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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 24, 2019

What you missed in Friday’s news about Robert Mueller wrapping up the Russia investigation was that Trump announced the appointment of Stephen Moore, a conservative economic pundit as a member of the Board of the Federal Reserve.

Moore is a doofus. There’s no bigger example of a so-called “economist” failing his way upwards than Stephen Moore as Jon Chait points out: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Stephen Moore’s career as an economic analyst has been a decades-long continuous procession of error and hackery….Moore’s primary area of pseudo-expertise — he is not an economist — is fiscal policy. He is a dedicated advocate of supply-side economics, relentlessly promoting his fanatical hatred of redistribution and belief that lower taxes for the rich can and will unleash wondrous prosperity. Like nearly all supply-siders, he has clung to this dogma in the face of repeated, spectacular failures.”

Wrongo hastens to remind everyone that the Fed is in charge of MONETARY POLICY, not Fiscal policy. Moore only holds a Master’s degree in Economics. There are many, many examples of Moore’s hacktastic pseudo-expertise in economics. Slate reports that Moore: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Predicted that Bill Clinton’s tax hikes would bring disaster (they didn’t), that George W. Bush’s tax cuts would bring prosperity (they didn’t), and that Barack Obama’s policies were setting us up for ’70s-style stagflation (they didn’t)….He and supply-side guru Art Laffer were also key advisers behind Kansas’ fiscally and politically disastrous tax cuts. In spite of his own track record of [consistently] failed predictions, he has disparaged Keynesian macroeconomics as ‘witchcraft.'”

He’s recently called for Trump to fire the entire Fed board. Moore has blamed the Fed’s rate increases over the past year for slowing economic growth, and recently called on the Fed to begin cutting rates. He helped draft Trump’s tax proposals while working as an economist at the Heritage Foundation.

Stephen Moore is a joke in the economics profession. This should go well. On to cartoons.

Barr holds the key to what we learn about the Mueller investigation:

Stop calling them White Nationalists, alt-Right or Populists. These people are White Supremacists:

Funny how most Christians in the US don’t obey the Ten Commandments, but consider the Second Amendment a must follow:

What is evident from attacks on Black Christian churches, Synagogues, and Mosques in the US, and now in NZ, is that RW extremists are increasing their attacks. They are citing Trump as their “guiding light”, while Trump continues to play down their involvement:

Biden looks like a candidate, but some wonder about his age:

George and Kellyanne Conway see Trump differently. Will their relationship survive?

Trump says free speech for conservatives is great, missing the point about our free press:

Rep. Devin Nunes sues Twitter because of a satirical account called “Devin Nunes’s Cow”. As of today, more people follow the fake cow that mocks Devin Nunes, than follow Devin Nunes:

 

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The Long Battle to Reform Capitalism

The Daily Escape:

Poppies in bloom, Southern California – March 2019 photo by Leslie Simis. This annual explosion of color is enhanced this year by extraordinary rainfall

You can call the period in US history from FDR to Nixon “America’s social democratic era”.  A collection of politicians had hammered out the policies and regulations that became FDR’s New Deal in America. It became a period of post-war prosperity during which inequality narrowed, economic growth boomed, and optimism reigned.

The characteristics these policies shared were reciprocity and generosity. For the citizen, there was some form of social support that grew from Social Security in 1935 through the 1960’s with Medicare and Medicaid. In 1970, Nixon implemented the Environmental Protection Agency. There was also a willingness to care for the disadvantaged. Our Marshall Plan and our commitment to foreign aid are both great examples. The success of social democracy in the postwar era weakened the market’s power to act independently within our society.

But then things changed. Our government’s role became a helpmate for corporations, financial institutions, and their lobbyists. The result has been growing inequality between suppliers of capital and the suppliers of labor, even of highly educated labor, like teachers and professors. Economic growth slowed, and we have developed a permanent underclass that seems impervious to repair.

Yesterday, we talked about Economic Dignity, and how focusing on it might help solve inequality. Today’s market economics is partly based on the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, economists who viewed human beings as supreme over the state. As individuals who would make rational decisions to maximize utility. It turned out to be incomplete, since it left out key dimensions of human psychology, like the individual’s need for social esteem or respect. In other words, they ignored economic dignity.

Couple that with Milton Friedman’s idea, that the mission of the firm is to solely maximize profits, that any responsibilities to its employees, consumers, or society should be ignored. Profit maximization at all costs has done great damage to American society. And conservatives and free marketers have married the ideas of these three economists, making the removal of government from markets their primary mission.

