Uncommon Sense

March 26, 2018

Oh, The Irony!

When the American Experiment in self-governance began, the creators of the government we now possess were significantly concerned that the hoi polloi, the “middling sort,” as they called them, not get too involved in the process. The Founding Fathers were elitists, by design. They felt that only people like them had the education, the perspectives, and experience to lead the government.

One of the fears expressly stated was the fear that if the poor got control of  the government that they would use the government’s powers to strip the wealthy of their wealth. Most of the FFs were quite well-to-do, don’t you know. (Like you I was shocked, shocked, I tell you!)

This fear: that the poor would go after the wealth of the wealthy, has lived on in the hearts of most of the wealthy persons since the later eighteenth century and exists today.

In all of that time, I can only think of one period in which the wealth of the wealthy was effectively restricted and that was due to the New Deal of the quite wealthy President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who was called a “traitor to his class” for his efforts). People often point to the 90% tax bracket introduced during WW2 and kept there after (even under Republican Dwight Eisenhower) as an example of  wealth stripping by “the people.” But this doesn’t hold up. This onerous tax bracket didn’t kick in until one had an annual income in excess of $100,000. Considering that the average worker’s income was around $3000, this was quite a lofty salary. So this 90% tax bracket applied to very few people. Plus SS taxes were quite low in the 1950’s as opposed to now. (Thank you, Ron Reagan!) And one can argue that effective tax rates (the rates people actually pay, not listings in tax tables) are higher now than in the 1950’s, so this does not wash as an example of a time in which the rich were attacked by the poor. The actual slowdown of the accumulation of wealth in the 1950’s was, I believe, caused not so much by policy (some was) but by a feeling of “we are all in this together” due to the war, making it harder to screw your neighbors.

There are, however, more than a few periods, including the one in which we are in now, in which the wealthy have joyfully robbed the poor and middle class. (Oh, the irony!)

If you are unfamiliar with wealth inequality (really it should be termed wealth inequity because really no one is arguing that all should be equally wealthy) you need to educate yourself on this very hot topic. Wealth “inequality” as currently defined is at an all-time high, worse than it was in the Gilded Age or any other period in U.S. history.

The entire process of civilization has been fueled by coercing inexpensive labor out of the masses to benefit the religious and secular elites. Any advantages of civilization that have been gotten down to the poor are the result of trickle down process and we all know how effective those are. Still, a certain amount of this is acceptable but when it gets excessive, as it is now, the torches and pitchforks tend to come out and, well, there are more of us than them.

I think we all need to take a page out of the playbook of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and establish a single issue voting block. I will no longer vote for any candidate who has an A or B rating from the NRA, in support of their effort. (Vote them out!)

How about a wealth inequality inequity single issue voting block? Establish a few parameters and then VOTE THEM OUT. Unfortunately this will go badly for all Republicans and the corporate Democrats. On second thought, strike the word “unfortunately.”

March 3, 2017

Neoliberal Roots

I was reading a very good piece on the privatization of public education posted by the wonderful Yves Smith (Dismantling Public Education: Turning Ideology into Gold by Alex Molnar)—which I highly recommend—when a particular section struck me. Here it is in full:

“The major education reforms of the past 35 years — education vouchers, charter schools, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts — all seek to remove public schools from the control of elected bodies; to subject them to the ‘laws’ of the ‘market’; and to put them at the service of the economic elite. The world being called into existence is based on the belief that anyone, but not everyone, can succeed—a world of winners and losers, each of whom has earned his or her fate. Thus, as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, one of neoliberalism’s foremost champions, proclaimed: “’There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

“This is a world in which the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.”

That final sentence rang a bell for me. It connected in my mind the current neoliberal disdain for the poor with the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to address the ravages of the Great Depression. At that time (the 1930’s) the Roosevelt’s New Deal administration wanted to get money back in people’s hands by the shortest possible route. Many Americans were reluctant to admit they need the help but finally, driven by desperation, they applied for “relief.” But the rate at which the funds allocated to this were being disbursed was impossibly slow and Roosevelt ordered his right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, to look into it. It turned out that the people hired to distribute the funds were spending most of their time ensuring that the poor felt shame for their current state. So, before you could get a little money (it was a pittance), you first needed a heap of humiliation and shame just for asking. Hopkins put an end to then standard practice of shaming the poor and the money soon flowed much faster and people felt positive effects sooner.

