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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

A Strategy for 2020 Emerges

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Hopkinton, MA – November, 2018 photo by Karen Randall

The 2020 election campaign has already started, regardless of whether we are ready.

“Big Idea” strategies are in the air. And the large group of potential Democratic presidential candidates are being discussed.

And we no longer have to chew on the failure by Democrats in 2016. We can now talk about lessons learned in the 2018 midterms, and how they may apply in 2020. Wrongo wants to highlight three Democrats who won in deeply Republican districts. Max Rose, who won on Staten Island in NYC; Kyrsten Sinema, who won the open Senate seat in Arizona; and Lauren Underwood, who won a Congressional seat in Illinois.

Rose won a district that went heavily for Trump in 2016. He beat a long-time incumbent Republican. He did it by asking for a chance to reshape the fortunes of working people. From the NYT:

He offered a simple, unifying message that was progressive in substance but relatively neutral in its delivery: that the system is rigged to benefit special interests, that the little guy is getting stiffed over and over, that we need better infrastructure and stronger unions.

Demographic change helped. Rose’s district covers parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, where Millennials who have been priced out of living in Manhattan and trendy Brooklyn are now locating.

Kyrsten Sinema’s story is different on the surface, but similar in what got her elected. A three-term member of Congress, she campaigned on her biography. She was homeless for three years as a child. Sinema is an openly bisexual former Green Party activist who moved to the political center.

Sinema promised to be a nonpartisan problem-solver. She campaigned on health care and protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Sinema treaded lightly on immigration, but probably looked pro-immigrant versus her opponent Martha McSally, another member of Congress who was very anti-immigration. 2.1 million Latinos live in Arizona, and after Trump’s visit in October, there was a spike in Latinos returning early ballots. Most Arizona residents vote by mail, and many Latinos voted for Sinema.

Lauren Underwood won an Illinois Congressional seat held in the past by the infamous Denny Hastert. The 32-year-old African-American nurse, unseated four-term Rep. Randy Hultgren in a district that is 86% white. The district was gerrymandered after the 2010 census to make it an even safer Republican seat. She won by stressing health care for all Americans.

These three candidates were successful in traditionally Republican places. They each had great personal stories. They each ran as problem solvers who wanted to help working families. This shows there are two threads that mattered in 2018: The candidate, and a message that addressed the things that were alienating people in their districts.

If we widen out our view to America today, alienation is behind the rise of Trumpism, and the rise of populism across the world.

The leading cause of people’s alienation is economic inequality.

Candidates can win as centrists if they are willing to fight economic inequality, because everybody knows that the system is rigged to benefit special interests.

Progressives can also win on economic inequality, because the largest divide in our country is between the 98% and the 2%. This idea can unite us, because nowhere in the US do the capitalists outnumber the salaried and hourly wage people.

Remember what Franklin Roosevelt said in his acceptance speech: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth… I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.

Today, Democrats need working people to vote for them if they want to win decisively. But since they govern like mainstream Republicans when in office, they must change to an FDR-like call to action.

It is possible to build voting coalitions that pick off a few red states in 2020. In fact, the midterm results were a terrible leading indicator for Trump in 2020. Without Hillary heading the ticket, Midwest states like Michigan and Wisconsin appear to be returning to Democrats. Pennsylvania is already back.

The Dems need to convince voters that governing the country in a manner that benefits everyone is a better idea than governing the country in a manner that benefits only a few.

The potential new votes for Democrats by following this strategy is largely the pool of non-voters. They are the majority in this country, and they are alienated.

They also outnumber the small percentage of persuadable Republican voters.

Nominating high quality candidates and fighting alienation are the keys to success in 2020.

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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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Saturday Soother – November 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Blue Mosque, Istanbul -2013 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo planned on taking the rest of the week off, but couldn’t resist this:

We live in a time when inequality of wealth, income and influence is thought to be greater than at any time in history. Inequality strengthens social injustice and with it the existence of The Privileged and The Disadvantaged. Of those who have influence and feel they are entitled to everything, and those who expect little, receive even less but need most. Government policies are fashioned by The Privileged for their own benefit. The Disadvantaged, having little or no voice, are ignored, allowing the Cycle of Containment to be maintained, change to be suppressed and social divisions to deepen.

