• Democrats Need to Stop Dry Humping the American Dream

    May 13, 2019 // 2 Comments »


     

    Economic inequality could be the signature issue for Democrats, one that speaks to purple voters, progressives, and maybe even some current Trump supporters. But the Dems do not seem to understand this. They need to decide if they are running as a party of governance, or just one of protest.

    On economics, an issue voters reliably care deeply about, Trump’s approval rating is 58%. Rarely is an incumbent defeated under a strong economy. While many factors affecting the economy are long waves, with decisions made one or five administrations ago rippling forward, the reality is the president in office gets the credit on election day. That payoff is due to be collected by Donald Trump. Throw in his tax changes, that he is the only president since the fall of the Soviet Union to not start a new war, and his red-meat-to-the-base wins on immigration and Supreme Court appointments, all coupled with the whimpering end of Russiagate, and you have a candidate with lots to crow about.

    On the other side, “Not Trump” will be enough for the Whole Foods base. But Democrats appear willing to punt too many other votes for lack of a message about what they might do if elected. The recent Politico headline “Biden Goes Light on Policy, Heavy on Emotion” is not good.

    Meanwhile, economic inequality, the disparity at the heart of our nation, is shaping whether America will remain something of a pluralistic democracy, or complete its descent into a modern form of feudalism where 0.01% of Americans effectively control the rest of us. That’s could be a very powerful anti-Trump message.

    Yet the Democrats’ version is erroneously based on economic inequality being a minority POC issue, maybe something to address via reparations or more social justice programs. Dems scold into deep resentment the vast numbers of white midwesterners stuck in poverty (who lean Trump) as too stupid to vote in their own self-interest. They lean on tell-us-what-we-want-to-believe books like Hillbilly Elegy (due out as a Ron Howard film for 2020) to reinforce the concept of meth-addled yokels.

    The Democrats are simultaneously throwing away an issue that resonates with progressives: economic inequality drives the search for scapegoats, the handmaiden of racism and hate. It has to be someone else’s fault I’m not doing well, because “they” get free food from the government or because of immigration policies which take my job away to give to “them.” Reduce economic inequality and you will reduce its societal ills is a very powerful anti-Trump message.

    Using government money to reduce economic inequality goes against the ethos of many. But we have underestimated the societal disruption economic inequality created in America even as we mark a surge in deaths of despair from alcohol, suicide, and opioids, Robert Merry, writing in The American Conservative, calls our time “definitional” and wonders if the polity will hold. While we wait for everyone to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, we are missing what a volatile people we are, and have ceded our darkest tendencies to those who manipulate them for their own gain. We have become too violent and too well-armed and too goaded by social media to let the market sort this out.

    Yet according to a CNN poll, 71% of Americans still rate the nation’s economic conditions favorably. Democrats must explain to Americans while things are not visibly bad on the surface, they are fundamentally not good for about 90% of us. Silliness like “Trump might still crash the market” or “Obama deserves the credit” simply encourage the short-term thinking that drives that CNN poll. Democrats need to explain the long term — the top 0.1% of households now hold about the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90%, and it is only getting worse. The share earned by the top 0.01% rose from 0.5% in 1973 to 3.3% in 2010. Something that threatens the financial life of 90% of us is a majority, not minority, problem.

    Economic anxiety, more than what the left imagines as racial or cultural uneasiness, lies deep in the Heartland. Trump spoke to it in 2016 in the guise of promises to bring back coal mining’s glory days, raise tariffs, and slow immigration. Democrats should speak sense to that anxiety. The answer should be infrastructure.

    Bernie Sanders loves infrastructure. Elizabeth Warren wants to rebuild the middle class. Biden’s liked it since he was VP. Infrastructure underlies other candidates’ plans for guaranteed incomes and assured jobs. It’s hard to find anyone against infrastructure. But no one has presented something sweeping, linear, and encompassing enough to reach at economic inequality. This isn’t about jobs per se – unemployment is at a near-50 year low – but about how we live. Earnings for non-management, private-sector workers reached their peak in 1973, the high water mark of the middle class out there in Youngstown and South Bend, left today dry heaving about what’s still called the American Dream.

    The response comes from the last time economic inequality was this bad. America needs a new version of the 1935 Works Progress Administration (WPA) to build roads, bridges, and rail lines. A new WPA to create jobs people can do without significant training (not everyone can learn to code) and which pay living wages with real healthcare. Get echelons of people too used to chronic under-employment used to working for a living again. People working multiple jobs should not need food aid as many do today.

    Almost every community in the United States got a new park, bridge, or school under the WPA, never mind airports, train stations, over 600,000 miles of roads, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Hoover Dam. Upgrading all that after 80 years to improve lives is a powerful message. Fight growing racism and hate with the self-respect work gives. You don’t need to create an enemy if you don’t see yourself as a victim.

    The Democrats flirted with something like this recently, after Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi met with Trump to “agree” on a $2 trillion infrastructure initiative. But peek behind the curtain and it’s just rhetoric. Despite knowing the House controls the budget, Pelosi almost immediately crossed her arms and declared it is Trump’s job, not hers, to figure out how to pay for it. The whole thing appears to be a cynical ploy to claim “Because Trump” we can’t have nice things.

