The Irrational Politics of Senators Cruz and Paul

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  Nothing illustrates the impoverishment of political discourse in the United States today than the emergence of U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul as potential GOP presidential candidates, both of whom have expressed support for libertarian political ideas.
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    As a political movement, libertarianism in the United States traces its ancestry to  the writings of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman who urged a return to the ideas of classical liberalism with its emphasis upon extreme anti-social individualism, negative freedom, individual  rights,  protection of private property, the inviolability of contacts, minimal  government and laissez-faire economics.  In its American expression, classical liberalism owes its inspiration to an extremely selective emphasis upon a number of ideas expressed in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume and David Ricardo, as their ideas were extrapolated and applied to the American  political experience by Jefferson, Madsion, Adams and others.

    When Ted Cruz first ran for the United States Senate, he professed to be an advocate of limited government, states' rights, an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, and hostility to government regulation of the economy. Cruz's support for libertarian ideas and his antipathy to government regulation of the economy date back to his early adolescence when, reportedly at the age of thirteen, his father enrolled him in an entity called "the Free Market Education Foundation." In that study group, which apparently was organized in manner somewhat similar to early twentieth century Marxist indoctrination groups, Cruz was schooled in the  "free-market" ideologies  of economic philosophers such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

    In a similar vein, Rand Paul, son of the former Republican Congressman and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ron Paul describes himself as a libertarian. As a U.S. Senator, he has expressed support for term limits for Congress, a balanced budget amendment, and extensive reductions in federal taxation, and spending, especially as the latter relates to helping the poorest among us.  

    As one example, in 2012, Senator Paul advocated substantially reducing the food stamp program because of the various wastes and fraudulent activities that have been perpetrated by some of its users. "We do not have an endless supply of money. I think that Americans would be just flabbergasted at the amount of money and some of these programs are duplicative so people getting food stamps for a meal are also getting a free lunch at school. Some of these programs were actually advertising for applicants," he said. "In my hometown they advertised to try to promote to get people to come in and eat the free lunch during the summer time.  It's not that we won't help people, we just need to be conscious of how much money we have and can we help only those who cannot help themselves?"

    There are important questions that need to be asked of both of these Senators and of libertarians in general, but that are rarely, if ever, raised in the mainstream media. Are their ideas   desirable or workable? Would families in the United States be better or worse off  government regulation, including environmental and safety laws, food and drug laws, anti-discrimination and public accommodation laws, and labor laws, all already weak by European standards, were  further relaxed and government taxation and regulation of businesses and corporations was substantially  curtailed?

    The evidence of the last forty plus years in which government regulation of the economy has been rolled back, while the wages of employees have continued to decline and as the U.S.  became a net debtor, service economy in which corporations, in the name of freed trade, outsourced almost all of this country's manufacturing capacity, suggests otherwise.  

    All of the grim economic news that continues to hobble the U.S. economy confirms one of the central paradoxes of libertarian political philosophy as it plays out in the liberal democracy of the United States: the inability of that ideology to reconcile the tension between the pursuit of self-interest and equality. If self-interest, as expressed in the pursuit and acquisition of property, is a natural right since, as Locke put it, "God gave it to the use of the industrious and the rational (and labour was to be his title to it)" and the primary role of government is the protection of that property, isn't it inevitable that, over the span of generations, because of the complicity in not protecting such inheritances, and because of social and genetic distinctions among "the industrious and the rational" and those who are not, inequality will increase?

    The magnitude and the duration of the existing economic crisis raises other questions that libertarians and classical liberal ideology --and the latter's economic expression, market capitalism--cannot answer. Of what value is the meaning of individualism to most individuals if, in the competitive roulette of "survival of the fittest," the fit and the victors increasingly number only a few, while a significant number of the population are vanquished or declared to be unfit? 

    Isn't the pursuit of self-interest by individuals, each of whom is in competition with all others, self-defeating? Doesn't unfettered competition often have deleterious effects upon the public interest? Isn't it an economic fact of life that, in a market economy, individual actors--whether human beings, corporations or governmental units--seek to maximize their advantages and to minimize their risks in a capitalist economy?     Isn't it also true that, when each actor "hunkers down" during an economic crisis, the self-replicating behavior--as reflected in job losses, withdrawal of investment and the collapse of consumer demand--ripples through the economy to the detriment of all but the few, most fortunate? Doesn't that behavior then exacerbate the very problems that individual actors seek to inoculate themselves against, the public consequences of their behavior be damned? At that point, doesn't Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons become rather than a parable, an empirical reality?

    Doesn't even Locke's concept of negative freedom--because it does not provide for an economic underpinning--become, especially in times of economic misery, a platitude or a meaningless abstraction?

    The historian Thomas Franks has expressed his suspicions about the reasons why  libertarian ideas have been able to insinuate themselves so prominently into the public square, "Libertarianism," he argues, "helps  conservatives pass off a patently probusiness political agenda as a noble bid for human freedom. Whatever we may think of libertarianism as a set of ideas, practically speaking, it is a doctrine that owes its visibility to the obvious charms it holds for the wealthy and the powerful. The reason we have so many well-funded libertarians in American these days is not because libertarianism suddenly acquired an enormous grassroots following, but because it appeals to those who are able to fund ideas. Like social Darwinism and Christian Science before it, libertarianism flatters the successful and rationalizes their core beliefs about the world. They warm to the libertarian idea that taxation is theft because they themselves don't like to pay taxes. They fancy the libertarian notion that regulation is communist because they themselves find regulation intrusive and annoying."

    Franks' suspicion that, aside from protecting and promoting economic self-interests, libertarians are not really concerned about freedom for ordinary people is exemplified by Rand Paul's unqualified endorsement of government intrusion into the bedrooms of Americans and his support for the micro-regulation of every woman's uterus.  His website proudly proclaims, "I am 100% pro-life. I believe life begins at conception and that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being. It is the duty of our government to protect this life as a right guaranteed under the Constitution. For this reason, I introduced S. 583, the Life at Conception Act on March 14, 2013. This bill would extend the Constitutional protection of life to the unborn from the time of conception."   

    Ted Cruz insists that he, too, is "pro-life," and that the only exception to abortion that he would allow is when a pregnancy endangers the mother's life; and he opposes same-sex marriage, professing his belief that marriage is "between one man and one woman."

    The late Christopher Hitchens once observed, "I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement [Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough."

    The irony is that self-proclaimed libertarians such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have entered into Faustian bargains with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in which they have agreed to support the most selfish agendas of the economic elite, no matter how short-sighted, destructive or harmful such policies may be to the immediate and long-term best interests of the constituents they claim to actually represent or to the public interest. Their hypocrisy and illogic speak volumes about their qualifications for public office and are a sad commentary on the intelligence of the voters of Kentucky and Texas to whom they pandered so successfully.  
 

 

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The GOP's Descent into Minimalism

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            Once upon a time, the Republican Party was a progressive political party with big ideas about the future of the United States. Its leaders endorsed a broad vision of policies and programs designed to promote the general welfare. 

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            President Abraham Lincoln defeated the forces of disunion and persuaded the country to abolish slavery and to guarantee equal rights to all male citizens with the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Despite the demands imposed upon him by the Civil War, Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act in 1862 that made available millions of acres of government-owned land in the West for purchase by settlers at substantially reduced costs. That same year, he also signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, which provided government grants for creation of agricultural colleges in every state in the union. The Pacific  Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 provided federal support for the construction of the United States' First Transcontinental Railroad which, upon its completion in 1869, linked all the United States from coast to coast.


During the First Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt pursued policies designed to curb the excessive economic power wielded by the Robber Barons and their trusts, condemned predatory practices by corporations, and spoke out in support of organized labor.  Theodore Roosevelt successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and The Pure Food and Drug Act. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the expansion of the national park system and the subsequent transfer of the administration of the park system from the Agriculture Department t to the Department of the Interior.  As his successor, Republican President Howard Taft continued Roosevelt's progressive domestic policies and vigorously enforced antitrust legislation.


In the early decades of the twentieth century also, Wisconsin Governor and later U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette, Sr. enjoyed the loyal support of unionized workers and farmers as a populist. An elected Republican office-holder, he condemned laissez-faire and emphasized the need for government to serve as an advocate for ordinary citizens, as opposed to corporations and other moneyed interests. He later challenged Teddy Roosevelt unsuccessfully for leadership of the Progressive Party and thereafter founded the Farm-Labor Party of Wisconsin.


            Former Congressman and New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia burnished his credentials as a reform politician and as a progressive who, appalled by the excesses of the 1920s and the misery caused by the Great Depression, championed the policies of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. At the beginning of the Roosevelt administration, he and Nebraska Republican Senator George Norris successfully co-sponsored the Norris-LaGuardia Act. That act declared yellow-dog contracts illegal, forbade the federal courts from issuing injunctions against unions in non-violent labor disputes, and prohibited interference by employers against workers trying to organize trade unions.      

