Class Warfare Blog

January 10, 2019

They Want It Both Ways

A common trope among the vocal rich is that handing out money to the “poor” will make them lazy. “Handing out” and “handouts” refer to welfare, food stamps, a higher minimum wage, you name it. On the flip side, they also claim that “redistributing” money from the rich to other where through higher progressive taxation will remove all of the incentive to invest and innovate.

So, at one end of the spectrum, allowing the poor to keep more of what they make or bumping their wages up to a bare subsistence level will result in them opting out of their jobs (more money = laziness) but allowing the rich to keep more of their income will encourage them to work harder, innovate more (more money = initiative).

Obviously this is merely a reflection of the class disdain the rich have for the poor. The poor are poor because of character flaws, moral weakness, lack of intelligence. The rich are rich because of their sterling character, moral strength, and brilliance. (Donald Trump … uh, is the exception that proves the rule?)

Also, is there any indication either of these “narratives” has any merit?

There is a well known phenomenon in business that as businesses grow and become larger, they tend to grow stagnant. They innovate less and their managers become more interested in milking the cow they have rather than finding new cows. In the recent tax giveaway to businesses, were the billions saved in taxes used to innovate, used to upgrade production, used to compensate workers, any of the things it was claimed it would do? Apparently, the funds were mostly used to buy back stock, which drives up the price of the stock, enriching shareholders and executives with stock options (you do get what you pay for).

Another economic “natural experiment” was the 1950’s and 1960’s economies. Marginal tax rates were sky high from the necessity to acquire funds to pursue World War 2. President Eisenhower refused to lower them, even in the peacetime following. Unions were empowered and laws were passed to provide some leveling of the playing field between labor and capital. So, were people enjoying the good times on welfare? Was there any laziness to be observed? Was innovation stifled because the rich were starved of the funds they needed to fuel the innovations? I think you know the answers to all of these (no, no, no).

So, what is with these narratives?

They aren’t new, they have been around for a century or more. They are, like religious apologies, arguments that sound reasonable but have no basis in reality. They have become memes among the rich folks, repeated often enough to be transferred from generation to generation. They are even sold to ordinary working people because they do sound reasonable and are repeated over and over. The rich are the job creators! Bah, customers create demand, demand creates jobs, and demand in our economy is mostly domestic demand which is stifled due to wage suppression activities on behalf of the rich.

The code word in use is “redistribution,” by which they mean that the rich are taxed and that money is “given” to the poor. The fact that much of the wealth the rich have accumulated is due to “redistribution” through other means is never mentioned. (Look up the history of the oil depletion allowance to see where the majority of the oil barons in this country came from.) The rich are in the business of bribing their politicians (not ours, we can’t afford them) to pass laws that benefit them. Our “representatives” do favors for the rich and nothing for the poor. For example, President Trump’s lackeys rolled back Obama-era regulations that prohibited coal companies from dumping toxic waste into the streams and rivers we draw our drinking water from, redistributing the consequences from the coal company executives to ordinary people. (1. Don’t get sick. 2. Die quickly.)

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December 25, 2018

Plutocrats! You Have to be Really Dense to Not Understand This!

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:35 pm
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Happy holidays, y’all! This is my gift to you on this Christmas day!

I have lauded Sam Pizzagati’s book “The Rich Don’t Always Win” already and have a fuller comment to make based upon things found in that book (highly recommended by me!).

Basically, what needs to be done is rather simple, but the plutocrats don’t see it this way. Here are a couple of quotes to get the ball rolling: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and income.”

I am sure the plutocrats would label this speaker as a communist if not a socialist. I am willing to bet that all of the plutocrats think that capitalism is the best economic system known/available/possible and are committed to it 100%. I also believe that almost all of these people believe in a “pay as you go” society. People should work, earn money, and pay for all that they need or want that way. Period.