So, what could be the source of this need on the part of large swaths of the American people to make sure that poor people feel shame associated with their economic state? Are Americans uncharitable? No, quite the contrary. So, what is it? A clue may be in the phrase quoted above “the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.” Americans tend to honor wealth as a sign of hard work and industry and business smarts. That honor conveys a certain rectitude as well as high social position. So, rather than Americans striving to be pigs at the public trough as they are oft portrayed by Neoliberals, they are just the opposite.

There is one more strain woven into this attitude and I think it is the Protestant Work Ethic which emphasizes that hard work, discipline, and frugality are a result of a person’s salvation in the Protestant faith. Taken to an extreme, the people wedded to this ideology condemn the poor because they obviously lack “hard work, discipline and frugality” otherwise they wouldn’t be in need of assistance.

This is yet another example of religion tainting otherwise worthy collective attempts to assist those less fortunate, especially in an age when the rich have transferred so much wealth out of middle class and poor pockets into their own.

December 18, 2012

The “Decline” of Unions, You Say?

Pundits have finally been starting to talk about the squeeze on the middle class and one of the causes of 40 years of flat wages (even with continuing productivity increases), they say, is the “decline of labor unions.” Decline, my ass! The term they are looking for is “the suppression of labor unions.”

Forty years ago, or so, a number of über-conservative billionaires (Joseph Coors, the Koch brother’s daddy, etc.) founded a number of conservative think tanks (the Heritage Institute, the Cato Institute, etc.). The job was to create the weapons needed to effect their agenda. Their agenda was basically to roll back the New Deal, so, while Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon supported the safety social net (Nixon even suggested a negative income tax), the Republicans after that point took a turn to the right, a hard turn. The tools to cause this were provided by these “think tanks.” The goals were coalesced by the now infamous “Powell Memo” which included taking control of the media and suppression of labor unions.

“Decline, my ass! The term they are looking for is ‘the suppression of labor unions.’”

Remember the vilified “liberal bias” of the media? It never existed. That meme was created to effect a different sort of situation. Under Ronald Reagan, the fairness doctrine was eliminated and soon the corporate takeover of the media began in earnest. The “media” today has a substantial conservative bias (e.g. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and their ilk couldn’t have existed before and can’t today . . . in Canada) and is almost entirely corporatist (being owned mostly by just six corporations).

Labor unions struggled and struggled through the early 20th Century and during the New Deal finally got legal standing that put them on par with employers. Think about it. In a public corporation, at the top is a Board of Trustees which represents the interests of the shareholders. Below the Board is an executive function that executes the will of the Board, then below the execs are the worker bees who take orders and are hired and fired by the execs. This is normal business organization. (Of course, the CEO’s hand pick the Board members to do their bidding rather than the stockholders, but that’s another topic.) A union is a group of workers that is organized similarly. The workers, like the shareholders in the corporation, elect Board members (the Union Board) to represent their interests. The Union Board may hire professional negotiators to work with the CEOs, etc. A perfectly equivalent organization. The bosses say “do this work this way” and the workers say “I will, but you have to pay me.” The two sides are equal. Workers supply their labor, the business pays their salaries, enough extra money is made (beyond what is needed to  just run/grow the business) to share with shareholders.

So, why is there so much antagonism toward unions, groups of people who work to protect the rights of working people, even amongst working people? Read the Powell memo. It is all laid out there. Controlling the media controls the message, and the message was “unions were bad.” The people got the message and politicians got the message. The “decline” of unions is due to government suppression of the activities of unions. Just as unions secured new rights under the New Deal, they have lost most of those rights under subsequent administrations.

So, for forty years unions have been suppressed and as they declined, so did real wages for middle class people. It is that simple, folks.

This did not happen in Canada. Canada still has the roughly 35% of jobs being union jobs as we did 40 years ago, and class warfare in Canada has been far smaller and the middle class has suffered far less.

It is not effing decline; it is suppression. Use the right damned words!

November 21, 2012

What is Wrong with Helping Others?

I was watching Ken Burn’s outstanding documentary “The Dust Bowl” last night and more than a few things struck me. Mr. Burns looks at the world through the lenses of ordinary people and one of these, who was a child during the years of the Dust Bowl, remembers a rich person saying that President Roosevelt was a Socialist . . . and Anti-American . . . and needed to be stopped. She also said that if you had asked any of the poor people, they were absolutely grateful to Roosevelt for helping them.

Sound familiar?