This is from a post entitled What Price Humanity? at Dissident Voice, and it is a pretty accurate description of where we are in America. More:

Sitting at the center of this socio-economic tragedy is an economic ideology that is not simply unjust, it is inhumane. Compassion and human empathy are pushed into the shadows in the Neo-Liberal paradigm, selfishness, division and exploitation encouraged. The system promotes short-term materialistic values and works against mankind’s natural inclination towards unity, social responsibility and cooperation, inherent qualities that are consistently made manifest in times of crisis, individual hardship and collective need.

Graham Peebles is asking what are We the People entitled to in 2017 America? And his answer is grim.

Wrongo thinks nothing is more appropriate to this discussion than FDR’s Second Bill of Rights as stated January 11, 1944 in his message to the US Congress on the State of the Union:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

FDR could foresee the end of WWII when he gave this speech. He concluded that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Sadly, on this 2017 Thanksgiving weekend, we remain very far from these goals.

The inequality and sense of entitlement we see today won’t be turned around without work. Financialization is a poisonous monster. It dictates government policy, and makes the rules about how our businesses and governments at all levels engage with our people and our environment.

People are little more than sources of revenue: Their capacity to spend, to invest and consume determines how they are valued. Driving virtually every decision within the suffocating confines of the ideal is an addiction to profit.

FDR’s ideas seem quaint in 2017. The US cannot even ensure basic civil rights such as racial equality, much less “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most Americans have freely indentured themselves to the financial sector so that they can pretend to own a house in which to raise their kids, and a car to drive to work in order to earn income so they can make loan payments on the house and the pick-up.

Enough! Let’s forget about life for a while. Grab a cup of Climpson & Sons Signature Espresso that is 100% Adamo Sasaba from Ethiopia, and stay away from the turkey Tetrazzini at lunchtime.

Now, watch and listen to Narciso Yepes interpret Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto d’Aranjuez (Adagio) on his 10-string guitar. The 10-string was conceived in 1963 by Yepes, who ordered it from José Ramírez [III].

The conductor is Raphael Frübeck de Burgos with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt. It’s a lovely piece with a remarkable guitar:

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

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Distressed Communities: Another Divide In America

The Daily Escape:

“Impressions of Lijiang” Show, Yunnan Province China. Lijiang Impressions is a cultural show about the traditions and lifestyles of the minorities in Lijiang. The open-air stage is at 10,000 ft. above sea level. The Dragon Snow Mountains behind the stage are higher than 16,000 ft.

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) has an interesting report on Distressed Communities in the US. They have surveyed changes in counties in distress, from 2000-2015, using census data. The study notes:

America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists, is quickly eroding beneath their feet.

The study found that the majority of new jobs created as the recovery began came in the 20% of American ZIP codes that were already the most prosperous. The 20% of ZIP codes in the least prosperous areas generated just 1% of jobs created between 2011 and 2015.

This isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. Both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have widened the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

The EIG study captured 99% of the US population. It covers 26,000+ US zip codes that have a population of at least 500 people, the more than 3,000 counties with at least 500 people, and the nearly 800 cities with at least 50,000 people.

Here is a map from the study showing areas of economic advance and retreat:

Our most significant modern recession and the subsequent deeply uneven recovery has exacerbated the gap between wealthy communities and poorer areas, creating a patchwork map of economic haves and have-nots around the country.

Here is another map from the study, showing the most disadvantaged small and mid-sized cities:

 

In Hartford, CT; Newark, NJ; Stockton, CA; and Trenton, NJ, more than one in five residents are now foreign-born. In general, cities with smaller foreign-born populations are more likely to be distressed: In the average distressed city, 15% of the population is foreign-born; in all other quintiles, the average is between 18 and 19%.

In the Northeast, more than two-thirds of the population living in distressed zip codes reside in high density neighborhoods, so distress in the Northeast is predominantly an urban phenomenon. In the South, nearly 60% of the distressed population resides in low density, mainly rural zip codes.  But, all types of distressed communities can be found in all regions.