Given those two beliefs allow me to state my second quote “Let us suppose that 1 percent of the population were to receive 95% of our entire national income, with the remaining 5 percent spread among the rest of us. Could our system—any system—work on that basis? One percent of the people couldn’t possible consume 95 percent of all of the goods and services which the rest of us could produce.” And failing to consume all of that output “they would have no reason to use their savings to produce more and more goods that they couldn’t consume either.” In such an unequal, unbalanced economy we would never see enough jobs for people to pay as they go, a consequence that “demonstrates the nonsense of the contention that the way our national income is divided among us has nothing to do with how much we produce or how many of us have jobs.”

Not to keep you on pins and needles, the first quote is from John Maynard Keynes, a mainstream economist … in 1936 … and the second was from Chester Bowles, a wealthy business man … in 1946.

Now, the plutocrats will counter argue that people paid “too much” according to their lights will become shiftless and lazy. Let’s see if that happened. After World War II, the American middle class burgeoned. More people had more disposable income than ever before. More owned houses, etc. Did you notice anyone buying hammocks for the long haul? Was there a run on foot stools for people to put their feet up? I was alive then and I didn’t see any of that. It always shocks me that plutocrats assume that when “ordinary people” get enough to live on they will become lazy and stop working. Of course, this is coming from a class of people who thought when they made their first million dollars, “How am I going to make the second?” This disdain for the motivations of ordinary people is larded throughout their positions.

Plutocrats also argue against equal distribution of wealth and income, saying that do not have enough wealth to make everyone rich. This is being willfully obtuse. The word “equal” should only be used with opportunity. In the 1950’s did you see people rioting or striking because they were not getting “equal” incomes to those of rich people? The idea is ludicrous. What is wanted is a fair distribution of the wealth created. Nobody is advocating equal distribution of wealth or income, so this is a straw dog argument.

The so-called “Great Compression” occurred after WW2 due to high marginal tax rates on the most wealthy and union power, and governmental power improving the lot of those at the bottom (hence the compression—economic forces applied downward from on top, upward from the bottom). This was fought tooth and nail by the rich and, after WW1, the plutocrats managed to reverse all of the “similar corrections” made to the system during that war. But after WW2 the plutocrats didn’t succeed in rolling back all of the New Deal and other wealth redistribution mechanisms (they do, however and after all of these years, still speak scornfully of the New Deal as a marker of their social class). Why was that? Simply put, the plutocrats were scared stiff with regards to the communistic “workers’ revolts” in Russia and elsewhere. If keeping an underclass under their thumbs could lead to that kind of revolt, well…. So, they were inclined to live with high marginal income tax rates and with unions. (But not the U.S. Socialist and Communist political parties. After WW1 they were decimated over and over and then obliterated after WW2 by using Red Scare tactics.)

That was then, this is now. The problem is endemic as we are back where we started  at the beginning of the twentieth century (Thanks capitalism!) and we may have to find another way to deal with plutocrats. They get Donald Trump in the White House and the biggest item on their agenda is a huge tax cut, that they claimed would help ordinary people but by and large went into the pockets of the plutocrats. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you! Have I mentioned that their tax cuts are permanent and our, much smaller, ones are temporary?)

This is so incredibly stupid that I am flabbergasted. These people are making so much money that they are giving it away or promising to give it away when they die. So, why do they so desperately need it while they are alive? They can’t spend but a fraction of it on themselves or their families. Were they to increase the wages of the workers they employ they would reap many benefits, help create a world they feel is the best (a “pay as you go” capitalistic society), and be appreciated far more than they are now. Why do they continuously rig the rules of the game to favor themselves and make sure that the bulk of new wealth flows into their pockets? The only answer that comes to mind involves dogs and mangers.

 

 

December 5, 2018

The Rich, They Are Not Like Us

The Republicans like to frame the rich as “job creators.” Well, one of the very rich, Alice Walton, reclaimed the crown as the richest woman in the world, as her fortune leapt from $33.8 billion to $46 billion over the past year. In September 2016, she was reported to own over US $11 billion in WalMart shares alone.