But what they call “the market” is really a bundle of regulatory (and non-regulatory) rules by which market activities operate. The mix of free and regulated market activities can be changed, even though capitalists say we shouldn’t change the rules, because it adds uncertainty to markets.

Just because in baseball, three strikes and the batter is out, or with four balls, there is a free pass to first base, doesn’t mean it has to be that way. It could be five strikes and you’re out, or three balls is a walk.

As an example, we tend to fight unemployment with “trickle-down” solutions. That means we bribe the rich and corporations to hire more. But, the bribe is always bigger than the payrolls that are generated.

We could fight unemployment with fiscal policy, such as infrastructure spending by the government. It would employ many, possibly hundreds of thousands, and there would be no need to pay any entity more than was warranted by the tasks at hand.

America needs a return to what economist Paul Collier calls the “cornerstones of belonging”— family, workplace, and nation, all of which are threatened by today’s market driven capitalism. That means capitalism has to return to the ethics of the New Deal. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, says: (parenthesis and emphasis by Wrongo)

Over the past half-century, Chicago School economists, (including Milton Friedman) acting on the assumption that markets are generally competitive, narrowed the focus of competition policy solely to economic efficiency, rather than broader concerns about power and inequality. The irony is that this assumption became dominant in policymaking circles just when economists were beginning to reveal its flaws.

Stiglitz says we need the same resolve fighting for an increase in corporate competition that the corporations have demonstrated in their fight against it. We’ll need new policies to manage capitalism.

It means higher taxes on profits.

It means paying workers more.

It means rebuilding public assets like roads.

It means teaching students to be both technically capable, and grounded in their values.

Speaking of needing to teach our students, if you think we’re not in a rigged game, think about one “USC student” who is part of the admissions fraud scandal, Olivia Jade Giannulli. She was on the yacht of the Chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees when she heard about it.

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Reform of Capitalism Isn’t Socialism

The Daily Escape:

Graffiti in Greece by Lotek

The NYT reported that Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Socialism is the greatest vulnerability by far that the House Democrats have…He added that he had also instructed his team to spotlight “all the [Dems] extreme wild ideas on a daily basis, on an hourly basis if it’s available.”

As we said yesterday, most Democrats are not socialists. They are for reform of capitalism. The problem is that our economic system is broken; it does not meet the needs of the vast majority of our people.

Capitalism has metastasized into a financialized cancer. Its growth-at-any-cost, profit-over-purpose ideology has wreaked havoc with the lives of millions of people. From Forbes:

“One example: For more than 400 years, 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped, enslaved and sold to build wealth and power largely for white men in the US, Europe and South America. The first enslaved Africans were shipped directly to the Americas in 1518, one year after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church. The centrality and largely unconstrained profit motive in capitalism has been with us since the beginning.”

Today, corporations track our every movement. Algorithms manipulate us to buy things, or to vote certain ways. We’ve put outsized power into the hands of corporations. We have to ask: What do we need from capitalism in the 21st Century? Is it more of the same, or something different?

Capitalist Reform is about re-imagining the purpose of business and redefining its success. The doctrine of shareholder primacy must be the first to go. It needs to be recognized as a form of oppression of human nature since it doesn’t value our humanity.

According to a 2019 Politico/Morning Consult survey, 76% of registered voters want the wealthiest Americans to pay more. Politico also notes that a recent poll from Fox News shows that 70% of Americans supporting increased taxes for those earning more than $10 million, and 54% of Republicans also supported it. People are contemplating not just piecemeal tax increases, but a wholesale reversal of the Reagan-era shift in tax policy. The Economist reported that in 2016, more than half of young Americans no longer support capitalism.

There is an urgent need to push back against the widening economic inequality in the US. Taxing the rich is an easy answer, because so few of us are rich.

But, step one should be increasing corporate income taxes. Corporations’ share of total taxes paid has decreased to about 9% of total US tax revenue in 2017, from about 33% in 1952. How many stories like Amazon’s failure to pay anything in taxes on $11 billion in profits should it take to begin the task of closing corporate tax loopholes and increasing corporate income taxes?

Step two is to break up corporate concentrations. Wrongo addressed this here. The primary issue with corporate concentration is that it drives up prices. The fewer sellers, the fewer choices consumers have for goods and services, and thus, there is little pressure for big competitors to hold prices down.