A full two-thirds of distressed zip codes contained fewer jobs in 2015 than they did in 2000, while 72% saw more businesses close than open over that same time span. In total, 55% suffered net losses in both categories

Fifty-two million Americans live in the most distressed ZIP codes across the nation. Those people are more likely not to have graduated from high school. The poverty rate in those communities is 11 points higher than the national average. And adults in those communities are twice as likely to be out of work as in the wealthiest counties.

They are also far more likely to live near sites polluted or contaminated enough that the Environmental Protection Agency is working to clean them up. There are nearly 13,000 of these brownfield sites in distressed ZIP codes, compared to 3,700 in the most prosperous ZIP codes.

Those who live in distressed areas have a life expectancy almost five years shorter than those who live in prosperous areas. Rates of cancer, suicide and violence are all markedly higher in the poorest areas, and substance abuse disorders are 64% percent more likely, the report found.

The report concludes by saying:

It is fair to wonder whether a recovery that excludes tens of millions of Americans and thousands of communities deserves to be called a recovery at all.

The days of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” are gone forever. You can’t use trickle-down economics arguments to fool all of the people all of the time, and you can’t even fool a majority of them for very long.

And now, time’s up.

Capitalism hasn’t worked for all of the people since well, never.

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Getting Past Charlottesville

The Daily Escape:

Upper Peninsula MI, 2017 – photo by Otto Heldring

There’s a depressing overtone to Charlottesville that suggests the arc of history is the energy behind the story. Is the nation’s soul about to be divided as it has been many times before? Americans get two chits: One for the ballot box, and another for the soap box. Many people feel compelled to use both. The existential question is how best to use them.

The Charlottesville incident left a woman dead, and many others badly injured from a car-ramming. It has the flavor of a “first shot” in a new civil war. And the president’s criticisms of counter-protesters in Charlottesville seem to be far outside the mainstream. Frank Bruni, NYT:

We’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat for president, someone so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis.

Still, many Republicans have been reluctant to condemn Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric. The right would do well to excise any association with the Hitlerites who chanted “blood and soil” in their torch-lit pseudo Nuremberg rally in Virginia. America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but Nazis? Nein, Danke.

We have two conflicts arising from Charlottesville:

  • Does every group still have the right to assemble (peacefully) and speak their minds?
  • What are we to do about the symbols from our divided past?

The 1st Amendment protects most speech, but not the sensibilities of those who are exposed to it. Some speech is guaranteed to be offensive. America has lived with neo-Nazis, the KKK, et al for Wrongo’s entire lifetime, and has survived it, no matter how odious. Even the ACLU assisted the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

But there are recognized limits. No one has a right to incite violence. Individuals have no right to defame someone. Some of the limits are easier to define than others: The concept of inciting a riot can lead to a subjective reading of the facts and the application of nebulous standards.

Today’s wrinkle are the armed demonstrators. They imply that a peaceful assembly could be placed at grave risk at any moment. It shouldn’t be difficult to foresee that local people will come out to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists that are marching in their town. That creates even greater risk of physical violence, and requires that local police are well-trained and disciplined.

Second, there are Confederate statues all over America. The white supremacists who went to Charlottesville to “protect” Lee’s statue need to hear that we will not re-litigate the Civil War. The south’s and the nation’s history are what they are. The Civil War should be given due weight, learned from, pondered, and not shunted aside. Are Robert E. Lee’s existence, deeds, and historical relevance news to anyone?

A suggestion: In Bulgaria, the USSR monuments were removed and placed in a single museum park. The museum’s collection covers the period 1944 to 1989, from the introduction of communism in Bulgaria, to the end of the totalitarian regime. Herding those statues into one place makes a statement that speaks loudly about the era, and how the USSR deprived Bulgarians of their rights.

Maybe a few such statue parks could have a similar effect here.

Let’s not get sidetracked from the most important issue before us: How we remake the US economy so that it provides a decent standard of living and expanding opportunity to as many people as possible.

There are plenty of “deplorables” who would benefit from universal health care, inexpensive college tuition for their children, infrastructure that worked, and good-paying jobs. Uniting the US population around programs that achieve these goals would do much to subdue the angry ethnic divisions that these “political entrepreneurs” are trying to foment.

Moreover, this program is not of the right or the left.

It’s a path toward political stability and a better society – one that would allow people the opportunity to develop into contributing, thoughtful citizens, capable of fully participating in the Republic.

