The Ownership Society

According to conservative wheeler-dealer Grover Norquist, if Bush is re-elected, “the Democratic party is toast.” There are two prongs to his plan to keep the Republicans in power.

The first is to “defund the left,” which includes relatively well-known proposals like tort reform to get rid of the trial lawyers and contracting out government jobs to get rid of public employee unions. It also means less publicized plans like putting restrictions on labor unions and citizens groups like the AARP and Planned Parenthood to keep them from engaging in politics.

I find this pretty convincing. Norquist has thought hard about how to hurt the groups that make up the Democratic party’s coalition, and his ideas are likely be effective. I’m not sure whether to be disgusted at the crassness of it all, or jealous that liberals don’t seem to think in these terms.

The second prong is to increase “ownership,” especially stock ownership:

It made sense that if more Americans owned shares of stock , then more Americans would share the interests of the investor class: a desire for low taxes on capital, support for free trade, opposition to bigger government and that this would translate into greater support for the Republican party.

This was debunked pretty well by Daniel Gross in Slate. His strongest point is that while the percentage of Americans owning some stock more than doubled since 1990, there has been little movement towards the Republicans.

And the research Norquist likes to cite to back it up is pretty unimpressive. Apparently, stockowners earning $20,000 or more likely to support cutting the capital gains tax than low-earners with no stock , to take one example. But only by 52%-40%. And this without controlling for anything else. People with low earnings one year may well expect to have higher earnings the next year (wealthy college students, for example).

Even if Norquist is wrong and stock ownership doesn’t make people more conservative (and I’d really like to see some good research on the question) subordinating policy to some imagined long-run political impacts doesn’t seem like such a good idea.