Step three is to help workers. The share of profits that goes to workers must increase. This shouldn’t punish capitalists. Higher wages for workers means more business for American companies.

We were founded on republicanism as a public virtue: The Constitution implies that a citizen is duty-bound to abandon self-interest when it conflicted with the General Welfare. Capitalism has usurped republicanism by insisting that abrogation of self-interest violates the doctrine of “survival of the fittest,” and it’s also an attack on individual liberty.

We need to revive the understanding of public virtue. So, some form of “mixed economy” is in our future. It’s obvious to all except right wing ideologues that socialized medical insurance is in our future. But it is doubtful that a majority want to socialize production and distribution of America’s products and companies.

The task for Congress and the next president is to figure out what activities and/or economic sectors are best guided by tax and economic policy, and which are best left to “market forces”.

We’re a country where vast wealth is rewarded with tax cuts, loopholes, and endless ways to ensure that corporate dollars earn even more dollars. While average people are bankrupted because of a health crisis, and we value semi-skilled labor at $7.25 an hour.

Today’s capitalism is anti-democratic. General welfare and public virtue derive from a desire to improve the human condition. That needs to be the goal of political action to reform capitalism, and it needs to be hammered home again and again.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Green New Deal Edition

The Daily Escape:

Double Rainbow, Kauai, Hawaii – 2018 photo by Charlene Renslow

There has been plenty of talk about the introduction of a Green New Deal (GND) as an answer for what ails America. Here is the text of HR 109. Everyone should take a few minutes and read it.

The power of the GND is that it addresses the power imbalance between established political and business interests in the US and the rest of us. The GND injects compassion into our democracy. Justice for workers is compassion. Care of the environment for future generations is compassion. A more equitable distribution of wealth is compassion.

From Ed Walker:

“The Green New Deal is an overarching statement of political goals for the Democratic Party, something the party has not had for decades. It lays out a vision of a future inspired by the best the party has to offer, Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, which he laid out in January 1941 as the US stared at the unfolding crisis in Europe…..It is a combination of Roosevelt’s unfinished goals and the massive work done by liberals to expand the reach of the Constitution to previously disfavored groups. It offers hope and possibility as we confront the crisis of environmental disaster.”

Most people think the GND is about fixing the environment. That’s true, but there is a larger theme running through it, the reform of capitalism.

Capitalism is at the core of our country’s growth and place in the world. It has created wealth for all. In accordance with its tenets, a few of us are fabulously rich, while the majority of us are not. It also imposes economic costs on the 99% while sucking up most benefits for those at the very top. As Ed Walker says:

“You don’t see the rich living next door to petroleum processing plants or airports or gravel pits or trash dumps. You don’t see their kids suffering from asthma caused by factory pollution or heavy truck traffic or worse. You don’t see them unable to pay medical bills or take their kids for needed medical attention. That’s for the little people.”

The GND’s most important virtue is that it doesn’t assume that the entire burden of the disruption caused by economic growth (if the GND becomes law), should be borne only by the 99%. It insures corporations will not grab vast profits, or control adaptation to the new economy for their sole benefit.

For example, when the price of natural gas dropped, capitalists stopped using coal, and coal miners lost their jobs, their insurance, their homes and their futures. Under the GND, when natural gas is phased out in favor of alternative sources, displaced workers will have a job and health care, because the GND offers a job guarantee and universal access to health care.

The knee-jerk reaction from Republicans (and many Democrats) is that the GND is socialism, and it’s impossible to implement in a free society. It is true that HR 109 is designed to rebalance the power about who decides the future of the nation. It explicitly favors the interests of the vast majority. It explicitly limits the power of corporations to dictate what response will be made to the threat of climate change.

This isn’t socialism, it’s an overdue reform of capitalism. Our companies, in particular the large global firms, can no longer be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to the welfare of Americans. For the past 70 years, people accepted that they would do well if American companies did well.

Globalism has made a lie of that ideology. Corporations must pay taxes. Corporations must be responsible for bearing the economic costs for all of us that come from their decisions.

Capitalism reform is a serious challenge not just to corporations and the rich. It is a serious challenge to our current political parties. Democrats claim to be the party of the people. The GND will force them to prove it.

The GOP represents the interests of corporations and the rich against the interests of working people. The GND makes this clear. It offers voters a contrast with the Republican/MAGA vision for this nation.