So, did she earn that money? Did she make that money? What did she contribute to society that so much money came to her? Is she creating jobs?

Owning stocks and investing in stocks has been shown to be the sham it really is. We are taught in school that selling stock is a way for businesses to finance their growth. This is clearly poppycock. Stocks are purely speculative instruments. The Apple corporation acquired $95 million in its initial stock offering. It hasn’t issued stock or gotten money from a new sale since. It has paid out billions to its stock holders in dividends. Imagine a bank load for $95 million that required billions of dollars to be paid back and the loan is still out!

Alice’s father, Sam Walton (founder of WalMart) made the money, she has simply played money games to expand the quantity.

The Founding Fathers comment often and long, as have many other prominent Americans since, that allowing accumulated wealth to accumulate by inheritance is un-American and counter to democratic principles. Yet, our inheritance taxes have been reduced to pure vapor under the guidance of bribes from rich people to Republican and Democrat politicians. This is what the rich like to call a “good investment.” They offer bribes of a few hundred thousand dollars here and there and they benefit by the many millions, if not billions.

Did you notice that Alice Walton’s net worth went up $12.2 billion in just one year? The Republican tax cuts played a big part in that. And, in case you are wondering, to spend that additional $12,200,000,000 in one year, she would have to spend $6,500,000 every hour of every work day of the year! How much money is enough? Apparently in a capitalist system there is no upper limit.

October 28, 2018

How Do We Know Drugs are Overpriced in the U.S.?

Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to lobbyists and politicians on Capitol Hill each year to shape laws and policies that keep drug company profits growing. The pharmaceutical industry, which has about two lobbyists for every member of Congress, spent $152m on influencing legislation in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Drug companies also contributed more than $20m directly to political campaigns last year. About 60% went to Republicans. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was the single largest beneficiary, with donations from the industry totaling $228,670.” (Source: How Big Pharma’s Money – And Its Politicians – Feed The US Opioid Crisis by Chris McGreal in The Guardian)

Drugmakers have poured close to $2.5bn into lobbying and funding members of Congress over the past decade.” (Source: same article)

Obviously the pharmaceutical corporations don’t need those dollars for profits or running their businesses, they represent just the cost of maintaining a system in which drugs are always more expensive for Americans than they are anywhere else in the world (you will find the same drugs, with the same licenses, but with lower prices everywhere else). The return on that $2,500,000,000 investment in U.S. politicians is quite healthy. We are obviously being charged that two and a half billion, over ten years, more than is necessary and since they are unlikely to spend that amount only to make that amount more than they would otherwise, I think it is safe to say that the amount we are being overcharged is far more than that.

September 24, 2018

A Failure to Communicate

I read just now the following:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez … was on Jake Tapper’s show on CNN the other day, the host grilled her about how she would come up with the forty trillion dollars needed to fund Medicare for all, housing as a federal right, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, and canceling all student loan debt.

She apparently could not answer the question … <sigh>.

Let me just address funding “Medicare for All (MFA)” for the nonce. Currently, the average family of four pays in excess of $16,000 per year for their health insurance. Mostly this goes unnoticed because these payments are made by their employers as part of their compensation. How much do you think the actual value of that insurance is? If you compare it with costs in other developed countries and look at how inflated the costs are and consider that the insurance companies providing the “insurance” are quite an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy (Medicare has a 3% overhead. If private insurance companies likewise have a 3% overhead, where do all of the handsome profits those companies make come from?). Basically that $16,000 represents a quite unnecessarily inflated cost. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the actual cost is $9,000 for that family of four. If MFA is invoked, the employers will be required to pay that $16,000 directly to the family and then that family will pay, say $10,000 in taxes (a bit more than their own costs to be able to cover the unemployed, etc.) and pocket the other $6000! (Note: these are not the actual numbers, but even if $100 ends up in your pocket, you would be making money on the deal.)

