UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

America Is OK With a Wealth Tax

The Daily Escape:

Navajo Trail, Bryce Canyon NP, UT – November 2019 photo by biochemistry_unicorn

Over the past year, progressives have made a wealth tax a central part of the policy discussions in the Democratic primary. Both Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposals to tax the wealth of billionaires to help pay for improvements to the social safety net and infrastructure.

Currently, the US mostly taxes individuals on the income earned from their jobs and investments. The wealth tax is different since it would tax assets like stocks, yachts, artworks, and vacation homes.

Critics of the wealth tax have made a variety of arguments against them. The most prominent that the US government couldn’t enforce them effectively. Consider this from Business Insider:

“Usually, progressives cast Europe as a model for the cradle-to-grave social benefits that nations like Norway provide because of steeper tax rates on richer citizens. But most…countries have ditched them [wealth taxes] over the last few decades.”

Twelve European countries had a wealth tax in 1990, but the number now stands at four: Spain, Switzerland, Norway, and Belgium, which just introduced a limited wealth tax of its own.

Emmanuel Saez, economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has analyzed the Warren and Sanders wealth tax proposals, says the European wealth taxes failed because governments created many exemptions that undercut their ability to draw revenue:

“The wealth taxes in Europe have failed by and large….they didn’t raise that much revenue because of big exemptions for asset classes….”

Others argue that the super-rich already donate big amounts to charity. One of Saez’s co-authors, Gabriel Zucman, says that the annual giving of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett equates to ~3%–4% of their wealth, while the other top 20 billionaires’ giving equals ~0.3% of their wealth. Like a really tiny wealth tax. Here’s his chart:

Annual charitable giving of the top 20 richest Americans: $8.7 billion, equaling just three tenths of one percent of their wealth. For the top 400 richest Americans, their taxes paid = 1.5% of their wealth, while their charitable giving = 0.4% of their wealth.

But, the average American paid taxes equal to 5.5% of their wealth, while their charitable giving = 0.3% of their wealth. Joe Six-pack gave the same amount of his assets to charity as did the top 20 billionaires.

If Warren’s 6% wealth tax was enforced on the top 20 richest Americans above, they would pay $60 billion to support the social safety net.

Moreover, despite the nay-saying by the rich, surveys show that Warren’s 2% tax is broadly popular:

(This was an online survey of 2,672 adults conducted by the polling firm SurveyMonkey from Nov. 4 to Nov. 11)

The survey by the NYT and Survey Monkey shows that 75% of Democrats and more than half of Republicans say they approve of the idea of a 2% tax on wealth above $50 million. The proposal receives majority support among every major racial, educational and income group.

The majority of college-educated Republican men disapproved, with only 41.5% approving of it.

The NYT reports that the proposed wealth tax is even more popular than the Trump tax-cut enacted in 2017. Only 45% of Americans said the tax cut was a good move:

“The movement against the Trump tax cuts since then has been powered, oddly enough, by Republicans. They largely still back the law — by 76% over all, compared with 20% of Democrats — but that support has dropped six percentage points since April.”

The shift on the tax cut is highest among high-earning Republicans: Americans earning more than $150,000 a year are far more likely to favor a tax increase on the very wealthy than the Trump tax cuts.

America’s tax code is designed to allow massive fortunes to grow ever larger. Wealth is concentrating in a tiny segment of the population, as the middle class shrinks.

We see that even the most high-minded billionaires can’t even give money away faster than their piles of dough are growing. And when Democrats like Warren and Sanders suggest a way towards tax reform, the GOP and the conservative think-tanks condemn them as socialists who want to punish success.

Most Americans are fed up with a government and an economy that overwhelmingly benefit corporations and the rich at the expense of everyone else. A wealth tax can work if Congress doesn’t get rolled by lobbyists that demand loopholes for their clients.

Wrongo will have no trouble backing a candidate who supports a wealth tax. But, increasing the taxes on corporations and a financial transactions tax should come first.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Warren’s Mistake on Single Payer

The Daily Escape:

Mount Shasta, CA – November 2019 photo by pkeller001

Wrongo wonders if Elizabeth Warren has made a big mistake in her policy for Medicare for All. She started out running to reform capitalism, but through the debate process, she’s evolved towards single payer health insurance as a main policy. Months ago, she was an increasingly skilled campaigner whose laundry list of policy proposals made her stand out from the pack. Now she’s for nationalizing health insurance, which doesn’t seem to be on brand.