Ok, a tune to help you think about peaceful assembly and whether the statues should stay or go. Here is Depeche Mode with “Where’s The Revolution” from their 2017 album “Spirit”. Wrongo didn’t know they were still working, much less producing relevant tunes:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve been kept down
You’ve been pushed ’round
You’ve been lied to
You’ve been fed truths
Who’s making your decisions?
You or your religion
Your government, your countries
You patriotic junkies

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

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Worry About Hunger and Homelessness Higher Than Ever

The Daily Escape:

White-Faced (Capuchin) Monkey, Costa Rica, 2015 – photo by Wrongo

The American economy has never been very kind to people at the lower income levels. In most ways, since 2008’s Great Recession, the economy has become riskier, and more tension-filled for lower income Americans, those making $30,000 or less per year. Nothing makes this clearer than this Gallup poll conducted March 1-5, 2017. Gallup surveyed 1,018 adults in all 50 US states. From Gallup:

Over the past two years, an average of 67% of lower-income US adults, up from 51% from 2010-2011, have worried “a great deal” about the problem of hunger and homelessness in the country.

More from Gallup:

Concern about hunger and homelessness now ranks as high as, or higher than, concern about most other issues tested in Gallup’s annual Environment survey. The only issue with a significantly higher “worried a great deal” percentage in this year’s poll is the availability and affordability of healthcare, at 57%.

People’s perspectives are based on their experience, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Gallup found that people making more than $75k/year had other concerns, and ranked hunger and homelessness much lower, at 37%. Still, even that number is up substantially from 23% in 2001.

The survey asks participants to rank their concern about 13 elements, and the differences between the concerns of the $30k or less cohort and the $75k or more cohort are stark.

  1. Americans making $30k and less rank their top seven worries in this order:
  • Hunger/homelessness
  • Crime/violence
  • Healthcare
  • Drug use
  • Terrorism
  • Social Security
  • Economy
  1. Americans making $75k or more ranked their top seven in this order:
  • Healthcare
  • Budget deficit
  • Economy
  • Social Security
  • Environment
  • Race relations
  • Hunger/homelessness

One reality is that the lower income Americans list “terrorism” in their top five, while it does not appear at all as a top worry of higher income Americans. Lower-income Americans worry more in general than those with higher incomes; everything is riskier and tougher for them. But nothing compares to the worries about hunger and homelessness. Gallup:

On average, across the 13 issues, the percentage of lower-income adults who worry a great deal is seven percentage points higher than among middle-income Americans, and 17 points higher than among upper-income Americans.

Here is Gallup’s chart showing the relative degree of “worry” by economic group:

No surprise that more money brings one fewer big worries. No individual worry of the $75k+ cohort was felt by as many people as the seventh-ranking worry by the $30k or less cohort.

In fact, the greater than $75k cohort sees the “budget deficit” as its second-most worried about item. Of course, this dooms any chance for the people making less than $30k to have greater security in life. Congratulations to Pete Peterson and the GOP deficit hawks on a job well done! Their decades of propaganda have made austerity a political obsession for the well-off, because government must tighten its belt, and cut its way to greatness.

Paging Dr. Maslow! Your theory of the hierarchy of needs is again demonstrated in the real world by Gallup. Here it is 2017, near the twilight of the empire. Physiological and safety needs are in the top five of the major worries of a population that is hanging on to our society by their fingernails.

Tighten your belts. Lower your dreams. Ignore the fact WE live in 10,000 sq. ft. mansions. We deserve it, and you don’t.

The American dream is a fallacy. Free markets are a fallacy. They are propaganda used to fool those poor Americans who live every day in all-too visible peonage.

Here is a 2005 tune by Coldplay, “Fix You” from their album “X&Y”. It gives a few words of empathy:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse
And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

 

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ohio?

Our industrial heartland has withered away, in that there are fewer manufacturing jobs than ever, while manufacturing revenues have never been higher. Forty years of promises by politicians have come to nothing: These people are victims of a world order in which corporations have either exported or automated those jobs, with no responsibility to workers. It is left to the towns of Middle America and the federal government to clean up their mess.

This world order we live in today was born in 1980, with Thatcher and Reagan. According to Ian Welsh, the world order made a few core promises:

If the rich have more money, they will create more jobs.