   

             The success of Franklin Roosevelt and New Deal subsequently changed the direction of the GOP. Beginning with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, the GOP, prodded by reactionary interests committed to undoing the legacy of the New Deal, became increasingly hostile to unions and supportive of business interests and Wall Street.    


             After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new Republican agenda was cobbled together. Nixon's cynical and craven decision to adopt a Southern strategy required that the GOP abandon its historic commitment to civil rights to attract the support of hard-scrabble, disaffected white Southerners who felt threatened by the elimination of Jim Crow.


             The rest is history. Within a decade, the "Solid South" became the preserve of the GOP, whose rank and file members, despite their increasingly straigtened circumstances, have become unabashedly anti-intellectual, anti-science, and hostile to unions, minorities, women, public sector employees, and to the idea that government should  be used as a positive instrument to promote the public good.  


             Ronald Reagan delivered the coup de grâce. He successfully refined a winning political strategy for the GOP by intentionally appealing to the basest instincts of Americans. With his attacks on welfare queens and "'strapping young bucks' using public assistance to buy T-Bone steaks," Reagan further stirred the pot of racial animosity. His insistence that government was the problem, not the solution, and his endorsement of trickle-down economics was a repudiation of the GOP's venerable heritage as an opponent of Social Darwinism and was at loggerheads with the observation Republican jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."


             Lee Atwater, who was Reagan's campaign strategist, described how and why this strategy worked:  "In the 1980s campaign, we were able to make the establishment, in so far as it is bad, the government, in other words, big government was the enemy, not big business. If the people think the problem is that taxes are too high, and government interferes too much, then we are doing our job. But, if they get to the point where they say that the real problem is that rich people aren't paying taxes...then the Democrats are going to be in good shape. Traditionally, the Republican Party has been elitist, but one of the things that has happened is that the Democratic Party has become a party of [rival] elites."


            Reagan's divisive rhetoric, which appealed to an increasingly distracted, unsophisticated base of white males, enabled him to attract "Reagan Democrats" and other low-information voters who did not understand that the policies that he set in motion - the destruction of traditional  pension plans, and the privatization of pension risks through the creation of defined contribution plans -aka 401K plans - with the enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) - and the out-sourcing of jibs were inimical to their own best interests. Reagan also successfully waged war against public unions with his destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATC) during their strike in 1981.  


            Since the Reagan era, the template has remained the same. But, with the advent  of Roger Ailes and Izvestia-like propaganda outlets such Fox News, as well as the onslaught  of private, undisclosed 501C interests unleashed by Justice Scalia's 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case, the GOP strategists have become vastly more sophisticated and cynical.


         The cascade of unaccounted and unidentified money has crippled the ability of the government - at the federal, state and local level - to gather data, to promote the general welfare, to regulate in the public interest, and to fulfill its duties with adequate funding. Grover Norquist's oft repeated desire to reduce the size of government so that it could be drowned in a bathtub now resonates as craven Democratic officeholders, equally beholden to business interests and concerned about their own political futures are, with precious few exceptions, afraid to challenge the GOP's absurdities head on.    


          The success of the GOP's wedge politics has been replicated throughout the South as GOP Governors and Republican-controlled legislatures have prevented the extension of Medicaid to the uninsured,  eliminated or substantially reduced taxes on businesses, gutted the public sectors of their states, and imposed every conceivable obstacle to dissuade students, minorities and the poor from voting solely because they tend to vote Democratic.

   

           In Northern states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Indiana, GOP Governors and their legislatures have uniformly supported legislation to emasculate the rights of employees to unionize and to bargain collectively, and they have successfully demonized public employees and attacked their pension benefits while simultaneously transferring control of many public goods - such as the prisons, roads, and schools - to private, for-profit entrepreneurs.  


            This past week, in an extremely low turnout, off-year Congressional election in Florida's 13th Congressional district, a majority of eligible voters, possibly overwhelmed and confused by the tsunami of negative advertisements, failed to vote, while large numbers of older white voters, concerned that Obamacare threatened their Medicare benefits, voted for the GOP candidate David Jolly, a former Washington lobbyist. The Huffington Post quoted Irene Wilcox, a 78-year-old retired waitress and Republican from Largo who voted for Jolly, "No more big government. We've got to stop."


            Ms. Wilcox's comment underscores the reasons for the GOP's singular success. It has been able to persuade large numbers of poorly-informed voters that, rather than protect or uplift their standards of living, the primary role of government should be to empower the private sector and to promote its interests, irrespective of the adverse effects that such policies may have upon the environment, the nation's infrastructure, the social safety net, or the country's past commitments to the ideas of progressive taxation and equality of opportunity for all citizens.


            According to Mitt Romney, Rand Paul and other GOP illuminati, the problem is not increasing economic misery in the United States or wage stagnation. Rather, there are too many takers and moochers who are getting too much "free stuff" from the government. In the words of Congressman Paul Ryan, Americans need to relearn the discipline acquired through of hard work.


           It is in that context also, the GOP's incessant criticisms school lunch programs, food stamps, unemployment benefits, minimum wage and the litany of other "entitlements" should be understood. They are intentionally calculated to distract attention from the increasingly wealthier elite and poor performance of the U.S. economy by appealing to the envy and resentment of voters: "You would be better off if it were not for these free-loaders."     


           The late British philosopher and former Labor Party advisor A.D. Lindsay proposed a vision of government that was inspired by the wisdom of the ancients and is one which stands in stark contrast to the GOP's minimalism. In The Modern Democratic State, Lindsay argued that the purpose of the state was to ensure conditions for the full development of human potentialities: "That the end of all state activity is the development of human personality can never be sufficiently emphasized. This is to assert the moral basis of the state....Personality develops in a fellowship or a common life and if men are to be treated as persons, they must be enabled to share in a common life." The purpose of the state "is to serve the community and in that service to make it more of a community."


           By contrast, the GOP's vision is utterly pessimistic. It insists that we are all on our own, and that government can and should do nothing - except to protect the rights and prerogatives of those who already have and their descendants. To the extent that the GOP's vision controls the public discourse in the United States today, our capacity to care for one another is eroded as is our collective belief that, as citizens in a democracy, we have the ability to improve social conditions through concerted government action. We are all diminished as a result.

 

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Apple's Obscene Win-Lose Game

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        Is Apple, Inc. a model of corporate efficiency and success that should be praised and emulated in business schools throughout the U.S., or is it a corporate pariah that should be roundly condemned and criticized for its unconscionable greed?

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            At a White House dinner in February of 2011, President Obama reminded the late and much heralded Apple CEO Steve Jobs that, once upon a time, Apple boasted that its products were made in America and he asked, "Why can't that work come home? Mr. Jobs's reply, according to other guests present, was terse. "Those jobs aren't coming back," he replied.

            At the time of that dinner, almost all of the 70 million iPhones, its 30 million iPads and 59 million other products that Apple sold were manufactured overseas. The company employed only 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas. However, through a network of third-party, low-wage contractors in China, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia, it utilized the services of  an additional 700,000 people to engineer, build and assemble all of its iPads, iPhones and its other accessories and  products. 

              That same year, Apple earned in excess of $400,000 in profit per employee - a sum that was vastly greater than the per employee profits of Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google.

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                In March of 2013, Apple announced that it held $40.4 billion in untaxed earnings outside of the United States as of September 29, 2012, and should it repatriate that cash, the company estimated it would owe $13.8 billion in taxes, or slightly under the federal 35 percent tax rate.

              The company also disclosed a worldwide annual revenue in 2013 in the amount of  $171 billion. In addition, during the five quarters prior to March 1, 2014, Apple officially reported total acquisition investments of $11.12 billion, in addition to the $1.02 billion in cash "business acquisition" payments.

            All of these grim statistics were called to mind again in the light of a fawning and uncritical article by Rebecca Ruiz that appeared in the Business Section of today's New York Times. The purported news story informed readers that Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's senior vice president and chief financial officer, announced his plans to retire this coming in September, after an 18-year career with Apple.

             Ruiz's article was effusive in her comments about Oppenheimer's performance as senior vice-president of Apple. She noted that "As chief financial officer for the last decade, Mr. Oppenheimer, who started in 1996 as controller for the Americas, helped oversee a shrewd global financial strategy, with Apple garnering record profit and building a significant pile of cash."

            Ruiz also found it a sign of Oppenheimer's business acumen that "As part of the strategy, Apple set up a web of subsidiaries around the world, allowing the company to legally avoid billions of dollars of taxes in the United States. In 2013, Apple raised $17 billion to fund a shareholder payout, a move that potentially helped the company save on taxes."

            Ruiz quoted Lawrence Isaac Balter, chief market strategist at Oracle Investment Research, who stated that Oppenheimer's "done a fantastic job building the war chest," and repeated a statement by Timothy D. Cook, Apple's current chief executive, who credited Mr. Oppenheimer with "managing the company's finances during a period of significant international expansion and revenue growth."