Two of her main rivals, Biden and Buttigieg, essentially want to extend Obamacare while leaving the 170 million Americans covered by private insurance with their current plans. While on her left, her other main opponent, Bernie Sanders, also wants to nationalize health insurance.

The latest New York Times/Siena College poll of Iowa Democrats shows Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Biden bunched within a 5-point range. And while Warren leads, the poll found more sentiment among primary voters for improving the private health insurance system than for scrapping it in favor of single-payer.

Worse for Warren, she and Sanders are both sufficiently well-funded and popular that neither can easily emerge from Iowa or beyond as the candidate on the left. It’s similar on the moderate side: Neither Biden nor Buttigieg are going away after Iowa either.

Buttigieg is a gifted politician. He’s correctly discerned that the path to marginalizing Biden lies not in attacking him, but in confronting Warren on single payer, which he did in the last debate. He would rather that Sanders was the front-running lefty heading into Super Tuesday, than have to confront Warren.

A few more debates, and Mayor Pete may be the last standing moderate alternative to Warren and Sanders, assuming Bloomberg doesn’t get traction along the way.

Sanders is a much better candidate than he was in 2016. He’s making inroads among African-Americans and Hispanics. AOC, a very popular symbol of youth and progressivism, supports him. Sanders is doing well enough with young progressives to keep Warren from now moving closer to the center on single payer.

She went from cautious on single payer to all-in. First, she allowed that there were multiple paths to universal coverage. In an attempt to simplify during one of the debates, she said: “I’m with Bernie”, without having a firm plan.

When pressed by Biden and Buttigieg to specify how she would pay for her vague plan without raising taxes on the middle class, she dodged the question, saying that overall health insurance costs to the middle class would go down. She finally produced a white paper that described a 10-year $20.5 trillion plan to fund Medicare for All without raising taxes on the middle class.

Her opponents are using her proposal to define Warren to their own advantage: Biden and Buttigieg say it’s too radical and too expensive; Sanders says it’s inferior to his plan. While single-payer is popular among Democratic primary voters, several polls of swing state voters suggest that the majority favor a more moderate health insurance plan.

That would seem to be an invitation to embrace positions most Democrats actually prefer.

Warren’s problem is that she seems married to a health insurance program which leaks votes and positions her in a fight for the left of the primary electorate. However, we’re in a time when a coalition of minorities, suburban swing voters, and persuadable blue-collar whites are what’s needed to win states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Warren should return to her roots of tax and capitalism reform. These are popular policies with Democrats, even with those who are against mandatory single payer health insurance. The continuing rise in inequality requires us to do something to narrow it.

And Warren’s wealth tax could do just that, and finance more robust social programs and spending on infrastructure. The US mostly taxes individuals on the income earned from their jobs and investments, while a wealth tax would levy taxes on assets like stocks, yachts, artworks and vacation homes.

Both Sanders and Warren have an asset tax plan. In Warren’s plan, all net worth under $50 million is exempted, compared to $32 million for the Sanders plan. Business Insider says the Sanders plan would bring in $4 trillion in government tax dollars over a decade. And, Warren’s version would total $500 billion less in the same period.

During this primary season, moderates and progressives will have to understand clearly why they are Democrats, and how they will bridge their differences by November 2020 and deliver massive turnout.

Both wings need to remember that it isn’t enough to win the White House. Legislative gridlock must end.

It wouldn’t hurt if Warren did some thinking about her single payer plan, too.

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 10, 2019

Bill Gates is the second-richest person in the world, with a net worth of $106.2 Billion. Here’s what Bill Gates said about Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan:

“I’m all for super-progressive tax systems….I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over….You really want the incentive system to be there without threatening that.”

Here’s what would actually happen to Gates under Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Warren campaign calculates that under Ms. Warren’s plan, Mr. Gates would owe $6.379 billion in taxes next year. Notably, that is less than Mr. Gates earned from his investments last year. Even under Ms. Warren’s plan, there’s a good chance Mr. Gates would get richer.”

Gates won’t have to pay as much as he thinks. The fundamental question is whether it’s ok for a billionaire to add 6% less to his massive fortune under Warren’s plan? Can billionaires still be successful executives if they don’t pocket every last penny they can lay their hands on?

