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“Real Vs. Republican Populism”: How To Win The War On Inequality

So Republicans are going populist, or at least two of them are, reports The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy. And perhaps it’s only in the sense that unlike Mitt Romney and many in the House GOP, they’re not speaking of working people with contempt. Well, it’s a start. But I wish they’d pick up copies of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Oh, of course Ted Cruz and Rand Paul would find ways to pooh-pooh the book’s findings and conclusions, but it’s nice to think of them merely having to immerse themselves in empirical reality for a few hours instead of the magical economic fairy tales that undoubtedly constitute their usual diet.

If you’ve not heard of Piketty or Capital, it’s certainly the economic book of the year, and probably of the decade so far. (You can read Paul Krugman’s rave in The New York Review of Books here.) I admit I’ve only waded into it so far, but I went to see the author, a French economist, speak at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington to a room full of people who braved a hideous, monsoon-ish rain Tuesday morning. (The video of the event is here.) What Piketty has done, my economist friends tell me, is nothing short of revolutionary and deserves to change the way we think about wealth and inequality. Much more important, it also deserves to alter what we do about them.

Here’s the story in a ridiculously small nutshell. Thirty scholars collected data from 20 countries over about 100 years. Piketty pored over the data trying to pinpoint salient reasons for our insane levels pf income inequality, which is worse in the United States, where the richest 1 percent own nearly 40 percent of the wealth, than in most other advanced countries but hardly endemic to America.

The one key: In all times and places under study, the rate of return on capital increases at a faster rate than general economic growth. Growth averages 1, 1.5 percent. Rate of return averages 4 or 5 percent. So presto, the people with the capital—money and assets of all kinds, land and equipment and what have you—are getting richer a lot faster than the rest of us. And as Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow, a panelist at the event, pointed out: “Note that this is not a market failure.” This disparity (r > g, in wonk-speak) is a feature, not a bug, as they say, and it’s just our fate, and on and on it shall go, as the rivers roll to the sea.

And is there anything we can do to mitigate this? Three things, said panelist Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute: 1) Make sure more people enjoy more access to r; 2) raise g; 3) lower r.

Now, if you are reasonably conversant in our economic debates, you already have some idea of what all this means. It means what Cruz and Paul would call “socialism” and what I would call “the kinds of reasonable, worker-focused economic policies this country had for about 40 years that were, on balance, the best years this country ever had.” We had large-scale public investment, near full employment at times, a more heavily unionized work force, a minimum wage that until 1968 kept pace with productivity, a more progressive tax system, a much more heavily regulated financial sector in which banks couldn’t gamble against themselves, and all the rest. Even with all these measures in place, r still grew faster than g, but not the way it does in today’s America.

In other words, Piketty makes the case that inequality will just grow and grow unless societies take affirmative steps to reduce the gap between the rate of return on capital and overall economic growth. The problem is the old one: In our present political climate, there’s not a chance of that happening.

As I sat there Tuesday morning, I kept wondering to myself: Is there any way a politician, a presidential candidate, can turn these concepts into plain English, something that can capture people’s imaginations—an answer to the right’s vacuous “a rising tide lifts all boats,” but which happens to have the benefit of being true? We now have ample evidence that the “rising tide” of the better part of the last 30 years has not lifted all boats. The ocean liners are getting farther and farther away from the pack.

I think there must be a way, but before we ponder that question, we first have to wonder whether the presidential candidate I have in mind (it’s not Cruz or Paul) even believes all this. I think she does, or most of it. But this is class politics—not “class warfare,” just class politics—and that hasn’t exactly been Hillary Clinton’s game over the years. The great question looming over her expected campaign is the extent to which she’ll address the inequality crisis head on.

Given the 1 percent’s ownership of our political system these days, we’re probably stuck with living out this crisis for a very long time, until even the 1 percenters are finally forced to agree that something has to be done. We seem a long way away from that. But things do change sometimes. “In 1910 in America, everybody would have said a progressive income tax was impossible,” Piketty said Tuesday. “It could not be permissible under the Constitution, and so forth. But, you know, things happen.” Three years later, we had one. So it’s not impossible. And if trickle-down could start on a dinner napkin, surely the process of reversing its malignant effects can start with a book.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 16, 2014

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Populism, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Populism Needs To Be Popular”: Not A Viable Political Strategy For Conservatives

Having already posted my thoughts on the problems associated with the Republican Party adopting some ideology or message of “libertarian populism,” I will note in passing Ramesh Ponnuru’s succinct rejection of the idea that combining hostility to state subsidies for big businesses and other special interests with the traditional conservative hostility to state “redistributive” efforts on behalf of the needy will work electoral magic.