Both parties claim to want the best for the country’s future. Thinking about the GND forces them to come up with positive programs, or to do nothing in the face of mounting inequality, and a zero-sum political economy. Some have compared a GND transition to the abolition of slavery. Slavery was immensely profitable, and the benefits went to relatively few. And those few held all the political power in the South. It led to war.

Meanwhile, the media focuses on the horse race of ideas, and the cost. Can the Green New Deal pass? How could we ever pay for it?

Democrats and Republicans opposed to the GND must explain why even more neoliberal capitalism will accomplish what voters say they want. Republicans will continue to argue that the GND will turn us into Venezuela or worse.

But the rest of us now have a vision for a better future.

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Saturday Soother – Amazon Bails on NYC Edition

The Daily Escape:

Marijuana Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands – 2017 photo by Wrongo

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michael Bloomberg agree on something, it’s worth taking seriously, and neither wanted the Amazon deal with NYC. And this week, Amazon scuttled its plans to build its HQ2 in Long Island City, (LIC) Queens, New York City, citing opposition by “state and local politicians.”

Amazon’s abrupt announcement to withdraw from the deal came after it was roughed up at two City Council meetings along with enduring the indignity of having to contend with anti-gentrification protestors and union leaders.

There were two big problems that Amazon faced in LIC. First, they were getting a huge tax subsidy, about $2.8 billion. The tax subsidy looked even worse when we learned this week that Amazon nearly doubled its profits to $11.2 billion in 2018 from $5.6 billion the previous year and, once again, didn’t pay a single cent of federal income taxes.

It didn’t help that the state and city announced the massive subsidies when both are also contending with large budget deficits. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing a shortfall of $1 billion in revenues, told city agencies to cut their budgets by $750 million by April. And these cuts would have to be recurring.

This helped build outrage about the nearly $3-billion corporate welfare program for Amazon.

The second problem was gentrification in the LIC neighborhood. Immediately after the announcement, real estate prices zoomed, precisely when Manhattan prices were falling. The NY real estate industry was to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the HQ2 project, but local residents would be driven out of their neighborhoods.

Amazon has a poor track record in Seattle. They had fiercely opposed a local tax on large companies to fund housing for the homeless, and got it reversed one month after it had taken effect. Microsoft, after the tax law was scuppered, pledged $500 million to fund affordable housing for the low and middle income in the Puget Sound area, and encouraged other companies to make similar efforts.

Amazon didn’t join with Microsoft.

All is not lost. Amazon says it will still be expanding employment in NYC. And LIC has been a hot real estate/development market for several years, long before Bezos started playing his urban version of the Hunger Games. If the commercial construction in LIC over the past five years was happening in a second-tier US city, it would be equivalent to an entirely new business district.

A third problem was Amazon’s sense of entitlement. They expected zero push back, and their New York City campaign was inept. Amazon seems to have thought that since it had the governor and mayor in its pocket, all it had to do was show up for photo ops. The NYT points out Amazon didn’t even hire a native to grease the wheels:

“…the company did not hire a single New Yorker as an employee to represent it in discussions with local groups. Its main representatives traveled between Washington and Manhattan, and only one had moved into an apartment to work with community members and foster support.”

Amazon’s leaving was celebrated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who represents the district. She complained about the “creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations“, and maybe that was the final straw for Bezos.

So props to AOC, and to the local politicians for standing up to this example of corporate welfare.

It’s possible that Jeff Bezos’s sudden change of heart was that he couldn’t stomach the idea of not being able to push around NYC the way he bullied Seattle into dropping its homeless tax. In NYC, he’d have to curry favor, feign interest in the concerns of locals, and make occasional contributions to the city.

Bezos may have felt all that was too high a price. But we should assume Amazon penciled out the deal, and didn’t like the result. For Amazon, it may have been a prudent business decision, artfully dressed up as a response to the political opposition the incentive package was facing.

Maybe, it’s no longer business as usual in America. AOC and other young people may not have money, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use power.

These corporate tax subsidy deals never add up for the cities that make them. Maybe people in other cities will learn from this NYC moment, and fight against the selling of our cities and towns to the uber-wealthy.

Now, it’s time to let go of Amazon, AOC, and Trump’s National Emergency. It’s time to get some Saturday Soothing.

Start by brewing up a vente cup of Roasting Rabbi Coffee, where the company slogan is: “Releasing the Holy Spark in Each Bean!” Try their Breakfast Blend.