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg doesn’t think the current Democratic presidential field is sufficiently deferential to the rich, so he’s running to make sure we get there.

When you think about it, two billionaires, Bloomberg and Steyer are running as Democrats. A third, Howard Schultz, billionaire behind Starbucks, tried to run as an independent. All wanting the job of billionaire Donald Trump.

Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has said he would fight the Warren’s taxes on billionaires. Tim Perkins, a billionaire venture capitalist compared the “progressive war on the American one percent” to the Kristallnacht and anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany.

Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, Chairman of Blackstone, compared a tax increase for people like him to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Why does anyone care about the tax concerns of these people? They never have to think about money, and neither will their heirs. It’s a familiar story, the astronomically rich are willing to donate large portions of their wealth, so long as interfering with their cozy power relationship with politicians is off the table.

On to cartoons. No plan goes unpunished:

America has a difference of opinion on health insurance:

Bill Barr waves his God flag:

GOP wants to take a few shots at the whistle blower:

Trump misunderstood which turkey could do him a favor:

Facebooklinkedinrss

The Ethics of Responsibility

The Daily Escape:

John Muir Wilderness, CA -August 2019 photo by petey-pablo

Nobody in America should be rooting for a recession, and no political party should root for one either. Shame on those who are.

US economic policy is often driven by ideology, and those operating policies can change whenever the party in power changes. That seems to be more likely to occur in 2020 than it has at any time since Reagan. Like it or not, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama all followed similar economic policies.

Trump has disrupted much of them, returning to a vigorous trickle-down policy, aggressive deregulation and the imposition of unilateral tariffs.

Max Weber, in his 1919 essay on “Politics as a Vocation”, made a distinction between politicians who live by the “ethics of responsibility” and those who follow the “ethics of conviction”. The ethic of responsibility is all about pragmatism; doing the right thing in order to keep the show on the road. But the ethic of conviction is all about moral (ideological) purity, about following the playbook despite the impacts.

An example is the Kansas Experiment, where Sam Brownback, following right-wing convictions, cut taxes to produce a “shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Economic growth was below average, state revenues crashed, and debt blew up. But, still a believer, Brownback vetoed the effort to repeal of his laws.

You don’t need more from Wrongo to paint the picture. We’re in a time of the ethics of conviction.

Let’s take a look at two recent articles about the economy. First, from the Economist, which is telegraphing the possibility of a US recession:

“Residential investment has been shrinking since the beginning of 2018. Employment in the housing sector has fallen since March….The Fed reduced its main interest rate in July and could cut again in September. If buyers respond quickly it could give builders and the economy a lift.”

But housing is not the only warning sign. The Economist points to this chart, showing the change in payrolls in the 2nd Quarter of 2019:

It’s clear that much of America is doing quite well. It is also clear that most of the 2020 battle ground states are not. Indiana lost over 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the last downturn, almost 4% of statewide employment. It is among a growing number of states experiencing falling employment: a list which also includes Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

In 2016, those last three states all delivered their electoral-college votes to Trump, and were decisive in his electoral victory. Trump’s trade war may still play well in these states, but if the decline in payrolls continues, it suggests a real opening for Democrats, assuming they are willing to hammer on pocketbook issues.

Second, the Wall Street Journal had an article about winners and losers in the 10 years since the Great Recession. It isn’t a secret that those left behind are in the bottom half of the economic strata, and there is little being done to help them:

“The bottom half of all U.S. households, as measured by wealth, have only recently regained the wealth lost in the 2007-2009 recession and still have 32% less wealth, adjusted for inflation, than in 2003, according to recent Federal Reserve figures. The top 1% of households have more than twice as much as they did in 2003.”

We also call wealth “net worth”. It is the value of assets such as houses, savings and stocks minus debt like mortgages and credit-card balances. In the US, wealth inequality has grown faster than income inequality in the past decade, making the current wealth gap the widest in the postwar period. Here is a devastating chart from the WSJ showing the net worth of the bottom 50% of Americans:

There’s a big difference between the 1% and the bottom 50%: More than 85% of the assets of the wealthiest 1% are in financial assets such as stocks and bonds. By contrast, more than half of all assets owned by the bottom 50% comes from real estate, such as the family home.

