Sunday, December 7, 2014

The importance of having skin in the game: thoughts on economic diversity and liberal elitism

The shakeup at the New Republic has got me thinking about elite domination of liberal institutions and politics. It is abundantly clear liberal/left media, institutions, and politics are overwhelmingly dominated by upper middle class/rich, Ivy-educated elites, this is a serious problem. This is because human beings’ economic background and experiences shape their political views and priorities in profound ways. It is a universal truth, albeit not one universally acknowledged, that the more economically privileged you are, the less likely you are to support progressive economic policies.

Obviously, there are countless exceptions to this general rule. Of course many economically privileged people with elite educations have great politics, and it's just as true that many less affluent folks have awful politics. But there is overwhelming evidence that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to hold conservative views about economic policy, all else held equal. See two of the leading social scientists who have studied this subject, Leslie McCall and Martin Gilens, for more. Or check out the work of political scientist Nicholas Carnes, who has found that legislators from working class backgrounds are significantly more likely to vote against business interests and in favor of economic redistribution--a finding that holds true even when you control for party affiliation.

Most liberals freely acknowledge that race and gender diversity are important and that when organizations include women and people of color, they often bring unique and valuable perspectives that white men lack. Even having a lot of very well-meaning, feminist-friendly, antiracist white men around is no substitute for including actual women and actual people of color. So why are some liberals so resistant to the idea that economic diversity is also important, and for similar reasons?

Getting back to the New Republic: in the dementedly pompous editors’ letter published last week, ex-TNR staffers proclaimed that their former magazine is “liberalism’s central journal” and “a kind of public trust.” With the shakeup at the magazine, “The promise of American life has been dealt a lamentable blow.” Oh my.

Yet in spite of its claims to speak for all of liberalism, for at least as long as I’ve been reading it, the New Republic been a profoundly elitist and insular institution, not just in terms of race and gender, but perhaps even more centrally, in terms of class. I mean, not only was it overwhelmingly dominated by Ivy-educated white men, but Harvard-educated white men at that! That is a huge structural problem.