    Let how to pay for it become part of the Democratic platform. But the message better be more sophisticated than “were gonna tax the rich” because voters have been burned too many times, when “the rich” ended up being themselves paying higher taxes while the benefits fell to those below. The real rich, the 0.01%, seem to always have a loophole. This simplistic message is particularly dangerous in 2020 when many purple voters fear what progressives might do unfettered (Free medical care! No more college loans! A pony for everyone, just look under your seats!)

    The thing is the money is already there, or at least has been when we wanted it to be. The WPA over eight years used about 6.7% of the era’s GDP to pull the nation out of a full-blown depression with some 20% unemployment. Currently the U.S. spends about 3.3% of its GDP on military.

    But we don’t need that much. The U.S. spends $70 billion a year on food aid for 40 million Americans; repurpose some of that into living wages so people can earn their supper. During the last few wars, reconstruction and the building of infrastructure for Iraqis ate up $60.45 billion. The total for the same failures is more than $154 billion in Afghanistan, with the counter still running at about $9 billion a year on such projects. Only the most inane pundit could call such re-appropriation “anti-military” instead of pro-American; no much-needed bridge for you, Middleton, Ohio, we’re gonna build it in Helmand Province instead. The Obama-era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with its more modest goal of a short-term stimulus not intended to address inequality, spent $105.3 billion on infrastructure. Unemployment is obviously much lower today, and the goal – better jobs to nudge economic inequality – is different. Those numbers would make an accessible start.

    Some 64% of Americans agreed with an earlier Trump proposal to improve U.S. infrastructure (75% support spending federal money to improve infrastructure when the idea was polled without Trump’s name.) Infrastructure spending also has bipartisan support: 78% of Republicans and 54% of Democrats agree with the need for more.

    Democrats must tell voters what they’ll do, instead of just saying one day it may be Not Trump in the White House. Infrastructure has bipartisan support, will reach purple voters and progressives, and address fundamental problems. The impact of the WPA is long, a bright moment in our history when government raised people out of depression. Imagine the power of owning that legacy.

     
     
    BONUS:

    The Gini coefficient is a measurement of the income distribution within a country which shows the gap between the rich and the poor. Zero represents perfect equality (everyone has the same income) and one representing perfect inequality (one person earns the entire country’s income and everyone else has nothing.) A higher Gini coefficient number means greater inequality. America overall (GDP) earns money in the same range as most European nations, but has a Gini number more in line with Russia, China, and chunks of the third world. That is an unique situation globally. Here are some more hard numbers.

     
    This article by Paul Krugman in the NYT goes to great lengths to create the spurious argument it is Republicans who despise the slack jawed yokels even more than the Democrats do.
     
    Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way put it clearly “There are things about this economy that are very popular — low unemployment, a lot of jobs, there’s been some real wage increase. We attribute zero of that to good Trump policy. But he will claim credit. What that means is that [Democrats] need a very clear economic narrative that resonates deeply with the voters that we have to win, and we better not be caught up in our own blue bubble world.”

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Economics, POC, and Who You Should Support in 2020

    March 23, 2019 // 15 Comments »


     

    “See, in America we have this thing about ‘people of color.’ POC. I think you’re one.” I was explaining things American to a visitor. He was actually from Spain, so he was Spanish, not Hispanic. We were trying to figure out if he was a POC.
     

    This was not some sort of intellectual Sudoku to pass the time; core Democratic strategy is based on this POC idea. The U.S. is poised to become a non-majority nation (“minority white”) within 25 years, meaning about half of us will be POC. The Democratic party believes these POC will vote for their candidates, while the Republican party will wither away cherry picking voters from the dwindling cesspool of deplorable whites.

    My Spanish friend considered himself European. “So I guess I am white, yes?” he offered. But his skin was clearly a few shades darker than mine, though he pointed out that was only because my relatives came from the cold part of Europe and he came from the sunny part. But he spoke Spanish. At least in America my new friend qualified as a POC.

    His Seamless order arrived. He said gracias to the delivery guy and handed over a one dollar tip. “What do I have in common with him?” the Spaniard asked, “except the rudimentary ability to speak the same language, same as 560 million others.” I rolled my eyes at the delivery guy, a universal gesture of “people don’t tip, right?” solidarity.

    I noted to my friend as I pulled into traffic, headed back to his hotel, the Democrats in 2020 would likely have at least POC vice presidential candidate who “looked like him.” But the whole POC thing did not sit well. Why did Americans, he asked, want leaders who physically looked like them? “Didn’t it used to be wrong to judge people by the color of their skin,” he said. “Why is it OK to choose someone because they’re black but racist to choose someone because they aren’t?” I shared in 2019 a candidate named Richard who graduated from Columbia needed to go around saying “call me Beto” to lighten his whiteness.
     