Once we have Medicare for All, we also have group buying of pharmaceuticals, something Big Pharma has spent billions to avoid (why they are opposed to such a system is it would squeeze its profits down from the astronomical to merely lavish). This will reduce the cost of medicinals, at least to what other countries are paying (for the same drugs from the same companies … yes, they are gouging the Rich Gringos because they can). Similarly there are a multitude of large cost savings that can be wrung out of the system (e.g. there would be only one billing process, not hundreds, for doctors and hospitals to contend with).

Currently the US spends about double what any other rich nation spends on health care per capita. This means we could spend 10%, 20%, or even 30% less and still be spending more than any other country on health care. If you remove the costs of private health insurance companies, we can save even more.

Conservative pundits always focus on the cost/taxes and never mention the cost savings. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez should be better prepared if she is going to go on camera to defend our ideas.

PS The Federal Reserve “printed” several trillion dollars to bail out the banks and Wall Street firms during the Great Recession and these same pundits didn’t blink. Plus that “forty trillion dollars” is not for just one year and they are careful not to mention that.

September 20, 2018

Our Great Response to the Great Recession

Note The title I wanted and could not create is “Our Great Awful Response to the Great Recession” (mostly due to all of the recent “pat on the back” looks back at our response to the financial collapse).

On the Naked Capitalism website there is a great interview of Michael Hudson in which he simply and clearly points out that our economy is currently still in the tank because of decisions made to bail out political donors and screw average Americans, mostly by President Obama (a corporate Democrat), which were unnecessary and counter to what has worked in the past.

Check it out:

Michael Hudson: 10 Years Since Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy – Did the Economy Really Recover?

 

September 8, 2018

Artificial Intelligence—The Promise

I am a big fan of digital technology and someone who is hopeful of the future. It is harder and harder for me to maintain that stance, however.

Currently there seems to be a widespread debate regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since we know so little the positions staked out are quite broad. At one end is a new future where machines take over dangerous and boring jobs and human beings have more leisure. At the other end, autonomous drones are the first step toward Skynet (the “bad guy” in the Terminator movies) and the extermination of human beings by intelligent killing machines.

There seems also to be many opinions in between the two extremes.

Something I do know is that it will not be the machines that determine the outcome. In every case of new technology impactful enough to change the course of history, the tech has been used to coerce and oppress the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites.

Consider the following photograph.

This is an Amazon warehouse. Amazon is a tech company. So, how do those who work in Amazon’s warehouses fare? Amazon uses personal monitoring algorithms to make sure that its employees do not waste time taking short breaks to catch their breath or go to the bathroom. They are to stay on task as long as Amazon wants them to … or else.

Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, makes huge profits by paying his warehouse employees wages that are so inadequate that many of them need public assistance just to get by. Thousands of Amazon workers are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing because they can’t survive on the wages they receive. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is now worth $158 billion, and his wealth increases by leaps and bounds. (And who pays for the public assistance subsidizing Mr. Bezos’ wealth? You and I do, of course.)

If you think back to the first powered looms to make cloth, it was the workers who had to get along with the machinery, not the other way around. Same was true with the assembly line to make automobiles, etc.

I do not argue that there were no benefits from technology that actually accrue to ordinary people. Henry Ford, no friend of workers, paid more than anyone else as a daily wage to pursue his dominance of the auto market. But that was then and now, wage suppression is the favorite tool of the captains of industry. Much of the advanced tech of today is not available to us because, well it is very simple, we cannot afford to pay for it. We don’t make enough money.

As much as people will squander $1000 on a new iPhone, the really impactful tech, such as a liver transplant, is not available to you … unless you can afford to pay for health insurance and many, many people cannot.