Now settle into your most comfy chair and listen to Valentina Lisitsa play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, recorded live in May, 2010 in Leiden, Holland:

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

 

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The Power of Messaging

The Daily Escape:

Buttermere Lake, Cumbria, England – photo by Matt Owen-Hughes

On Monday in El Paso TX, Trump attacked Democrats, calling them:

“The party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime…To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care…They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”

Trump’s focus on “socialism” is based on the few liberal Democratic presidential candidates who have called for Medicare-for-all, or environmental proposals intended to lower carbon emissions.

He brought up the “Green New Deal”, saying it would virtually eliminate air travel and that it sounds “like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”

This is just the latest stage in the war waged by the right against the ideals and programs of the New Deal. Kim Phillips Fein, reviewing the new bookWinter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal” by Eric Rauchway, writes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Throughout the [1932] campaign, Hoover had attacked what he considered a “social philosophy very different from the traditional philosophies of the American people,” warning that these “so-called new deals” would “destroy the very foundations” of American society. As Hoover later put it, the promise of a “New Deal” was both socialistic and fascistic; it would lead the country on a “march to Moscow.”

2020 will be all about messaging. Once again, just like 88 years ago, Republicans will run on socialism. Trump will add the threats posed by open borders and abortion to the right-wing stew.

The question is what will be the 20+ Democrats who are running for president be talking about? Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast suggests: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I am saying, though, that Democrats should stop pretending they can unite the country. They can’t. No one can. What they can do, what they must do, is assemble a coalition of working- and middle-class voters of all races around a set of economic principles that will say clearly to those voters that things are going to be very different when they’re in the White House…

There is a power to fashioning a new political coalition around the concept of economic justice. We live in a time when politicians of both parties have followed a consistent strategy: massage the economic numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you stay on the “fiscally conservative” side of the line.

Now, a few Democrats are pushing the party elders to re-consider economic justice as FDR did in the1930s. These Democrats intuit that most Americans are trying to reconcile the life they were told they would have with today’s reality. The gulf between what they were told, and what actually happened is wide. And it looks as if it will only get wider.

Many Americans feel that they can’t pay their bills anymore, and they are afraid. Their jobs aren’t stable, they can’t look forward to retirement. About 20% say they have more credit card debt than savings. The lives they thought they’d live are upside down, and they’re not sure they can do anything about it. Quite a few followed their preachers and a few charlatan Republicans, and can’t understand why things are so scary and bad for them.

America is divided, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. It’s the left behinds and millennials who are worried about their future. And it’s both of them against the politicians, corporations and the oligarchs. As David Crosby sang:

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”

In 2020, we’ll be fighting for not just the soul of our country, but the meaning of American life: Should the one with the most toys win?

What is more important, universal health care, or outlawing abortion? Better roads and bridges, or keeping out immigrants? A better environment, or lower taxes?

Ocasio-Sanchez’s Green New Deal (GND) can easily be dismissed, but what really is the difference between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve spent nearly $4 Trillion on its Quantitative Easing (QE) schemes?

The big difference is who profits. QE was welfare for the banks. For the GND, society at large would benefit.

You will get to decide, and plenty of people are already fighting for your attention.

Some are worth listening to. What will you choose to do?

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

The Piedmont Kilns, Wyoming. They were built in 1869 to supply charcoal for the iron smelting industry in Utah. Part of a ghost town, three remain.

A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the US Farm Belt, and Trump’s trade disputes are adding to the pain. The primary cause is low commodity prices that American farmers have experienced for the past few years. Throughout much of the Midwest, US farmers are filing for Chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at levels not seen for at least a decade.

From the WSJ:

“Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier.”

Those states accounted for nearly half of all sales of US farm products in 2017, according to USDA data. Since 2000, China’s share of our agricultural exports has increased from two percent to about 19% in 2017. China has become our largest agricultural trading partner.

The rise in farm bankruptcies tracks a multi-year slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities caused by a world-wide glut. Prices for soybeans and hogs further declined after Mexico, along with China, retaliated against US steel and aluminum tariffs by imposing duties on our AG products, and then slashing purchases.

Farmers generally supported Trump’s tariffs when he started the trade war in 2018. China’s retaliation was to virtually cease purchasing American agricultural products. As an example, China moved the sourcing of soybeans from the US to Brazil. When a low margin business like farming loses 20% of sales, only those who aren’t in debt can survive. And most US farmers owe quite a bit to their bankers.

The Trump administration recognized the potential problem, and approved funding to bridge farmers across the decline in Chinese purchases, but the trade war has gone on for longer than anticipated.

Now, bankruptcies are way up, and exports to China are way down:

Source: Econbrowser

Unfortunately, we keep importing from China. But in the past year, the Chinese have stopping buying as much of our goods. Clearly, the bull our farmers got isn’t in their barn, but in the White House.

Republicans are saying that the surge in farm bankruptcies isn’t Trump’s fault, that the problem with the farm product glut started years ago. But, if Republicans want to give Trump credit for the good employment numbers, and a still-robust stock market, they have to blame him for the bad as well.

Time to wake up America! Disruption without a strategy brings chaos. And think back to the SOTU, when Trump said how he stood between us and socialism. But Trump’s picking winners and losers with his trade wars. He’s using tax-payer money to subsidize farmers damaged by his self-imposed trade wars. That sounds eerily like socialism to Wrongo.

Wake up to the fact that farmers are pawns in Trump’s capricious tantrums against China. Those who have played chess know that most of your pawns are gone by the end of the game.

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Today’s Wages Have the Same Purchasing Power as in 1978

(Email publishing of The Wrongologist should be restored as Wrongo is using a different vendor, WordPress. Apologies to those who read in email.)

The Daily Escape:

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, as it might have looked at night in the 12th Century lit by camp fires. Mesa Verde is unique since it is the only NP that preserves the works of man – photo by Rick Dunnahoo

This is going to be a historic year, even when compared to 2018. And it’s starting out with a bang. The government is shut down, half the cabinet is empty, the 2020 presidential race has officially started, and the Democrats are taken over the House.

And that’s without whatever Mueller shoe will drop sometime in the year, or whatever Twitter atrocities Trump decides to commit. In other words, we’re going to have our hands full.

But today, let’s talk about how bad the economy is below the surface of the headline numbers. Debt is rising, and rising debt is supposed to be matched by rising income. It shouldn’t be a surprise that more income is required in order to service more debt. But so far, in the 21st century, for the bottom 90%, debt is growing while income is stagnating.

Pew’s Fact Tank has an analysis that speaks to this problem. Average hourly earnings for non-management private-sector workers in July were $22.65, 2.7% above the average wage from a year earlier. But in the years just before the 2007-08 financial collapse, average hourly earnings often increased by around 4% year-over-year.

And during the high-inflation years of the 1970s and early 1980s, average wages commonly jumped 7%, 8% or even 9% year-over-year.

However, after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has about the same purchasing power it did in 1978. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

Here is Pew’s chart demonstrating the problem:

Because there’s been little growth in wages, the growth in the standard of living for those below the 90th percentile has been largely fueled by additional consumer debt. The WSJ reports that consumer debt, including credit cards, auto and student loans and personal loans, is on pace to top $4 trillion in 2019, the highest in history. Debt allows you to furnish your home, pay for education, and get a car without having to save for them. In that way, it supports the growing economy.

But Pew also shows how most of the income gains went to those at the top of the food chain:

 

 

Among people in the top 10th of the distribution, real wages have risen a cumulative 15.7%, to $2,112 a week – nearly five times the usual weekly earnings of the bottom tenth ($426).

This lack of symmetrical growth in debt and income actually matters. At some point household borrowers will default in greater numbers than they do today. When those losses occur, the monetary system won’t be able to bail out debtors (or banks) this time around as handily as we did in 2008.

 

Sluggish and uneven wage growth is a key factor behind widening income inequality in the US. Another Pew Research Center report found that in 2016, Americans in the top tenth of the income distribution earned 8.7 times as much as Americans in the bottom tenth ($109,578 versus $12,523).

Compare that to 1970, when the top 10th earned 6.9 times as much as the bottom 10th ($63,512 versus $9,212).

There is no simple solution to get American workers back on the right track. At a minimum, it will take a political groundswell aimed at overturning the way the tax code favors corporations. Along the way we will have to displace the political power of our corporate oligarchs.

Government must be made to serve the public interest, not Mr. Market.

Democracy is the sole mechanism enabling our citizens to have political and economic agency. But, democracy will cease to matter in a corporate-controlled, globalized system of government influence.

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Grading Wrongo’s 2018 Predictions

The Daily Escape:

Military parade in Kremlin – October, 2018 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo dusted off his 2018 predictions and took a look at how he did. In the 23 categories, Wrongo had 16 substantially correct, and 7 incorrect for a 69.5% average. That would have been a “D” at his university. Of course, some grades could have been weighted more heavily than others, but we’re not grading on a curve here at Wrong U.