            At the end of Ruiz's column, we discovered that in fiscal year 2012, Mr. Oppenheimer was lavishly rewarded for his success in having helped to devise Apple's multifarious and ingenious schemes for corporate tax-evasion, and in his having enabled Apple to garner obscene profits for its shareholders on the backs of an exploited third work-force: Oppenheimer earned $68.6 million in total compensation package.

             Not surprisingly, Mr. Oppenheimer stated "I love Apple and the people I have had the privilege to work with and after 18 years here, it is time for me to take time for myself and my family," and it was announced that he had been named to the board of Goldman Sachs.

            Ruiz's celebration of Oppenheimer's success and the generally enthusiastic press that Apple receives in the media and in corporate culture should be a source of significant worry and concern to everyone who claims to value the model of a market economy.

    The U.S. is a consumption-driven economy. For that reason, in the long run, the migration of jobs to China and other third-world countries will prove to be self-defeating: An increasingly impoverished middle class here in the U.S. will eventually be unable to purchase the high-end goods that out-sourced manufacturers such as Apple and other U.S. based corporations import and try to sell to domestic consumers.

    Over time, as economic inequality continues to grow and purchasing power erodes, the life-styles of perhaps a majority of Americans will be reduced to that of most Chinese and Indians today.

            The problem is that, by and large, entrepreneurs and the boards of directors of corporations don't care about the long-run consequences of their behaviors, no matter how ill-advised or self-defeating. Perhaps they have accepted too blithely, as a corporate credo, John Maynard Keynes' observation that, in the long-run we will all be dead.

            The sole goal of most corporations is to maximize profits to please their shareholders. Given a mindset that sincerely believes that the pursuit of self-interest is somehow a public good, entrepreneurs and the other vaunted Masters of the Universe remain utterly oblivious to problems such as poverty and pollution, and they have no idea of how to reconcile basic principles of social justice with their desire to make a living.

            Left to their own devices, entrepreneurs and corporations too often engage in practices - such as Apple's well-documented tax-avoidance and its refusal to invest in creating a productive U.S. workforce - that have harmful consequences to the public. This occurs despite the fact that their activities of these corporations are heavily subsidized by taxpayers- e.g. through  roads, trains, airports, intangible  infrastructure such as employee training and R&D, favorable tax policies, legal standing, and legal protection of trade secrets and intellectual property. Corporations are also permitted under our laws, should they be unable to escape the consequences of their poor decisions, to petition for bankruptcy and re-emerge as a new corporate persona.

            An increasing body of evidence suggests that the traditional model of the market economy no longer behaves in the way that its most ardent proponents have predicted. As competition has given way to consolidation, and equal opportunity to plutocracy, the anomalies have now begun to overwhelm the paradigm.

           Whatever comes next, more of the same is not the answer.

 
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Does Discussing Inequality Promote Envy?

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        The Economic Policy Institute, in an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Sylvia Allegretto, issued a study in 2011 which noted that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans controlled 35.6 percent of the total wealth of the country and that the top 10 percent controlled 75 percent of the wealth of the United States. In September of 2013, Forbes magazine reported that the 400 wealthiest Americans were worth slightly more than $2 trillion, which was roughly equivalent to the GDP of Russia.

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            Those two reports underscore an increasing disconnect between the wealthy elite and ordinary Americans. The vaunted private sector, in our economy's collective race-to-the-bottom, has failed to create well-paying jobs, has not rewarded workers' productivity with salary increases, and continues to out-source jobs to the third world while it disproportionately enriches corporate CEOs and those employed by brokerage firms and hedge funds.   


             Despite all of the evidence that shows an increasingly dysfunctional market economy, with its mal-distribution of the benefits and burdens, the wealthy remain largely unpersuaded. Through their armies of well-paid lobbyists, propagandists, and political sycophants, they peddle a barely disguised version of Social Darwinism that blames the poor and the increasingly struggling middle class - the 47% moochers that Mitt Romney decried - for their own travail and offers the myth of Horatio Alger as a balm. Through their surrogates, the 1% repeatedly propagate their recipe for economic bliss - that minimal regulation and less government, low taxes, union-free workplaces, and free trade will, in the long run, uplift everyone.


             As a growing chorus of critics, including Pope Francis, have condemned "the idolatry of money" and "trickle-down" economic theory and urged policies to remedy economic inequality,  some members of the elite have begun to complain that they feel besieged. A prominent recent example is Tom Perkins, a founder of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal this past January, Perkins compared criticism of the wealthy to the Nazis persecution of the Jews. His indignation about the slights to which he and his peers believe they have been subjected are as grounded in reality as is Bill O'Reilly's annual lament about some imaginary war being waged against Christmas.


             In last Sunday's New York Times, another courageous voice was raised in defense of the wealthy. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and a life-long shill for the monied interests, cautioned against the dangers of class-warfare. In an op ed column entitled, "The Downside of Inciting Envy," Brooks invoked the names of U-2s Irish Singer Bono and Alexis deTocqueville to support his argument that Americans have thrived economically because they have embraced the wealthy as role-models and sought to emulate their success.


             By contrast, Brooks observed, "Unsurprisingly, psychologists have found that envy pushes down life satisfaction and depresses well-being. Envy is positively correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility it breeds may actually make us sick."


             Brooks insisted in his opinion piece that his own rigorous, impartial and scholarly analysis "confirms a strong link between economic envy and unhappiness" and he ominously warned that "a national shift toward envy would be toxic for American culture."  Next, Brooks identified that the root cause of what he has diagnosed as the reason for increasing envy of the wealthy by the rest of the U.S. population: It stems from an apparently mistaken "belief that opportunity is in decline." 


             Brooks then suggested a smörgåsbord of prescriptions that he claimed would "break the back of envy and rebuild the optimism that made America the marvel of the world." Not surprisingly, his proposed solutions included the usual right-wing drivel and talking points that, one hundred and thirty years ago, would have elicited enthusiastic endorsements from Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner: "education reform that empowers parents through choice, and rewards teachers for innovation"; "regulatory and tax reform tailored to spark hiring and entrepreneurship at all levels, especially the bottom of the income scale"; "recalibrating the safety net to ensure that work always pays -- such as an expansion of the earned-income tax credit -- while never disdaining the so-called dead-end jobs that represent a crucial first step for many marginalized people."


               Brooks concluded his homily with a burst of pious platitudes: "... we must recognize that fomenting bitterness over income differences may be powerful politics, but it injures our nation. We need aspirational leaders willing to do the hard work of uniting Americans around an optimistic vision in which anyone can earn his or her success. This will never happen when we vilify the rich or give up on the poor. Only a shared, joyful mission of freedom, opportunity and enterprise for all will cure us of envy and remind us who we truly are."


             In his analysis, Brooks refuses to acknowledge that the U.S. economy has become dysfunctional, nor will he admit that inequality and wage stagnation pose a threat to this nation's well-being. In his worldview, any discussion of these issues should be dismissed as a smokescreen for envy of the 1%. Instead he recommends "happy talk" as a panacea.


             In the fantasy-land that Brooks and his fellow deniers inhabit, the answer to the present inequitable, ill-performing economy - in which the wealthy amass an ever greater-share of the wealth - is to return to the 19th century model of laissez-faire capitalism with one important exception: His proposed expansion of the earned income tax credit. That credit, first introduced during the Reagan administration, represents a form of socialism for the wealthy since U.S. taxpayers, rather than business owners and shareholders, subsidize the incomes of hundreds of thousands of poorly paid employees who work for corporations such as Wall-Mart and McDonalds.


             Brooks' idyllic vision would return us to a time when there was, in fact, no public safety net. Further, there were no income taxes and there was no regulatory oversight. Teachers were poorly paid, few had even attended college, and public education beyond grammar school was the domain of the few who did not need to depend upon the labor of their children to help support their household.


             In that era, because there were no corporate or income taxes and no antitrust laws, a mere handful of "robber barons"  - Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller,  J.P. Morgan, et al - were able to amass extraordinary, unchecked wealth that enabled them to effectively control much of the political and economic machinery of the United States.


             Although Arthur Brooks may view that era with nostalgia, those who have learned the lessons of history and remember the struggles of their forebears should be forgiven for their lack of enthusiasm.


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Bobby Jindal and the Triumph of Lunacy

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        The other day Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, upon leaving a White House meeting with other governors, accused President Obama of poor stewardship of the economy. "What I worry about is that this president and the White House seem to be waving the white flag of surrender after five years under this administration," Jindal announced to reporters. "The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy. I think we can do better than that. I think America can do better than that." 

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            Inexcusably, Jindal was not asked by any of the reporters present to explain precisely what policies he believes that, in contrast to those of President Obama, would improve the wages of American workers and spur the growth of the economy.   

   

             Jindal is, in fact, an unrepentant member of the GOP's Neanderthal caucus, who continues to insist, all evidence to the contrary, that a competitive marketplace with minimal government regulation promotes economic growth and personal freedom.


