Just read this long piece by Kevin Drum about why unions improve life not just for union members, but for the entire middle class. The ultimate fact, as research in Drum’s article shows, is that politicians don’t do things for the middle class or the working class. We like to think Senators Whitehouse and Reed just love us because we’re their li’l peeps and they want to take care of us, but the truth is that politicians respond to powerful lobbying forces, and the past 30 years has seen a marked decline in powerful lobbies for the middle class. Drum presents two things you need to understand to get why our politicians have become so unresponsive to the needs of the middle class:
The first is this: Income inequality has grown dramatically since the mid-’70s—far more in the US than in most advanced countries—and the gap is only partly related to college grads outperforming high-school grads. Rather, the bulk of our growing inequality has been a product of skyrocketing incomes among the richest 1 percent and—even more dramatically—among the top 0.1 percent. It has, in other words, been CEOs and Wall Street traders at the very tippy-top who are hoovering up vast sums of money from everyone, even those who by ordinary standards are pretty well off.
Second, American politicians don’t care much about voters with moderate incomes. Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels studied the voting behavior of US senators in the early ’90s and discovered that they respond far more to the desires of high-income groups than to anyone else. By itself, that’s not a surprise. He also found that Republicans don’t respond at all to the desires of voters with modest incomes. Maybe that’s not a surprise, either. But this should be: Bartels found that Democratic senators don’t respond to the desires of these voters, either. At all.