The above link will take you to a story that aired on the PBS Newshour on July 18th. It’s a story about the political divide in Wisconsin and is followed by analysis by David Brooks (conservative and Wall Street Journal columnist) and Mark Shields (liberal commentator).
Brooks’ analysis was particularly poignant. He explained that he once believed our polarization was a top-down, Washington-based phenomenon, but now sees it as a bottom-up movement, driven by “scarcity.”
The significance of this is that “scarcity” is a term used by economists, primarily to deride those concerned with overpopulation as having a “scarcity mentality.” It’s an alternative to “Malthusian,” lest the latter term become trite. You see, economists don’t believe in the concept of “scarcity.” Man is clever enough to stretch resources and always assure that there is enough for all as our population continues to grow, say economists.
So it’s significant that someone of Brooks’ gravitas sees actual scarcity in our economy that is the driving force behind our polarization. It’s not a scarcity of natural resources but a scarcity of jobs, a scarcity of income, a dwindling of resources needed to provide adequate health care and of government resources necessary to provide a social safety net. Such scarcity now pits Americans one against another as they compete for these ever-more-scarce financial resources. Each side now sees the other as a threat instead of as fellow Americans working toward a common goal. The haves see the have nots as a threat to strip them of some of their wealth through redistribution schemes. The have nots see the wealth of the haves as ill-gotten gains that have been taken from them unfairly with the collusion of their conservative politicians. With each side perceiving themselves as having their backs against the wall, neither is willing to compromise. We’ve become like an overcrowded cage full of animals where all was peaceful until the zookeeper began cutting back on the food thrown into the cage.
This scarcity is the direct consequence of the rising unemployment and worsening poverty that’s inescapable as overcrowding drives down per capita consumption and, with it, employment. And it’s not merely a national phenomenon, but a global one, as labor forces continue to swell and compete for ever-more-scarce manufacturing jobs just to keep themselves out of poverty.
If Brooks is right (as I believe he is) that scarcity lies at the root of our political polarization, then the polarization and gridlock in Washington is only going to get worse.