             Ironically, Jindal is unable to reconcile this professed belief with his unwavering support for Louisiana's "right-to-work" laws. Those laws - which epitomize government inference in the most basic unit of economic organization - the work place - impair the ability of employees to organize unions and to bargain freely and collectively with management over wages and working conditions. Those laws also make it virtually impossible for agricultural workers - who are often among the most vulnerable and exploited - to ever be able to improve their standard of living through mutual, collective action.


             Jindal is also unable to explain how, given his opposition to unions, his refusal to support a state minimum wage - and Louisiana's continued reliance upon the prevailing $7.25 the federal minimum - are defensible?  In what ways does that current minimum wage better address the economic needs of thousands of low-wage workers in his state than the proposed legislation by the President and Congressional Democrats to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10?


             Jindal's documented hostility to the  needs of ordinary Louisianans is not surprising. He presides over a state that is, by almost all measures, a rural, third-world, low-wage state. The economy of  Louisiana, aside from tourism, some ship building and commercial fishing, is still largely dominated by oil, gas and extractive mining interests  - i.e. the production of minerals, oil and natural gas, sulfur, lime, salt, lignite; petroleum refining; chemical and petrochemical manufacturing - and agriculture.  

             According the U.S. Census Bureau data, Louisiana has fewer high school graduates than almost all other states in the union, and the number of adults who have earned a bachelor's degree or better is well below the national average, as is the number of residents who have ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. In addition, between 2008-and 2012, Louisiana's median household income lagged almost $10,000 below the national median while the number of  persons living in poverty between 2008-2012 - 18.7% or almost one fifth of the states' population - was the second largest recorded number among the 50 states. 

 

             A Gallup study reported in USA Today, February 27, 2014, descried Louisiana as the "tenth most miserable state" in the union based upon its misery index. The report summarized its findings: "Louisiana residents suffered from limited access to basic needs. Last year, nearly 9% of those surveyed in the state noted they did not have easy access to clean and safe drinking water, while nearly 12% of residents lacked easy access to medicine, both among the worst rates in the nation. Just 61.4% of respondents felt safe walking home alone at night, the lowest rate in the U.S., and significantly lower than the national rate of more than 70% who felt safe in the same circumstances. Louisiana also ranked among the lowest in healthy behaviors because of its residents' high smoking rate and limited healthy eating. As of 2010, there were 229.4 deaths due to heart disease per 100,000 people in the state, fourth-highest nationally. That same year, life expectancy at birth in the state was just 75.7 years, one of the worst figures in the nation."


             A Times-Picayune report by Rebecca Catalanello in October 16, 2013 described a Kaiser Family Foundation study that found that 242,150 poor people who currently lacked health insurance would be denied access to insurance provided for under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because of Governor Jindal's refusal to accept the federal government's proposed Medicaid expansion.


             Another Times-Picayune reporter, Bruce Alpert, in a December 05, 2013 dispatch, cited a study by Commonwealth Fund that found that, as a result of its rejection of federal funds under the Affordable Care Acts expansion of Medicaid, Louisiana would lose $1.65 billion in 2022, or more than twice as much as it is projected to receive in federal highway and transportation funds.


             Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected the Medicaid expansion because he claimed that the proposal would be too expensive to the state and that, in addition, an expansion of Medicaid was not an efficient way to improve access to health care, although U.S. Census Bureau data showed that in 2011, 886,000 residents  -or roughly 20% of the population - of Louisiana were uninsured.


             If the corporate media in this country were less supine, Governor Jindal would have been dismissed as clueless long ago, rather than extolled as a potential candidate for President of the United States. The disconnect between Jindal's rhetoric, his policy prescriptions, and his stewardship of  Louisiana's economy suggest that, despite his formidable educational credentials, something is not quite right. It prompts one to wonder whether the current state of what passes for politics and civic discourse in the United States, particularly among the GOP, is now so bizarre and dysfunctional that its study should become the exclusive domain of mental health professionals. 


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David Brooks Endorses John Calvin

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        The other day, David Brooks, one of the resident "neo-con" columnists for the New York Times, wrote an opinion piece captioned "The Prodigal Sons" (February 18, 2014). In that column, Brooks attempted to elucidate the meaning of that parable and apply its lesson to contemporary American society. The question raised by Brooks' column is whether Brooks himself understood the meaning of that parable and has properly applied it to today's circumstances.

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              In The Gospel According to Luke, 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is narrated which the gospel's author attributes to Jesus:  'There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.


            "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.


             "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.'  So he got up and went to his father.


            "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

             "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

             "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'


             "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'


            "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

             "The father responded, 'You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.' But he had to celebrate the younger one's return. The boy was lost and now is found."


              After describing the parable in his column, Brooks asks whether, in welcoming back the wayward son, "Did the father do the right thing? Is the father the right model for authority today?"


             Brooks then opines, "This is a story about mercy, the mercy of the father, and not a story about distributing the inheritance fairly! ... It is about repentance and contrition, confession of sins before God and man. The father's critics say he was unjust. People who play by the rules should see the rewards. Those who abandon the community, live according to their own reckless desires should not get to come back and automatically reap the bounty of others' hard work. If you reward the younger brother, you signal that self-indulgence pays, while hard work gets slighted."


             Brooks adds, "The father's example is especially pernicious now, the critics continue. Jesus preached it at the time of the Pharisees, in an overly rigid and rule-bound society. In those circumstances, a story of radical forgiveness was a useful antidote to the prevailing legalism." Brooks, however, emphasizes that we no longer "live in that kind of a society."


             Brooks then casts his withering glance at the present and describes an American society in which the many live lives of desperation trapped in Hobbesian-kind of dystopia that they themselves have created by their own self-indulgent behaviors, short-term horizons, and moral  relativism. From Brooks' haughty perspective, our society is one in which "in which moral standards are already fuzzy, in which people are already encouraged to do their own thing. We live in a society with advanced social decay -- with teens dropping out of high school, financiers plundering companies and kids being raised without fathers. The father's example in the parable reinforces loose self-indulgence at a time when we need more rule-following, more social discipline and more accountability, not less."


             For its part the elite, the governing class of which Brooks counts himself as an influential member, out of some mistaken but well-intentioned sense of noblesse oblige, sometimes support policies that are too  judgmental: "We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother. In many cases, we have a governing class of elder brothers legislating programs on behalf of the younger brothers. The great danger in this situation is that we in the elder brother class will end up self-righteously lecturing the poor: "You need to be more like us: graduate from school, practice a little sexual discipline, work harder."


            The correct response by the chosen elite to the moral and personal failings of the poor and the working class among us, Brooks argues, is not to moralize or to hector but to emulate the conduct of the father in the parable as Brooks understands the father's behavior - i. e. to show  the wayward, by example, the errors of their chosen behavior: "The father also understands that the younger brothers of the world will not be reformed and re-bound if they feel they are being lectured to by unpleasant people who consider themselves models of rectitude. Imagine if the older brother had gone out to greet the prodigal son instead of the father, giving him some patronizing lecture. Do we think the younger son would have reformed his life to become a productive member of the community? No. He would have gotten back up and found some bad-boy counterculture he could join to reassert his dignity."


             The ultimate lesson that Brooks draws from the parable is not the central importance of unconditional and uncritical love and acceptance by the father, as was the lesson Jesus sought to explicate in the parable. Rather, Brooks' understanding is that only through the penance of mutual hard work and moral perseverance, will the poor, the undisciplined, the unruly, the poorly educated, the dispossessed of Gods' Kingdom perhaps yet atone for their past sins and become one of the chosen - the Elect: "The father teaches that rebinding and reordering society requires an aggressive assertion: You are accepted; you are accepted. It requires mutual confession and then a mutual turning toward some common project........The father offers each boy a precious gift. The younger son gets to dedicate himself to work and self-discipline. The older son gets to surpass the cold calculus of utility and ambition, and experience the warming embrace of solidarity and companionship."


  Among the shared common projects that Brooks recommend is national service. One doubts, however, that Brooks is advocating universal, compulsory military service for all, including the children who number themselves among his elite. More likely, the shared common projects that Brooks has in mind are akin to the poor houses that Charles Dickens deplored. 


             Fortunately, David Brooks' column has elicited a number  of critics. Michael Roland observed in today's letters to the editor that Brooks' "perpetuates a stereotype that continues to divide us: that those who haven't succeeded are self-indulgent, undisciplined and unambitious. In fact, our country abounds with tens of millions of hard-working and self-sacrificing people who can't advance because of low wages and a lack of realistic opportunity. They don't need lectures from fathers, elder brothers or politicians. They do need economic justice, without which our experiment in democracy will."


             Felicia  Nimue Ackerman's comment was equally incisive: ".... America's poor and America's middle and upper-middle classes did not start out equal. Few of America's poor had any inheritance to squander. This is why redistributive taxation might be a better remedy for poverty in America than bringing the poor and those more fortunate together 'for some third goal' like national service."


