Tea Party and desert

Notes for Thursday, October 2, 2014

Main points

This paper has a lot of information about the Tea Party, a grassroots conservative political movement in the US that sprung up after the 2008 economic crisis.

There is a lot of material in here about how this group was mobilized, how it is related to the major institutions in the Republican party, and what its members think.


My own interest was drawn to the parts that suggest their libertarianism is not deep. They believe very much in government benefits but draw a distinction between benefits that are deserved and those that are not.

I speculated that this has something to do with why something like Rawls’s theory has failed to catch on. Rawls relies too much on dismissing the idea of that some economic benefits are deserved.

On to Dworkin

Most of us believe that people are entitled to the benefits that they work for. And most of us believe that those who deliberately avoid work solely for the purpose of collecting benefits are not deserving. So far, “most of us” are right in line with what the Tea Partiers say.

But what about another class of people who do not work? They aren’t deserving like those who do work, but they aren’t manipulative like those who deliberately avoid work. These are people who can’t work such as children, people with disabilities, and the involuntarily unemployed.

Our next author, Ronald Dworkin, will propose a way of thinking about people who fall into this intermediate class of involuntary non-workers.

An amateur reports

I am interested in the demography of the major American political parties. As you can tell, I am no political scientist, so it’s just a hobby for me. As a hobbyist, I have found it helpful to look at the political debates we watch on the news through the lens provided by this article. I have found that one simple story goes surprisingly far in explaining what I see: the Republicans oppose things like Obamacare and relaxed immigration rules because their constituents fear the costs will come out of their benefits, especially Social Security and Medicare.

So, for instance, cutting or privatizing Social Security has been a longstanding goal of the business wing of the Republican party. But the actual proposals have been very careful to avoid touching benefits to the current generation of Republican voters.1

What about immigration? Several important parts of the Republican party would like to see some legislative action here. Those who worry about the party want to stop alienating Hispanic voters. And the business wing would benefit from more immigration as it tends to lower wages. But as casual observers of the Congress like me have observed, the House of Representatives, in which the Republicans hold a majority of seats, has refused to do anything about this. Why? Well, take a look at something that an older gentleman recently passed along to me. Now do you see what I’m talking about?

You might think that I am saying the Republicans are hypocrites or selfish. Not so! Parties should represent their constituents’ interests and compromises have to be made in order to maintain coalitions. This is all normal stuff. My aim is not to criticize but just to understand why the party behaves as it does. As I said, it seems to me that I get a lot of mileage out of a simple story. It’s surely too simple, of course, but it’s not a bad starting point.

If you share my interests, you might enjoy an article by David Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, titled “Crashing the Party” in the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs. The political journalist Ron Brownstein frequently writes about similar themes. Finally, I have a feeling that the collapse of the California Republican party is due to a similar kind of demographic problem: it was pulled too far to the right, especially on immigration, and is now a shell of its former self. I sometimes wonder whether the national party might face a similar fate. Anyway, it’s something to speculate about for me, but a real political scientist, like one of you, might make something of it.

  1. See, for example, David Leonhart, “Generational Divide Colors Debate Over Medicare’s Future,” New York Times (April 5, 2011). http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/06/business/06leonhardt.html

This page was written by Michael Green for Freedom, Markets, and Well-being, PPE 160, Fall 2014. It was posted October 7, 2014.
Freedom, Markets, and Well-being