Uncommon Sense

June 11, 2021

The Rent’s Too Damned High

Economic myths dominate our political belief systems. Cory Doctorow recently addressed a number of them (on renting and home ownership) here.

Very much worth reading!

Here’s a taste:

The American middle class didn’t emerge thanks to property ownership — property ownership came about as the result of wage gains due to strong (and hard-fought) labor rights, and as a result of public subsidy for private homebuilding (the GI Bill). Homeownership is a good way to covert gains from the a worker-friendly labor market into something durable and insulated — but it’s no substitute for workers’ rights.

It only took a generation for the dream of homeownership to become a nightmare. Trading labor rights for asset appreciation meant that guaranteed pensions became market-based 401(k)s, turning American workers into the suckers in the financial markets’ casino. As these older workers retire, they are forced to supplement their wholly inadequate pensions by liquidating, remortgaging or reverse-mortgaging the family home. Social Security helps, but not much — without a powerful organized labor movement to defend Social Security, the program has withered, offering a sub-starvation cushion.

May 24, 2021

It is a Dirty Word! Don’t Use It!

The dirty word is “redistribution.” To the wealthy this means “rob from the rich and give to the poor.” This means “take from the deserving and give to the undeserving.” This is an abominable thing, redistribution, they say.

Of course, they have been doing it for the past 40 plus years now, and now that they have succeeded, they are, as they say, pulling the ladder up so no others can use it. The wealthy of course have been using every tool at hand to redistribute earnings from the less rich to the more rich. They have manipulated tax laws, labor legislation, social media, you name it in their quest to become even richer than they were. They have used some of their newly acquired wealth to double down and now “own” much of the legislatures and judiciaries in the U.S. Those bodies will not act in any way before running their possible actions by the rich and powerful, aka “donors.” (When the rich ask each other whether they are “donors” they are not talking about organ donations, they are talking about political donations, aka bribes.)

A recent study, however indicates that the strategies employed by the rich to get richer are counter production. They looked at an example for which there was enough data, starting in 1989, though 2019, and found that:

“Downward redistribution appears to make everyone quite a lot wealthier, faster – especially (no surprise) the bottom 80%. Economic activity, annual spending, increases even faster. Taking the leftmost bars as an example: with an annual 1.5% downward transfer, greater spending would have resulted in a 549% total wealth increase, versus actual 421%. (To put that 1.5% downward transfer in context: the compounding annual growth rate on a passive wealth holder’s 60/40 stock/bond portfolio over that thirty years was about 7.5%. That’s all unearned income, received simply for holding wealth.)

“Most of that extra wealth growth would have gone to the bottom 80% (wealth growth of 527% vs. actual 295%), while top-20% wealth growth would also have been slightly higher than actual (526% vs. 499%). The top-20% share of wealth would have remained unchanged, versus the actual share increase, from 61% to 71%.

“With 1.5% in downward redistribution, 2019’s total consumption spending — a pretty good index or proxy for GDP — would have been 52% higher. Total wealth would have been 16% higher.” (Source: How Redistribution Makes America Richer, www.nakedcapitalism.com, May 24, 2021)

Of course the wealthy deny such findings as they conflict with their worldview, “Reality, pfft, what is it really?’

May 15, 2021

They’re Going to Take Away Your Guns . . . er . . . Burgers!

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:13 am
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When President Biden announced the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50% in this decade, Republicans responded by claiming that the president was going to restrict meat-eating to once a month. “Okay, got that? No burgers on the Fourth of July. No steaks on the barbecue,” claimed Larry Kudlow, a former Trump adviser now a host on Fox News.

WTF?

Obviously, conservatives do not believe this. How do I know? If they did, there would be a run on hamburger and steaks at grocery stores and there is not. Conservatives should be falling all over themselves to load their freezers with beef, so that when it is banned, they will have their own personal honey holes of juicy goodness.

Conservatives have been driving sales with fear for decades. The past champion in that effort is the NRA. The NRA’s current legal and financial troubles seem to be valid as they did not accompany the election of a Democrat President with their usual “They’re going to take your guns away” campaign that results . . . every damned time . . . in a spike in sales of guns and ammo. Apparently “the boy who cried wolf” admonition doesn’t apply to these efforts as none of the claims has been born out.