             Another reader, R. Alta Caro, replied: "Mr. Brooks probably meant well. But when working 40 hours a week standing on your feet or digging a ditch at minimum wage doesn't earn enough to meet the poverty line, when attending college is too expensive to be within reach of many, and when the most effective contraceptives are priced out of reach for many married women who wish to remain in the work force, is it really fair to equate "poor" with lazy, negligent or criminal?"


             Finally, Sharon Aucoin's letter echoes the insights of R. H.  Tawney and Max Weber,"David Brooks's insidious analogy that the poor are like the reckless prodigal son highlights a troubling and pervasive prejudice against those not born with advantages. One could easily reverse the analogy and charge that the wealthy are the rule breakers."


             Eighty-two years ago, as the United States suffered from the corrosive after-effects of our last era of crippling economic inequality, Franklin Roosevelt collectively inspired a disheartened people. The New Deal that he proclaimed showed that government was not the enemy, but that it might be part of the solution - that it could be used as a positive instrument for the public good to improve the lives of those who were suffering and burdened by an ill-performing market economy. 


             Today, The United States today is saddled with an enormous number of economic, political and social problems that have been exacerbated by the growing chasm between the few and the many. In the past decade, there have been many thoughtful  proposals - including those advanced by economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman and by politicians such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders - that, if adopted, would ameliorate the suffering of so many of our neighbors.


             The French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, ever faithful to the gospels and to teachings of Thomas Aquinas, urges us to return to first principles: "The primary reason for which men, united in political society, need the State, is the order of justice. On the other hand, social justice is the crucial need of modern societies. As a result, the primary duty of the modern state is the enforcement of social justice."


             David Brooks' enthusiastic endorsement of John Calvin's moral philosophy is the antithesis of the kind of commitment to social justice that Maritain prescribes. Because Calvin's worldview is rooted in a firm belief that poverty, crime, misfortune and misbehavior are evidence of serious moral failings on the part of each individual person - i.e. sin -  no amount of collective action - beyond the public opprobrium and punishment that Brooks' decries - will ever cure the ills that Brooks bemoans.

             The Calvinism that Brooks has embraced is a convenient rationalization for the preservation of the status quo. It also serves as an implicit rebuke to everyone who believes that the gospels challenge us to do more - to take care of one another. The central message of the gospels, in stark contrast to the misplaced focus upon the self that Brooks shares with Calvin, is one of our interconnectedness - that we are not alone. It is  perhaps best summed up by the words of the priest and poet, John Donne:

 No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main....

 

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Is Anonymity the Enemy of Democracy?

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          Democracy in Athens, as practiced in the 5th century B.C., was far from perfect. Aristotle and Thucydides were both keen observers of the Athenian democracy and understood that the city's politics were in fact run by a small elite of wealthy males, who were able to deliberate and vote on important matters because of the vast numbers of the poor, called Sixth-Parts-tenants, who labored daily in the fields as virtual slaves on behalf of the elite. In addition, slaves, non-citizens and women were denied the right to participate in the Athenian model of democracy.

 

pacrat              There is one aspect of Athenian democracy, however, that is worthy of emulation. Every Athenian citizen had a voice in the highest forum of the nation, the ecclesia or assembly, that  met four times each month. On major occasions, when important issues were to be decided, as many as 5000 citizens were known to have attended. Any citizen was permitted to answer the herald's question "Who wishes to speak?" After everyone who wished to speak had been heard, the matter before the assembly was then put to a binding vote and became the government's official policy.


             To the present, a somewhat similar kind of open, deliberative debate process still survives in New England Town meetings: one in which publicly identified citizens express their opinions on matters of policy and town budgets, and are supported or challenged by other publicly identified citizens who debate the issues at hand. After the conclusion of debate, the proposed policies are then put of a vote in which each participant has an equal stake in the outcome and equal influence. 


             There are, of course, important differences in the town meeting model. Unlike Athenian democracy, the number of those eligible to participate in the process is significantly larger, given the enactment of the 13th and the 19th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the time for debate is more abbreviated. Further, as the economic and time pressures upon voting age men and women have increased, and overall civic engagement has declined, participation in town meetings has continued to decrease. Thus, the continued vitality of these town meetings is now in question.


          This  model of open, participatory democracy is also increasingly under challenge as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) and the decision of the D.C. Court of Appeals in  SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission,  599 F.3d 686 (D.C. Cir. 2010) . Since those two infamous court rulings, a plethora of 501(c)(3) and (4) PACs and Super PACs have emerged which threaten to further undermine this country's democratic pretenses. If not curbed, this ominous development will solidify the transformation of the United States into a plutocracy dominated by a small elite who, as a result of the vast wealth, have the ability to control the outcome of events through the funneling of hundreds of millions of dollars through anonymous entities with patriotic sounding monikers.


             The Wall Street Journal reports that Super PACs alone spent $567,498,628 was in 2012 to influence the outcomes of the Congressional and Presidential elections. Predictions are that the sums of money spent by PACs and Super PACs will continue to increase exponentially in each successive election cycle. To cite just one example, OpenSecrets.org has reported 1,310 registered PACs had raised $828,224,595 as of July 2013.


             A New York Times editorial on February 15, 2014 noted that Federal law currently limits individual contributions to a candidate for federal office to $2,600 per person. The editors observed that the easiest way to get around that limit "is to give the money to the candidate's 'super PAC,' where no limits apply, to pay for attack ads against the candidate's opponent."


             The Times added, "That's the path chosen by John Childs, a private-equity investor, who gave $250,000 to Senator Mitch McConnell's super PAC, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. (Could it have anything to do with Mr. McConnell's staunch opposition to a tax increase on hedge fund managers, favored by President Obama and Democrats?) Joseph Craft, a billionaire coal executive, gave $100,000, and Donald Trump gave $50,000 to the same group."


             Equally disturbing, although Super PACs are required to ultimately disclose the identities of their contributors, under current rules their identities can be shielded from public scrutiny by creating a string of entities within entities within entities, including LLCs upon LLCs. Gail Ablow in Moyers & Company  ("On the Money: The Koch Brothers' Dark Money Network Keeps Growing," January 7, 2014) describes an  investigation by  the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that found 17 interconnected groups backed by the Koch brothers and other conservative donors was able to raise $407 million in an effort to influence the 2012 campaign.


             Ablow quotes Mattea Gold of The Washington Post: "Its funders remain largely unknown. The coalition was carefully constructed with extensive legal barriers to shield its donors." Ablow concludes that "This opaque network is in gear again to attack the new health care law, kill environmental regulations, and impact the 2014 midterm elections."  


            Is there any way to reverse this trend?  While the signs are ominous, the Athenian model of transparent, public disclosure by actors may yet provide part of a possible remedy.


             There is no provision in the First Amendment that prevents the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Election Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service from requiring, as part of their administrative rule-making, three things of every 501(c )(3) or (4) entity: (1) that all PACs and Super PACs must provide, as part of the registration process, and with monthly updates to each such agency, a complete list of all human beings (as opposed to non-natural or artificial legal persons) who directly or indirectly, with labor or money, have contributed to that entity; (2) that all such registered entities, at the time they release any studies, policy papers or political advertising, must also disclose as a part of that release, the names of each and every human being who has contributed  directly or indirectly to that effort; (3) and that the names and addresses of all such human beings simultaneously be made available in a searchable database on each agency's website.


             Private media, including social media, can also strike a blow for open, deliberative democracy. Nothing, other than investor's jitters, prevents existing media sites, including social media, from requiring that every responder or blogger, as a condition of participation, must include, as a part of any communication, a link that accurately identifies the person and provides a brief biography.   

             Anonymity in all of its forms is the enemy of democracy; transparency, identification  and accountability advance the public good. When individuals are permitted to influence political discussions and elections anonymously, whether through PACS or on blogs, democracy suffers as the public discourse inevitably becomes more shrill, more caustic, more negative, more mean-spirited. Civility in public discourse is more likely to be assured when every participant knows the real identity of every other person who is engaged in a political discussion.

 

 

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Who Will Stand Up For America's Workers?

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          In 2001, Volkswagen announced that it intended to open an assembly plant in the United States. A gaggle of low-wage, "right-to-work" Southern states competed for the honor by showering the German corporation with promises of taxpayer subsidies.

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              Tennessee emerged the winner after it agreed to provide the richest incentives - more than $570 Million in tax incentives and aid. According to dispatch in The Times Free Press (Andy She, "Chattanooga: VW incentives largest in state," July 24 2008), the state's chief business recruiter defended the tax breaks and government t assistance because of the alleged benefits that he claimed the state would come from  VW's $1 billion assembly million. Matt Kisber, Tennessee's commissioner for economic and community development, stated that "The Volkswagen investment in this community is going to have a tremendous economic gain for the entire region....I'm confident we're going to have a very reasonable incentive package when you look at the initial costs of what is being offered compared with a much bigger long-term return."

