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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Poll Says 100 million Won’t Vote in Midterms

The Daily Escape:

Mac-Mac Falls, Pilgrim’s Rest, South Africa – 2006 photo by Wrongo

Millions of Americans fail to vote in every election. Yet, despite the historic importance of the 2018 midterms, more than 100 million are unlikely to show up at the polls this November, according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. Here is a graphic illustration from USA Today:

Source: Frank Pompa/USA Today

This tells us that many more citizens will be nonvoters in this year’s crucial midterm elections than are likely to be voters. In the 2014 midterm, only about one-third of eligible voters actually voted. We also saw in the 2016 Presidential election that only 55% of voting age citizens cast ballots. That was the lowest turnout in a presidential election since 1996, when 53.5% of voting-age citizens actually voted.

The new Suffolk poll gives us a good sense of the turnout challenge for this November. Here’s what the non-voters say:

  • They have given up on the political parties and a system that they say is beyond reform or repair.
  • They say that the country’s most important problems include: political gridlock, the economy, health care, education and immigration. Those subjects were mentioned more frequently than guns, terrorism, or taxes.
  • They lean left in their political choices. If they were to vote for president, they would favor a Democratic candidate over Trump, 35% to 26%, with the remaining being undecided or choosing “third party” or “other.”
  • In a contradiction, the respondents indicated that they lean right in their political philosophy. More than 29% called themselves conservative, 36% said moderate and 17% said liberal.
  • About three-quarters of respondents say religion plays an important role in their lives — and three-quarters also said the federal government also plays an important role.

55% of the nonvoters and unlikely voters said they viewed Trump unfavorably. A third said they backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, while 28% said they had supported Trump. About 30% said they didn’t vote.

The 2018 midterm prospects for both parties hinge on boosting turnout. How turnout increases, and where it will come from is up in the air, but it will have to include people who do not always vote.

Given the state of American education, it’s no wonder that some non-voters aren’t familiar with the concept of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. If you don’t vote because you think your vote doesn’t matter, then your vote won’t matter because you didn’t bother to vote.

But, some of the early special elections this year suggest a pattern of unusually high turnout among those without a history of regularly voting.

A final thought: When you don’t vote, your intent might be to say “none of the above,” but your impact is “any of the above“. If we want a better country, then we must be better citizens.

That means participating in government and above all, voting.

Do whatever you can to help drive turnout in November.

(The Suffolk survey polled 800 adults between April 2 and 18, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cellphones. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.47 %.)

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It’s Past Time To Make Changes To Our Economic System

The Daily Escape:

2011 Art piece by Steven Lambert

Does capitalism work for you? Well, you certainly work for capitalists. The real question is whether capitalism still provides economic security to all of us.

Steve Lambert, the artist who designed the sign, engaged with people across America over a three-year period about whether capitalism was still working. He learned that people were split about 50/50 on the premise:

People usually first react to the piece by falling back on the comfort of abstractions and repeating popular myths. For example, the true/false dilemma is much easier to resolve when the only alternatives to capitalism are presumed to be failed communist dictatorships. It’s also much easier to pretend that the only “true” definition of capitalism is the kind of free-market extreme idolized by thinkers like Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek

Or thinkers like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Lambert learned that people generally agreed with the concept, assuming “you are willing to work hard, or work smarter”:

I’ve always found the formulation “work hard, work smart” disturbing. When you invert the expression, it implies: if capitalism doesn’t work for you (that is, if you’re poor, out of work or have a demeaning job), it’s your fault. To put it more bluntly, you are lazy and stupid.

If we ignore the fact that until recently, wages have stagnated for decades, and that what most people earn in a lifetime is insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement, maybe you can say that capitalism is working.

We have been told that federal budget deficits impair our ability to grow the economy, or to put food on our individual tables. In fact the opposite is true. This idea makes us believe that our ability to earn a living requires some degree of suffering by other Americans.

As Claire Connelly says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“We can’t afford it” has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days….This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment….If their bottom line is stable.