The second thing that struck me was one of the ways Roosevelt “helped” was to deploy WPA manpower. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) took taxpayer money and used it to hire people to do jobs the public needed doing and there was a great deal that needed doing in the Dust Bowl. One comment made by one of Mr. Burn’s voices was that the WPA jobs weren’t a handout, in fact they could have fed and clothed those people for less than they were paying them to do that work, but the personal cost to the people would have been tremendous. They didn’t want “relief” or charity, they wanted to work and to preserve their families and their dignity. So they built roads, planted trees as windbreaks (an astonishing number of them!), and built schools and other public buildings.

In addition, the federal government bought up millions of acres of land and reverted it to grass covered prairie and when another dry spell came back in the early 1950’s, the dust storms were far less severe because of that (and more modern farming techniques, promoted by . . . wait for it . . . the federal government).

The WPA was responsible for creating 650,000 miles of roads, 78,000 bridges (one shows up in the documentary), 125,000 civilian and military buildings, 800 airports (new or enlarged or improved) plus a great deal more nationally. Some mammoth works were done: The River Walk in San Antonio, Aquatic Park in San Francisco, and LaGuardia Airport in New York. After the war many of these became derelict but most were restored later and enhanced to become treasured venues.

The WPA and indeed the whole “New Deal” has been in conservative cross hairs since their inception.

But what is wrong with hiring people to do work that private enterprise won’t or can’t do. Isn’t this in the public interest? Doesn’t this make life better for everyone? Doesn’t this preserve the dignity of the people who are hard pressed by economic times or by nature?

Couldn’t we use a little of that now?

November 5, 2011

Why Do Conservatives Hate Social Security So Much?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:13 am
Tags: , , , ,

At the end of my last post I asked the question: “Why do conservatives hate Social Security so much that they are willing to incur the wrath of the electorate to kill it?” Social Security has been described as being the “third rail” of politics: touch it and your political career dies. I also indicated I would answer the question. Here it is, the reason conservatives hate Social Security: memes.

Huh? Memes? What’s a meme? A meme is the mental equivalent of a gene in a Darwinian clash of ideas. Social Darwinists like to argue that ideas compete with one another and the better ones “win” by surviving. So, the idea that the earth was flat was a meme that failed to survive (but which hasn’t been entirely obliterated).

Let me give you an idea of how conservative memes propagate. I have a very good friend who was a very good salesman and his income grew to be 4-5 times what I made. He isn’t rich but a lowish six-figure annual salary put him well ahead of ordinary folks economically. Just how does one “fit in” with the wealthy and near wealthy? Well, talking the talk is part of it. So, my friend, even though he has never held a union job or had to work with union leadership has quite anti-union attitudes (or espouses them, at least). His opinion got created without any direct experience but by rubbing elbows with people who had that “meme.”

On to why conservatives hate Social Security. By and large it involves a distant relative of mine, Huey Long of Louisiana (my mother’s maiden name was Long). Huey was a demagogue with a populous rant. Poor people still speak highly of him in Louisiana (only the old remember). Huey was so successful that he was Governor of the state while also being one of its U.S. Senators, a neat trick. Governor-Senator Long helped Franklin Roosevelt get elected President and then became a thorn in his side. Huey’s position, realize this was in the early 1930’s in the midst of the Great Depression, was “Share the Wealth.” That’s right, Huey Long a flat out proponent of class warfare! He railed against the rich and their indulgences when ordinary people were suffering so.

Long’s demagoguery pushed Democrats to the left during the New Deal, which gave us government support for stronger unions, bigger government, deficit spending, and . . . Social Security, among other things. “Sharing the wealth” is the biggest nightmare of rich people. Having the little people rise up and confiscate their hard earned money (or inherited money, or whatever) is just unthinkable in monied circles. So, at the time, rich people, having been vilified enough, developed a visceral hatred of and for the New Deal and all of it’s aspects. (Note that modern conservatives are anti-union, anti-deficit spending (at least when the spending is upon the little people), anti-Social Security, etc. all of which we inherited from the New Deal.)

I doubt there is any rich person still alive from the early 1930’s to be leading the charge, but generation after generation of rich folks have passed the “Anti-New Deal Memes” on to the next. Consequently, we have a cadre of currently rich people who hate Social Security and the sad thing is: they don’t know why. As I mentioned in my last post, conservatives should love Social Security as it is doing their dirty work (of diminishing the Federal Government) for them. But they can’t help themselves. Since they only know Social Security is “bad,” they oppose it even though it may lead to the end of many of their political careers.

Pity the fools.

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