 

           The VW plant, which began production in April, 2011, presently employs about 2,0000 and anticipates an annual production of 150,000 cars beginning with a version of the 2012 Passat, tailored to the US market.  Located near Chattanooga, Tenn., the non-union plant pays starting workers about $27 an hour in wages and benefits. That hourly rate is about half the $52 an hour cost of labor incurred by Ford, GM and Chrysler at their plants, where employees are represented by United Automobile Workers. By contrast, the average VW auto worker in Germany is paid $67.14 per hour in salary in benefits

  

         Since the Tennessee plant opened, Volkswagen has been pressured by IG Metall, the German union with seats and influence in VW's boardroom, to introduce its model of a German-style works council (Betriebsrat) in Chattanooga. In addition, IG Metall supports the UAW's bid to organize the U.S. plant. The worker's council would help set work rules for white- and blue-collar workers, at its only U.S. plant.

 

            Under the Nation Labor Relations Act, Volkswagen cannot institute a works council in Tennessee unless the employees are first represented for collective bargaining purposes by an independent labor union since company-sponsored unions are treated as illegal shams.

             VW is now feeling increasing pressure from its powerful German union to allow the UAW to organize its plant in Tennessee. For that reason, Volkswagen has not mounted a vigorous campaign to defeat the union drive and some of the company's senior executives have intimated that they might even prefer having a union. After the U.A.W. formally asked VW for union recognition, and announced that a majority of the plant's 1,600 assembly workers had signed cards seeking union representation, the chorus of fear-mongers and anti-union zealots became increasingly louder.

 

           Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times ("Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee," January 28, 2014) has reported that the push-back from the right-wing, anti-union politicians and vested business interests in Tennessee and elsewhere around the country has been furious. Defenders of the prevailing anti-union environment have chosen to invoke the specter of John Foster Dulles's discredited Cold War domino theory, to warn that if the U.A.W. is allowed to succeed in Chattanooga, that would provide momentum to unionize the two other German-owned plants in the South -  the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama and the BMW plant in South Carolina.  

 

           As a result, the Center for Worker Freedom - a misnomered subsidiary of Grover Nordquist's Americans for Tax Reform, has mounted an anti-union campaign. In addition, Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, have repeatedly expressed fears that a U.A.W. victory would hurt the plant's competitiveness and undermine the state's business climate.  

 

            Greenhouse also reports that a business-backed group put up a billboard declaring, "Auto Unions Ate Detroit. Next Meal: Chattanooga," and that the National Right to Work Committee, has entered the fray in which it filed a complaint with the NLRB, falsely claiming that VW officials improperly pressured workers to support hte U.A.W. drive to unionize the plant. Lastly,  Grover Nordquist has set up a group called  the Center for Worker Freedom to fight the U.A.W. and to prevent the election of Democratic office holders who would support the right of workers to organize and to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits.

  

          Greenhouse quotes Daniel B. Cornfield, a labor expert at Vanderbilt University to the effect that, "It's unusual how national groups have really gotten interested in this," said. "It seems that both the business community and labor are seeing what's happening at VW as a pivotal moment in the Southern automotive business and labor history."

  

          According to Greenhouse, Governor Haslam and Senator Corker have both urged VW not to recognize the U.A.W. based on card signatures, but rather that it demand a secret-ballot election. Senator Corker is reported to have insisted that "While I care about Volkswagen, what I care most about is our community and about our households being able to progress and have a great standard of living," and "I'm concerned about the impact of the U.A.W. on the future efforts to recruit business to our community." Corker added, "The work rules and other things that typically come with the UA.W. would drive up costs. It would make the facility less competitive."

    

       Senator Corker's professed concern for community and for "households being able to progress and have a great standard of living" is pious rhetoric, divorced from logic and from the historical evidence. Tennessee is a low-wage state. It is one of five states that has refused to enact its own minimum wage. As of 2012, the state ranked number 39 in median family household, at $ $42,764, and its per capita income was $23,692.00, well below the national average. Further, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report, the state's poverty rate in 2012 was nearly 18 percent, making Tennessee the 12th poorest state in the nation. If Senator Corker possessed a scintilla of intellectual integrity, he would admit that trickle-down economics does little other than to exacerbate income inequality, lower the wages of workers, hollow-out the middle class, and exponentially increase the wealth of the 1%.

  

          Michael Walzer, in his book Spheres of Justice, argues "Certainly, plutocracy is less frightening than tyranny; resistance is less dangerous. The chief reason is that money can buy office, education, honor... It corrupts distributions without transforming them; and the corrupt distributions coexist with legitimate ones, like prostitution alongside married love. But this is tyranny still, and can make for harsh forms of domination. And if resistance is less heroic than in totalitarian states, it is hardly less important."

   

      The third and final iteration of the Kant's categorical imperative states, "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means." An economic system that continues to treat employees as merely a disposable means to a more important end - profits, and for that reason, justifies low wages and imposes restrictions upon the rights of employees to better their conditions of employment, violates all norms of social justice and is incompatible with the evolution of democratic principles of fairness and equal treatment.

 

            By their statements and actions, Nordquist, Corker and Haslam have repeatedly proven their uncritical obeisance to the interests of the wealthy and the powerful. In equal measure, they have shown how little regard or concern they have for the best long-term interests of Tennessee's citizens or for every American who must work to eke out a living.    

 

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Inside Senator Rubio's Brain

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   On the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's speech to the Congress in which he committed his administration to a "War on Poverty," Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio challenged President Johnson's vision and the policy initiatives that his administration introduced to reduce poverty. These initiatives included the Social Security Act 1965 that created Medicare and Medicaid, the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 that created the Community Action Program, Job Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. 

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      In his speech, Rubio acknowledged that, during the period between1980 and 2005, the top1% of the work force earned more than 80% of the total increase in income. Senator Rubio also conceded that upward mobility in the United States had declined in comparison to other countries and that "our modern day economy has wiped out many of the low-skill jobs that once provided millions with a middle class living."

 

     Rubio's response to these widely documented, systemic economic problems was to blame the federal government, urge less government regulation, lower taxes and reduced public spending to address the growing national debt. In his address, Rubio took aim not only at Johnson's War on Poverty, but also at the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that was introduced during the Roosevelt administration to ensure that American workers are paid a minimum wage for every hour they work.


      Rubio insisted that, if economic problems were addressed at the state, rather than the national level, economic inequality would be reduced and that America's middle class would once again expand and thrive. As such, Rubio proposed to dismantle existing federal welfare programs and turn the money used to fund all such programs over to the states with flexible block grants. "Innovations are difficult to pursue because Washington controls the money," he stated, "But I know from my time in the Florida legislature that if states were given the flexibility, they would design and pursue innovative and effective ways to help those trapped in poverty."


       Senator Rubio's website describes three immediate concerns that he argues show the need to devolve political power and decision-making to the states. His first is the issue of healthcare. Rubio claims that "Floridians everywhere have expressed their concern about health care costs spiraling out-of-control. The President's new health care law will drive costs up, bankrupt the country and create bureaucratic red tape when it comes to everyday health care decisions. Lowering health care costs is essential to growing our economy and creating jobs in our country."


      Rubio's answer to the health care crisis is to unleash the purported power of the free market: "We should propose common sense, free-market ideas to make health care more accessible and affordable. Senator Rubio will focus on three goals: repealing and replacing Obamacare; allowing individuals to control their own health care choices; and returning control of health policy to the states."


      It is impossible to square Senator Rubio's rhetoric about returning control of health care policy to the states and to the private sector with the magnitude of the health care crisis that exists in Florida. For example, according to an August report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.8 percent of Florida residents under age 65 were without health insurance in 2011. As a result, Florida now has the country's second highest number of residents without health insurance after Texas. In addition, the recent census data shows that 30 percent of full-time workers in Florida and 60 percent of part-time employees don't receive insurance through their jobs.                 


     Senator Rubio's website describes federal spending as his second major concern. Rubio contends that "Floridians are concerned about the out-of-control spending in Washington that is piling up debt. Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says the 'federal budget is on an unsustainable path.' Right now, forty cents of every dollar the federal government spends is being borrowed from future generations...a $14 trillion debt is unsustainable. We need a government that stops spending more money than it takes."


      To address his concern, Senator Rubio recycles the usual right-wing austerity agenda peddled by the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation: freeze non-defense, non-veterans spending at 2008 spending levels, cut the budgets of the White House and Congress by 10%, and reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy. Rubio also opposes raising taxes, proposes an automatic sunset to government programs and a presidential line-item veto, and supports a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget.


      The good Senator conveniently ignores the fact that Florida is a "taker" - a moocher state - that receives $1.39 from the federal government for every tax dollar that it remits to the U.S. Treasury. His critique of the size of the size of the federal bureaucracy is also not fact-based. Data compiled by the Federal Office of Personnel Management documents that the number of civilians employed by the executive agencies of the federal government has declined from a peak of 3,040,000 employees in 1969 to 2,756,000 employees by 2011, notwithstanding the fact that the population of the United States has doubled during that same time period. Third, although a lawyer, Rubio, sadly, appears to be unaware that the United States Supreme Court, in Clinton v. New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998), declared that the Line Item Veto Act enacted by the Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 was unconstitutional.


