groups that object to TANF and food stamp expenditures seldom seem to be so exercised about Medicare expenditures. This suggests to me that the point is not an objection to government expenditures per se, but rather an objection to expenditures falling upon a different group. For instance, the perceived right to exemption from grazing fees for use of Federal lands makes perfect sense if one believes those are a proper entitlement. It’s a kind of tautological worldview, but I think it is a plausible model for explaining the seeming internal contradictions of such statements as “keep your government hands off my Medicare” [1]”

    Professor Chinn, the moment that Welfare Recipients are taxed on their benefits (or work required)
    and pay a monthly premium, is when I shall agree with your statement.

    I wonder what percent of Welfare Clients are non-documented drug consumers ? Progressiveness, making
    people responsible citizens and building a greater society one check at a time.

  11. baffling

    hans,
    “Professor Chinn, the moment that Welfare Recipients are taxed on their benefits (or work required)
    and pay a monthly premium, is when I shall agree with your statement.”

    you act as though welfare recipients have never worked. my bet is they have worked. and paid taxes. now you can move the bar and say they haven’t worked enough, long enough, etc. but i could say the same thing about you and the medicare and social security entitlements you collect each month. face it, you and the “Welfare Recipients” are not very different.

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