Economic and regulatory trends over the past decade have not only favored stock investments over housing, but they have also made it harder for the less affluent to even buy a home. The share of families in the bottom 50% who own a home has fallen to 37% in 2016, (the latest year for which data are available), from 43% in 2007. OTOH, homeownership among the overall American population is higher since 2016.

Weber’s ethics of conviction have driven our politics since well before the 2008 recession. We know what it caused: inequality, demonstrated by lower wages for the 90%, and a devastating decline in net worth for the bottom 50%.

Can we turn the car around? Can we elect politicians who will follow Weber’s ethics of responsibility at the local, state, federal and presidential levels in 2020?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – June 24, 2019

The Daily Escape:

View from Angels Landing summit, Zion NP Utah – 2019 photo by SurrealShock. 86,000 people visited Angels Landing over the four-day Memorial Day weekend in 2018.

On Sunday, the NYT reported: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The West is a patchwork of public and private lands. Land ownership in the West has always been concentrated in the hands of the federal government, which owns about 50%. Now we learn that the rest of the West is quickly moving into the hands of a very few people.

The large purchases by these new private landholders come as the region is experiencing the fastest population growth in the country. That drives up housing prices and the cost of living. Some locals are fearful of losing both their culture and economic stability.

Rocky Barker, a retired columnist for The Idaho Statesman, has said this is a clash between two American dreams, pitting the nation’s respect for private property rights against the notion of beauty-rich publicly-owned lands set aside for the enjoyment of all.

In the West, there is an evolution of an economy based in minerals extraction, to one based on recreation; from a working class culture to a more moneyed one. The NYT article focuses on one family, the Wilks brothers, Dan and Farris, who made their money ($3.5 billion) in fracking. They sold out, and bought a vast stretch of mountainous land in southwest Idaho.

The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, and in return, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

The Wilkses now own 700,000 acres across several states, and have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, they have closed trails, and hired armed guards to patrol their land, blocking or stymieing access not just to their property, but also to some publicly owned areas. They also hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass, and the bill passed.

This has made locals angry, as they have hiked and hunted on these lands for generations. Some emailed the Wilkses, asking permission to cross their property. They were surprised to receive a response suggesting they first visit PragerU, a right-wing website that was financed by the Wilkses and share their opinions of its content.

This is an example of a test for land use. Should you have to tell landowners your political views before you get to use their land?

Welcome to the future. Concentration of land ownership is a natural consequence of our free market capitalism. Our capitalist system isn’t designed to prevent concentration of ownership, whether it be of corporations or land.

That requires politicians who are not beholden to corporations and capitalists.

Our ancestors left Europe because by the 1600s, much of the land had already been bought up and was either inaccessible, or available in small lots for rent. America has been in the process of being divided up in the same way since the 1700s.

We talk about wealth inequality, and this story shows again that it is much more than numbers on a ledger. It is the power to own vast chunks of America, to decide how that land will be used, and to charge for that usage if they desire.

Battles over both private and public land have been a defining part of the West since the 1800s. For years, fights have played out between private individuals and the federal government.

OTOH, Americans in the West have made private ownership of wilderness a sacrament. They even contend that private use of public lands should be a right. Now, when the results of concentrated private land ownership become clear, when suddenly, a river or a mountain range they’ve enjoyed using for decades has a fence around it, their bellyaching begins.

But when the Wilkses, who made their money in fracking talk about how they feel they have a responsibility to the land, that has to be seen as hypocrisy.

The people in the West should Wake Up and give thanks for every inch of every national park. They should willingly pay additional taxes to keep our national parks in prime condition.

And they should finally see the wisdom in higher income taxes on corporate profits, and in Elizabeth Warren’s taxes on individuals with greater than $50 million in assets .

Facebooklinkedinrss

Is Ending Income Inequality a “Radical” policy?

The Daily Escape:

Mount Robson & Berg Glacier, BC, Canada – June 2019 photo by DrTand the women

New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz writes: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the Federal Reserve just released…its new Distributive Financial Accounts data series [that] offers a granular picture of how American capitalism has been distributing the gains of economic growth over the past three decades. Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project took the Fed’s data and calculated how much the respective net worth of America’s top one percent and its bottom 50 percent has changed since 1989.

He found that America’s super-rich have grown about $21 trillion richer since Taylor Swift was born, while those in the bottom half of the wealth distribution have grown $900 billion poorer.”

This is what a few of the Democratic presidential candidates have been talking about, some loudly and some quietly, for the past few months. Levitz asks the right question:

“So, is an economic system that distributes its benefits in this manner consistent with Americans’ common-sense views of economic justice? If not, would incremental changes be sufficient to bring it into alignment with the median American’s values? Or would more sweeping measures be required?”

In a sense, Democrats are testing whether advocating for changing Capitalism is an argument that voters will accept in 2020. More from Levitz:

 “Some Democratic presidential candidates say that America’s economic system is badly broken and in need of sweeping, structural change. Others say that the existing order is fundamentally sound, even if it could use a few modest renovations. The former are widely portrayed as ideologues or extremists, the latter as moderates.”

Essentially, the question is “who’s the extremist?” in the Democratic Party. This conflation of “extreme” or “radical” with “bad” is what the GOP and the Main Stream Media do every day, and it weakens our policy-making.

We use “extremist” or “radical” as a way of signaling that a policy position is too awful to consider.

If you simply say that something is bad, then you are forced to defend your position. But, when you describe it as “extreme“, you’ve called it bad, and people will HEAR that you think it’s much too big a change to even discuss.

Respectable talking heads like Judy Woodruff will ask: “Will Americans really go for THAT?”

This is bad faith messaging about important questions. This is so ingrained into people who talk about politics that it largely goes unquestioned. We shouldn’t care about pundits and broadcasters saying how extreme or not extreme something is. We should care about the merits of the argument.

Republicans have been calling Democrats “extreme” “radical” and “Socialist” for decades. They’re using bad-faith tactics; de-legitimizing an idea or a candidate without having to debate on the merits.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are offering “extreme” policies only if our baseline is what the average Congress critter’s economic agenda looks like. It’s not clear why that’s an appropriate yardstick.

Did we think calls for sweeping change in Egypt were extremism when students took to the streets demanding basic civil rights? Do we think the young people demonstrating today in Sudan are radicals?  Our assessment (and support) of these dissenters’ ideologies has more to do with how far their values are from those of their corrupt political and military leaders.

And also by how close they seem to be to our core values.

Whether it is extreme or moderate to propose sweeping changes to American capitalism should depend on how close our existing system is to how a just economic system operates. And these latest data show that the one percent have gotten $21 trillion richer since 1989, while the bottom 50% have gotten $900 million poorer.

This is what economic class warfare looks like. Saying that isn’t hyperbole. The earnings and wealth of a majority of our citizens has been systematically declining with the complicity and power of our government, in order to benefit the rich.

It shows how bad things are when the “radical” in American politics is anybody who argues that the American economy isn’t working for a huge percentage of the population.

Judy Woodruff may think that the economy is great, but incrementalism has failed most of us for the past 40 years.

Given all this, any politician who insists that American capitalism is “already great” is clearly someone who is indifferent to economic inequality.

We need to adopt redistributive economic policies. That may sound like an extreme position, but the alternative of continuing our growing wealth inequality, should really be thought of as far more radical.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – June 3, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Mont Rotui, Moorea, French Polynesia – 2019 iPhone photo by mystackhasoverflowed

Time to wake up America! Donald Trump has proven once again that he has no understanding of economics. From the Wall Street Journal:

“President Trump will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer, one of the pioneers of the idea that tax cuts can boost government revenue, the White House said Friday.

Mr. Laffer is one of the founding theorists of supply-side economics, a school of public economics that rose to prominence during the Reagan administration and returned to the fore in the run-up to the 2017 package of tax cuts that Mr. Trump signed into law.

The White House described Mr. Laffer as “one of the most influential economists in American history,” and said his “public service and contributions to economic policy have helped spur prosperity for our Nation.”

Laffer is famous for his drawing his Laffer curve on a napkin, illustrating his idea to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld at a dinner in 1974. His curve showed that increases in tax rates will eventually cause government tax revenue to decrease, because people will begin to work and earn less. This was then taken to its theoretical limit, saying that tax cuts could pay for themselves by spurring economic growth.

The WSJ calls Laffer “one of the pioneers of the idea that tax cuts can boost government revenue”. Isn’t it weird that the fact that his “idea” has been completely disproven in the real world, doesn’t seem to matter?

Conservative economics is not a branch of economics, it’s a branch of Conservatism.

The Laffer curve was successful at its real purpose, providing a basis to funnel more money to corporations and the rich. Republicans traffic in propaganda, not knowledge.

