The Barbell Nation

There is growing data suggesting the political parties are stratifying along suburban-urban, white-ethnic, working class-more affluent, and low density population-high density population spectra.

At the Congressional district level, this barbell effect is quite clear.  After the 2014 Congressional elections, the Congress bulged on two ends of the spectra.

Diversity & Education Levels and Party

Figure 1 shows the high correlation between education levels, level of minorities, and party alignment.

Figure 1: Polarizing Representation (Source: The Atlantic Magazine.)

Population Density and Party

Figure 2 compares two time periods’ correlations of population density and party affiliation.  In 1952, population density did not correlate with party preference.  By 2012, population density (i.e., urban vs. suburban or exurban) strongly correlated with party preference.

Figure 2: Population Density and Party Preference, 1952 vs. 2012. (Source: New York Times).

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

The greatest racial and ethnic diversity exists on the coasts (see Figure 3) and, for the most part, in urban or high population density areas.

Figure 3.  Diversity rates (Source: Wall Street Journal).

But the rate of change is greatest in heretofore non-diverse areas of the country – upstate New York, and the upper Great Plains (see Figure 4).


Figure 4: Rate of Change in Diversity Levels (Source: Wall Street Journal).

Change is scary.  Populations undergoing multiple changes simultaneously have a lot to be scared about; but they may also misattribute the actual from perceived sources of their fear.  I recommend this New York Times piece on White identity’s role in this election, quoted here in part:

Identity, as academics define it, falls into two broad categories: “achieved” identity derived from personal effort, and “ascribed” identity based on innate characteristics.

Everyone has both, but people tend to be most attached to their “best” identity — the one that offers the most social status or privileges. Successful professionals, for example, often define their identities primarily through their careers.

For generations, working-class whites were doubly blessed: They enjoyed privileged status based on race, as well as the fruits of broad economic growth.

White people’s officially privileged status waned over the latter half of the 20th century with the demise of discriminatory practices in, say, university admissions. But rising wages, an expanding social safety net and new educational opportunities helped offset that. Most white adults were wealthier and more successful than their parents, and confident that their children would do better still.

That feeling of success may have provided a sort of identity in itself.

But as Western manufacturing and industry have declined, taking many working-class towns with them, parents and grandparents have found that the opportunities they once had are unavailable to the next generation.

That creates an identity vacuum to be filled.

“For someone who is lower income or lower class,” Professor Kaufmann explained, “you’re going to get more self-esteem out of a communal identity such as ethnicity or the nation than you would out of any sort of achieved identity.”

Focusing on lost identities rather than lost livelihoods helps answer one of the most puzzling questions about the link between economic stress and the rise of nationalist politics: why it is flowing from the middle and working classes, and not the very poor.

While globalization and free trade have widened economic inequality and deeply wounded many working-class communities, data suggests that this year’s political turmoil is not merely a backlash to that real pain.

Where the Big Money Comes From

[Contributors] are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male….

Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign….

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

This New York Times article analyzed major early campaign contributors (individuals and PACs).  The graphic of Monopology houses shows the distribution of these interests.wealthy-campaign-contributors


And below is a map of where those wealthy donors come from. If money = influence, then the map below demonstrates that influence ≠ votes.


And what do the rich donors get for their access and influence?  One answer appears to be an generous tax code rewrite, as suggested in the below chart and more fully discussed in this article, that starts with a statement that would only shock the naive and the corrupt:

The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.


The Mother of All Externalities: Superfund Sites Cleanup List

The US EPA’s Superfund site list is the mother of all economic externalities.


do-not-play-in-the-dirtExternalities, as defined elsewhere, is the shifting of costs from the buyer-seller pair to a third party.  Externalities are a form of market failure — when the pricing mechanism fails to capture the full and true cost of the product or service.

The U.S. Superfund Sites list, is the list sites requiring a toxic contamination cleanup. Typically, these sites are the where now defunct manufacturing businesses operated in the days when “dumping out the back of the factory” was the cheapest toxic chemical disposal method.  The sites are contaminated beyond safe use — and they often pose hazards to people downwind or downstream of them — until they are cleaned up (remediated).

Under the US law creating the Superfund, polluting companies are responsible for the cleanup costs.toxic-waste-barrels  If the companies are bankrupt or no longer exist then US taxpayers pay for the cleanup.  In the former case, that is shifting externality/costs from prior stockholders of the polluting company to current stockholders.  In the later case, it is shifting externalities/costs from the stockholders of the polluting company to today’s US taxpayers.

As of 2014, there were 1,322 sites on the list; 53 more proposed additions; and 375 sites removed from the list because they have been remediated and do not require on-going management (source).

US EPA Superfund Sites

This National Geographic interactive site lets you find Superfund sites near you.

More broadly, the ToxMap site plots a broader list of contaminated toxic sites — it is largely a map of urban populations, railroads, and US highways but with some notable “off the beaten path” exceptions.