Fear is Why Workers Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest
by Robert B. Reich
The recent massive spill of the toxic chemical MCHM into
The spill was the region's third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal
No action was ever taken. State and local officials turned a deaf ear. The storage tank that leaked, owned by
But nobody complained.
Not even now, with the toxins moving downriver toward
So why wasn't more done to prevent this, and why isn't there more of any outcry even now?
The answer isn't hard to find. As
I often heard the same refrain when I headed the
The threat was enough to ignite a storm of opposition to the proposed penalty from the very workers and families we were trying to protect. (We didn't back down, and
For years, political scientists have wondered why so many poor and working-class citizens of so-called "red" states vote against their economic self-interest. The usual explanation is that, for these voters, economic issues are trumped by social and cultural issues like guns, abortion and race.
I'm not so sure. The wages of production workers have been dropping for 30 years, adjusted for inflation, and their economic security has disappeared. Companies can and do shut down, sometimes literally overnight. A smaller share of working-age Americans hold jobs today than at any time in more than three decades.
People are so desperate for jobs that they don't want to rock the boat. They don't want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods. For them, a job is precious -- sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water.
This is especially true in poorer regions of the country like
This may explain why Republican officials who have been casting their votes against unions, against expanding
They obviously have the support of corporate patrons who want to keep unemployment high and workers insecure because a pliant working class helps their bottom lines. But they also, paradoxically, get the votes of many workers who are clinging so desperately to their jobs that they're afraid of change and too cowed to make a ruckus.
The best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility is a strong and growing middle class. But in order to summon the political will to achieve it, we have to overcome the timidity that flows from economic desperation. It's a diabolical chicken-and-egg conundrum at the core of American politics today.
- The Cutting Edge of Waste
- Subsidizing the Idle Rich While Poor Kids Go Hungry
- Lending Dreams
- Venture Capitalists Rule the World
- National Debt Over $18 Trillion
- Will ECB Quantitative Easing Work?
- NYC Mayor for Pay at $13 an Hour
- U.S. Banks Pass Stress Test
- Vanguard's 2015 Global Economic Outlook
- Wal-Mart Does Something Right
- The Perils of America's Hard-Charging Capitalism
- Freedom Summer II
- Economy Looking Up, But Politics Stuck in Neutral
- Money and Morality: The Parallel Between Energy and Slavery
- The Four Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Inequality
- Proposal to Keep CEO Pay in Check
- Antitrust Laws Potentially Useful in New Gilded Age
- If We Raise Minimum Wage, Why Stop at $10 an Hour?
- The 'You're Paid What You're Worth' Myth
- The Great U-turn
- 'The Grapes of Wrath' Resonates 75 Years Later
- International Money Is International Politics
- The New Politics of International Currencies
- The Real Job Killers: Lousy Jobs, Lousy Wages
- Take Tax Compromise with a Grain of Salt
- WhatsApp Deal Shines Light on Our Economic Problems
- Why Did We Forget Important Economic Lessons?
- Why There's No Outcry Over Economic Inequality
- The Year of the Great Wealth Redistribution
- Fear is Why Workers Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest
- Free the Keystone XL Pipeline, Mr. President
- Gender Pay Equity: Yeah, It's Still A Problem
- Income 'Inequality'
- Why the Right Should Support Boosting Minimum Wage, Too
- Coming to Grips with Rise of the Machines
- Detroit's Decline Did Not Have to Happen
- The Roaring Twenties Are Back
- Predistribute the Wealth
- Global Shipping Contends with Oversupply Problems
- Runaway CEO Pay Gets a Free Pass
- Exceptionally Mediocre on a Global Scale
- A More Perfect Union
- Economic Strategy for Better Jobs, Not Just Higher Profits
- Fast-food Workers Echo Occupy Spirit
- Inside the Superstar Economy of America's Big Thinkers
- The Real Economy: The Weather is Still Stormy
- Family Values and the New Economy
- The Nation-State and the Global Corporation
- A Good-Paying Job More Effective than a Lecture
- The Rich Life or the Good Life?
- The Economic Elephant in the Room: Widening Inequality
Article: Copyright © 2014, Tribune Content Agency.
"Fear is Why Workers Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest"