January 2011 Archives

Paul Krugman, Laureate of the Sveriges Riksban...

                     Paul Krugman

    There are many Americans who continue to insist that current malaise of the market economy has been caused by too much government regulation, not too little. Left to its own devices, advocates urge, an unfettered economy that is based upon the principles of "free enterprise" as laid down by Adam Smith is the best guarantor of prosperity for everyone. Although this argument has been dismissed by critics as the silly view of the public interest, history shows that it is not possible to defeat a theological proposition with empirical evidence or by an appeal to reason.       

    As early as October 20, 2002--six years before the economic meltdown of 2008--Princeton economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman bemoaned the death of the middle class in America. In an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine ["The End of Middle-Class America (and the Triumph of the Plutocrats)], October 20, 2002),Krugman observed that, "We are now living in a Gilded Age, as extravagant as the original. Over the past 30 years, most people have seen only modest salary increases: the average annual salary in America, expressed in 1998 dollars rose from $32,552 in 1970 to $35,864 in 1999. That's about a ten percent increase over 29 years....Over the same period, according to Fortune magazine, the average real annual compensation of the top 100 C.E.O.s went from $1.3 million--39 times the pay of the average American--to $37.5 million, more than 1,000 times the pay of the average worker." He further emphasized that, as of that date, the richest families in America possessed almost as much income as the 20 million poorest.

    As the wealth of the richest Americans continued to increase, it was not surprising that their share of the corporate wealth of the United States also grew.This disparity between the few who are wealthy and the many who are poor has grown alarmingly in the United States since the advent of the Reagan era and the kind of "trickle-down" economics and de-regulation of the economy to which he and his advisers subscribed.

      The net effect of this extraordinary concentration of wealth and power has been that the decisions and predilections of fewer and fewer individuals now determine the outcomes in the American economy while the overwhelming majority of Americans have little ability to influence macro-economic trends or economic and political policies. In 2003 the top 1 percent of households owned 57.7 percent of corporate wealth, up from 53.4 percent the year before.That group's share of corporate wealth had grown by half since 1991, when it was 38.7 percent.

      By 2006, as this concentration of wealth accelerated, the richest 1 percent of the American population then enjoyed the highest share of the nation's adjusted gross income as reported during the previous two decades, while the average tax rate of the wealthiest 1 percent fell to its lowest level in at least 18 years. It was also reported that the income of the 400 wealthiest Americans increased in 2006 almost 23 percent from 2005, to an average of $263 million.Further, the top four hundred wealthiest Americans paid slightly more than $18 billion in federal income taxes, or an average of $45 million on a record $105 billion in total income--the lowest effective rate in the 15 years since the IRS began to release such information.
      Recently, Robert H. Frank, Cornell University economist reported in a New York Times column ["Income Inequality:Too Big to Ignore," October 16, 2010] that during the decades after World War II, incomes in the United States rose rapidly and at about the same rate - approximately 3 percent a year - for employees at all income levels. As a consequence, America had an economically dynamic middle class;its roads and bridges were well maintained; and Americans as a whole were optimistic as investments in infrastructure and public goods increased. In that era of relative economic equality, Frank noted, that public support for infrastructure - paid for by taxes - enjoyed  wide support.

       By contrast, Frank notes that, during the past three decades, as the economy has grown much more slowly, America's  infrastructure has fallen into grave disrepair. Simultaneously, all significant income growth has been concentrated at the top of the scale with the largest share of total income going to that top 1 percent of earners. 

    The effect of this trend has been to sour the attitudes of the middle class toward public investments. As the middle class has been confronted with the specter of stagnant wages, its members have continued to finance their life style through  increasing indebtedness. Hence, their reduced circumstances, in turn, have made them easy targets for right-wing ideologues and their corporate sponsors who have persuaded many citizens that the cause of  their predicament is a result of the taxes that they pay, not an excess of private greed. The mantra of "no new taxes"' has thus led to the increasing impoverishment of the public sector as witnessed by the collapse of infrastructure and the increasing attacks upon the benefits public employees have been able to enjoy because of their unionization and collective-bargaining.

       In his best-selling book,The Affluent Society, which was published in 1956, Economist John Kenneth Galbraith worried that the United States had become a nation that tolerated the existence of "private affluence and public squalor." Little could Galbraith imagine that by 2011 the gap between private affluence and public squalor would grow so large that the United States would come to resemble the Victorian England that Charles Dickens chronicled and satirized rather than the Great Society envisioned by Lyndon Johnson.   

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Is Dick Armey A Closet Socialist?

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       Former Texas Congressman, Dick Armey was  first elected as a Republican to the House in 1984 (a prophetic year for those who have read George Orwell), and in 2002, he left the Congress and joined FreedomWorks, where he now serves as its chairman. Upon joining FreedomWorks, Dick Armey was quoted as saying, "During my time as Majority Leader on Capitol Hill, I came to recognize that grassroots action is the most important factor to winning at politics. That's what FreedomWorks is all about. I know FreedomWorks and its members well from past campaigns on the Flat Tax, Social Security reform, and school choice. In every issue that matters to the U.S. economy, FreedomWorks is right there in the fight. I am very excited to be a part of this great organization."

       Armey's biography states that in1958, he  went to work climbing power poles for the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), an agency that was created during the administration of  Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 to bring electricity to rural areas. One cold winter night while atop a 30-foot pole, Armey had an epiphany regarding the value of a college education. At 3 a.m., with the temperature 30 below zero, Armey thought to himself, "I'm not sure I want to be doing this when I'm 40," and decided to go to college.

      The following January, Armey states that he enrolled at Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota, a small, private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Armey further says that he was about to finish his studies and enter the world of work when an influential professor, Dr. Robert Biggs, suggested to him that "you ought to go to graduate school. You'll be a great economist if you'll just go study."

       Acting upon that advice, Armey enrolled in the Master's Degree program at the University of North Dakota in 1963, a public, taxpayer supported university.  After receiving his master's degree, he  attended the University of Oklahoma where he earned a Ph.D. in economics. The University of Oklahoma is also a public, taxpayer supported institution of higher learning. As an economist, Armey claims that he has been influenced  by the ideas if Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, both of whom endorsed a minimalist role for government and opposed government efforts to regulate economy or to provide public relief, even during periods of economic collapse and high unemployment.

        After he got his PhD, Armey then taught for short periods of time at  the University of Montana , West Texas State University and  Austin College. The University of Montana and West Texas State are both public, taxpayer supported institutions. In 1972, Armey began to teach economics at the University of North Texas where he remained until his election to the Congress. The University of North Texas is also a pulbic, tax-payer supported institution of higher learning.
     Armey claims that he was strong believer in the policies of Ronald Reagan and that he knew Reagan needed support for his policies in Congress. During his eighteen years on the federal payroll as a Congressman, Armey championed efforts to reduce the role of the federal government, railed against "government welfare," endorsed the Republican Contract with America in 1994, supported the shutdown of the federal government in 1994, and voted to impeach President Clinton because of a sexual peccadillo.

       On its website, FreedomWorks proclaims that "FreedomWorks members know that government goes to those who show up, and are leading the fight for lower taxes, less government, and more freedom....FreedomWorks recruits, educates, trains and mobilizes millions of volunteer activists to fight for less government, lower taxes, and more freedom....FreedomWorks believes individual liberty and the freedom to compete increases consumer choices and provides individuals with the greatest control over what they own and earn....FreedomWorks' aggressive, real-time campaigns activate a growing and permanent volunteer grassroots army to show up and demand policy change."

        The question that few pundits have asked, however, is: how can these sonorous platitudes about the need for "less government, lower taxes and more freedom" be reconciled with the  facts of Dick Armey's life? For all of his adult life, save for a short period of time as a student at Jamestown College and a brief teaching stint at Austin College, and now as a fund-raiser and spokesman for Tea Party and their corporate sponsors, Armey's productive life has been spent in the public sector. Armey was primarily educated in the public sector - in public schools and at public universities. Through the generosity of these taxpayer- supported, governmental  institutions, Armey was able to be the first in his family to enjoy the benefits of  a higher education and realize the American Dream. 

