Today on Uncommon Knowledge, Michael Barone, editor of the Almanac on American Politics. When the first edition of the Almanac appeared 40 years ago, American per capita GDP stood at $20,786. Per capita GDP today? More than twice as high. How has this immense creation of wealth affected American politics?
We’ve gone from a class of people who were arguably looking for benefits from the government to people who have become, in effect, property owners. The Progressives of the early twentieth century were dealing with a population where most people didn’t have significant property, where city dwellers didn’t own houses on average or accumulate substantial financial assets. We had a sort of proletariat that gave us the New Deal public policies and introduced the idea that you needed to spread the wealth around. I think we’ve come to a different place. We’ve increasingly stopped seeing government as a mechanism by which to plunder the rest of the economy.