Class Warfare Blog

August 4, 2020

A Pandemic Rude Awakening?

The GOP and to some extent the Democrats have been suppressing wages of working people for decades now. Worshiping at the altar of profits, the route to greater and greater profits has been to lower taxes on businesses (in essence transferring them onto individuals) and reducing the cost of production, which is dominated by wages paid to workers. So, wage suppression has become a fine art in corporate circles.

A consequence of this approach is that people, aka “consumers,” have less and less disposable income to buy the output of American businesses. American companies have taken the strategy to the max. Many jobs that could be kept here have been exported to “low wage” countries, which now turn out to be not so low wage because the wages in those countries have been rising (It’s the demand, idiot!) and transportation costs, obviously, went up a great deal, management, too.

The Pandemic Recession, looking to morphing into the Pandemic Depression, is showing the short-sidedness of the short-term pursuit of profits, profits, profits. Here is an excerpt from a Naked Capitalism post on small businesses:

“It’s depressing, but not exactly surprising, to see a major New York Times story about one-third of the small businesses in the city have died or expected to shutter. Needless to say, it’s not just restaurants.” How’s Your Economy, Small Businesses Death Watch Edition

Small businesses in NY City, it is reported, constitute 98% of the employers and account for 3 million jobs in the city. The businesses close, the employees are without jobs, and while jobless, they will be having trouble paying their bills. This will crater other small businesses and away we go . . . spiraling down the economic toilet.

So, I am told (by Dwight Eisenhower, no less) that one shouldn’t criticize unless one has a better alternative. (It is far too easy to tear something down and much harder to build something up. Take that you “creative destruction” purveyors.) So, what is the alternative? Easy peasy. Be patriotic. Keep jobs here, pay higher wages, make less profits.

What was that? I just saw a Republican running past me with his hair on fire, sputtering “Higher wages . . . less profits . . . Arggghhh!” Please do realize that many believe that in our “pay as you go culture,” a business must make a profit to continue to exist. But even this dictum is soft. I had a fellow professor leave teaching to set up his own business. His first major mistake was he didn’t pay himself enough. At the end of his first year, he had profits, which he paid business taxes on, which he then paid to himself, which he then paid income taxes on and thus got double taxed on what he had made. He learned to pay himself everything that might be considered to be a business profit, and paid income taxes on those sums but no business taxes. His business happily perked along make no profits to speak of . . . but I digress.

The titans of commerce have taken the “We have to make a profit,” an acceptable dictum, to “we have to maximize our profits over every other consideration we can conceive of.” This is dubious at best. There is no limit to how much profit can be extracted from a business (as a percentage, not in absolute terms) consequently using “we have to maximize profits” as a motivation is an incentive without any boundaries whatsoever. This is a fatal flaw of capitalism: there is no limitation on greed.

What if corporations considered one of their “products” to be “reliably good jobs for people in our community,” or “creating healthy lives for our employees,” or even “creating happiness for our employees.” Don’t laugh, all of these have been stated by corporations as goals in the past (or their equivalents).

No one begrudges companies or corporations reasonable profits. Everyone should begrudge corporations who make obscene profits by grinding their employees under their heels to make them.

July 28, 2020

Motivations According to Conservatives

Unemployment insurance has been, irrationally, deeply controversial. It has always faced bitter opposition from conservatives who claim that it would discourage workers from seeking jobs.

This is a part of their “those people are lazy” mindset which is joined with the belief that if “those people” didn’t have to work, they wouldn’t.

Let’s see how this belief plays out if taken to heart.

In our “pay as you go culture,” you have to pay for everything: you pay for the food you eat, for the shelter over your head, and you pay for the utilities to keep that space livable, you pay for health care. You pay for all of this by getting a job that pays “enough.”

Let’s do an experiment—one that actually has already been done any number of times, but hey, this might be the first time you thought this through. Let’s offer someone who has one of those “keeping body and soul together” jobs, one that pays just enough to be able to pay the rent, keep the TV on, and feed himself (no family), the same amount of income, but he doesn’t need to go to work to receive it.

The conservatives will immediately see this guy in a hammock sipping a mint julep. He just got his ticket punched to Easy Street! Well, we all now know what “staying home” is like during this pandemic. Does it feel like Easy Street? “Are we not entertained?” So, after lolling about for a bit, this “lazy bum” we are paying to do nothing gets the idea that he could get a good job and really expand his income. After all, the government is covering his nut, but not for vacations, cars, or a family. Do, you think this guy would settle for another boring dead end job like he had before? I tend to think he would aim higher. If he applies for 10 jobs but doesn’t get one of those, what has he lost? He still has food and shelter, so he is not desperate. I think we can count on human ambition being at least moderately high. Having that minimum income to backstop him, he is less likely to settle, not more likely.