    For thirty years, from 1972 until he left Congress in 2002, Armey willingly worked without interruption in the despised public sector, where he accepted  generous compensation, extensive, subsidized, government- provided medical coverage and he now regularly receives a generous pension paid for by the very voters whom he recruits to rail against the excesses of government and the public sector.
        Given these contradictions, there are only two possible conclusions that one can come to about Dick Armey: He is either an unmitigated hypocrite, or he is a secret, closeted socialist who revels in his manipulation of misguided Tea Party members.       
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Are American Workers An Endangered Species?

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  David Leonhardt's column in the business section of  today's New York Times ("In The Wreckage of Lost Jobs, Lost Power") is essential  reading for everyone concerned about the direction of the U.S. economy. He notes that the disparity of bargaining power between employees and employers in the U.S. - in contrast to E.U. countries and Japan - has exacerbated our economy's jobless recovery and that, as a consequence, the United States now has an unemployment rate that is higher than Britain, Japan, Germany and Russia. Only the depressed economies of Ireland, Greece and Spain have unemployment rates comparable to the U.S. Loenhardt observes that, "For corporate America the great recession is over. For the American work force it is not.'"

      According to the U.S. Department of Labor [Union Member Summary,  January 22, 2010], as of 2010, only 12.3 per cent of employed wage and salary workers were union members. Not surprisingly, many of the non-union employees did not seem to understand that their ability to influence working conditions and wages, as solitary individuals who lacked comparable bargaining power with managers and owners of business, was virtually nil. Apparently, however, the myth of the autonomous, self-made individual who can receive recognition, remuneration and advancement solely by dint of one's own hard work continues to resonate in the workplace to the present, notwithstanding all of the evidence to the contrary.
     In a Huffington Post article (Unions, Progressives Blast Administration For Pay-Freeze Proposal,"11/29/10), Sam Stein quotes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:"Today's announcement of a two-year pay freeze for federal workers is bad for the middle class, bad for the economy and bad for business...No one is served by our government participating in a 'race to the bottom' in wages. We need to invest in creating jobs, not undermining the ones we have. The president talked about the need for shared sacrifice, but there's nothing shared about Wall Street and CEOs making record profits and bonuses while working people bear the brunt. It is time to get our nation back on track, but we should not do so by placing an even greater burden on the middle class."

       In 2008, at the beginning of the Great Recession, in 2008, Bob Moser wrote an article that appeared in the Nation magazine,[ "Mill Hill Populism: Meet The New Face of Populism in Post-NAFTA North Carolina,"  May 12, 2008]  "North Carolina, first in the South for its share of jobs in manufacturing, long benefited from out-sourcing. Decades ago Northern manufacturers shifted jobs to low-wage, Southern states with severe restrictions on organized labor. Now the 'old economy' parts of all these states were reeling from post-NAFTA version of out-sourcing. Since 1993, North Carolina has bled more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs...The pace of closures isn't slacking, either. Last year, 10% of the state's textile jobs were lost...."

        Even among the few unionized workers still employed in manufacturing, a two-tier pay system has been imposed by management to which unions were forced to acquiesce because of downward economic pressures: younger workers now make substantially less per hour than more senior employees who perform the same work. The effect of this two-tier system denies younger workers upward mobility and divides workers based solely upon dates of hire: "The changing job market is undercutting entry-level wages for those who do not go to college. 'In the 1960s and 1970s, you saw high school graduates getting good jobs at Ford and AT&T, jobs that in inflation-adjusted terms were paying $20 or $25 in today's wages," said Sheldon Danziger, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. "Nowadays most kids with just high school degrees will work in service-sector jobs for $10 or less..."

        Perhaps as worrisome are the long-term trends which suggest that, absent substantive structural reform, unemployment will remain even more intractable long after the economic meltdown which began in 2008. Between 1975 and 2005, entry-level wages for male high school graduates who did not graduate from college declined 19% after adjustment for inflation while the incomes of their female counterparts fell 9%. Lastly, men who were in their thirties in 2004 are reported to have had a median income of 12% less, after adjusting for inflation, than did their fathers' generation when the latter were in their thirties.   