Last year, Laffer co-wrote a book titled “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.” Laffer’s co-author was Stephen Moore, another conservative who styles himself as an economist. Earlier this year Trump nominated Moore to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Moore had to withdraw, amid bipartisan opposition from Senators.

Laffer was the advisor behind the notorious Kansas state income tax plan that ruined the state’s finances. In 2012, Then-Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback passed a package of tax cuts based on Laffer’s ideas. The result was that Kansas lagged behind neighboring states with similar economies in nearly every major category: job creation, unemployment, gross domestic product, and taxes collected.

In 2017, the Kansas legislature repealed the Laffer/Brownback tax cuts. After the repeal, state taxes were boosted by $1.2 billion.

Laffer has spent years preaching his idea that almost any tax cut for businesses and the rich could potentially pay for itself. That idea has become the bankrupt conceptual backbone of the Republican Party’s entire economic theology.

For the 2017 Trump tax cuts, his administration also borrowed Laffer’s idea. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, have repeatedly claimed that the Trump tax cuts will pay for themselves. But, a new report finds that the tax cuts were responsible for less than five percent of the growth that is needed to offset the revenue loss from the Trump tax cuts.

We must point out here that Larry Kudlow does not hold a degree in economics. He was once fired from an investment bank for doing cocaine. Imagine just how much cocaine you’d have to do to get fired on Wall Street in the 1980s.

Trump’s now added the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the American traditions he’s debasing. Other economists awarded the Medal of Freedom include Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert Solow. Laffer can’t carry their briefcases.

There may be no man alive who has done more damage to America’s understanding of taxes and their effect on economic growth than Art Laffer.

Evidently, Trump is grading him on a curve.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Taxes Aren’t Theft

The Daily Escape:

Humpback Whale, Tonga – Photo by Rita Kluge

Joseph Stieglitz has an op-ed in the NYT about saving capitalism from itself. He wants to re-brand capitalism as “progressive capitalism”: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“There is an alternative: progressive capitalism. Progressive capitalism is not an oxymoron; we can indeed channel the power of the market to serve society….The prescription follows from the diagnosis: It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.”

America has been debating the role of capitalism in our society since our beginnings. In 1790, John Adams published the Discourses on Davila in which he said that entrenched economic inequality would create a political oligarchy in America similar to what had already occurred in Europe.

The problem isn’t inequality. We’ve survived a permanent underclass, but until recently, it has been a statistical minority. But, we won’t survive today’s continuing erosion of the middle class. Stieglitz says:

“We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.”

He calls for:

“…a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed.”

Call it progressive capitalism, capitalism plus, democratic capitalism, or whatever you want. At the core of any reform of capitalism is less corporate control over the levers of power, and a redistribution of wealth. Along with the growth in economic inequality and political impotence, so grows the myth propagated by the ultra-rich that higher taxes are a public theft of their hard earned fortunes, and are a threat to their personal freedoms.

Let’s spend a minute on the difference between positive and negative rights.

In the simplest terms, negative rights (most of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights) protect us from the government. They tell us what the government can’t do. The Constitution was designed as primarily a negative rights document, to maximize our individual liberty, and to protect us from the government interfering in our lives. They are most helpful to people whose rights are already protected.

Positive rights are different. They include things like the right to an education, and in some countries, the right to healthcare. Most of us define freedom as: freedom from hunger, freedom from ignorance, freedom from exploitation, freedom from poverty, freedom from hopelessness and despair. Very few positive rights are enumerated in the Constitution, with the exception of the right to have the government protect private property.

Today, if there’s one enduring myth that drives US politics, it is the myth that the rich have earned their reward, through nothing but their own hard work and savvy. The rich want no income redistribution, which they call “socialism”, just as the fat cats said in this cartoon from 1912:

The Republicans in the 1930s called FDR a socialist. Now, as we are thinking about a New Deal 2.0, today’s Republicans want to again brand all Democrats as socialists.

Corporations and the 1% ignore how much they are helped by a system designed by them, and for them. They are contemptuous of government and public authority, which they say act as agents of the poor, attempting to extort the rich.

They forget that our government facilitates and protects their wealth. If not for the many Federal agencies that write regulations favorable to industry, the Federal Reserve, protectors of the banking industry along with others, there would be a lot less wealth for corporations and the 1% to aggregate.