And what does this say about the shit jobs people were doing for poor wages? What would happen if people said “Why should I break my back for little more than the basic income I get automatically?” Quite a number of those jobs would go wanting. Consequently . . . if you believe in market forces . . . those jobs are not worth doing, or if they are, higher wages are going to have to be paid to entice people to do them.

And, what would a lot of people opting out of the job market do for those seeking jobs? Hmmm . . . fewer applicants for the same number of jobs means higher employment rates. Conservatives can’t argue this is false because they have been claiming for years that Mexicans, illegally in the U.S., are taking jobs away from Americans. We have argued that there aren’t a whole lot of Anglos seeking work in the roofing business in the Texas summer or in the fields picking vegetables, but the conservatives insist that Mexican “illegals” are taking those jobs away from Americans. If so, it has to work both ways. If poor people stop applying for the shit jobs they have been doing, there will be more jobs for Americans who want them.

Now, small business owners will complain (they have little power otherwise) that if they have to pay higher wages to keep people in the jobs they have on offer, they will go out of business. Again, let’s consider a small thought experiment. So, you Mr. Small Business Owner advertise for an employee to fill one of your shit jobs, and several desperate people apply. You pick one and you train them. They perform in a lackluster manner and quit or get fired after a short stint “on the job.” And so, you are back advertising for a replacement . . . again, which you will hire, train, and . . . well, I think you see the cycle. If, on the other hand, the job pays well, and this owner tells an employee they have to pick up the pace, they are much more likely to do so, because the impact of losing a higher paying job is greater. Many people won’t want to lose such a job and so will try harder. Fewer adverts get put, less time is spent training new employees, less over time is paid covering for employees who got fired/quit, etc. Which process is less expensive to the SB owner? I don’t think the answer is obvious.

Conservatives seem to think the very best motivation for poor people is desperation (you have all seen the drug company commercials showing poor people unable to afford the medicine their dependents need, the problem is not invisible). They, of course, reserve special scorn (“lazy and shiftless”) for the racial minorities who are poor, but all of the poor are painted with their wide brush. (They work out their schemes on the Black and Brown poor, and then they always bring it home on the White poor . . . always). On the other hand, in their lives and the lives of other white, privileged Americans, their salaries are more than adequate to meet a family person’s nut for the whole family, and while it may not be enough to pay for a McMansion, or private schools for the kids, and a Porsche, it is enough for cars, vacations, a paid healthcare plan, and a few splurges, etc., and the motivation preferred by this class is greed, pure and simple. They laud hedge fund managers and other financial fat cats as examples of what you can do if you apply greed to your work life.

So, basically, conservatives have very low opinions of the motivations that move people and I suspect that is because they have a low opinions of people in general, other than themselves and their close associates, of course. And I wonder where they learned to have a very low opinion of people . . . religion!

July 26, 2020

Those Death Panels . . .

Those “death panels” the Republican opponents of the Obamacare legislation warned us about have finally popped up . . . in the Republican state of Texas!

Texas hospital forced to set up ‘death panel’ as Covid-19 cases surge

 

July 25, 2020

With Apologies to Lerner and Loewe

Musical theatre for 2020 and possibly the campaign song for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign:

Why can’t the poor be more like rich?
The rich are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair.
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can’t the poor be like that?

Why does every one do what the others do?
Can’t the poor learn to use their heads?
Why do they do everything their parents do?
Why don’t they grow up, well, like the rich instead?

Why can’t the poor take after the rich?
The rich are so pleasant, so easy to please.
Whenever you’re with them, you’re always at ease.

One rich man in a million may shout a bit.
Now and then, there’s one with slight defects.
One perhaps whose truthfulness you doubt a bit,
But by and large we are a marvelous sort!

Why can’t the poor take after the rich?
‘Cause the rich are so friendly, good-natured and kind.
Better companions you never will find.

Why can’t the poor be more like the rich?
The rich are so decent, such regular chaps;
Ready to help you through any mishaps;
Ready to buck you up whenever you’re glum.
Why can’t the poor be such chums?

Why is thinking something the poor never do?
And why is logic never even tried?
Applying for welfare is all they ever do.
Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?