      Yet in the midst of all of this disturbing data, Americans, almost to a person, remain fixated upon the myth of Horatio Alger and seem to share  a delusional belief  in the ability of each self, by dint of hard work, to enjoy the American Dream. At the same time, a Pew Research study reports that favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions' purpose and power. Currently, 41% of the respondents surveyed say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.  
          In response to this antipathy, a number of states, at the behest of the U.S.Chamber of Commerce and their corporate supporters, have passed legislation to make it even more difficult for American employees to unionize. What those who oppose unions fail to recognize is that, in our collective race to the bottom, all of us, even the wealthy, are in danger of becoming road kill.
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Will A Knowledge-Based Economy Promote Full Employment?

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       An article appeared recently in the Boston Globe that raised unsettling questions about the direction of the American economy and what passes for conventional economic wisdom among  many pundits, politicians and corporate spokesmen. In an op ed column, ("A lesson for America") Harvard University economist, Edward  L. Glaesar, observed that "Only 58.3 per cent of adults have jobs.." and that "America's unemployment  teaches a stark lesson about the value of education. Almost three quarters of adults with college degrees have jobs; fewer than 40 per cent of high school dropouts work" Professor Glaeser's solution: make education a priority. Left unanswered is the question whether, given his acknowledgment that one quarter of Americans with college degrees are also without jobs, education alone is likely to generate a significant economic recovery. 

         Long before the effects of the great recession begin to manifests themselves in 2008, the shedding of jobs in the American manufacturing sector and increasing corporate "downsizing" contributed to the problem of growing structural unemployment. As a result, the number of men between the ages of twenty-five to sixty-four who were available for work, but were no longer employed, increased during the past generation. Research shows that, between 1975 and 2002, the real earnings of males with only a high school education decreased by 13 percent while the earnings of high school dropouts decreased by 23 percent. Further, in 2008, 28 percent of black men of working age reported that they were unable to find work. But  the largest decline in labor force participation occurred among workers who possessed either a bachelor's degree or a graduate-level degree. Hence, the argument that better education is the key to economic advancement has been disproved by the data.

     Yale University Political Scientist Jacob Hacker, in his important book The Great Risk Shift (Oxford University Press, 2006), quotes the advice given by two business commentators "Be willing to retrain. The average weekly wage for a computer programmer is $23.01. A typical textile worker makes only $8.25. What's more, the number of computer jobs is rising, while the opportunities in textiles are diminishing. Jobs come and go as the economy evolves, often benefitting those workers who learn new skills and keep up with economic changes." Despite this advice, as Hacker notes, between 2000 and 2004, more than 180,000 jobs--about a quarter of the total employment of computer IT and programming professionals--were lost. By early 2004, unemployment among computer programmers approached 10 percent. Hacker further notes that more than 91 percent of the programmers employed in the United States possessed college degrees and that, to add insult to injury, many of the programmers, in order to receive severance pay as part of their lay-offs, were required to train their replacements from India and elsewhere.
     Although the idea of an industrial policy strikes a discordant note in this intensely individualistic culture, where any kind of public planning is often derided as socialism, the aversion to an industrial policy has ominous implications. Between December 2008 and July 2009, according the United States Department of Labor, manufacturing jobs in United States jobs declined by 47 percent. Simultaneously, the value of China's exports to the United States--mostly of manufactured products--increased to a record $337 billion in 2008. The consequence of this laissez-faire attitude has been the de-industrialization of the United States and the systematic impoverishment of American workers.

    The absence of a coherent industrial policy has remained largely unremarked upon by the pundits and political class, while the fragmented power centers of this country's federal government have not hesitated to endorse policies that enable businesses to outsource, the wealthy to buy trophy homes and stash money in offshore accounts, and agri-businesses to swallow up small family farms while receiving massive taxpayer subsidies. The political and economic policies pursued during the last three decades of the twentieth century and the first ten years of the twenty-first century neglected and de-funded public goods and infrastructure from railroads to bridges, to economic training programs for the unemployed, to educational grants and programs to improve the quality of education and to increase the number of university graduates.