It seems as if the conservative brain drain, fomented by the GOP’s driving out of all intellectuals from the party and replacing them with political hacks is finally bearing fruit. The GOP’s responses to various Democrat initiatives seems incoherent and even bizarre.

Time will tell whether anyone notices. Certainly Fox (sic) News can be counted on to not notice this.

May 13, 2021

The GOP Brain Drain May Kill Christianity in the US

There are many Republicans decrying the $300 per week unemployment payments that were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They claim that people will not work if they were being paid so lavishly not to work. Of course this is nonsense, typical Republican nonsense. If you use a 50 work week year, $300 per week equates to $15,000 per year. That is not even half of the average individual salary that people make. Would any of those complaining Republicans quit their jobs for that oh, so, easy 15 grand a year dole? I don’t think so.

On the flip side of this argument are those same Republicans who are pushing the idea of the U.S. being a Christian nation. This is different from being a nation of mostly Christians, but that there is some official role for Christianity as the official religion of the U.S. These people argue constantly for more and more special treatment of clergy and churches, more exemptions from taxes and compliance with labor and discrimination laws, etc.

But what they are arguing for is that Christian churches be put on the dole.

Aren’t they afraid that that would have the same repercussions as the “getting paid for not working” unemployment insurance does? Actually a recent study, published in the journal Sociology of Religion indicates that as governmental support for Christianity increases, the number of Christians declines significantly. It took ten years to do this study as they looked at data from 160 countries.

More and more I find myself wanting the old Republican Party back, the one which could actual think. I remember when the GOP had a liberal wing, and a cadre of public intellectuals who shared their thinking on ideas near and dear to the GOP. Now there seems to be only political hacks and Trump trolls in the rank and file of Republican leadership. Can they not see that they are attacking Christianity by demanding more and more government support and recognition?

If churches are put on the dole, where will the incentive come for the clergy to proselytize, and keep people in the pews? They will get fat and lazy, sitting around waiting for their government checks. Why do these conservatives want this future?

The GOP also don’t want black and brown people voting because they think they will vote to take away money from white people and give it to unworthy people (aka black and brown people). Aren’t they afraid that if they empower the clergy that they will rile up their congregations to pass legislation giving more and more to Christian churches, making them more and more dependent, and losing more and more Christians, leading to . . . a Muslim takeover!

Think about it. If the numbers of Christians decline, and the numbers of Muslims increase, couldn’t we then become a Muslim majority country (as so many others have) and then the Muslim clergy would be cashing those checks, and. . . .

Don’t they see? Most of Europe is rapidly becoming secular because of the support given by the various countries to their churches. We could be next.

Addendum If you want to read more, there is this: The Biggest Threat to Christianity.

May 11, 2021

My Defense is Individual Responsibility . . . Not!

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:56 am
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As the trials of the insurrectionists of the Capitol roll on we find another interesting note. For long conservatives, in general, and the Republican Party, in specific, have championed “individual responsibility.” But the conservatives on trial are all taking a stance of “Individual responsibility . . . pah, I was tricked!” They claim that they ere duped by Donald Trump or QAnon leaders, or the Devil made me do it, or . . . the latest excuse being “Foxitus,” that is they were deluded by false information garnered by watching Fox News. (I am shocked, shocked I tell you!).

Amazing!

May 10, 2021

WTF Is Wrong With Us?

In a report on a mass shooting that occurred in Colorado on May 10, 2021 (yesterday), The Guardian commented “It was Colorado’s worst mass shooting since a gunman killed 10 people at a Boulder supermarket on 22 March..”

Think about that. Worst mass shooting in two months? In 48 fucking days? Just in Colorado, mind you.

What’s next? Mass shooting of the month? . . . of the week? Worst mass shooting in some small community so they can compete with the larger “events” in places like Las Vegas?

Yes, I am quite aware that you are not someone I need to worry about “going Rambo” in my community, but what does it say when there are so many of us who want this activity to be quashed . . . completely, and we cannot get that to happen because there are too many guns and ammo manufacturers making too much money to have any such restrictions passed into law or, if already passed into law, enforced for Pete’s sake. Making money for this small segment of our economy is too important to protect the lives of hundreds of victims of gun shootings/suicides?