Why can’t the poor behave like the rich?
If I were one of the poor who’d been to a ball,
Been hailed as royalty by one and by all;
Would I start whinging like a jilted lover,
Or carry on as if my home were in a tree?
Would I run off and tell no one where I’m going?
Why can’t the poor be like me?

Adapted from “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” from My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe.

July 17, 2020

Oh, Oh, Oh, the Cancel Culture

The American Right Wing has lost its mind again. And it is such a small thing it is hard to find once lost, so I feel for them. I also wonder why they call it a right wing as there is no left wing any more and a bird consisting of one wing and a body cannot fly . . . but I digress.

Regarding the “cancel culture,” the Right is decrying the few protests that have resulted in right-wing speaker’s speaking gigs getting canceled, mostly because of Internet protests.

“Ow, ow, ow,” they cry, earning a Snowflake Award.

I have commented before on the role the Internet has played in the expansion of atheism and racism in this country. The Internet provides forums which creates distance between those interacting and, in many cases, anonymity. This has allowed many people, previously squelched by public opinion, to speak there minds.

In the case of atheism this has allowed many atheists to find out that they are not alone and there are a great many other people who have the same thoughts and attitudes. Since this has expanded and reinforced people of this ilk (of which I am one) and we do no harm to our fellow citizens, I consider this a net good thing.

In the case of racism, the exact same thing has occurred. Prior to the development of Internet chatting, racists were more and more isolated and racist comments became less and less acceptable across the country. The reason was public disapproval. Gossip and shaming are social controls that evolved millennia ago to help us keep society reined in. And then came the anonymity of the Internet and racists, separated from those who would chastise them for their comments, found fellow travelers and were reinforced in their attitudes. They discovered that they weren’t as alone as they thought they were. Since racists do harm to our fellow citizens, even if minimally spreading bad attitudes toward certain groups of people, I consider this a net bad thing.

And, now we are here.

Now we are seeing public gossip and shaming catching up with the special interest groups on the Internet. We cannot be present to squelch bad behavior but we can do it via the Internet! No longer are torch lit parades necessary to flaunt one’s approval or disapproval of a social group, one can do it from the comfort of one’s home while wearing pajamas.

And, who disapproves of this esteemed social mechanism rebalancing itself from having gotten out of whack through unforeseen new technologies? The bastions of the status quo, the protectors of tradition, aka cultural inertia, the supporters of social institutions like churches, police forces, the military . . . the Grand Old Party, the Republicans.

As always, in politics in this country, it really does depend upon whose ox is getting gored.

July 12, 2020

The Rights of Kings

I just finished watching a documentary “Charles 1—Downfall of a King” (available on Amazon Prime Streaming Service) which covered a mere 50 days of British history that had rather profound ripple effects. Basically a deliberative body, the English Parliament, ousted a sitting monarch, Charles 1. Since this was in a time period ripe for copycatting, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and modern democracy can be claimed as children of this period.

British history is often interesting, but in this instance, the primary reason that Charles came a’cropper was that he believed in the divine right of kings, which he interpreted in his case to be that he rule according to his conscience and nothing else . .  by God’s will. (Interestingly all of these kings knew God’s will, but the priests did not because “no one can know the mind of God.”)

I wonder where old Charles got that idea? As with all matters religious he was brought up with that mindset and was indoctrinated from an early age (which he, in turn, did for his son).

Note that the idea, of course, came from the church but was welcomed by the royals. Both of those powers realized that if they fought for the ultimate power, one or both of them could be severely damaged. But if they became partners in power, they could reinforce one another and no institution or person could possibly be strong enough to oppose them. But, a monarch claiming the Divine Rights of Kings had better well be showing support of the clergy or he/she could be in for a rough ride. Similarly, a religion wanting state power had better get it or they could opt for another set of leaders.

So, this is a bit of a “lady and the tiger” situation. (Both the royals and the clergy considered the other the tiger, I believe.)

Charles was taking the laziest approach by ruling by divine right based upon his own counsel/conscience. If he had tried a more direct route, he would have to explain why Jesus, the God of Love, wanted him to kill all of those Irishmen, and all of those Scots. Sure, he could have had a whole crew of lackey spin meisters on tap to supply reasons why Jesus wanted him to take the actions he did, but at least he would have to justify his actions to someone/something.

I also found it interesting that the documentary’s host took umbrage on the part of Charles’s queen, who was accused of infidelity (indirectly) and the host thought this was foul play, even though at the time it was pointed out that Charles II, their son, was tall, had jet black hair and broad shoulders. Charles was short, with sandy hair and narrow shoulders. The queen’s suspected lover was tall, had jet black hair and broad shoulders and was constantly by her side.