It was not until Monday that Tim Carney, a libertarian-populist writer (and a colleague of mine at the American Enterprise Institute), got around to publishing a manifesto for the group. It is a document that contains several good ideas — but not a viable political strategy for conservatives.

The main focus of Carney’s work is that big government and big business collude at the expense of the little guy, and he recommends that Republicans run against that collusion in order to win working-class votes. In particular he wants them to break up the big banks, end corporate-welfare programs, clean up the tax code so that powerful interests no longer profit from it, and end regulations that protect established businesses from competitors (regulations that stifle food trucks, for example). He would also cut the payroll tax and end government policies that favor employer-based health insurance.

I’m sympathetic to most of the items on Carney’s list — and those on the list that fellow populist Conn Carroll has compiled. Taken together, though, they do not seem to amount to a winning political platform. A Republican party that took on the U.S. Export-Import Bank might improve its image a bit, but how many Americans really care enough about the issue to change their votes based on it? Nor does freeing the food trucks seem like it would win many votes, however right it might be as a policy matter….

Cutting the payroll tax, unlike most of these ideas, would tangibly affect most people’s lives by raising their take-home pay. If Republicans proposed it, though, they would surely be accused of jeopardizing Social Security and Medicare, which seems like a rather large political defect. Other Carroll proposals, such as ending student loans and the mortgage deduction, seem likely to be unpopular even at first glance.

Republicans ought to propose conservative answers to the concerns that are uppermost on most voters’ minds. The libertarian-populist method seems to be to start with the solutions and then to imagine that voters have the relevant concerns. And while many of the proposed solutions have great potential appeal to conservative voters, few would do much to expand their ranks.

In other words, if you want to sell a political party highly resistant to change a “new” ideology of “populism,” it had better be popular. Because it’s not, you typically find Republicans taking the easier route of defending government programs that benefit their own constituencies against the claims of those people. I don’t think it’s a winning formula in the long run, but it’s more promising than pretending the voters Republicans need would be happier if government stayed out of their lives altogether.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 18, 2013

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Populism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Delusions Of Libertarian Populism”: Here’s A Public Service Announcement For You, It’s Bunk

Have you heard about “libertarian populism” yet? If not, you will. It will surely be touted all over the airwaves and the opinion pages by the same kind of people who assured you, a few years ago, that Representative Paul Ryan was the very model of a Serious, Honest Conservative. So let me make a helpful public service announcement: It’s bunk.

Some background: These are tough times for members of the conservative intelligentsia — those denizens of think tanks and opinion pages who dream of Republicans once again becoming “the party of ideas.” (Whether they ever were that party is another question.)

For a while, they thought they had found their wonk hero in the person of Mr. Ryan. But the famous Ryan plan turned out to be crude smoke and mirrors, and I suspect that even conservatives privately realize that its author is more huckster than visionary. So what’s the next big idea?

Enter libertarian populism. The idea here is that there exists a pool of disaffected working-class white voters who failed to turn out last year but can be mobilized again with the right kind of conservative economic program — and that this remobilization can restore the Republican Party’s electoral fortunes.

You can see why many on the right find this idea appealing. It suggests that Republicans can regain their former glory without changing much of anything — no need to reach out to nonwhite voters, no need to reconsider their economic ideology. You might also think that this sounds too good to be true — and you’d be right. The notion of libertarian populism is delusional on at least two levels.

First, the notion that white mobilization is all it takes rests heavily on claims by the political analyst Sean Trende that Mitt Romney fell short last year largely because of “missing white voters” — millions of “downscale, rural, Northern whites” who failed to show up at the polls. Conservatives opposed to any major shifts in the G.O.P. position — and, in particular, opponents of immigration reform — quickly seized on Mr. Trende’s analysis as proof that no fundamental change is needed, just better messaging.

But serious political scientists like Alan Abramowitz and Ruy Teixeira have now weighed in and concluded that the missing-white-voter story is a myth. Yes, turnout among white voters was lower in 2012 than in 2008; so was turnout among nonwhite voters. Mr. Trende’s analysis basically imagines a world in which white turnout rebounds to 2008 levels but nonwhite turnout doesn’t, and it’s hard to see why that makes sense.

Suppose, however, that we put this debunking on one side and grant that Republicans could do better if they could inspire more enthusiasm among “downscale” whites. What can the party offer that might inspire such enthusiasm?