    Things really got confusing when I explained the Democratic strategy of it’s-our-turn when white people drop below 50% seemed to be based on the idea that a newly arrived Chinese migrant and a 70-year-old Mexican-American CEO and people from Trinidad, Ghana, and the Bronx with three different levels of education all had something inherently in common. And something inherently not in common with everyone tainted various shades of pink.

    I mentioned reparations; until slavery was ended in the United States, human beings were legally considered capital, just like owning stocks and bonds today. But the Spaniard knew enough about history to wonder what reparations would be offered to the thousands of Chinese treated as animals to build the railroads, or the 8,000 Irish who died digging the New Basin Canal. Or the whole families of Jews living on the Lower East Side of New York who were forced to employ their children to make clothing for uptown “white” stores. Later in the same century, wages were “voluntarily” cut to the bone at factories in Ohio to save jobs which disappeared anyway after the owners wrung the last profits out.

    The more we talked, the more it all seemed to be about labor, low paid or never paid, and less about the C of the P doing the work. Inequality unequally distributed by race changes little about the base reality that for about 90% of us it is the controlling factor in our lives. It was like we were missing the thing behind the thing. Or someone was trying to hide it.

    “I think,” my friend said, “Americans spend so much time worried about race they miss what we Europeans understand in our bones. It is class which divide societies. Look at Britain, once nearly 100% white, yet a person just had to say a few words and you’d know who worked for who by the accent. Or India, where everyone is a POC as you Americans would say, and where they created a caste system that survived the departure of the white people.”

    It did seem silly to think a Caucasian on food stamps in West Virginia had more in common with a Caucasian in L.A. producing multi-million dollar movies than a black person on food stamps in say, West Virginia again. Blacks are lazy and get free welfare, whites don’t have to try because of free privilege. “No, your Democrats are drawing the lines the wrong way,” said the Spaniard. “It is about money not melanin.” We had to look up the last word from the Spanish melanina.

    We’d been driving for awhile, since right after the Seamless guy first met us. We’d arrived at The Plaza. My Spanish friend paid me for the ride through the Uber app, but with a generous cash tip. Privilege, I guess. I pocketed the $10.
     
    As I set off to my other job, it started to make more sense about money even as the idea of POC made less sense. Color masks the lines that really matter, and those lines are all colored green.

    Since 1980, incomes of the very rich (the .1%) grew faster than the economy, about a 400% cumulative increase. The upper middle class (the 9.9%) kept pace with the economy, while the other 90% fell behind. Race? You can be confident the .1% are mostly white, likely the 9.9%, too. But the other 90% of America is every color. Whether your housing is subsidized via a mortgage tax deduction or Section 8, you’re still on the spectrum of depending on the people really in charge to allow you a place to live.

    The birth lottery determines which of those three bands we’ll sink or swim together in, because there is precious little mobility. In that bottom band 81% face flat or falling net worth (40% of Americans make below $15/hour) and so aren’t going anywhere. Education, once a vehicle, is mostly a tool now for the reproduction of current status across generations and worth paying bribes for. Uplifted by virtue of a choking mortgage, the indentured servitude of college loans, credit cards, pay day loans, and the hope of lottery tickets, is still poor. Class is sticky.

    Money, not so much. Since the 9.9% have the most (at least the most the super wealthy do not yet have) they have the most to lose. At their peak in the mid-1980s the managers and technicians in this group held 35% of the nation’s wealth. Three decades later that fell 12%, exactly as much as the wealth of the 0.1% rose. A significant redistribution of wealth – upward — took place following the 2008 market collapse as bailouts, shorts, repossessions, and new laws helped the top end of the economy at cost to the bottom. What some label hardships are business opportunities to those above.

    See, the people at the top are throwing nails off the back of the truck to make sure no one can catch up with them; there is a strong zero sum element to all this. The goal is to eliminate the competition. They’ll have it all when society is down to two classes, the .1% and the 99.9% and at that point we are all effectively the same color. The CEO of JP Morgan called it a bifurcated economy. Historians will recognize the endstate as feudalism.
     
    You’d think someone would sound a global-climate-change level alarm about all this. Instead we divide people into tribes and make them afraid of each other by forcing competition for limited resources like healthcare. Identity politics sharpen the lines, recognizing increasingly smaller separations, like adding letters to LGBTQQIAAP.

    Failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, herself with presidential ambitions, is an example of the loud voices demanding more division. Contrast that with early model Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention pleading “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

    The divisions can always be jacked up. “My opponent is a white nationalist!” and so he doesn’t just think you’re lazy, he wants to kill you. Convince average Americans to vote against their own interests by manipulating them into opposing any program that might benefit black and brown equally or more than for themselves. Keep the groups fighting left and right and they’ll never notice the real discrimination is up and down, even as massive economic forces consume all equally. That consumption is literal as Americans die from alcohol, drugs, and suicide in record numbers.
     
    Meanwhile, no one has caught on identity politics is a marketing tool for votes, fruit flavored vape to bring in the kiddies. Keep that in mind as you listen to the opening shouts of the 2020 election. Listen for what’s missing in the speeches about inequality and injustice. The candidate who admits we created an apartheid of dollars for all deserves your support.

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in #99Percent, Democracy, Economy, Minimum Wage