Now, this may have been an unfair criticism at the time, but it was a criticism of that time and an historian is supposed to report the facts and not defend the honor of an aggrieved woman. And what wasn’t pointed out in this defense was that if anyone criticized the king or the queen directly, politically, factual, it was consider treason and would result in their immediate imprisonment and likely decapitation. The royals, being in power, got to make up rules that are illogical but protective of their “honor” and “dignity” that are capital offenses. I do not considered it unfair if ordinary people fight back with propaganda and fake news when direct criticism isn’t allowed.

Charles made an appalling string of bad decisions, most of them based upon his belief that his mere presence would awe any opposition and cow them into a defensive position, being God’s Own Agent Upon Earth, don’t you know. He actually believed he was ordained by god to rule over other people.

I don’t think there is a better argument for getting rid of all of the royals and the clergy they have conspired with to oppress ordinary people with their invented “special statuses.”

Also interesting was that part of the propaganda campaign used by the parliamentarians in this fight was the bogus claim that Catholics were preparing to invade England and impose their religion up the English.

It was pointed out that Charles’ French (and Catholic) queen was brought up in France where the concentration of Protestants, as a minority, was far greater that the concentration of Catholics in England and there was no persecution of the Protestants in France at that time. In this the historians committed the historical sin of leaving out context. The time we are talking about was 1642-43. Do you know what happened in 1517 and the following 130 years? It was called the Protestant Revolution. The protestors, starting with Martin Luther, were trying to reform the Catholic Church from its many corruptions. The result was entire new churches (Lutherans, Calvinists, etc.) instead, because the Catholic Church made little effort to reform itself. What it did do was make war. The Church was a major contributor of money, troops, political pressure, and what have you to make war on countries that harbored Protestants. (Realize that the Catholics had to believe that those who left God’s One True Church were going to Hell, but they just couldn’t wait, apparently.)

These religious wars were so vicious that they significantly lowered the population of Europe, so many people were killed. Catholic troops would ride through a village and act as court and executioner and if they felt there were many heretics in that village, rampage through and kill all of the civilians living there. This was not just a war of army against army.

England experienced the great joy of being a Protestant country, then a Catholic country, then a Protestant country again all because the ever changing monarchs decreed it so and then persecuted the priests of the out of favor flavor of Christianity. The residues of these wars led to this country’s Constitution being drafted with church and state being separated as the recent history of the religious wars fought in Europe were still on people’s minds and nobody wanted a part of that. Oh, and please do realize that for the entire time, all of the countries of Europe were Christian countries with state sponsored religions. The wars were between different varieties of the Christian religion. So, please, all of you “the United States is a Christian country” people can just fuck off.

July 9, 2020

Trump Wanted Closed Borders . . . And Now He has Them

By mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic President Trump has gotten an unintended benefit: closed borders. Of course, the borders are being closed by the other countries involved and not Mr. Trump’s administration, but a promise is a promise. Mexico has closed its border with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in Mexico. Canada has closed its border with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in Canada. The EU has closed its “borders” with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in the EU.

Mission Accomplished, President Trump, Mission Accomplished . . . say it now. . . .

From today’s The Guardian:
“Canadians have spent the past three months in isolation, away from businesses, friends, families and schools,” said Lori Turnbull, a professor of political science at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “They’ve done all this to make sure that they survive the public health crisis. They don’t want the border to open and have Americans bring it up here. The contrasting pandemic experiences of the two countries aren’t just a result of luck or geography: experts point to widespread access to healthcare in Canada, as well as high levels of trust in government and public health officials.”

 

July 5, 2020

Neoliberalism is a Sham, Always Has Been

I start with a quote from an article in the NY Times by Mehrsa Baradaran.

“One reason is that an ideological coup quietly transformed our society over the last 50 years, raising the fortunes of the financial economy — and its agents like private equity firms — at the expense of the real economy experienced by most Americans.

“The roots of this intellectual takeover can be traced to a backlash against socialism in Cold War Europe. Austrian School economist Friedrich A. Hayek was perhaps the most influential leader of that movement, decrying governments who chased “the mirage of social justice.” Only free markets can allocate resources fairly and reward individuals based on what they deserve, reasoned Hayek. The ideology — known as neoliberalism — was especially potent because it disguised itself as a neutral statement of economics rather than just another theory. Only unfettered markets, the theory argued, could ensure justice and freedom because only the profit motive could dispassionately pick winners and losers based on their contribution to the economy.”