So, AI in and of itself will not necessary oppress ordinary people, coercing our labor for the benefit of the elites, but if rich people have any say in the future, my bet is that a sizable amount of AI will be used for just that purpose. (Jeff Bezos has already begun the application.)

August 20, 2018

CEO Pay Growing Faster than Yours … Still

Filed under: Business,Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:14 pm
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A recent report of CEO pay shows that the gulf between CEO pay and the pay of average workers in their companies has grown wider. I am shocked, shocked I tell you!

Articles are asking “How could this have happened?” As I have said over and over, this did not “just happen,” it was managed by the CEO’s. These people sit on each others boards of trustees to make sure that their pay increases will never be threatened. They have lobbied Congress and state houses to get tax cuts and tax provisions that favor them. We call such tax regulations “loopholes,” but loopholes are laws meant for one purpose that are used for another. These laws were passed for the purpose of increasing CEO power and wealth, period.

Take for example, Bill Clinton’s legislation to rein in the growth of “executive pay.” The situation was CEOs, through “golden parachutes” and other nonsense, were getting extravagant compensation for lackluster, even terrible, performances. So, the Clinton administration decided that CEO pay should be tied to CEO performance, an idea not so bad. But instead of tying CEO pay to some standard measure of business performance (income, profit, 5-year profit average, average wages in the company, customer satisfaction, etc.), they tied it to the value of the company’s stock, and therefore to the stock market. CEO’s rapidly took advantage of this and began getting more and more of their compensation in the form of stock options. They also started manipulating their own company’s stock price for their own gain. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!)

The most recent iteration of this practice is having the company borrowing money to “buy back” stock in the company. This has the effect of raising the price of the stock that remains and burdening the company with debt. The only people who benefit are stockholders and, oh, CEOs and other execs. This practice (stock buy backs) used to be illegal but as part of the package deal, it was made legal in the same era that started this binge of stock manipulation.

Who in a company is better positioned to manipulate the price of the company’s stock? Gosh, I believe it would be the CEO.

Can you spell insider trading, boys and girls? And it is legal. And it is making CEOs rich beyond their wildest dreams. And that wealth is being applied to our legislative and court processes to make them even wealthier and more powerful.

And, it all “just happened.” If you believe that, I have some lovely prime building land in Florida you may be interested in … but you might have to drain the swamp first.

August 7, 2018

The Deliberate Mischaracterization of the National Debt

Republicans and even a few Democrats are fond of characterizing the National Debt as if it were akin to your household debt and claiming that the size of that debt is a big, big problem.

And I respond with: how do you know when a politician is lying about the National Debt? Answer: when his lips are moving.

Most of the “debt” incurred by the federal government is in the form of Treasury bonds. If one thinks of this as a piece of paper (rather than the electrons they are made of now) printed by the government, it is in effect a promise to pay. If the nominal value of the Treasury bond is $1000, the promise to pay is that $1000 and a smaller amount more. Easy peasy. This is, in effect, the government printing money. What would be the difference between this procedure and the government printing that $1000+ in the form of currency? Answer: there is no difference.

But, but the government has to pay off that debt, doesn’t it? Sure, it issues a new series of bonds and pays off the old bonds with the sale proceeds from the new ones.

But, but … that’s something we cannot do as individuals. Yep, that is why what we have is called a sovereign currency. As a sovereign country we can make as much or little of it as we want.

Consider this, in 1964, the year I graduated high school, the national debt was $312 billion, which constituted 46% of GDP. What do you think people would have said then that in 2018 it would be $21.5 trillion and 108% of GDP? I am sure some would have set their hair on fire and run about, claiming this was disastrous, that the American economy would be in a “failing third world country” state with rapid inflation and that we would be in a severe decline economically. Have you noticed any of this? No? (There are a great many things I do not like about our current economy; that is not my point, my point is that we are not now a banana republic because of our yuge national debt.)

Oh, by way of creating a little perspective, the National Debt in 1946, my birth year, just 18 years earlier, the debt was $216 billion, which was a whopping 119% of GDP.