Lower taxes will lead to more prosperity.

Increases in housing and stock market prices will increase prosperity for everyone.

Trade deals and globalization will make everyone better off.

Those promises were not kept, and in America’s Midwest, economic stress is now the order of the day. That stress has contributed to rising rates of drug addiction and falling life expectancy.

Understandably frustrated, Ohioans and other Midwesterners gave Donald Trump a victory in November. His win has refocused attention by pundits and pols on the plight of our failing de-industrialized areas. While we have economic growth, we also have growing inequality. Here is a graphic illustration of the problem, comparing the US with the EU:

The Economist reports that from 1880 to 1980, the incomes of poorer and richer American states tended to converge, at a rate of nearly 2% per year. The chart above shows that the pattern no longer exists. This causes us to ask if the shift of resources and people from places in decline to places that are growing is simply taking longer to adjust, or has the current world order failed our people? In econo-speak, the gains in some regions should compensate those regions and towns harmed by the shift, leaving everyone better off.

But that is a political and financial lie promulgated by the very corporations that benefited, and by their political and economist cheerleaders.

With economic decline, some towns and cities became poverty traps. A shrinking tax base means deterioration in local services (think Detroit). Public education that might provide the young with new skills and thus opportunities, fails. Those that remain are on government subsidies or hold low-wage service jobs, or both. It is impossible to tell these citizens that the decay of their home town is an acceptable cost of the rough-and-tumble of the global economy.

Politicians are short on solutions. Since housing costs have risen sharply in towns and cities that are growing, underemployed Americans are less likely to move, and those who do, are less likely to head for richer places. Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley and Chang-tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago argue that our GDP could be 13.5% higher if this wasn’t the situation in America.

But if moving isn’t an option, what can be done to improve the outlook for those who are left behind?

Would more government subsidies help? Prosperous tax payers already support poorer ones. Subsidies for health insurance costs with Obamacare, as well as industrial tax incentives provide some cushion, but they are not likely to deliver long-run economic recovery, and they have not stemmed the growth of populist political sentiment.

To be fair, many people in Ohio and elsewhere want good jobs, but without having to move too far to get them. That may be impossible.

In the 19th century, the federal government gave land to states, which they could sell to raise proceeds for “land-grant universities”. Those universities, including some that are among our finest, were given a practical task: to develop and disseminate new techniques in agriculture and engineering. They went on to become centers of advanced research and, in some cases, hubs of local innovation and economic growth.

Politicians and academic economists might disdain a modern-day version of the program, one that would train workers, foster new ideas, and strengthen weakened regional economies.

But if our politicians do not provide answers, our populist insurgents will.

Time for a Christmas song. Here is Elvis with “Santa Claus Is Back in Town & Blue Christmas”, from his comeback special on NBC. This was recorded over six days in June, 1968 and aired on December 1, 1968. Elvis flubs “Santa Claus is Back in Town”:

Despite his flub, he does get this line right:

You don’t see me comin in no big black Cadillac

Kind of like out-of-work Ohioans.

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Capitalism Is Past Its Sell-By Date

“This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations…” Rutherford B. Hayes (March, 1888)

Nearly 130 years ago at the height of the Gilded Age, President Hayes had it right. Capitalism then was an economic free-for-all. Today, capitalism again is rewarding too few people. And data show that the problem is worse than we thought. The WSJ reported on a study by economists from Stanford, Harvard and the University of California that found:

Barely half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at a similar age, a research team found, an enormous decline from the early 1970s when the incomes of nearly all offspring outpaced their parents.

Using tax and census data, they identified the income of 30-year-olds starting in 1970, and compared it with the earnings of their parents when they were about the same age. In 1970, 92% of American 30-year-olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age. By 2014, that number fell to 51%. Here is a chart showing the results:

wsj-30-year-olds-make-less

And we know that real median household income in the US today is basically the same as in 1989. The paper doesn’t provide specific reasons for the decline in incomes for younger Americans, but it generally blames slower economic growth and, especially, the rapidly widening income gap between the top 20% and the rest of society.

They found that the inability of children to out-earn their parents is greatest in the Midwest. This underlines that those who voted for Trump have a point: The Midwest has been hit harder by import competition, especially from Japan and China, and by technological changes, than other regions of the US.