Hayek was an important economist, but like most he was also wrong.

Question What evidence is there for “Only unfettered markets could ensure justice and freedom because only the profit motive could dispassionately pick winners and losers based on their contribution to the economy.”

Answer None.

“Unfettered markets fail miserably for two fundamental reasons.
For one, there is no limitation placed upon greed.”

Unfettered markets fail miserably for two fundamental reasons. For one, there is no limitation placed upon greed. There isn’t even a definition of “enough profit.” Shouldn’t there be such a concept? If for no other reason but to establish a benchmark for new business to aim at. I recall that Amazon.com was a net loser, aka made negative profits, for the first five plus years of their existence. How are they doing now?

I suggest that economists have been dissuaded from introducing such a term because ordinary people would equate “more than enough profit” with “excess profits.” The powers than be have a history of such language manipulations: when was the last time you heard the term “unearned income?”

So, greed is not limited and then, in our culture “money is power.” The wealthy have learned how to effectively turn their wealth into political power. Somebody actually measured the return on investment, ROI, for corporate lobbying in Washington, D.C. It was approximately somewhere just south of 200:1, This means that for every $1 spent on lobbying in Washington, the corporations harvested near $200. Can you name any other endeavor that produces such an ROI? I cannot. You would have to be a fool, or not wealthy, to not to participate in this massive wealth generating machine.

The consequences of this is that ordinary people have zero standing in Congress when it comes to getting legislation passed, while the wealthy is quite well served. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!)

The politicians ask for very little in the way of bribes, er, campaign donations. For continuing to have the taste of power in their mouths our legislators sell out us ordinary citizens for paltry sums.

So, the wealthy are using their wealth to change the rules of the games, something Hayek didn’t foresee. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!)

There is an aphorism which says that every child grows up in a state of rebellion against his parents. Since the parents grew up in a state of rebellion against their parents, that makes grandparents and grandchildren natural allies. This makes sense in that if we don’t push our parents away, we will never become independent.

In Hayek’s case he was in a state of rebellion against socialist forms of government he lived under and, like every youngster, he carried it too far and idealized the opposite of what he disliked, making free-market capitalism the end all and be all politically.

It is clear to everyone that capitalism is vastly self-destructive if left to its own devices. Shackled with strong government controls it can be a very good political and economic system. The idea of free markets as an “ideal good thing” all by themselves should have died with Plato.

As Mehrsa Baradaran states later in this piece, “An examination of the recent history of private equity disproves the neoliberal myth that profit incentives produce the best outcomes for society. The passage of time has debunked another such myth: that deregulating industries would generate more vibrant competition and benefit consumers. Unregulated market competition actually led to market consolidation instead. Would-be monopolies squeezed competitors, accrued political power, lobbied for even more deregulation and ultimately drove out any rivals, leading inexorably to entrenched political power. Instead of a thriving market of small-firm competition, free market ideology led to a few big winners dominating the rest.”

But then evidence such as this impacts economists about as much as facts affect the Trump administration.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. (Upton Sinclair)

Truer Words Have Not Been Written or Spoken

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 7:29 am
Tags:

“I wonder how bad this economic downturn is going to be. This recession just began in February 2020 … the Coronavirus pandemic ignited this recession, but its depth and misery for Americans have been caused by 40 years of relentless class warfare by the rich. The opening shots of the war began in 1971 when a little known Republican tobacco attorney named Lewis Powell wrote what is known as the Powell manifesto urging the rich to combine their resources, establish a variety of organizations to turn back the clock to the era of the robber barons, take over the courts, and generally fight back against the Constitutional and democratic rights of the vast majority of people. Two months later, Powell was sitting on the Supreme Court bench serving the rich as a legalized guerrilla fighter in their war against the rest of us.”

John Hively, John Hively’s Blog: News and Analysis of the War Against the Middle Class

Check Out John’s blog.

July 4, 2020

Similarities Exist . . . For a Reason

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:10 am

Definition: Religion
When a small group of people tell a larger group of people how to act for imaginary rewards.

Definition: Politics
When a small group of people tell a larger group of people how to act for imaginary rewards.

I guess it isn’t a great surprise that politicians and the religious found common cause . . . in telling ordinary people how to behave and in so doing control their behaviors (to benefit guess who).

The rewards for the ordinary people are imaginary, the rewards for the politicians and divines are tangible and substantial.

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