      Lastly, Senator Rubio's support for a constitutional amendment that requires a balanced budget would, if adopted, threaten the country's well-being. Without deficit-spending - i.e. borrowing - the United States government could not have prosecuted World War I or II. Further, without an increase in taxes - that Rubio says he also opposes - the federal government would be unable to provide emergency disaster relief and flood insurance to residents of Florida and other states when unforeseen disasters have exhausted federal budget allocations for emergency relief. A May, 2011 study by FEMA - captioned as a "Strategic foresight initiative" - observed that federal disaster relief exploded after September 11, rising from an average of $2.7 billion between 1991 and 2000 to an average of $11.4 billion between 2001 and 2009.


     As part of his second major concern, Rubio also invokes the current favorite fantasy of the Republican noise machine that "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke and will bankrupt our country. Benefits for those currently receiving them or those approaching retirement should not and will not change. But for those who are younger, the programs will need to change or they will no longer exist when they themselves approach retirement age."


     The existing data shows that residents of Florida are heavily dependent upon existing federal entitlement programs. At the end of 2013, 2.89 million Floridians were on Medicaid, as reported by the Florida Department of Children and Families, while the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 3,527,830 residents of Florida received Medicare benefits in 2012, out of a total population of 19.32 million. Further, a study by AARP noted that nearly a third of Florida's nearly 3 million retirees, 65 and older, rely entirely on Social Security.


      It is doubtful that without a carefully-regulated, European-style single-payer or single-provider system, the exploding costs of our existing insurance-brokered, fee-for-service medical system - which also drives up the costs of  Medicaid and Medicare - will be reduced. Without structural improvements in the economy - including an increase in the minimum wage and a commitment to full employment policies as mandated under existing federal law - Senator Rubio's support for an increase in the age before which benefits for Medicare and Social Security could be received would exacerbate the poverty of millions Florida residents because they would be left without medical care or a source of income when needed most. Senator Rubio's proposal also smacks of class bias: those who are privileged to do the kind of "work" that he does are able to defer retirement far longer than those who work in physically demanding jobs, such as construction, or in emotionally demanding jobs, such as public school teaching or policing. 


      Senator Rubio's third professed concern is the economy. His website announces that he "believes we need to permanently extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that will sunset in two years, cut corporate taxes, permanently end the Death Tax, end double taxation, reform the Alternative Minimum Tax and ensure that we do not pass a value-added tax. His website also notes that he "opposes Democrat efforts to pass a cap-and-trade plan... and opposes efforts to strip away workers' rights to a secret ballot, will work to halt regulations that are hurting job creation, and supports free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea that will promote economic and job growth."


      If Florida is an exemplar of the kind of state-based, economic decision-making that Rubio urges, what kind of "innovative and effective" programs have its Republican governor and GOP-controlled legislature designed to improve the state's economy and "to help those trapped in poverty?" The most current Census Bureau data shows that Florida still suffers from a high poverty rate. As of 2012, 12.4 percent of families were reported to be living below the federal poverty line, and that 17 percent of all individuals in Florida, or more than 3,410,000 of its residents, were classified as poor.


      Karen Cyphers, a public policy researcher, reports in an August 19, 2013 post on St Petersblog that Florida provides fewer welfare benefits today than 45 other states, and that the total value of welfare benefits for Floridians, in1995, on average, was $26,092. As of 2013, adjusted for inflation after using1995 as the base year, the total value of welfare benefits decreased by $7,971 to $18,121. In addition, the Fiscal 2013 budget signed into law by Governor Scott eliminated 4,400 public sector jobs, cut Medicaid payments to hospitals by 7.5 percent, and froze the pay of state workers for the sixth straight year.


      According to the Census ACS 1-year survey, the median household income for Florida was $45,040 in 2012. Compared to the median US household income of $51,371, Florida's median household income was $6,331.00 lower. In fact, Florida's median household income has lagged well below the median U.S. household income for every year from 2005 to 2012.


      How then does one explain Marco Rubio's politics? Since his formal education suggests that he is not a stupid man, there are only two possible explanations. The first is that Senator Rubio actually knows better, but that he has chosen to pander to the lunatic base that supports him so enthusiastically. As such, Senator Rubio is a demagogue who, much like the fictional Senator Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip in Sinclair Lewis's novel It Can't Happen Here, will say and do almost anything that is politically expedient to promote himself politically.

      The second, equally unsettling explanation is that Senator Rubio is, in fact, unable to distinguish between social reality and what he believes is social reality. Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has described how the paradigms in which individuals live and work - what phenomenologists refer to as a "shared field of meaning" - continue to control the beliefs and behaviors of individuals long after the anomalies have overwhelmed the paradigm and long after the paradigms have ceased to explain what is actually happening in the real world. This holds true whether the issue at hand involves a scientific hypothesis or an economic theorem.


      As individuals and societies hold fast to beliefs that no longer explain or inform social reality, fear, anxiety and anger mount and cause what social scientists describe as cognitive dissonance. As a result, the death-throes of those ideas is all too often resisted with a ferocity that overwhelms civility and rational political discourse.


      Rubio's critique of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan,  who proclaimed that government was not the solution but, rather, the problem, but neither  Senator Rubio nor President Reagan appear to have studied the lessons of history. The historic record shows that during the late 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, as Western European countries responded to the misery and inequality spawned by the Industrial Revolution by dramatically expanding their social safety nets, poverty and inequality declined dramatically in Western Europe. By contrast, until Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the United Sates remained the outlier among Western democracies.


      The more recent record shows that because of the Great Society's initiatives, poverty in the United States, especially among the elderly, has been significantly reduced. Sadly thereafter, however, as a direct result of the "Reagan Revolution," the economy began a measurable march backwards - as the middle class was hollowed-out, upward mobility declined, and wage stagnation and economic inequality increased exponentially. Rather than having stimulated competition and created a level-playing field, the policies endorsed by Reagan and by successor Republican and Democratic administrations - including the lack of anti-trust enforcement - have, instead, promoted dangerous economic concentration and led to the emergence of oligopolies.


      Rubio's belief in vastly smaller federal government and his insistence that the mythical free market, if left to its own devices, will in some mysterious, magical way uplift everyone's standard of living raise profound questions about the legitimacy of political power and upon whose behalf such power should be exercised in a democracy. Impairing the authority of a national government to regulate an increasingly dysfunctional market economy, or to try to ensure through legislation a minimum basic standard of living for all of its citizens, improperly transfers the power to make decisions about the public interest from elected officials, who are legally and ethically accountable to the people, to the private sector where that power will be exercised by private actors. Because they are not elected, they do not have a duty to serve the public interest, nor a duty to account for their actions.


      The present economic crisis that Rubio claims to deplore was caused by too little government intervention in the economy, not too much. Without a robust, well-regulated economy, a progressive tax system, and significant public investment in job creation, job training, infrastructure investments, family assistance, education, nutrition and public health programs, the gap between the 1% who now live lives of opulence, and the 47% of Americans whom Mitt Romney castigated as the takers will only grow wider.


      Rubio's political and economic agenda should be profoundly disconcerting to every sentient American. His single-minded zeal to adopt the discredited Social Darwinism of William Graham Sumner is inexplicable since it would shackle the ability of policy-makers to respond to emerging economic crises. Rubio's efforts to undue the modest successes of the New Deal and the Great Society are, in equal parts, callous and reprehensible. His efforts serve only the short-term interests of the 1% upon whom Rubio and Tea Party continue to rely for their financial support. 

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Jim Cramer, Capitalism's Snake Oil Salesman

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Jim Cramer, the host of "Mad Money" on CNBC,  appeared last week on MSNC's "Morning Joe" to tout his new book, Get Rich Carefully. In a fawning, congratulatory interview, Cramer was praised for his financial acumen by that show's host, Joe Scarborough. Not a word of criticism was uttered about Cramer's past adulation for CDOs, securitized derivatives, default swaps, "puts" and the variety of other exotic Wall Street financial instruments that contributed to the recent meltdown of the U.S. economy.
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     Scarborough was the perfect shill for Cramer. A former Congressman from Florida, Scarborough now proclaims himself to be a "moderate" Republican. However, when he served in Congress, Scarborough endorsed Newt Gingrich's ill-advised "Contract with America;" supported legislation to eliminate the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy and Housing and Urban Development; sponsored a bill to force the U.S. to withdraw from the United Nations after a four-year transition; voted to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; and voted against the "Small Business Job Protection Act" of 1996 that increased raised the minimum wage to a pitiful $5.15 per hour.  

    Cramer, the consummate huckster and exuberant proponent of the carpe diem school of investing, is perhaps the personification of everything that has gone awry in the U.S. economy since the 1970s. His present acclaim demonstrates the extent to which the power wielded by the barons of the electronic media and their surrogate celebrities, because of their command of the airwaves, are able to reshape perceptions of economic reality, redefine the historical narrative and rehabilitate tarnished reputations.