Do we really think “if those people live, what will happen to our jobs?”

What is wrong with us?

May 3, 2021

The “New” Left

Filed under: Culture,History,language,Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:03 am
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In today’s post on the Dead Wild Roses blog, The Arborist, wrote:

“When I came back to Canada in 2014 . . . I left a culture that was steeped in a sentiment that could be summed up as, ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.’ I returned to a culture summarized by, ‘I disagree with what you say, so shut up.’ (Obaid Omer)”

“Quashing debate and argument seems to be the name of the game these days, as certain opinions have been designated as unapproachable or ‘settled’ topics. In a society that values the free exchange of ideas almost everything has to be on the table. Odious free-speech must be protected along with the prosaically milquetoast free speech.”

You do follow Arb’s blog, no? If not, you are missing some very good stuff.

Back to my main topic: I have seen comments about how intolerant the left has become and yada, yada, yada and I wondered what the source of these comments were. (I suspect they are from conservative spinmeisters.) Liberal dogma throughout my life has defended the right of those we abhor to speak, but is this changing? Certainly there isn’t much person-to-person public discourse going on during this pandemic, so much of this must be second hand.

I tend to think the anonymity of the Internet is a player once again. Back when discussions were face-to-face, if one said something despicable, there were immediate responses, most unpleasant. We had got to the point that outright racist comments were rare as the consequences were too dire.

But now, if you read something you disagree with, you can flame the author using language you would not get away with out in the open. And the discourse level is often set by the most vociferous.

I think we are still adjusting to social changes such as Internet communication. I remember when “cancel culture” was a feature of the right: book burnings, rock ‘n’ roll record burnings, boycotts against celebrities who took unpopular political stands (Jane Fonda, perhaps, is a good example), etc. The left didn’t do this so much. Now that some of the more liberal bent are using the same tool as the right previously used, the professional whiny bitch conservatives are decrying the “cancel culture” as if it were just invented. (They hate a level playing field, so when a field is leveled, they pivot ninety degrees.)

So, “cancel culture” is not even a thing, certainly not a new thing. It is just us expressing our opinion about another’s speech. In the old days, you got to direct it face-to-face and then through gossip. Today you can marshal many thousands of people’s efforts almost instantaneously.

What we will come up with to rein in this overly exuberant behavior I do not foresee but there will be something. There always is.

April 26, 2021

The Flaws of Capitalism

Filed under: Business,Economics,Morality,Politics,Reason,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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The major flaw of capitalism, that it has no limit of even a brake on greed, I have pointed out before, but there are others. Here are a few.

It is claimed that capitalism provides the most efficient distribution of resources. That may or may not be true, but capitalism sure doesn’t do diddly-squat for the distribution of production wastes. There are a spare few examples in which capitalism did have an effect upon waste. A steel company was drawing some heat from the amount of waste they were producing. This waste stemmed from the “pickling acid” (actually hydrochloric acid) used to reduce corrosion of newly poured iron ingots. The acid “passivated” the iron but it also dissolved a bit of the iron and so “wore out” its ability to perform that task. They were dumping that liquid waste, some legally, other not so much and were drawing heat from the federal government (too much regulation, my ass). A consultant told them that their “spent” pickling acid contained a great deal of iron(III) chloride which could be sold on the market and much of the unused acid could be recycled. The sale of the iron(III) chloride and reuse of the acid reclaimed paid for the processing and, in fact, made a profit. Ta da! A capitalism success story. Unfortunately such stories are rare. Dumping of waste is the lazy and cost effective way to deal with it and has been for a very long time.

A capitalism horror story involved a battery recycling plant near Oakland, CA. This plant took car batteries, broke them down, and recycled the lead in them to make new car batteries. Sounds cool, no? Well, part of the process involved emptying the old batters of the fluid in them which was heavily acidic (sulphuric acid, stronger even than hydrochloric acid) and had a great deal of dissolved lead in it as well. So, how did they dispose of this nasty liquid? They poured out on a bare patch of ground out back behind their buildings . . . for decades. Evidence of this waste process was discovered many tens of miles (hundreds even) away as the ground water system spread it out to cover a large part of central California. We do not possess the resources or the techniques to clean this up. The company? Oh, they declared bankruptcy to avoid any liability on the part of those who did the deed.

