Uncommon Sense

April 4, 2012

The Numbers Don’t Lie (Unlike Our Politicians)

I have been reading “Winner Take All Politics” by Jacob Hacker (Yale) and Paul Pierson (Berkeley) and even though it is about a year and a half old now, it points up the problem we face very, very well. Basically, some very wealthy (and quite conservative) citizens of this country, starting in the 1970s, have waged a campaign to advantage their economic standing. As a consequence, the “rich have gotten richer” at the expense of the rest of us.

While Hacker and Pierson claim that this is a matter of the rich, the top 1% (maybe the top 0.1%) of all Americans, getting much richer, not a suppression of those of us in the 99%, even though part of their argument is a comment that “labor unions were in decline” during this period. Now I cannot stack up academic credentials like those of the authors, but I beg to differ. There was suppression of the 99% especially involving labor unions. This is what I see.

There are two sources of protection the middle class has from rapacious business interests: government and labor unions. I do not think that is by accident that labor unions are “in decline” and government, especially the federal government, is very unpopular. As a strategy, if I were trying to rig the system in my favor, I would change the rules to favor me and I would change the rules to disfavor those who could oppose me. This has been done.

Consider Canada. At the end of WWII, both Canada and the U.S. had 30+% of their jobs as union jobs. Currently, Canada is about the same, but union jobs in the U.S. have “slipped” to 12-16% (based on various estimates). Well, they didn’t slip, they were pushed. A concerted effort to change the rules of the game to disadvantage unions and advantage corporations has resulted in this decline. Consider the 2009 campaign to restore the right of unions to get workers to sign membership cards and if they get 50+% of the workers to join, they become the bargaining agent for those workers. This system was in place for decades until federal law was changed requiring elections involving all workers, oh, but allowing business owners to threaten and browbeat their own workers before the election ( “If the union wins, you will lose your job!”). There are even law firms now that specialize in keeping unions out of businesses by such tactics. With majorities in both House and Senate, the Obama administration couldn’t get this practice restored. (If you guessed filibuster, you are correct.) So, a concerted effort to undermine labor unions has worked and one of the two pillars of the middle class was severely weakened.

The second pillar of support for the 99% is government. When President Obama took office in 2009, approval of Congress was in the 40% range. Now it is in danger of falling to single digits! (Once they got the rules stacked in their favor, they want to discredit any power able to reverse or even erode those privileges.) So, there is a concerted effort to bring government, especially the federal government, into disrepute. Consider the attempts to remove the subsidies from the U.S. taxpayers to big oil companies. Oil companies are the most profitable companies in the world, let alone the U.S., and they do not need subsidies to look for more oil. Their CEOs have admitted such before Congress. But the attempts to pull those subsidies have been rebuffed repeatedly. (If you guessed filibuster. . . .) And then a staggering 73% of Americans think taxes on the wealthiest Americans should be restored to those at the beginning of the Bush administration. All such attempts have been rebuffed. All of these actions paint the Congress in a negative light in the eyes of the public (at least those paying attention). Why would representatives and senators do this, essentially lower the assessment of their own performance? Well, they are in relatively “safe” districts (guaranteeing re-election) and they are being paid extremely well to do so. Not only are the donations to their campaigns generous, but as soon as they announce they are retiring from office, they will be courted into high paying lobbying jobs (paid by, guess who!).

The cause of all of these things are very wealthy conservative individuals. They pay and we suffer. By changing the rules (Citizen’s United, anyone?) they get still richer and use that money to pay for more politicians and more lobbyists. (During the health care “debate,” there were more lobbyists working for the health care industry than their were members of Congress).

These manipulating conservatives claim that what has happened is a result of globalization and technology, a natural effect of market forces, etc. but the wealth concentration happening in the U.S. hasn’t happened in any of the countries with which we were comparable in Gini Coefficient (at least before as now we only compare with banana republics). This was done deliberately.

These same conservatives claim that the Founding Fathers favored limited government as an argument to diminish the role of government even more. But the Founding Fathers also favored majority rule. The bought and paid for politicians in the Senate are ruling from the minority (41 votes can prevent anything from happening).

So, do read “Winner Take All Politics,” as it is almost assuredly correct in its research. But as to the conclusion the super rich have gotten that way without suppressing the 99%, I am not buying that.

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