Therefore, they should pay the most.

And remember, rural electrification was a federal project under FDR. The dams on the Columbia River made irrigation possible, opening up western lands to agriculture. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the Green New Deal of its time, and was the basis for development of a modern Southeastern US. The railroads that opened up the West relied on government property provided to private companies (redistribution?) to develop.

Let’s decide to reform capitalism. First, by making it responsive to the positive rights that average Americans are longing for. Second, paying for that with much high taxes on corporations. If the loopholes created by savvy corporate tax lawyers remain on the books, let’s create a stiff Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for corporations.

Just like the AMT that Wrongo has had to pay for lo, these many years.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – March 18, 2019

The Daily Escape:

View from Angel’s Landing, Zion NP – 2019 photo by ducc517

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says that she favors “capitalism with serious rules.” David Leonhardt wrote in Sunday’s NYT:

Her platform aims to reform American capitalism so that it once again works well for most American families. The recent tradition in Democratic politics has been different. It has been largely to accept that big companies are going to get bigger and do everything they can to hold down workers’ pay. The government will then try to improve things through income taxes and benefit programs.

Warren is trying to treat not just the symptoms of inequality, but the underlying disease. Warren also called for an annual wealth tax, for people with assets greater than $50 million. She has proposed a universal child-care and pre-K program. She favors tougher guidelines on future mergers, and also a breakup of the giant tech companies (Google, Facebook) that resemble monopolies.

Of the current crop of Democrats, she’s the reform capitalism candidate. But one idea that Warren hasn’t espoused is the Financial Transactions Tax, (FTT). Wrongo first wrote about a FTT in March 2013.

Sen. Brian Schatz, (D-HI) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a tax of one-tenth-of-one-percent, or 10 basis points (100 basis points equals 1 percentage point), on securities trades, including stocks, bonds, and derivatives. The CBO estimates that the FTT would raise $777 billion over 10 years. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are co-sponsors of the bill.

For the math-challenged, 10 basis points on a $1,000 trade equals one dollar. Jared Bernstein says:

FTTs exist in various countries, including the UK and France, with Germany considering the tax (also, Brazil, India, South Korea, and Argentina). The UK is a particularly germane example, where an FTT has long co-existed with London’s vibrant, global financial market.

More from Bernstein: (brackets by Wrongo)

Because the value of the stock holdings is highly skewed toward the wealthy, the FTT is highly progressive: The TPC [Tax Policy Center] estimates that 40% of the cost of the tax falls on the top 1% (which makes sense as they hold about 40% of the value of the stock market and 40% of national wealth).

Vox also reports that an FTT would mostly affect wealthy Americans, because an estimated 84% of the value of stocks is owned by the wealthiest 10% of households. Schatz isn’t the first Democrat to suggest an FTT, Bernie Sanders ran on a similar idea in the 2016 Democratic primary. He pitched it as a way to pay for free college.

Globally, there is plenty of experience with FTTs. In the UK, a 0.5% “stamp tax” is charged when someone buys shares on the stock market, and the UK market is fine. France in 2012 introduced a tax on financial transactions, and a study from the European Commission found that trading volumes declined slightly, but share prices and volatility weren’t meaningfully changed. France and Germany have pushed for a European Union-wide FTT.

Opponents include the high-frequency traders, who note that even a small FTT could upend their extremely low margin business model. Although a dollar on a $1,000 trade doesn’t sound like much, if the industry is making 4 billion trades a day, it can add up.

Time to wake up and support an FTT, America. Sens Warren and Sanders support this idea, and you should too. Those who think that the government should use the tax code to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to get ahead, and that we should do more to ensure the well-being of our citizens aren’t socialists.

If that makes us socialists, then Eisenhower, who presided over a 90% top tax bracket, was also a socialist.

To help you wake up, here’s Steely Dan with “Any World That I’m Welcome To from their 1975 album “Kay Lied”. This tune gives you the benefit of hearing the late, great, Hal Blaine on drums. Blaine may have been the most recorded drummer in pop music history. From the late 50s through the mid-70s, Blaine did sessions with Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, The Righteous Brothers, Henry Mancini, Ike & Tina Turner, The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, The Fifth Dimension, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, Mamas and the Papas, and The Grass Roots.

The famously picky Steely Dan only used Blaine for this one tune:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss