How the South Is Holding America Hostage
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When I have described the well-considered, coherent political and economic strategies of the conservative white South, as I have done here, here and here, I am sometimes been accused of being a “conspiracy theorist.” But one need not believe that white-hooded Dragons and Wizards are secretly coordinating the actions of Southern conservative politicians from a bunker underneath Stone Mountain in Georgia to believe that a number of contemporary policies — from race-to-the-bottom economic policies to voter disfranchisement and attempts to decentralize or privatize federal social insurance entitlements — serve the interests of those who promote them, who tend to be white Southern conservatives.
Just as a strategy is not a conspiracy, so it is not insanity. Ironically, American progressives, centrists and some Northern conservatives are only deluding themselves, when they insist that the kind of right-wing Southerners behind the government shutdown are “crazy.” Crazy, yes — crazy like a fox.
Another mistake is the failure to recognize that the Southern elite strategy, though bound up with white supremacy throughout history, is primarily about cheap and powerless labor, not about race. If the South and the U.S. as a whole through some magical transformation became racially homogeneous tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the Southern business and political class would suddenly embrace a new model of political economy based on high wages, high taxes and centralized government, rather than pursue its historical model of a low-wage, low-tax, decentralized system, even though all workers, employers and investors now shared a common skin color.
So the struggle is not one to convert Southern Baptists to Darwinism or to get racists to celebrate diversity. The on-going power struggle between the local elites of the former Confederacy and their allies in other regions and the rest of the United States is not primarily about personal attitudes. It is about power and wealth.
For some time, the initiative has rested with the Southern power elite, which knows what it wants and has a plan to get it. The strategy of the conservative South, as a nation-within-a nation and in the global economy, combines an economic strategy and a political strategy.
The economic strategy is to maximize the attractiveness of the former Confederacy to external investors, by allowing Southern states to out-compete other states in the U.S., as well as other countries if possible, in a race to the bottom by means of low wages, stingy government welfare (which if generous increases the bargaining power of poor workers by decreasing their desperation) and low levels of environmental regulation.
The political strategy of the Southern elite is to prevent the Southern victims of these local economic policies from teaming up with allies in other parts of the U.S. to impose federal-level reforms on the Southern states. Voter suppression seeks to prevent voting by lower-income Southerners of all races who are hostile to the Southern power elite. Partisan gerrymandering of the U.S. House of Representatives by conservatives in Southern state legislatures weakens the votes of anti-conservative Southerners, if they are allowed to vote.
If voter suppression and vote dilution strategies fail, the Southern conservatives can still try to ward off unwelcome federally-imposed reforms that might weaken control of the Southern workforce by Southern employers and their political agents, by policies of devolving federal programs to the states, privatizing federal programs like Social Security and Medicare, blocking the implementation of new federal entitlements like Obamacare or a combination of these strategies.
To date the response of progressives and centrists, as well as moderate conservatives in the North (who have a quite different tradition) to what might be called the Southern Autonomy Project has been feeble and reactive. The South acts, the rest of the country reacts.