Uncommon Sense

May 7, 2018

Economic Apologetics

It seems that economists, some not all, behave much like Christian apologists. When challenged they respond with what sound like well-constructed arguments but which are just narratives with no evidence (or mixed evidence at best). Take, for example, this narrative:

“… most Americans subscribe to the view that market-determined gaps between rich and poor should be softened by government. The rich should be taxed, and the poor should be helped. But how much should government intervene? One common argument is that there is a trade-off between efficiency and fairness. If the rich are taxed and the poor helped through transfers, the hard work of the rich is punished and the idleness of the poor is rewarded. The rich cut back on their effort—for example, by not opening a new business—while the poor use their windfall to support their leisure, for example, by not taking an available job. The result, say the critics of income redistribution, is that society squanders much more than the $1 of income for each $1 of government help that actually reaches the poor. Redistribution, they believe, should be severely limited, used to address only the most extreme problems of poverty and hunger.” (Source: The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey D. Sachs)

This argument is quite popular right now amongst neoliberal politicians and most of the people in the Republican Party. (I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you.) But does this “narrative” hold water? Is there anything supporting it?

One need only go back into recent history to find that it does not. Take, for example, the rich. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s the federal government had marginal income tax rates as high as 91%. Did this level of “confiscation” deter the rich from doing what they do? Let’s use the example of Fred Koch, the father of the Koch brothers. Since Fred died in 1967, his final two decades were under the federal tax rates indicated. Having worked for both Stalin and Hitler, he established much of his wealth before WW2. He died a very rich man, passing on his private companies to his son, Charles, to run. Was their any slacking of his pursuit of wealth because of the very high personal income taxes? The answer is no. The same holds for all of the other “titans of industry” of that time.

In that postwar period, the pursuit of the trappings of wealth for immediate gratification focused less on salary (much of which would have just been funneled off into federal coffers) and more on perquisites. Many CEOs had lush offices decorated with expensive art (the company owned them, the CEO didn’t). The company also owned the apartment the CEO lived in, the company limousine, the private jet, etc. For long term wealth, the rich bought and ran companies to increase their value. Since they owned their companies and did not sell them, the increase in the value of those companies did not get taxed. Basically they developed assets to constitute their wealth; they didn’t take it in the form of salary or profits.

Do you know of anyone who made an immense amount of money, north of say 100 million dollars, who stopped working completely? Most of those people just started working on their next hundred million. Billionaires want another billion, etc. Some, like Bill Gates, create a new job they enjoy more than their old one, in Gate’s case, one of being manager of a very large and very well endowed foundation.

Now let us consider the other end of the spectrum. Let’s take Ben Carson. Dr. Carson started out in a very poor family. He is now quite wealthy as a retired neurosurgeon and Cabinet Secretary. Did he stop when he had enough money to cover a nice lifestyle? Did he kick back and put his feet up? No? If you look at any of the rich who have published their stories and select out the ones who started poor (not Mitt Romney or the Walton heirs), every man Jack of them blew right on through any easy living stopping point. Nobody does, except maybe big lottery winners and that situation is quite different. The “poor use their windfall to support their leisure” just doesn’t show up anywhere except in the stories these people tell one another. The majority of the poor work, many work multiple jobs. If their salaries were to be doubled tomorrow, do you think all of those people would be satisfied with their lives at that point and work no harder than they had been or, as is implied, work less? I suspect this would only happen with the people who are working so much now, just to get by, that it is ruining their health, their relationships, and families … but they would keep working.

This “narrative” regarding “income distribution” is a story the well-to-do tell themselves to make them feel as if there is justification for their viewpoint, a viewpoint totally unsupported in reality. So, where do they get this viewpoint? I suggest, in the case of the U.S., that it comes from their religion, not the religion of their scriptures, but the one they hold too now, the one adapted by the religious and secular elites (the rich) to serve their needs. While scriptures clearly talk about things like “how you treat the least of us, you treat me (Jesus)” the current religion talks about the poor being shiftless and lazy and unworthy and … I think you have the picture. I am sure some racial animosity is stirred in here, but that also serves the interests of the religious and secular elites, so they do not discourage it.

Just as with the bullshit arguments of religious apologists, we need to challenge the bullshit narratives of the priests of the new order, the economists.

June 7, 2014

What Ever Happened to Progress?

According to David Cay Johnson in Aljazeera America, the “recovery” from the Great recession isn’t so great, for example:

What about the average hourly wage for private sector workers? The 2014 Economic Report of the President shows that it rose in 2013. But the increase, after inflation, was just 12 cents an hour—a blip of about six-tenths of 1 percent.

More revealing, the average hourly pay of $20.13 last year was smaller than in 1972 and 1973. Back then, the inflation-adjusted hourly average was about 6 percent higher. In other words, people in 2013 worked 52 weeks to make what they would have made in 49 weeks back in 1972 and 1973.

Wait, it gets worse.

The presidential report shows that in 1972 and 1973 the average private sector worker was paid for 36.9 hours of work per week, but in 2013 this was down to 33.7 hours because a growing share of people can find only part-time jobs.

Combine lower pay with fewer hours, and the average weekly gross pay in the private sector dropped by 14 percent in four decades. That’s the equivalent of working 52 weeks in 2013 to earn 45 weeks’ worth of wages in 1972 and 1973.

