Monday, October 30, 2006


The Economy-Iraq Connection

In the Sunday Washington Post, Jacob Hacker tries to explain why the basic good state of the economy isn't redounding in the GOP's favor

He points to the idea of a society-wide psychological angst that has to do with broader economic insecurity -- that the possiblity of having a job loss that might permanently affect one's upward mobility and ability to retire comfortably.

The theory is somewhat intricate -- and the full article should be read.

However, one passage caught my eye which might link the economic concerns with Iraq in a way that hasn't been mentioned:

In a recent nationwide survey by the polling firm Lake Research Partners, respondents were asked whether they preferred "the stability of knowing your present sources of income are protected" or "opportunity to make money in the future." By a two-to-one margin, Americans chose stability over opportunity.

This helps explain why Americans are so dissatisfied with the current economy. They see the overall gains, but they don't think that those gains have translated into greater security for their families, and they're worried about the risk -- whether it be the loss of a job, unexpected medical costs or some other setback. A majority of registered voters say the economy is getting better, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll last week. But more than three-quarters still say they are either falling behind or just holding steady. The actual or possible erosion of safety nets (such as Social Security, guaranteed pensions and workplace health insurance) only heightens such concerns.

Loss aversion may also help explain the muted public reception to Bush's "Ownership Society" agenda, which was shelved after his proposal for private Social Security accounts crashed and burned (though, much to the dismay of Republican candidates, Bush recently said he wants to tackle the issue again). According to polls, many voters thought they would do better with private accounts. Yet they intensely feared the risks, such as a stock-market downturn or outliving their savings.
So, the choice that Americans are being asked (forced?) to be made in a variety of ways is "stability or...or opportunity?" On the economic side, Hacker is suggesting that Americans are opting to choose stability (which would make the public, as it has been, for many years temperamentally "conservative").

But, if that is the case, can't that partly explain the apparent rejection of the president's Iraq policy? The administration has been saying in many ways that the "old" consensus on dealing with the Middle East -- keeping things "stable" hadn't worked. Thus, one of the secondary reasons for Operation Iraqi Freedom was to toss aside the "stability" approach and "shake up" the Middle East in a way that a beachhead of Western-style democracy could be established.

However, with Iraq seeming to devolve into chaos -- and President Bush and the Republican Party seemingly about to pay a political price for their policy -- it would seem that the public's demand for "stability" is being exercised in both the foreign policy AND domestic economic arenas. Obvious no stability in international affairs -- and fear of economic instability domestically.

And that combination may be enough to turn the electorate toward the party that is promising "stability in our time."

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