What follows are the 2018 prediction, followed by the 2018 result:

The US economy as measured by GDP will grow at greater than 2% for 2018.

  • Wrongo wins! The economy grew at an average rate of 3.65% in the four quarters through Sept. 30, 2018.

The US stock market as measured by the S&P 500 Index will end 2018 with little or no growth over year-end 2017.

  • Wrongo loses. Heading into Friday’s trading session, the Dow was down 6.4% in 2018, and the S&P 500 was off 6.9% for the year.

The Trump tax cuts will increase the deficit, and despite Paul Ryan’s best (or worst) efforts to push the country into austerity, that can will be kicked down the road for a few more years.

  • Wrongo wins! The Trump tax cuts increased the deficit to $1 trillion on an annual basis. Paul Ryan leaves office without destroying the social safety net.

The Democrats will not take control of either the House or the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections.

  • Wrongo happily loses. The Dems took the House by winning 40 seats. They lost a net of two seats in the Senate to the Republicans.

Cyber and other forms of meddling by people who wish our democracy harm will continue in the 2018 elections, to broader effect than in 2016.

  • Wrongo loses. There is no real evidence that cyber meddling had a greater effect on the 2018 election.

Facebook and Google will be held to account for their failure to tamp down disinformation.

  • Wrongo wins! Both are under scrutiny for both their actions and failures to act in 2018.

Trump will continue to flounder as the leader of the Free World, while his “frenemies” in the GOP will continue to try to thwart him on domestic economic legislation.

  • Wrongo loses. The Trump tax cut was a big deal for Republicans, despite the fact that few of them felt that they could run on it in the mid-terms.

There will be some form of bi-partisan accommodation on DACA.

  • Wrongo lost, and so did the nation.

Trump’s public-private infrastructure deal will not pass the Senate.

  • Wrongo wins!

The House will pass legislation that messes with Medicaid, but the Senate will not.

  • Wrongo loses. Trump’s 2019 budget proposal called for a $1.5 trillion cut in Medicaid, but it didn’t pass.

Trump will have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court Justice.

  • Wrongo wins, but America lost. We got Kavanaugh ‘ed.

Trump will have a serious medical issue in 2018, but will not leave office, or be temporarily replaced by Pence.

  • Wrongo loses. Trump’s health seems unchanged.

Mueller: By March, MAGA will mean “Mueller Ain’t Going Away”. The storm will crest, a Russiagate conspiracy will be exposed, and crud will fly everywhere. This could lead to the Democrats taking control of one or both Houses.

  • Wrongo wins! It looks like conspiracy, not the collusion Trump talks about.

A few additional Trumpets will go to jail, or be tied up in court. Trump will not be impeached by the 2018 Republicans. 2019 might bring a different calculus.

  • Wrongo wins! Mueller’s team has indicted or gotten guilty pleas from 33 people and three companies that we know of.

Tillerson and possibly other cabinet members will resign to “spend more time with family”.

  • Wrongo wins! At least 40 senior people including 18 who were cabinet-level, resigned.

Middle East:

Syria – by this time next year, the war will be essentially over. Assad will still be in power, and the US will be out of the picture. The Syrian Kurds will switch sides, and collaborate with the Assad regime.

  • Wrongo Wins! We’re pulling out, and the Kurds have switched sides.

Iran – the current protest movement will fizzle out. Neo-cons in Trump’s administration will try to bring us close to war with Iran, but cooler heads at the Pentagon will prevail.

  • Wrongo wins! The protest movement did fizzle. Trump ended our participation in the Nuclear Deal and we re-introduced sanctions. We’re no longer on speaking terms with Iran.

Famine and death in Yemen will continue to be ignored by everyone in the US.

  • Wrongo won, but the Yemenis and world lost.

Russia, China, and Iran will have a “come together” moment, possibly resulting in an agreement for mutual economic cooperation.

  • Wrongo wins! Russia and China are indeed closer together, what with Trump as a common enemy.

Russia will continue to face ongoing battles with the US, but Putin will persist.

  • Wrongo wins! Putin persisted.

Ukraine: The US delivery of anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian army will not cause them to begin military operations in the east.

  • Wrongo wins! We provided the weapons, they avoided attacks in the east.

Europe: The right-wing authoritarian movements in the Eurozone and England will become a larger factor in their domestic politics. Brexit will occur, and no one in the UK will be happy about the outcome.