Basically, capitalism abuses “the commons,” that is those things we hold in common: the air, our waterways, the ground and all of the systems operating therein. Capitalists pollute it, we clean it up. (We are still spending tax money to clean up Superfund sites from decades ago.)

Capitalism does a lousy job of distributing wages. As a prime example, CEOs in the 1950’s made 20-30 times what their average worker made. Today, more than a few CEO’s make 300-400X what their average worker makes. Wow, did CEOs increase productivity, knowledge, customer satisfaction, anything that much? Nope. If one could track CEO productivity (and that would be hard to do), I am sure that CEO salaries have rocketed ahead of any productivity measurement you could some up with. How is this so? It is so because the CEOs packed their own boards of trustees with friendly faces and when the issue of “CEO salary” came up they vote for “raise” every damned time. Some of these CEOs return the favor by serving on their friend’s boards so they could get unwarranted raises, too. Unwarranted salaries paid out to CEOs doesn’t end up in shareholder’s pockets, so how could this happen? Capitalism basically doesn’t care.

In this country we have come to view capitalism as a thing in itself, rather than a tool we wield. We think “it” does this and “it” does that when it is we who do everything. It is very, very (very) clear that unregulated capitalism is disastrous. So, why does one of our two major political parties campaign all of the time on a “less regulation” is better and “no regulation” is best platform? Shouldn’t we be searching for the best regulation and if not that, better regulation? Why would capitalists campaign against the thing that makes capitalism viable? Oh, it’s the greed thing again. Even rabid anti-socialist politicians will vote for corporate socialism almost every time and the reason they do? They are being paid generously, by capitalists, to do so. Apparently politics doesn’t limit greed either.

April 23, 2021

Greed, Capitalism, and Fixing It

I will start by quoting myself:

The Achilles Heel of capitalism is that there is no limit to greed. (Me)

This is hardly a novel position. As evidence I offer:

“No bound is set on riches for men” (Solon)

“Money is like sea water: The more you drink, the thirstier you get.” (a Roman proverb)

“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

The problem at the core of this problem is that wealth translates into political power. People with great wealth can use their wealth to buy political attention to their needs. Those needs always address their interests, the primary of which is maintaining and expanding their wealth.

So the big question is: “How do we fix this flaw” in the grand American experiment in self-governance? If greed results in the collapse of our society, as history shows that it will, how do we address it?

At first I was thinking of a bottom-up solution constructed of social pressures. One idea was that when people earn certain levels of wealth we would slap titles on them. Say, one a millionaire we would refer tot hem with the title of A Really Big Deal or Fat Cat. As their wealth increased with would come up with more and more disparaging titles that we would use publicly. Maybe at the ten million dollar wealth plateau, they would be Rich Assholes. At the Jeff Bezos level, maybe Filthy Rich Money-grubbing Obnoxious Asshole.

I have decided this won’t work as people have the attention spans of gnats nowadays and would be distracted by Brittany Spears news or something equally irrelevant, and stop following through.

There is a method that has worked for us and could work again and that is progressive taxation. During World War 2 the highest income tax bracket was close to 100%. Now, to clarify, that taxation rate was on earnings over $100,000 dollars when the average worker was making about $1885 per year (1942 figure). So, two points: this tax rate didn’t kick in until one had made $100,000 and only applied to the money earned after that $100,000 was earned. And $100,000 represented 53 times what the average worker made!

We generally craft tax brackets so there are small jumps in the tax rate between any two categories but that isn’t necessary. It could be 39% and then after $250,000 it could jump to 95%.

The consequences of doing this were made obvious when we had this system deployed. One consequence was that CEO salaries were about 20 time that of the average worker in their corporations instead of the 250-350 times we see now. And, instead of paying their CEOs ever more money, stock options, etc. They were treated with the trappings, or as they called them the perquisites, of their offices. They had lavishly decorated offices, with very expensive art work on the walls. They had company cars and trips on company airplanes, clothing budgets, and on and on. Many of these are now necessary to be declared as “income” for tax purposes, but they were not necessarily back then.

Of course to change the tax codes along these lines we would need to take back control of our Congress, but no matter what solution we come up with that task will be at the core, otherwise the wealth of the rich will result in laws undermining any system we set up.