This lie sets us against each other, implying that the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. And who wins? The beneficiaries of the newly lowered taxes, corporate America and its management teams. More from Connelly:

Do we really want to live in a world….Where most people will be lucky to earn minimum wage, or wait for months to get paid. If at all. A world where we are not entitled either to a job, or an education, or affordable health care or a social safety net?

We are likely to see a $1.3 Trillion budget pass both houses of Congress this week. It is deficit spending run wild. Wrongo knows that both parties believe that deficits don’t matter, and to a great extent, he agrees.

But these deficits are larger than they had to be, due to the massive corporate and wealthy individual tax cuts the Republican House and Senate just passed. And it’s not only the size of the deficits, it’s the mis-allocation of funds by our neo-con overlords.

This is what capitalism has delivered for America: More than 45 million of us (14.5%) live in poverty. In 2016, another 49.5 million Americans were age 65 and older, and half of them (24.75 million) had yearly income of less than $23,394.

That adds up to about 70 million (22%) of Americans.

One idea that is gaining attention is a Jobs Guarantee program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently released a paper arguing for a national jobs guarantee through a national infrastructure bank. The CBPP plan envisions an infrastructure bank that would fund vital projects and ensure that jobs are well-paid. The government would use this job-creating ability to expand jobs in sectors where the market won’t currently invest, like a national high-speed internet network.

Government guarantees of employment aren’t radical. They aren’t communism, or socialism. We did it before with the New Deal. It reinforces traditional American values around work, and it builds the tax base by taxation on the jobs created. Here’s a final quote from Steve Lambert:

My favorite response to the sign was from a 17-year-old high school student in Boston. She said: “Capitalism can’t work for everyone. If it did, it wouldn’t be capitalism.”

This is where the conversation needs to go: We have to change an economic system that fails so many.

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Places That Don’t Matter

The Daily Escape:

Maroon Bells, CO in winter – photo by Glenn Randall

America’s forgotten masses used the ballot box in 2016 to ram home a message to their betters. The message was that we shouldn’t ignore the places that don’t matter, those places that once had middle class jobs, and now have few options. The Trump election was one way to signal all was not well in the America’s decaying small towns.

We long ago retreated from the idea that the central government has a responsibility to look after the lagging places. It isn’t an invisible, unstoppable force that directs all the wealth generation to cities: It’s a system of deliberate centralization, by individuals who control capital, to concentrate productive efficiency and thus, wealth. The left-behinds are on their own.

The reality is that regional or town regeneration is very hard, once the original reason for the town’s existence is lost. Places that don’t matter have to find ways to build wealth locally, and then keep that money local. Locally produced goods and services keep regions alive.

Most solutions are based on the usual arm waving that says: “let them have training” or, “they really need to move where the jobs are”. These ideas have largely failed. Figuring out how to revive these communities requires better policies.

The revenge of the places that don’t matter is the rise of local populism, the increasing opioid use, and declining longevity. The stakes are high, but maximizing the development potential of each town has got to be the answer.

Here is one solution. The WaPo has a long read about how a liberal DC entrepreneur set out to help West Virginians. And for a very long time, Joe Kapp’s help was refused. He was the object of a vicious online campaign, targeted by homophobia, and maligned as a carpetbagger.

When Kapp, 47, an entrepreneur decamped to a West Virginia cabin in 2012 with his partner, he’d come to take a sabbatical. The town is Wardensville, pop. 256. From WaPo:

Those who do work locally gravitate toward poultry processing, furniture manufacturing and agriculture, but the numbers aren’t good. In 2015, the unemployment rate…was 7.5%, compared with 6.7% statewide and 5.3% nationally. The per capita income…was just under $28,000 a year, compared with about $37,000 for the state, and $48,000 nationwide.

The basics are lacking. The area doesn’t have Internet. Kapp says:

You’ve got kids doing their homework in McDonald’s parking lots. People in most of the country just have no idea.

And even community college enrollments suffer. Only 10% of West Virginia high school students enroll in community college, compared to 50% nationwide.

Kapp soon befriended the president at the local community college. From there, it wasn’t long before he was helping the college launch an innovative project, the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IREED), aimed at helping to diversify the regional economy.

Kapp initially failed to gain traction, but things have gradually turned around. He thinks this demographic has more potential than the coastal elites give them credit for. He is certain that by harnessing local knowledge, like agriculture, they can start businesses, and put their own people back to work.

Every town wants its own Amazon, but in rural communities, that’s not an option. They need to create an ecosystem that promotes a small-business culture and entrepreneurship. So Kapp’s assistance in establishing the IREED with the community college got the idea off the ground. No community college in the state had anything of the kind.

The goal of the IREED is to help the local agricultural community think of itself as entrepreneurial.

He is developing a program that will allow community colleges to offer low- or no-interest micro-loans, around $5,000, to aspiring entrepreneurs. These individuals would then take entrepreneurship and business-development courses at the lending college. Kapp:

A bank might say, ‘This guy’s too risky,’ But a community college can say, ‘I know this guy. We work with him. I am vetting and validating his ability to be able to pay back the loan.’

In other words, it’s development banking on a community level. Today, most community banks mainly fund real estate, and they still follow the model where the borrower needs to pledge collateral to get the loan. In a world where services are the business’s primary asset, collateral has no meaning.

So the micro-loans by schools may be a perfect first step to bootstrapping these persistently poor towns.

This is a tentative step. It may not be scalable, but if we are looking for the greatest “social impact indicators”, it is the degree to which people feel secure economically, and safe in their community.

Always has been, always will be.

(The concept of this column, although not the solutions, is taken from “Revenge of the Places That Don’t Matter” by Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, Professor of Economic Geography, London School of Economics. Originally published at VoxEU)

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Gerrymandering: The End of “One Person, One Vote”

The Daily Escape:

Lighting at Devils Tower, Wyoming. It is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians – photo by Shaun Peterson

It isn’t a secret that aggressive gerrymandering (dividing election districts to give one political party a majority in many districts, while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible) has been a cornerstone of Republican political strategy for more than a decade. It has been a stunning success.

And in several (mostly Republican) states, officials have also used vote suppression, such as reduced voting hours, closed polling stations, or other barriers to voting, like strict ID rules to create a political advantage.

Democrats tend to win the majority of votes nationally, and in many Congressional and state-wide elections, only to win less than a pro-rata share of seats. 2016 showed the political impact of gerrymandering. Republicans held a 54-46 majority in the US Senate. They used that majority to deny a Supreme Court appointment to President Obama on the pretext that it was an election year. At the time, the 46 Democrats represented 20 million more citizens than their GOP Senate counterparts.

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress hows the logical outcome for our political future: (emphasis by Wrongo)

And then there is the single most frightening projection facing both large-D Democrats and small-d democrats in the United States. By 2040, according to Dean David Birdsell of the school of public and international affairs at Baruch College, ‘about 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states.’ That means that 70% of Americans ‘will have only 30 senators representing them, while the remaining 30% of Americans will have 70 senators representing them.’

If this is our future, what does “one person, one vote” mean? “One person, one vote” can have several connotations, but it should denote that fairness is inherent in our electoral system. Gender, race, and importantly, where you live, shouldn’t enhance or diminish the value of your ballot.

Winning the gerrymander battle will only be accomplished on the state and district levels. Whoever controls the state legislature and the governor’s chair will decide how fair or unfair the state’s apportionment of seats will be. Rolling Stone’s Ari Berman writes about North Carolina:

On January 9th, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s US House map, which gives Republicans a 10-to-three advantage over Democrats, the first time a federal court has invalidated congressional lines for partisan gerrymandering. But on January 18th, the Supreme Court blocked the redrawing of North Carolina’s maps, pending appeal.

GOP-drawn districts have also been struck down in Alabama, Florida, Virginia and Texas. Many of these rulings are being appealed by Republicans, making it unlikely these districts will be redrawn before the 2018 elections.

And Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court just struck down the state’s Congressional maps, where Republicans have a 13 to 5 advantage, and ordered they be redrawn in 2018. Booman writes:

If you’re handicapping the likelihood of the Republicans losing control of the House, you need to adjust your odds in light of this news. If it stands, it could be the decisive factor that changes the ultimate outcome.

This is a good reminder that bad laws can be challenged under state constitutions (but not federal laws). States are free to recognize more rights than those recognized under the US Constitution, they just can’t recognize fewer rights. And cases decided under state constitutions are usually outside the US Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. For example, a number of states have stricter search and seizure provisions than the federal constitution. This is the sort of “federalism” that conservatives hope you don’t learn about.

Voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering are the greatest threats to our democracy. Suppression provides states with the opportunity to gerrymander. Taken together, suppression and gerrymandering provide the means to disenfranchise significant parts of the electorate from our democracy.

Here’s Millhiser’s money quote:

The government of the United States no longer derives its powers from the consent of the governed. And by the time voters head to the polls in November to elect a new Congress, America will have existed in this state of profound un-democracy for nearly a decade.

Can this be fixed? Yes, by a combination of voter turnout at the state level, and state court challenges to bad re-districting. We also have to hope that the Supreme Court doesn’t act in a completely partisan manner like they did with Citizens United and the voiding of significant parts of the Voting Rights Act.

It is profoundly wrong that the way we draw legislative districts, and malapportionment, have conspired to rob American voters of much of their ability to choose their leaders.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Island Park ID, November 2017

The WSJ’s Weekend Edition had an article about the cultural and economic split between small towns and big towns in America. In “One Nation, Divisible”, Michael Phillips follows a young woman, Caity Cronkhite, who left rural Indiana for San Francisco. Caity recalls:

All growing up, if we were too smart or too successful or too anything, there was always someone ready to say, ‘Don’t be so proud of yourself’…

Caity was smart. She bucked the system to graduate from high school a year early, but the school would not let her be named valedictorian, because she had skipped a grade. She left town, got a scholarship to Carnegie-Mellon, graduated and became a technical writer for SalesForce.com.

Still, she remained attached to her home town. She wrote an online 5000+ word essay about Kingman IN. It brought thousands of hateful responses from Kingman, including:

So keep your elitists’ rear ends in your little office cubicles while we handle the tough, physical things that keep you and your perfect friends alive…

That anger about town vs. city brought to mind Merle Haggard’s 1969 tune, “Okie from Muskogee”. Haggard and the band were on a bus outside of Muskogee when a band member joked that the citizens in Muskogee probably didn’t smoke marijuana. In about 20 minutes, Haggard had the song. The band played it the next night at the Fort Bragg, NC officers club. And after the verse:

We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street,
We like living right and being free.

The officers stood and gave huge applause. They had to play the song four times to get offstage. The song later went to number one on the Billboard country music charts. At the time, Reuters reported: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Haggard has tapped, perhaps for the first time in popular music, into a vast reservoir of resentment against the long-haired young and their underground society.

So in 2017, a young woman worries about being accepted in her small home town after finding success while living in San Francisco. While 48 years earlier, “Okie” was telling small town America to have pride, and that it was ok to be for the Vietnam War, and against student protesters.

These two events made Wrongo think about the roots of today’s fractious sociopolitical divide in America.

People in small towns have to fit in, the place is too small to look different, or subscribe to ideas that are outside the main stream in their town’s culture. If they do, the local hierarchy has ways of enforcing conformance with the dominant ethos. People insist that you should fit in. They think that everybody should fit in, and they don’t understand why there are places in America that don’t operate that way.

Haggard’s hit brought small-town America self-identification and pride. And it galvanized the “us” vs. “them” attitudes in small-town USA that were opposed to the growing counter-culture of the 1960’s, and the student opposition to the Vietnam War.

Americans always gather into relatively small groups. People in cities have misconceptions about small town life, just like rural Americans have them about cities.

The nature of today’s politics, and the nature of group identity in America pushes us into sparring camps. You can call it your “tribe”, your “people”, or your “team”, but groups in small-town America have a well-defined sense of identity. It is different from the identity politics in big-city America, where there are hundreds of examples of people of many different groups. Large metropolitan areas are much more diverse, but they are also knitted together by a transcendent identity with place.

Ms. Cronkhite’s parents planned on selling the farm and retiring, but Caity wasn’t ready to let it all go:

If I ever have kids, they’re never going to understand this huge part of me…I want there to be a reminder of where I come from and who I am.

Her parents sold her about 10 acres for the per-acre price her father had paid in 1972. Caity plans to build a small house. She said:

I’m still a rural American.

But she doesn’t plan on moving back just now. Fewer and fewer of us are rural Americans, and while those societies shrink, no dominant identity is replacing it.

But the sometimes-toxic sociology of small groups, or Merle Haggard’s sentiments, can’t be allowed to destroy what America has in common. In fact, appropriation of culture and patriotism by one tribe is a threat to our common good. Thus when Haggard says:

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,

He’s misappropriating, since every town has always flown Old Glory at the courthouse, and wouldn’t dream of taking it down.

Time to wake up America! Fight the appropriation of our symbols and ideals. To help you wake up, here is Merle Haggard with “Okie from Muskogee”:

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Saturday Soother – December 16, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Central Park NYC, December 12th – 2017 photo by Rommel Tan

Long-time readers know that Wrongo has a very low opinion of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), who he considers an intellectual joker. He is often given a pass by the main stream media, who suggest that he is a thoughtful and principled Republican. But once again, he looked like a partially-informed hack on Thursday when he said that Americans need to have more babies or risk a collapse of Medicare and Social Security.

His concern is about the declining US birth rate. The Boston Globe reports that:

Ten years ago, the typical American woman had about 2.1 children. Today, it is about 1.77, representing a collapse in fertility on par with the declines in other countries that yielded Japan’s rapidly graying population in the 1990s, or Canada’s massive present-day demand for immigrants.

From Ryan’s news conference: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

People — this is going to be the new economic challenge for America. People…I did my part, (Ryan has three kids) but we need to have higher birth rates in this country. Meaning, baby boomers are retiring, and we have fewer people following them in the work force…We have something like a 90% increase in the retirement population in America, but only a 19% increase in the working population in America…

It is true that birth rates in the US have declined, but that’s not necessarily bad news. For example, birth rates for teenagers hit a record low last year. Also, Wrongo recently described McKinsey’s report on jobs lost to automation that showed 75 million jobs are at risk in the US by 2030.

Perhaps we already have too many workers for the jobs revolution that is occurring all around us.

And there’s an obvious solution to the problem that Ryan ignores: Allowing more immigrants into the country, either to fill the jobs being vacated by retiring baby boomers, or as necessary to meet tomorrow’s job requirements. But Ryan shows that he’s all in with Trump’s hard line anti-immigration positions.

Should American women become brood mares? This isn’t a new concept. The fear of being outnumbered by racial and ethnic minorities is the driving force behind today’s alt-right, and the view was around in earlier white nationalist movements. HuffPo interviewed Kelly J. Baker, author of “Gospel According to the Klan”. Baker says that the need to ensure that white women were having more white babies was a key part of the Ku Klux Klan’s platform during its resurgence in the 1920s: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Baker said that the 1920s Klan was “nervous” about the possibility of widespread birth control for white women…To push back against the rising availability of effective birth control, the Klan told white women that having as many white children as possible is your job and it matters for your family and your race and for America.

And now, Ryan makes this a mainstream GOP idea. For all of the political empowerment of women in today’s headlines, the Ryan argument lands in the same place as today’s alt-right, and yesterday’s KKK.

Ryan and the GOP want to see more babies, but they won’t support young kids with health insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Quartz reports that next month, 600,000 American children will lose their CHIP coverage. CHIP has been instrumental in ensuring health care coverage of children in US families that aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford any other form of insurance.

Republicans talk a lot about the cost of healthcare. The cost of not providing healthcare to children in an America with failing schools is impossible to calculate. It is very high, it lasts lifetimes and possibly, generations.

Yet, Ryan is saying that American women need to have more babies to Make America Great Again.

And we know that he’s asking for more white babies.

OK, it’s Saturday, and we need a break from toxic politics, and maybe from obsessing about shopping for gifts. Hanukkah began this week, so Wrongo looked for a soothing piece of music that was inspired by the celebration of the Festival of Lights. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” by Adam Shugar.

If you look at the YouTube video, you will see that it has just 5,000 views. It should have many more. You should watch it because the music is good, and unlike most orchestral pieces, this string orchestra performs while standing. The video is shot from a high angle, and looking down allows you to see them all as they play together, almost like a choreographed dance. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” played by the Orchestre Nouvelle Génération under the direction of Airat Ichmouratov, with Mark Simons on clarinet:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Automation Will Cost 75 Million US Jobs By 2030

The Daily Escape:

Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. Torres Del Paine is known for its mountains, glaciers and grasslands that shelter rare wildlife like Guanacos.

Wrongo has written many times about automation taking jobs that will not be replaced onshore. McKinsey & Co. has a new study that finds that job losses due to automation will take out anywhere from ten to twenty percent of the current global workforce by 2030:

As many as 800 million workers worldwide may lose their jobs to robots and automation by 2030, equivalent to more than a fifth of today’s global labor force.

The report covers 46 countries and more than 800 occupations. The McKinsey Global Institute study found that even if the rise of robots is less rapid than they expect, 400 million workers could still find themselves displaced by automation and would need to find new jobs over the next 13 years. McKinsey said that both developed and emerging countries will be impacted. Machine operators, fast-food workers and back-office employees are among those who will be most affected if automation spreads quickly through the workplace. Bloomberg made a chart summarizing the jobs lost by country:

Source: Bloomberg

This implies that some 75 million jobs are at risk in the US by 2030, to be replaced by…something.

The bottom line is that many of the unemployed will need considerable help to shift to new work, and as a result, starting salaries will continue to flat line. McKinsey paints a rosy picture about the future jobs market post-automation. They say that the economies of most countries will eventually replace the lost jobs, but are a little unclear on what the new jobs will be. They mention health care, infrastructure, construction, renewable energy and IT as likely job areas.

But the challenge is how the displaced workers learn the new skills necessary by 2030. Axios quotes Michael Chui, lead author of the report on the needs for retraining:

We’re all going to have to change and learn how to do new things over time…It’s a Marshall Plan size of a task…

How will America fund a Marshall Plan for retraining 75 million of us, particularly when we’ve just given the very corporations who are automating our jobs even more of a break on their tax bills? It’s unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress will have any desire to fund the necessary comprehensive re-training effort. If Congress had any foresight, they could have made their new corporate tax cuts conditional on these same firms paying for the job retraining that their automation will cause for American workers.

But, it will be our job to figure out where these new training funds will come from, right along with the funds we have already given to the job creators Republican donors.

And what if you don’t have the money or learning aptitude to acquire these new skills? Well, you are likely to be both unemployed and poor. And that mean tens of millions more Americans will not have the resources to stay out of poverty.

Perhaps CEOs and Congresscritters ought to remember that there are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country, and many are in the hands of the very people who would be hurt most by automation.

We can’t hold back the tide of automation, but we can be smart about how we, as a country make the transition to fewer very highly-skilled workers and many narrowly-skilled workers. There are questions to ask, and solutions to craft for the post-2030 world.

How will America’s forgotten workers survive in a society that is led by people who don’t care if they have a job?

How will America’s forgotten workers survive if the political establishment tries to unwind the social safety net while celebrating the progress of technologies that cost jobs?

That could lead to torches and pitchforks.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Coyote, Housatonic River – Litchfield County, CT – photo by JH Clery

At the risk of sounding like the discredited Democrat John Edwards, we do live in two Americas. The top rungs of the ladder are living a good life, benefiting from the nine-year rebound from the Great Recession. The other 90% haven’t done well at all. Check out this chart of median household income:

Source

The chart shows median (not average) household income for the US, adjusted for inflation. Unlike average income, median income is not distorted by the enormous gains made by the one-percenters during the past decade.

The chart shows that for a household in the center of the US income distribution, 1999 was the best year ever. The housing bubble brought median household income almost back to its 1999 level in 2007, but not quite. Today, median household income (adjusted for inflation) is slightly lower than it was in 1989, in the first year of the George H.W. Bush administration.

How can this be? The economy is growing, and the US should have a squeaky-tight job market, since unemployment is at a 17-year low at 4.1%, a jobless figure that is near the definition of full employment. We’ve had seven straight years of job growth; job searches lasting 15 weeks or longer are now only 1.5% of the work force, down from 2% a year ago.

But wage growth is anemic. According to the law of supply and demand, employers should be sharply bidding up wages in order to capture increasingly scarce workers. But they aren’t. In October, they raised wages just a bit more than inflation, at an annual rate of 2.4%, down from September’s rate of 2.8%.

This is what imperial decay looks like to the middle class. Keep spending your seed corn tilting at windmills in the Middle East, and pretty soon some in the middle class are dumpster diving.

And consider this: Only a little more than half of America has a retirement account, such as a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account, according to the Federal Reserve. And the typical household with a retirement account had a balance of $60,000 last year, but there are big variations. Among the top 10% of households by income, the typical amount of savings was $403,000. Middle-income households had a median of $25,000.

Everyone who isn’t in the top 10% knows just how bad things are, and those below the top 20% feel it every day.

But what can they do about it? They work, many working multiple jobs. They get home exhausted. They’re too poor to run for office in a rigged plutocracy. So they go to bed and get up and go to work again in the morning, either depressed and angry, or simply depressed.

That’s about all they can do, except to vote for politicians who have no intention of working to change their economic situation.

Each resulting government is worse than the last. Not to mention at this point in terms of power over people’s lives, even the government is dwarfed by the power of multinational corporations.

It’s long past time to wake up America! We’ve got to stop the hostile takeover of the middle class by plutocrats and corporations, but how to do it? We all have to get off the couch and work for local candidates who will be the bench strength of progressive politics down the road. We also must work to insure that our voting rights are not further eroded by polls that close early, or by efforts to prune the rolls of people who haven’t voted in a few years. This is particularly heinous when less than 55% of eligible people vote even in our presidential elections.

To help us wake up, here is the 1970’s British group XTC with their tune “Wake Up”:

Takeaway Lyric:

You put your cleanest dirty shirt on
Then you stagger down to meet the dawn
You take a ride upon a bus, it’s just a fuss
You know it keeps you born
You get to know a morning face
You get to join the human race
You get to know the world has passed you by

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 30, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Fall at the Statehouse in Augusta, Maine – photo by Robert F. Bukaty

Welcome to what we may start to call Robert Mueller Monday. Ray Dalio, the founder of the Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund has serious concerns about the uneven recovery of the US economy.

In a LinkedIn post, Dalio said that if politicians and business people look only at the economy’s average statistics about how Americans are doing, they could easily make “dangerous miscalculations” because the averages mask deep differences in how people in various income segments are doing.

Dalio divides the economy into two sections: the top 40%, and the bottom 60%. He then shows how the economy for the bottom 60% of the population, (that’s three in five Americans for you English majors), has been much less successful than for those in the top bracket.

For example, Dalio notes that since 1980, real incomes have been flat or down for the average household in the bottom 60%. Those in the top 40% now have 10 times as much wealth as households in the bottom 60%, up from six times as much in 1980.

Dalio says that only about one-third of people in the bottom 60% (20% overall) save any of their income. Only a similar number have any retirement savings. These three in five Americans are experiencing increasing rates of premature death. They spend about four times less on education than those in the top 40%. Those in the 60% without a college education have lower income levels, and higher divorce rates.

Dalio believes these problems will intensify in the next five to ten years. The inequality problem is caused by our politics and our fiscal policies, not by the Fed’s monetary policies.

OTOH, Dalio’s concerns aren’t a surprise to anyone who follows the political economy. In fact, it isn’t a surprise to anyone who has walked through any mid-sized American city, or driven through any small town in the heartland.

The problem is not low wage growth.

The problem is not long-term unemployment, as degrading and humiliating as that is.

The problem is that the US economy has been restructured over the past 30 years as an underemployment, low-wage economy in which most new jobs created are temporary jobs (whether you are a laborer, a technician, a service worker or a professional) with no job security, low wages and few benefits.

The real question is can we solve the problem? Many old lefties argue for a Universal Basic Income, (UBI), but Wrongo thinks that’s, er, wrong. If the UBI were high enough to provide even a subsistence living for every American, it would be massively inflationary. And it would merely allow businesses to pay lower wages, which is why some wealthy business people, like Peter Thiel, support a UBI.

Wrongo thinks we should support guaranteed work, not guaranteed income. Most people need and want to work in order to keep their place in our society. Getting a check just isn’t sufficient. If people matter at all, and if 95% of them lack the means to live without working, society must strive to employ all of those who have been deemed redundant by the private sector.

And there is plenty to do around America. Start with the 5,000+ bridges and dams that need replacing, or the 104 nuclear power plants that are falling apart.

We need real tax reform that can’t be loopholed. Corporations must pay more, not less. Stop the move to give corporations incentives to repatriate offshore earnings by lowering their effective tax rates. That only compromises our future tax stream. Corporations have to pay more in taxes, and agree to increase the wages of average workers.

Economically, we are in a pretty scary place. People across party lines and socio-economic levels are frightened for their financial security. We need a jobs guarantee, not a UBI.

So, wake up America! Letting corporations and the rich dictate our investment in human capital or infrastructure has us on the road to eclipse as a country. To help you wake up, here is Todd Snider performing “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White American Male“, live at Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina in September, 2014:

Why aren’t the Dixie Chicks singing harmony on this?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – October 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Fall at Crested Butte – photo by mellowrapp

The economists at Indeed’s Hiring Lab say that the areas of the country that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 face the smallest job growth in the decade ahead.

Indeed uses new projections by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to project the winners and losers in the American job market for the period 2016-2026:

The occupational projections suggest faster growth in urban areas than in suburbs, and slowest in rural areas. The two sectors projected to have no or negative growth — production and agriculture — are more concentrated in small towns and rural areas. Many technical, scientific, legal, financial, and healthcare jobs are clustered in big, dense cities.

The fastest growing occupations are projected to be in clean energy: solar photo-voltaic installers and wind turbine service technician jobs are expected to double. Four of the 10 fastest growing occupations pay at least $100,000 a year, according to the BLS: physician assistants, nurse practitioners, software developers, and mathematicians.

Indeed combined the BLS projections with 2016 US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data to show where the faster-growing occupations will be located. That suggests faster growth will be in coastal urban areas, and slowest growth will be in rural areas:

Indeed then overlaid voting patterns on the BLS job growth projections. It is clear that Blue America has a more favorable forecast for future jobs growth than Red America:

So what does this chart tell us? In places that voted for Trump by a 20-point margin, 16% of workers are in occupations projected to shrink, versus 13.2% of workers in places that voted for Hillary Clinton by a similar 20-point margin.

The next decade’s jobs growth could also increase inequality. The fastest growing jobs include several with the highest average wages, including healthcare, computer, and mathematics occupations. Occupations with the lowest average wages are also projected to grow fast, such as home health aides and personal care aides. Middle-wage job growth is projected to lag, at about half the rate of the highest- and lowest-wage jobs.

It seems that a big slice of Trump’s supporters will be losers when it comes to jobs and income growth over the next 10 years. Will they stick with the Republican Party when the job situation gets even worse for them? Of course!

Now, here comes the weekend!

This week we watched Jeff (I’m not a) Flake give a valedictory speech that excoriated the leader of his party. Catalonia succeeded from Spain, and the GOP pushed their tax cut agenda forward. The Trump administration tried to deny a young illegal immigrant woman an abortion, and Hillary Clinton was implicated in paying for the Steele Dossier.

But the worst was that Paul Newman’s Rolex wristwatch sold for $17.75 million. File this under: Idiots with too much money.

Plenty of hits to the system for a single week, so it’s time to take a break from the reality known as Trumpmerica.

Time to brew a very large mug of Celestial Seasons Bengal Spice tea, put your feet up, and put on the Bluetooth headphones. Now listen to Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City” from the 1989 album “Works by Husa, Copland, Vaughan Williams, and Hindemith”, performed by Wynton Marsalis with Phillip Koch on English Horn along with the Eastern Wind Ensemble.

Copland said the piece was an attempt to mirror the troubled main character of an Irwin Shaw play, who had abandoned his religion and his poetry in order to pursue material success. He Anglicized his name, married a rich socialite, and became president of a department store. But he continually returns to his guilty conscience whenever he hears the haunting sound of his brother’s trumpet.

See if Marsalis can take you inside your conscience:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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