  • Wrongo wins! Right-wing political parties are a bigger threat than ever throughout Europe. Brexit happened, with the final outcome still unclear, but no one is happy.

Will there be a war or “incident” with North Korea? Despite the scary politics, the Seoul Winter Olympics will keep the situation from escalating through June. The second half of 2018 could lead to some kind of incident between the US and NorKo, but will not be a nuclear incident.

  • Wrongo wins! There was no scary incident, in fact, relations have been slightly improved.

The year is almost ended, and we can’t pretend that America slid by with more than a D itself. Early in the New Year, we will make a series of predictions for 2019.

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Who The Dems Should Nominate for President

(There will be no Thursday column this week. Wrongo is in NYC.)

The Daily Escape:

The Passion Facade, La Familia Sagrada by Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain

Wrongo has been highlighting several people who have big ideas that could move our country toward reform of capitalism. One issue that impacts that reform is health insurance, and many Congressional candidates who won in the 2018 mid-terms ran either on preserving the ACA, or on implementing Medicare for All.

Talk has started on the 2020 presidential election, and the almost 30 potential candidates that seem set to try for the White House. Now that a Texas judge has declared the ACA unconstitutional, and should that decision be upheld, health insurance should be a big issue in 2020.

For Democrats, politics is a game of good policies badly presented. For Republicans, politics is a game of bad policies skillfully presented. With that in mind, let’s turn to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who on Sunday with Chuck Todd, refused to endorse Medicare for All. Instead, he said: “there are lots of different routes” to a universal healthcare system.

Though Schumer says he will support a “healthcare plan that can pass,” there is no evidence that any of the alternatives to Medicare for All have a better chance of passing than Sanders’ single-payer plan that was introduced last year. In the House, a majority of the Democratic caucus supports single-payer.

This is what we have to look forward to in 2019 and 2020. The Dems old guard will try and triangulate on policy in an attempt to corral a few Republican Senators. Nancy Pelosi is not a fan of Medicare for All.

A few of the old guard are running for president, including Bernie and Joe Biden. On the progressive side of the Democratic Party, there is a big age gap to a few relatively young politicians who are clearly progressive-purists.

Benjamin Studebaker has a provocative column, “Why We Cannot Nominate a Young Person in 2020”. His argument is that Democrats who are between 40 and 60 may have the right level of experience and political gravitas, but they all grew up in the Party of the Clintons:

…the overwhelming majority of Democratic politicians in their 40s and 50s are centrists who came of age politically in the ‘90s and ‘00s. These are people who got into Democratic Party politics because they grew up admiring the Clintons….They have spent their political lives working with Gore and Kerry and Obama and that’s the discourse they swim in. Corey Booker is 49. Kamala Harris is 54. Beto O’Rourke is 46. Kirsten Gillibrand is 52. Amy Klobuchar is 58. This group has…been tutored in triangulation from the time they were political toddlers.

Studebaker says that we can’t count on any of these candidates if we want Medicare for All, or a host of other policy improvements. He thinks we need someone who was too left-wing for the Democratic Party in the 1970s, and there is only one such person left alive: Bernie Sanders.

Wrongo isn’t sure. The NYT’s David Leonhardt, in his “Secret to Winning” column, says that the Democrats need a candidate who can, and will run as an economic populist:

They need a candidate who will organize the 2020 campaign around fighting for the little guy and gal….It would be a campaign about Republican politicians and corporate lobbyists who are rigging the game, a campaign that promised good jobs, rising wages, decent health care, affordable education and an end to Trumpian corruption.

Leonhardt thinks that several of those younger Democrats can do the job. He says that the formula is: Return to an updated New Deal. Put the public interest first, not the interests of the over-privileged elites. Force corporations and the rich to pay increased taxes.

Norm Ornstein notes that by 2040, 70% of Americans will live in 15 states, which means that the other 30% of the country will choose 70 of our 100 senators. And the 30% that are in charge of the Senate will be older, whiter, more rural, and more male than the 70%.

Whomever the Dems nominate must have a plan to successfully strip away a few red states. Economic populism can help do that, since it helps the working classes and unemployed. Higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, a higher minimum wage, and universal health care coverage are the cornerstones of the winning strategy.

The nominee must be someone who is authentic, not someone who is simply an ideologically pure lefty.

Being authentic means someone who doesn’t poll test every idea, and doesn’t base their messaging on what the editorial board of the NYT or WaPo thinks are the right ideas.

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