And as part of the results of that “natural experiment” in economics that were our progressive tax rates after WW2, we found out that American corporations could be lead by leaders to become pre-eminent in the world without making 200 times or even 50 times, what their average worker made. CEOs have gamed the system to their benefit, not their corporations and not ours.

And, as you might not know, President Franklin Roosevelt brought the “captains of industry” and their ilk to the White House to strong arm them into accepting the high marginal tax rates with little to no protest using the scare of the Socialist Party of America, then one of the the largest socialist organizations in the world, and Labor Unions to make his point. They had to be given something otherwise labor chaos would result. (No business type likes labor chaos.).

Of course, priority one for the fat cats after WW2 was the destruction of the Socialist Party of America, which ceased operations on December 31, 1972 (and not because their goals had been met—Note another Socialist party rose from the ashes, in 1973, but it was and still is much smaller and almost entirely without political influence). And, as you probably know, union jobs in the US have shrunk from about a third in the 1950’s to around 7% today. This is due to a concerted effort on the part of the rich to de-fang labor unions, Our neighbor Canada still has the same level of union jobs as they had in the 1950’s, likewise about 33%, but they had no organized political effort to disempower their unions.

April 17, 2021

We Are All In This Together

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:43 pm
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In a comment on another post, my friend shelldigger (he never clams up, have you noticed? :o) said this:

“Well, unfortunately the sort of thing that pulls people of differing views together, in the short term anyway, is some sort of disaster/immediately justifiable war/or tragedy of enormous consequence. Even then it won’t last long. We have to figure out how to overcome the lie machine that is right wing media.”

In response, I started by typing this “People seem to have come up with ideas for new religious concepts that have taken off and acquired a following. Could not a secular idea do the same? It is claimed that the feeling/idea of “we are all in this together” worked to fuel the US economy after WW2. It seems that such a concept could be used to create a new attitude toward one another. I am inspired, by myself, to write on this . . . :o)”

Okay, brace yourself, Bridget!

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

We Are All In This Together
If your next door neighbor decided that he was going to dispose of his household trash and garbage by throwing it over your fence, would you like that? I picked this question because of its mind-numbing obviousness. Of course, you would not like that. Maybe if you were titanically confrontation adverse you might just pick it up and dispose of it with your household trash, but I don’t think that would happen all that much.

So, why don’t neighbors do such things? Maybe it is the repercussions, you know, your irate neighbor pounding on your door, or throwing your trash and garbage back into your swimming pool, those kinds of things.

Well, we have been doing exactly this for centuries now. We adopted the practices when we lived farther apart and maintained them as we have moved to living closer together. We have all dumped air pollution into our local atmospheres, to be breathed in by one and all. We have dumped our pollution, trash, and sewage in our streams and rivers to be shared with those downstream. (One of President Trump’s acts was to remove the stricture placed on coal mining companies from dumping toxic mine tailings into public streams and rivers. Thanks Donald!) A recent study showed that at best, about 3% of our planet’s surface has remained unaffected by man’s presence. There is garbage strewn all over the place on the summit of Mount Everest, for Pete’s sake.

And if you think we were any different in pre-historic times, think again. I grew up on the San Francisco peninsula. Researchers there discovered mounds, small hills, of shellfish shells there. What they learned is that the native Americans would set up a camp nearby, for months or longer, and strip everything edible from the landscape. All of the shells were thrown in a midden pile. When the pickings became slim, they packed up and moved on to another traditional “hunting ground.” After some time the area recovered and the tribes would return and do it again, and again, and again, leaving small hills of the shells of their efforts for future generations to find.

Studies show that rainwater and waters from high mountains now contain polyester and other microfibers in them, as do all of the fish we harvest from the oceans and lakes.

The time is right for the message “we are all in this together.” The CO2 dumped in the air in Florida, affects us here in Illinois. Pollution created in China, affects countries half way around the planet.

We are dumping our garbage over our neighbor’s fence.

Can’t we all get along? Rodney King asked this (after being brutally beaten by LA cops) but his question never got answered.

We are at a point in human history where this question seriously needs to be addressed.

Why?

Because we are all in this together and we can no longer ignore that fact.

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