As another point to ponder, realize that the U.S. Federal Reserve, aka “the Fed,” created $2 trillion out of thin air to fund its purchases of stock and creation of bank “reserves” and whatnot to “save the economy” during the recent Great Recession. Did you notice all of the inflation created by the injection of that much “new money” into the economy? No? Neither did I. Inflation was virtually nonexistent. In fact, many were worried about deflation. So much for the claim that printing money causes inflation. Printing money can cause inflation, but it doesn’t have to.

The country’s budget is not like a household budget, not even close. The country’s debt is not like a household’s debt, not even close. If the National Debt really bothers you, the government could print $21 trillion in currency (now done with electrons, not paper) and pay it off entirely. This is not desirable for many reasons; I won’t go into them now. (Whew, I had you worried, didn’t I? But just a teaser … would you make war on someone who owed you a lot of money?)

In an era of “fake news” the claim of there being a “big, big problem with the national debt” is among the fakiest of bits of news. Of course, there is no such thing as fake news, we have had lies in the news since the beginning of the country; those lies are still news. Think of the news as a court transcript; people lie in court all of the time and the transcripts can be used to convict them of that; they are not automatically true, just a record of who said what, just like “the news.” This is why lawyers tell their clients to shut up and not talk about their cases, something President Trump would be wise to do.

This claim of a “big, big problem with the National Debt” is pure propaganda, playing on the general public’s ignorance of national economics to push political agendas that have no good basis otherwise. For example, if you look back in history, if you had a large problem with debt, the last thing you would do is … cut taxes. Think of a corporation which is struggling with a large amount of debt, the last thing they would want is a reduction in income such as you would get if you cut prices. Cutting taxes creates a large reduction in income for the government. If spending stays near the same, a larger amount of debt is created. Have you known of any administration, Republican or Democrat, which has reduced spending? No? Neither have I. This is why Republicans can cut taxes dramatically and not worry. No matter what happens, it will not affect what they want to do. Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2, and Trump spent/spend more money than they took/take in, which was fine by them as long as their wealthy sponsors got wealthier, their prime objective. After all, these are the people that claim that they want to “get the government off of the people’s backs” and then create legislation pushing the government into our private lives ever deeper. Pay no attention to what they say, watch what they do.

August 1, 2018

Banning Plastic Straws?

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:12 am
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Apparently a number of companies are eschewing the use of plastic drinking straws (Walt Disney and Starbucks, I think) and a number of principalities are considering legal bans. Seattle was the first city to ban them with San Francisco, New York City, Malibu, Miami Beach, and San Luis Obispo on the left and right coasts following suit. The effort is to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable plastic waste that is piling up, well, everywhere.

But, some snowflake conservatives are decrying the loss as tragic. (Possibly these are the same people as were mourning the loss of inefficient incandescent light bulbs.) The reaction seems to be couched as if it were a ban on straws of any kind and not just plastic straws. Could this be a knee-jerk reaction be coming from people who tend to suck … naturally?

In any case, there is a readily available solution in a piece of old tech. If you are old enough, you will remember there were drinking straws before the plastic ones (New! Improved!) were made available. These straws were generally made out of paper that was waxed to make it temporarily waterproof. Both the paper and the wax are (or can be made to be) biodegradable. These straws were occasionally miserable at their function if left exposed to a beverage for too long (they became limp and soggy and collapsed) but they are still a viable option for a disposable drinking straw that won’t hurt the environment. (I am also old enough to remember that hospitals used glass drinking straws, which were sterilizable permanent drinking straws.)

The pushing out of the plastic straw from its economic niche will also stir innovation and I assume a straw made from cornstarch or its ilk will soon be available.

Unfortunately, knee jerk reactions is what today’s “news” consists of, all becoming part of the two pronged approach of the Republican Party’s agenda: the rich get richer and the rest of us get distracted.

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