Economist Paul Krugman: Why 'rural resentment' fails the 'scrutiny' test

Economist Paul Krugman: Why 'rural resentment' fails the 'scrutiny' test
Image via Gage Skidmore.

From Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a frequent claim among far-right GOP culture warriors is that urban and suburban Democrats disrespect and ignore rural areas. A recurring theme in the MAGA movement is that rural areas are “the real America” and that major urban centers are not.

Right-wing media outlets such as Fox News, Fox Business and Newsmax TV, although dominated by urbanites, regularly and eagerly feed the resentment and anger of rural Americans. But liberal economist and syndicated New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman, in a late January column, argues that the “justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny.”

“Rural resentment has become a central fact of American politics — in particular, a pillar of support for the rise of right-wing extremism,” Krugman explains. “As the Republican Party has moved ever further into MAGAland, it has lost votes among educated suburban voters. But this has been offset by a drastic rightward shift in rural areas, which in some places, has gone so far that the Democrats who remain face intimidation and are afraid to reveal their party affiliation.”

READ MORE:Political science experts explain how rural voters’ growing 'resentment' fuels a rural-urban 'apartheid'

Krugman goes on to lay out some reasons why the “perception” that rural areas are “ignored by policymakers” and “don’t get their fair share of resources” is “largely wrong.”

“I’m sure that my saying this will generate a tidal wave of hate mail, and lecturing rural Americans about policy reality isn’t going to move their votes,” Krugman argues. “Nonetheless, it’s important to get our facts straight. The truth is that ever since the New Deal, Rural America has received special treatment from policymakers. It’s not just farm subsidies, which ballooned under President Donald Trump to the point where they accounted for around 40 percent of total farm income. Rural America also benefits from special programs that support housing, utilities and business in general.”

Krugman points out that although rural areas of the United States have some legitimate complaints — poverty, job losses — those areas “disproportionally benefit” from “major federal programs” because they “have a disproportionate number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare.”

“Because rural America is poorer than urban America,” Krugman observes, “it pays much less per person in federal taxes. So, in practice, major metropolitan areas hugely subsidize the countryside. These subsidies don’t just support incomes, they support economies…. What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature.”

READ MORE: How France’s election mainstreamed an extremist and mirrored Donald Trump’s stranglehold on Rural America

Krugman notes a major double standard in U.S. politics: Republicans can get away with insulting urban areas, but Democrats won’t dare insult rural areas.

The New York Times columnist writes, “‘I have to go to New York City soon,’ tweeted J.D. Vance during his senatorial campaign. ‘I have heard it’s disgusting and violent there.’ Can you imagine, say, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about Rural Ohio, even as a joke?”

READ MORE: Texas Agricultural Department seeking annual $500,000 for mental health line as farmer suicide rates rise

Read Paul Krugman’s full New York Times column at this link (subscription required).

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