Well, as far as anyone can tell, at this point libertarian populism — as illustrated, for example, by the policy pronouncements of Senator Rand Paul — consists of advocating the same old policies, while insisting that they’re really good for the working class. Actually, they aren’t. But, in any case, it’s hard to imagine that proclaiming, yet again, the virtues of sound money and low marginal tax rates will change anyone’s mind.

Moreover, if you look at what the modern Republican Party actually stands for in practice, it’s clearly inimical to the interests of those downscale whites the party can supposedly win back. Neither a flat tax nor a return to the gold standard are actually on the table; but cuts in unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid are. (To the extent that there was any substance to the Ryan plan, it mainly involved savage cuts in aid to the poor.) And while many nonwhite Americans depend on these safety-net programs, so do many less-well-off whites — the very voters libertarian populism is supposed to reach.

Specifically, more than 60 percent of those benefiting from unemployment insurance are white. Slightly less than half of food stamp beneficiaries are white, but in swing states the proportion is much higher. For example, in Ohio, 65 percent of households receiving food stamps are white. Nationally, 42 percent of Medicaid recipients are non-Hispanic whites, but, in Ohio, the number is 61 percent.

So when Republicans engineer sharp cuts in unemployment benefits, block the expansion of Medicaid and seek deep cuts in food stamp funding — all of which they have, in fact, done — they may be disproportionately hurting Those People; but they are also inflicting a lot of harm on the struggling Northern white families they are supposedly going to mobilize.

Which brings us back to why libertarian populism is, as I said, bunk. You could, I suppose, argue that destroying the safety net is a libertarian act — maybe freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. But populist it isn’t.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 11, 2013

July 15, 2013 Posted by | Libertarians, Populism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Wisconsin To Wall Street, An Economic Reckoning

The comparisons were inevitable. As Occupy Wall Street gathers momentum and new allies, progressives have quickly connected it with the other headline-grabbing uprising this year: The mass protests in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on labor unions. A statement from leaders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, which endorsed Occupy Wall Street this week, was typical: “Just as a message was sent to politicians in Wisconsin, a clear message is now being sent to Wall Street: Priority number one should be rebuilding Main Street, not fueling the power of corporate CEOs and their marionette politicians.”

The essential theme connecting events in Madison and New York City is unmistakable. Both represent an economic reckoning at a time of grim unemployment rates and stagnant wages for middle-class Americans. “Both the defense of unions [in Wisconsin] and Occupy Wall Street, which is broader in its definition of the problem, are responding to two or three decades of increasing economic inequality and, until fairly recently, the inability of progressives to address those things,” says Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.

But the Wisconsin-Occupy Wall Street comparison is a more complicated  one in its specifics. The two don’t fit neatly side by side and, in  some ways, bear no resemblance at all. Here is a look at how two of the  biggest populist protests of the year stack up:

The Organizers

As I reported from Madison in March, labor unions and community activist groups were, from the very beginning, the driving force in the Wisconsin protests. On November 3, 2010, the day after Republicans reclaimed the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion, union leaders began plotting how to respond to the looming assault on organized labor. And when Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his anti-union budget repair bill, and later threatened to sic the National Guard on those protesting his bill, unions marshaled their resources and called every member in their ranks. From their command center in Madison’s only unionized hotel, labor turned out more than a 100,000 supporters in a span of weeks.

Occupy Wall Street is not union-made. It was the anti-capitalist Adbusters magazine that put out the initial call for protesters to flood downtown Manhattan on September 17. Since then the protests have grown almost entirely without institutional support, an organic groundswell without leaders or executive boards or much structure at all. In recent days, unions have endorsed Occupy Wall Street, marched with them, and provided food, drinks, clothing, and more. But the protests remain a loosely organized, essentially leaderless effort.

Goals of the Movement

“Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” Wading among the crowd in Madison in February, you couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without that chant breaking out. It captured exactly what the protesters wanted: the death of Scott Walker’s anti-union bill. (They didn’t get it.) Later, those demands broadened to include fewer cuts to funding for education and social services by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, but for much of the protests, it was perfectly clear what the angry cheeseheads wanted.