    Whether the Obama administration will be willing to squander political capital in an effort to address this problem in a serious way remains problematic, given its caution and the financial and political power of entrenched interests and their lobbyists. In addition, the limitations of a federal government in which power is divided and exercised by so many disparate power centers militates against the likelihood of success in any such endeavor. By contrast, the European Union countries have no such aversion to thinking and planning on the macro-economic level. The member states, despite the effects of the recession that they, too, are experiencing, have announced ambitious plans to develop a hydrogen-based economy by 2050, and the union has invested billions of dollars in the development and improvement of infrastructure educational programs and scientific and technological research and development.

       Nevertheless, the mantra that the development of a "knowledge-based" economy is the solution to America's economic woes is nonsensical. Individual educational attainments, by themselves, will not overcome the structural problems present in the American economy. The growth of the service sector of the economy, without an industrial base of well-paid workers to support it, will ultimately reduce the wages of everyone, including highly paid professionals.  Before we jump embrace this model we need to reflect upon the last model of a "knowledge-based " economy in the Western world - the Middle Ages. Although clergy were exempt from criminal prosecution, few would argue that their profession was highly-paid.

       The failure of the market economy to improve the standard of living for the vast majority of American workers and their families, despite huge tax reductions, enormous business subsidies and de-regulation during the last four decades, belies the argument that more of the same will be better. There is simply no substitute for coherent economic planning by the federal government to promote the creation of well-paying jobs; to reverse the continued de-industrialization of America through investment in public goods and infrastructure; coherent tax policies, enforcement of fair trade policies; and the adoption of labor laws that enable Americans, without fear of reprisals, to join unions, and to bargain effectively. The goal must be not to reduce American workers to the level of Chinese or Indian workers but to maximize economic growth and to reduce economic inequality.

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    In the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy, the Arizona legislature - at the behest of Governor Brewer - unanimously passed emergency legislation, the intended purpose of which was to prevent members of the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at the funeral of a nine year old victim, Christina Taylor-Green. As enacted, the statute provides that "A person shall not picket or engage in other protest activities, and an association or corporation shall not cause picketing or other protest activities to occur, within three hundred feet of the property line of any residence, cemetery, funeral home, church, synagogue or other establishment during or within one hour before or one hour after the conducting of a funeral or burial service in that place...For purposes of this section, 'other protest activities' means any action that is disruptive or that is undertaken to disrupt or disturb a funeral or burial service."
       The Westboro Baptist Church is composed of a cult-like group of zealots who, over the years, have protested at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Its home page proudly proclaims that "The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas still exists today as an Old School (or, Primitive) Baptist Church. We adhere to the teachings of the Bible, preach against all form of sin (e.g., fornication, adultery [including divorce and remarriage], sodomy), and insist that the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace be taught and expounded publicly to all men. These doctrines of grace were well summed up by John Calvin in his 5 points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints....WBC engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. We display large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments, including: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS HATE GOD, AIDS CURES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR AIDS, FAGS BURN IN HELL, GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FAGS ARE NATURE FREAKS, GOD GAVE FAGS UP, NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS, FAGS DOOM NATIONS, THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS, FAG TROOPS, GOD BLEW UP THE TROOPS, GOD HATES AMERICA, AMERICA IS DOOMED, THE WORLD IS DOOMED, etc."

         The antics of these religious bigots have been roundly condemned as despicable and profoundly distasteful. Nevertheless, their right to picket and protest are arguably within the constitutional guarantees of the First Amendment regarding religious expression, freedom of speech, and the right to petition and assemble, as those protections have been incorporated and applied to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Cantwell v. State of Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940), at 310, Justice Roberts observed: "In the realm of religious faith, and in that of political belief, sharp differences arise. In both fields the tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor. To persuade others to his own point of view, the pleader, as we know, at times, resorts to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But the people of this nation have ordained in the light of history, that, in spite of the probabilities of excesses and abuses, these liberties are in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy."

         As the Court in Cantwell also noted, the states may, nonetheless, impose reasonable restrictions upon the exercise of certain religious activities: ''The freedom to act must have appropriate definition to preserve the enforcement of that protection [of society]. In every case the power to regulate must be so exercised as not, in attaining a permissible end, unduly to infringe the protected freedom. . . . [A] State may by general and non-discriminatory legislation regulate the times, the places, and the manner of soliciting upon its streets, and of holding meetings thereon; and may in other respects safeguard the peace, good order and comfort of the community, without unconstitutionally invading the liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.'' Id. at 304. Further, certain practices condoned or encouraged by religious groups, such as the practice of polygamy to cite one example, may be prohibited altogether as inimical to the public interest. See Reynolds v. United States,  98 US 145 (1879).

     Questions about whether the restraints imposed by the Arizona legislature upon protests at funerals have been narrowly tailored to protect a compelling government interest are likely to be decided by the federal courts. What is ironic and profoundly unsettling, however, is that Arizona's political establishment, almost to a person, was able to enact legislation within a matter of days that raises complicated and vexatious issues about the exercise of First Amendment Rights, yet that very same political leadership, fearful of somehow abridging alleged "Second Amendment rights," has been unable to enact any legislation whatsoever that would impose reasonable restraints upon the acquisition of guns and high-velocity ammunition. Arizona law currently permits even a mentally ill person to purchase a AK-47.

       If the right of anyone, without restriction, to purchase and acquire any number of weapons, no matter how destructive, has now become one of our core values, something is terribly wrong with our political system.
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The attempted assassination of Congress woman Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six innocents, including a federal district judge, should remind all of us of our continued vulnerability in this culture of lawlessness in which we live.

    Today, the United States remains among the most violent and crime-ridden countries in the developed world. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, during the period between January and December 2006, more than 75 million crimes were reported to police and law enforcement officials at all levels of government. Given a U.S. population which consisted of an estimated 303,824,646 inhabitants as of July 2008, this statistic is quite startling. Further, the number of violent crimes, including murder, robbery and burglary increased approximately 1.3 percent.

    Of the total of reported crimes in 2006, almost 22 million occurred in non-metropolitan areas. In addition, as of 2006, the number of adult and juvenile prisoners in federal and state correctional institutions numbered 2,050,205, of whom 1,853,386 were men and 196, 820 were women. By 2008, the United States had the dubious distinction of having, by far, the highest rate of incarceration in the entire world: 2.3 million Americans were imprisoned, which amounted to one in 100 adults, one in fifteen black men between the ages of twenty and thirty-four, and one out of every thirty-six Hispanic males.

    Easy access to firearms is a major contributor to the epidemic of violence which has gripped U.S. culture. According to the Violence Policy Center, more than one million Americans have died in firearm-related suicides, homicides, and unintentional injuries since 1960. In the seven years after September 11, 2001, ninety-nine thousand people were murdered in the United States. Sadly, the inability of government to prevent gun deaths by reducing the availability of these weapons is often excused based upon a misreading of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Until recently, that amendment had universally been construed to grant to the people--and not to individuals--the right to keep and bear arms as members of a well-regulated militia (today's National Guard) as previously confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia, et al v. Heller, illustrates the intellectual stranglehold that a political philosophy based upon anti-social individualism exerts upon current federal jurisprudence.  Justice Scalia's tortured constitutional analysis and his inability to comprehend the grammatical interconnection between a subordinate clause in a sentence --"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."--and the main clause--"... the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"--are an unfortunate consequence of the ideological bias in which his legal analysis remains mired.

     Scalia's bias--his commitment to eighteenth century notions of individualism--is so complete that he ignores the primary duty of a government --to protect its own citizens. In the name of an abstract right of the individual and his putative right to own a gun, Scalia denies the right of concrete human beings--who have died and will continue to die because of handgun violence--to be safe from harm: "We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country," Scalia piously intoned, "but the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table."

     The mindset exemplified by Justice Scalia and the enormous success of powerful lobbyists such as the National Rifle Association--whose incantations are often echoed by equally reactionary federal judges and legislators who compound that confusion--ensures that incidents of gun violence, including massacres such as Columbine and Virginia Tech, and now in Tucson, will inevitably increase.

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A New Year Agenda: To Restore The Promise Of America

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      Between June 2007 and November 2008, Americans lost an estimated average of more than a quarter of their collective net worth. By early November 2008, the Standard & Poor 500 stock index was down 45% from its 2007 high; prices for homes had dropped 20% from their 2006 peak. Total home equity in the United States, that was valued at $13 trillion at its peak in 2006, had dropped to $8.8 trillion by mid-2008. The value of  retirement assets held by American declined by 22%, from $10.3 trillion in 2006 to $8 trillion in mid-2008. During the same period, savings and investment assets lost $1.2 trillion and pension assets lost $1.3 trillion. According to Roger Altman ["The Great Crash, 2008," Foreign Affairs] these losses, together, totaled  $8.3 trillion.

    The lingering effects of the Great Recession continue. As of today, one in every five Americans is either unemployed or underemployed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2009, 50.7 million Americans lacked healthcare insurance coverage, while 43.6 million of our fellow citizens lived in poverty. This week, as the newly elected Congress takes office, the Republican majority  propose to cut at least $100 billion from domestic spending, despite the evidence of continued widespread misery.  These same Congressmen, however, have vowed to increase military spending which, for the 2010 budget, totaled  $721.3 billion.

    Something is very wrong. Austerity, as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have warned, is an incredibly irresponsible,  reckless and counter-productive policy during a recession. It produces a further contraction in the economy since government spending is no longer available to offset reduced demand in the private sector. Ironically, The "welfare-through-warfare" sector of the American economy remains the only area of economic growth, although one wonders how any rational person could accept the premise that waging perpetual warfare abroad, with a military largely recruited from the ranks of the poor but commanded by an increasingly professional warrior class of officers - many of whom are themselves the children of officers - can be a positive good. 
    The fist decade of the 20th Century marked the end of the Golden Era and the beginning of the Progressive Era in American Politics. Because of pervasive belief that the society was best served when individuals were left to pursue their fortunes without government regulation (laissez-faire), a few individuals - the Vanderbilts, the Roosevelts, the Carnegies - were able to amass incredible, untaxed fortunes and to exercise virtual monopolistic control over the American economy. Simultaneously, the creation of an industrial had spawned huge poverty slums, misery and economic inequality while the lack of government regulation over commerce meant that thousands were daily sickened from uncontrolled pollutants, tainted foods and adulterated products.  In response to that challenge, Herbert Croly wrote The Promise of American Life in 1909. 

    As Croly noted, "the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth." Croly urged the creation of national government that would break-up monopolies and pursue regulation in the public interest."It is, then, essential to recognize that the individual American will never obtain a sufficiently complete chance of self-expression, until the American nation has earnestly undertaken and measurably achieved the realization of its collective purpose. As we shall see presently, the cure for this individual sterility lies partly with the individual himself or rather with the man who proposes to become an individual; and under any plan of economic or social organization, the man who proposes to become an individual is a condition of national as well as individual improvement. It is none the less true that any success in the achievement of the national purpose will contribute positively to the liberation of the individual, both by diminishing his temptations, improving his opportunities, and by enveloping him in an invigorating rather than an enervating moral and intellectual atmosphere."

    "It is the economic individualism of our existing national system which inflicts the most serious damage on American individuality; and American individual achievement in politics and science and the arts will remain partially impoverished as long as our fellow-countrymen neglect or refuse systematically to regulate the distribution of wealth in the national interest. I am aware, of course, that the prevailing American conviction is absolutely contradictory of the foregoing assertion. Americans have always associated individual freedom with the unlimited popular enjoyment of all available economic opportunities. Yet it would be far more true to say that the popular enjoyment of practically unrestricted economic opportunities is precisely the condition which makes for individual bondage. Neither does the bondage which such a system fastens upon the individual exist only in the case of those individuals who are victimized by the pressure of unlimited economic competition. Such victims exist, of course, in large numbers, and they will come to exist in still larger number hereafter; but hitherto, at least, the characteristic vice of the American system has not been the bondage imposed upon its victims. Much more insidious has been the bondage imposed upon the conquerors and their camp-followers. A man's individuality is as much compromised by success under the conditions imposed by such a system as it is by failure."

     Croly's insights are as valuable and inspiring today as they were 102 years ago. Perpetual warfare; tax breaks for the wealthy; our continued acquiescence to bottom-line business decisions that are based solely upon concerns for the next quarter of the fiscal year; and business decisions that ignore the long-term adverse consequences caused by unrestrained "global" competition, with its  flood of imports created by cheap labor in the Third World, will ultimately impoverish all of us.

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