     Just before its collapse, Cramer sought to assuage those concerned about the financial well-being of Bear Stearns. In his March 11, 2008 show  a viewer submitted a question "Should I be worried about Bear Stearns in terms of liquidity and get my money out of there?" Cramer responded "No! No! No! Bear Stearns is not in trouble. "Don't move your money from Bear! That's just being silly! Don't be silly!" Cramer and CNBC subsequently defended his statements, arguing that Cramer's assertions on the bank were a reference to a viewer's question on Bear Stearns' liquidity, not its stock prices.

     Long before Jon Stewart reduced him to an object of ridicule, Cramer had demonstrated a propensity to overstate his expertise and to bestow the mantle of credibility upon the utterly disreputable. On September 15th, 2008, to cite one egregious example, Cramer welcomed the CEO of Wachovia, Robert Steel, onto his program. Cramer enthusiastically recommended the stock after Steel failed to disclose a pending sale of his company. Two weeks, Citibank announced that it had acquired Wachovia. That acquisition caused the value of the stock to drop from $10 to less than $1 between on September 26th and September 29th.  Cramer apologized to his gullible viewers because he had "let them down."
 
    An article by Alan Roth in Money Watch ( "A statistical look at Jim Cramer's predictive skills," May 27, 2013) documents that Cramer's predictive skills have not improved since the financial meltdown. Nevertheless, CNBC continues to praise his financial insights. Roth quotes Roger Ehrenberg, the managing partner of IA Capital Partners in New York to the effect, "He [Cramer] kind of puts himself forward as the champion of retail investors, but had they listened to him on the [Bear Stearns] call, they would have lost a lot of money.... He empowers people to feel confident about buying and selling individual stocks, when in fact most people are ill-qualified to invest in that manner." Roth also reported that Ehrenberg and others believe that Cramer's show may encourage small investors to make frequent trades when it is really in their interest to invest in mutual funds and hold them for long periods of time.

         Cramer's adulation for Wall Street needs to be viewed in the context of the lingering Great Recession, which was fueled in large part by the rollback of economic and financial regulations that began in the Reagan administration and continued through the administrations of Bush 1, Bill Clinton and Bush 2. Although he cautioned against "irrational exuberance,"Alan Greenspan, a former disciple of Ayn Rand and an advocate of Milton Friedman's monetarism, in his capacity as chairman of the Federal Reserve, became the cheerleader for the retreat from fiscal sanity. His gushing endorsement of laissez-faire economics and his blessing of Wall's Street's excesses were quickly echoed by Cramer and others.

    The economic data shows that, as a result of poor public regulation and oversight of the financial markets, between June, 2007 and November, 2008, Americans lost more than a quarter of their net worth. By early November 2008, the S&P 500 had, declined 45 % from its 2007 high. Housing prices dropped 20% from their 2006 peak and total home equity in the United States -  which was valued at in 2006 at  $13 trillion -  declined to $8.8 trillion by mid-2008.In addition, the total of retirement assets held by Americans declined by 22 %, from $10.3 trillion in 2006 to $8 trillion in mid-2008. During the same period of time, non-retirement savings and investments lost $1.2 trillion and pension assets lost $1.3 trillion. The consequences to ordinary Americans were staggering as the net worth of U.S. households and non-profit organizations declined by 22% or $15 trillion.
 
    Sadly, while the Tea Party emerged ostensibly in response to the excesses of Wall Street and the government's bail-out, the anger of its members was quickly deflected by the right-wing noise machine to oppose any form of government regulation in the public interest, including further financial regulations.  Hence, Wall Street and Jim Cramer won again.

    The historical record  provides an invaluable insight as to what has gone wrong gone with the U.S. economy after World War II. According to Federal Reserve data in 1947, the U.S. financial industry accounted for about 10% of the total non-farm business profits but,  by 2010, the financial sector accounted for 50% of the total of all non-farm profits. Equally disturbing, while in 1946, the US financial sector was reported to owe $3 billion of this country's debt, or 1.35% of  GDP, by 2009, its debt had increased to $15.6 trillion, or 109.5% of GDP. By all accounts, the financial sector of the U.S. economy has now become the tail that wags the dog.

    The exponential growth of the financial sector and its distortion of American economic priorities is exemplified by the passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which has had a number of pernicious effects. Under ERISA, minimum funding requirements were established for defined benefit plans - traditional employer pension plans. As the promulgation of complex reporting rules and compliance requirements became more onerous, increasing numbers of employers chose to abandon pension plans and instead opted to offer their employees defined contribution plans - e.g. , 401K plans - the portfolios of which are managed by financial advisors and investment companies. The effect has been to dramatically place the burdens and risks of retirement investments upon ordinary employees who often have little knowledge of the vagaries of investing while simultaneously guaranteeing enormous fees to the managers of those portfolios.    The enactment of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) during
Bush II further contributed to the demise of traditional pension plans.

    Jerry Geisel, in an article for WorkForce ("Fewer Employers Offering Defined Benefit Pension Plans to New Salaried Employees," October 3, 2012), reported that, as  of June 30, 2012, only 30 percent of Fortune 100 companies still offered a defined benefit plan to new salaried, a figure that was down from 33 percent at the end of 2011, 37 percent in 2010 and 43 percent in 2009. Geisel noted that, as recently as 1998, defined benefit plans were the norm among the nation's largest employers, at a time when 90 percent of those Fortune 100 companies offered traditional pension plans to new salaried employees.

    The repeal of Glass-Steagall Act during the Clinton administration was a further blow to the public oversight, as it removed any existing restrictions of the commercial banks and their bank affiliates from engaging in speculation in securities. As a result, investment decision-making and liabilities became more opaque, as the stock market became ever more volatile and less accountable to individual investors.

    Simultaneously, as Wall Street became the center of hyper-frenetic activity, critical segments of the American economy - most notably manufacturing- were out-sourced or subjected to leveraged buy-outs by equity firms as wages stagnated or declined. Equally a source for concern, as taxes on the wealthy and their investment income have been significantly reduced, investment in basic R&D, infrastructure and other essential public goods has declined precipitously.

      The mutation of the American economy into an investment bazaar dominated by Wall Street has contributed to rise of what Kevin Phillips has described as the "new indentured servitude." At the same time, the growth of plutocracy has largely been met with silence on the part of most members of the economic elite and grudging acquiescence by Spiro Agnew's "Silent Majority." The most likely explanation is the tenacity of the myth of the self-made man. Most Americans still cling to this fantasy - which is a resilient exemplar of the powerful influence that the liberal ideology of individualism continues to exert in the consciousness of Americans to the present.

    Jeremy Rifkin described a Newsweek poll of 750 American adults conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates on June 24 and 25, 1999. Fifty-five percent of all of the respondents under age thirty who were asked whether they believed that they would become rich, answered yes. When asked, as a follow-up question, however, how they would get rich, 71 percent of the same respondents, all of whom were employed, did not believe that there was a chance that they would become rich from their current employment. Seventy-six percent of them believed that Americans were "not willing to work as hard at their jobs to get ahead as they were in the past." This belief persists to the present, despite all of the data compiled by the O.E.C.D. which  shows that American workers are at least as productive but work longer hours with fewer benefits and vacation time than their European comparators.

         Since the advent of the Protestant Reformation, as R.H. Tawney and Max Weber have chronicled, there has existed a pronounced link between the dour predestination of Calvinism and a work ethic which has emphasized material success: The accumulation of wealth was incontrovertible evidence that Providence had blessed the successful and marked each as one of those as chosen for redemption. In the United States, an entire cottage industry of books from Horatio Alger to Norman Vincent Peale and his successors have extolled the power of "positive-thinking" as the key to personal advancement.

    As opportunities for a secure retirement as well as financial success in the workplace have vanished for many Americans during the later part of the twentieth century and in the first thirteen  years of this century, no one should be surprised to discover that rampant speculation, get-rich schemes, real-estate "flipping," day-trading, the purchase of lottery tickets, and gambling became the substitute vehicles for this pursuit of success. They continue to fuel the fantasies in which ordinary citizens invest their dreams and hard-earned money.

     Given the current economic malaise, Jim Cramer performs a pivotal role as the high priest and celebrant of dysfunctional capitalism. In an increasingly secular culture, the likelihood of some future heavenly reward is discounted by growing numbers of Americans. But in an increasingly unequal and mean-spirited economy that promises to reduce millions of citizens to "road kill, Cramer offers a gospel of prosperity and economic salvation to all of those who choose to close their eyes and to imagine immediate financial independence if only they can successfully pick the right stocks - before rumors, hunches and the algorithms of computerized trading depress their value. To the extent to which Cramer's gospel of prosperity is embraced by ordinary Americans, the likelihood of any serious discussion about the need for real structural change in our economy becomes even more remote.
 
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