Occupy Wall Street so far has had no clear set of demands—and intentionally so, it seems. A post at OccupyWallSt.org demanded that supporters stop listing demands for fear of making protesters “look like extremist nut jobs.” The post went on, “You don’t speak for everyone in this.” The vague intentions have raised eyebrows, but they also have had the effect of welcoming a diverse group of supporters without alienating them. “The protesters have been eloquent in rejecting the idea that they produce ‘one demand’ and also in articulating in broad terms what they want,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

Spreading the Word

Like the protesters in Iran’s “Green Revolution” and Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising, Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street have made savvy use of social media for everything from rallying supporters and organizing marches to asking for food. Take Twitter: Both uprisings have built lively, if contentious, forums for debate with the hash tags #wiunion and #occupywallstreet. So many tweets poured in during Wednesday’s Occupy Wall Street march that it was impossible to keep up.

Other forms of online organizing have been pivotal. There are more than 230 Facebook pages promoting Occupy events from Tacoma, Washington, to Marfa, Texas, to Milwaukee, just as Facebook helped energize protesters in Wisconsin. And for those who couldn’t make it in person, livestreaming has brought supporters from around the country and the world closer to the action on the ground.

Laying Down the Law

Scott Walker’s bill exempted police officers from the most draconian crackdowns on workers’ rights. That put cops in a tight spot, because it was the job of the police to contain and, when necessary, crack down on the crowds of public workers who occupied the state Capitol rotunda and protested in the surrounding streets. But throughout the months-long protests, police arrested very few, allowed the occupiers to remain inside the Capitol for weeks, and generally treated angry demonstrators as best as could be hoped. Off-duty cops from around the state even joined the protesters in Madison.

Actions by law enforcement in Manhattan against Occupy Wall Street have at some turns been a very different story, with police crackdowns stealing the spotlight. This video of an NYPD deputy inspector using pepper spray on a handful of female protesters sparked outrage, added a streak of sensationalism to the story, and was picked up by mainstream news outlets. The arrest of more than 700 people who marched on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend similarly made national headlines, leading to heaps of criticism and a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD.

Pizza for Protesters

Supporters called in pizza orders from around the world for the hearty crew of Capitol occupiers in Wisconsin. The same is happening for those camped out in Zuccotti Park, blocks from Wall Street. Pizza: It’s the nosh of choice for American uprisings in 2011.

By: Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Democracy, Equal Rights, Freedom, Government, Ideologues, Liberty, Media, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, Revolution, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coddled Long Enough: The “Buffett Rule” Vs “Class Warfare”

Over the weekend, the White House leaked word that President Obama will push a new debt-reduction idea: the “Buffett Rule.” Named after Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, who’s been urging policymakers to raise taxes on the very wealthy. As Buffett recently explained, millionaires and billionaires “have been coddled long enough.”

We don’t yet know the details of the proposal — most notably, what the new millionaires’ minimum tax rate would be — but Republicans are already responding with predictable disgust.

Here, for example, was House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) yesterday on Fox News, making the case for coddling millionaires and billionaires for a while longer. See if you can pick up on the subtlety of his talking points.

Class warfare, Chris, may make for really good politics but it makes a rotten economics. We don’t need a system that seeks to divide people. […]

“[I]t looks like the president wants to move down the class warfare path. Class warfare will simply divide this country more. It will attack job creators, divide people and it doesn’t grow the economy. […]

“[I]f we are just going to do class warfare and trying to get tax increases out of this, and I don’t think much will come of it…. He’s in a political class warfare mode and campaign mode.”

So, I guess I’ll put him down as a “maybe” on the Buffett Rule?

By any reasonable measure, Ryan’s arguments aren’t just wrong, they’re borderline offensive.

For a generation, Republican policymakers have rigged national tax policy to reward the wealthy, and then reward them some more. We’ve seen the class gap reach Gilded Era levels, only to hear GOP officials again demand that working families “sacrifice” while lavishing more breaks on the very wealthy.

Remind me, who’s engaged in “class warfare” and “dividing people”?

Also note the larger policy context here. President Obama wants the richest of the rich to pay a little more, but keep tax breaks in place for the middle class. Paul Ryan and his cohorts want the polar opposite — more breaks for the very wealthy and higher taxes for the middle class.

Let’s also not forget that one of the GOP’s more common tax-policy arguments is that nearly half the country doesn’t have any federal income tax burden — and they see that as a problem that needs fixing. As a practical matter, the Republican argument on this is practically the definition of “class warfare.”

I realize much of the political establishment has come to look at Paul Ryan as a wise wonk who deserves to be taken seriously, but it really doesn’t take much to realize how spectacularly wrong the far-right Wisconsinite really is.

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 19, 2011

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Labor, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, President Obama, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Unemployed, Wealthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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