What ever happened to “progress?” When I was a schoolboy (in the 1950’s) there was an intense focus on progress. General Electric’s slogan was “Progress is Our Most Important Product,” for example.

For working people, there has been not only no progress but just the opposite—regress—for the last 40 years.

When will working people stop voting against their own economic interests and insist that they share in the increase in wealth in this country? It is our huge productivity gains over that 40 years that created that wealth. Waiting for the fat cats to “share” doesn’t seem to be working. The “trickle” in “trickle down economics” is flowing the wrong way. Politicians are working for the rich, not the poor and the middle class any more.

Wake up people, you are being robbed and you are approving of it!

January 23, 2014

A GOP Inconsistency? . . . Not Really

A number of people have noticed that the GOP is waging war on poor people by cutting the budget for food stamps (but not subsidies for rich farmers), cutting back on housing support, and trying to cut Social Security and Medicare (while at the same time tripping over themselves to do favors for rich people). Those commenters have also noticed that the GOP is the most religious of the political parties, religious in a Christian sense, often evangelical and that the GOP’s actions seem to be in conflict with the message of Christianity, their actions showing a lacking of Christian charity, for example.

What these people are missing is that the GOP’s actions against the poor are in total concert with the philosophies of Christian hierarchs, since virtually the beginning of that religion as a formal entity. (Why do you think so many were shocked (shocked, I tell you) when the current Pope spoke out against rich people and greed? When was the last time you heard such a comment from a Divine?) When have any of the churches stood up for the poor against the rich? Do you remember how much support the various churches in the U.S. provided our labor movement? Uh, that would be zero. Standing up for working people and poor people is not something the churches do. Oh, they will collect food and clothing during emergencies, but actually work to improve the lives of the poor against the rich? Not in the game plan. More than a few churches in the southern states gave up their pulpits to Southern Commissioners to tell their parishioners how much slavery was part of God’s plan, in support of the secessionists who eventually got their wish in the form of our Civil War. (Since the milk of human kindness required certain things back then, black people had to be declared “nonhuman” or “subhuman,” no problem!)

Ever since churchmen invented the “divine rights of kings,” they have been in the pocket of royalty or rich merchants. The church has opposed the practice of medicine as being contrary to God’s will. Sure, the churches treated some of the ill and infirm … with prayers and nostrums. The Catholic Church forbade their monks to practice medicine. The churches opposed practical matters to improve public health through better hygiene. The church opposed educating the masses. In all ways the Christian Churches have advocated a slave philosophy for ordinary people (yours is not to reason why; yours is to be happy with your station it life; your reward will come in the next life . . . if you are obedient in this one; . . . ). The post-Roman period in Europe was dominated by virtual Church rule; that’s why we call it the Dark Ages.

So the current actions of the GOP against the poor, and women, are in keeping with the history and traditions of their most religious members. No contradiction here, move along, nothing to see, nothing at all.

November 2, 2013

Rationale for Cutting Food Stamps

Republicans have insisted on cutting food aid to poor people while agreeing that Israel deserves an increase in the billions of dollars we provide for them to purchase arms and munitions (from us, by the way). Apparently the military-industrial complex has better lobbyists than the poor do.

Republicans figure that food stamps undermine the drive of American workers to go out and get a job, or maybe to get a second or third job to be able to feed their families. They feel that being hungry provides motivation.

Each of these Republicans needs to be asked if they ensured the success of their own children by making sure they went hungry every day or did they undermine their success by feeding them fully?

October 16, 2013

The Tenor of Our Times

I have lived long enough to be shocked by the moral shift in the tenor of our politics. We have gone from a war on poverty, which was really quite successful, to a war on the poor. Fueling this change is the concept of freeloading. Nobody approves of freeloaders, nobody. But the despicable Tea Party has managed to channel what racism there is left in this country into a freeloading scenario. They believe that white people are paying taxes largely to give “free stuff” to poor black and brown people. This is despite the fact that the primary benefactor of most successful anti-poverty program in this country, Social Security, is white women. This is despite the fact that there are more white poor than any other category.

But this is why Southern racists are willing to support policies that give their tax money to rich people instead, at least they are white! So, if anyone wonders why poor people identify themselves as Republicans, you now have the answer.

But let’s take a step back. What is wrong with giving to the poor? Hell, even Christians do it. I believe we could easily guarantee food and shelter to every citizen, for a tiny fraction of the cost of our war machine. The Pentagon is right now destroying military equipment that was never used but has become obsolete and which we couldn’t pawn off on some poor country. If we were to go back to the military budget in George Bush’s first year, we could free up about $400 billion dollars per year (not per decade as most political yahoos claim to pump up their numbers to get attention). With that much money, everyone in college could be given a free education. Everyone hungry could eat and everyone homeless could be given shelter.

Now such an idea gives Teabillies the heebie jeebies because they think that all of the poor will then have no motivation to work. They picture some black or brown person in a hammock in a homeless shelter eating government cheese thinking that they finally got it made. So you can see that this whole attitude is fueled by racism. Tea Partiers believe that black and brown people are inherently lazy and that given even the most meager level of existence, they would not want more, all evidence to the contrary.

It is time to stop making war on the poor and build a better country by providing enough of the basics that any child can go to school and build a better life without having to think about where her next meal will come from or whether she will sleep outdoors tonight.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.