When looking only at males nationally, the decline is even starker: In 2014, only 41% of 30-year-old men earned more than their fathers at a similar age.

There are some issues with the study worth mentioning: Most kids born in the 1940s did well in their thirties, maybe because their parents were 30 during the Depression and WWII. By the 1960s, an industrialized economy brought significantly higher wages to 30 year olds. A high denominator in the ratio of parent’s income to child’s income (compared to the past) made it more difficult for succeeding generations to exceed their parents’ incomes.

The economy also has shifted in the past 30 years and is now service-based, as factories moved overseas, and automation became prevalent. This change swapped higher wage manufacturing jobs for mostly lower wage service jobs. That alone could make it all but impossible for young adults to hit the ratios that their parents did relative to their grandparents.

Maybe the American Dream didn’t die; it just never really existed in the sense of broadly-based income mobility. Have another look at the chart, upward mobility (as measured by making more than your parents) has been declining since the mid-1940s.

Why? Between rising globalization and rapid advances in automation, we now have more people than jobs. And no matter whom we elect, this trend will continue. Those manufacturing jobs are never coming back. Even in China, robots are now displacing workers in factories.

We don’t need “good paying manufacturing jobs”; we need good paying jobs.

This is the most serious challenge capitalism has faced in the US. Without improving personal income, there will be fewer who can afford college, or afford to buy the things that capitalism produces. Low personal income growth puts sand in the gears of our economy.

The left offers a critique of contemporary global capitalism but no real practical alternative. Neither does the right, but their memes of America First, nostalgia for a golden (gilded?) age, and more tax cuts seem like less of a stretch than a Bernie Sanders-like frontal assault on capitalism.

No one in either party has a plan for a world in which robots displace the demand for labor on a large scale. And the under-30 cohort is now spending at least 4 times more (in the case of Wrongo’s university, 10 times) for a college education than what their parents paid, and they are earning less.

If people matter at all to our leaders, and if 90+% of them lack the means to live without working, America must make employment our top priority, despite the fact that many have been deemed redundant by capitalists in the private sector.

Surplus labor drives the price of labor down; allowing the employer class to afford a pool boy, or a nanny, or another cook.

And it makes the waiters more attentive to Mr. Trump.

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Hillary Should Grab Populism and Run With It

The biggest change in our politics in the past 20 years is the rise of populism on the left and right. The populists believe that we are led by a selfish elite that cannot—or will not—deal with the problems of ordinary working people, and there is ample evidence that they are correct.

Trump and Clinton say they will bring back jobs that corporations have shipped offshore. They make China the scapegoat for lost economic opportunity, while the real causes are automation and the triumph of the spreadsheet in corporate strategy.

Those jobs are never coming back, and a candidate who says they can negotiate with foreign governments to bring jobs back demonstrates either their naiveté about the true cause of job loss, or a simple desire to BS the American public.

Voters can see through that.

Economic and cultural insecurity are the bedrock causes for populists. Unemployment and stagnant wages hurts working-class whites, while cultural issues are a top issue for older white Americans. The first group sees their jobs threatened by automation and globalization. They join with older whites in seeing immigrants as scroungers who work for less, grab benefits and if you believe Trump, commit crimes.

Both groups also believe that American society is being undermined by diversity and foreign-born citizens.

This is the battle line of the 2016 presidential election. The mediocre economy that has been with us for nearly 20 years has caused real harm. We remain a wealthy country, but certain groups now see their opportunity slipping away. Slow growth, or no economic growth, means only a few elites will do well, and most voters see the self-serving political class as siding with the elites.

So can a candidate unify an electorate that now plays a zero-sum political game?

  • The Pant Load has the better position in this game, since he can exploit pre-existing fears that are based in fact.
  • The Pant Suit must carefully calibrate her message, but she cannot be a “maintain the status-quo” candidate and win.

Clinton would do well to consider what William Berkson said in the WaMo:

If there is one national goal that Americans can agree on, it is opportunity for all.

Berkson makes the point that since President Reagan, Republicans have advocated a simple theory of how to grow the economy: The more you reduce government involvement in the economy and the more efficient markets become, the more the economy grows.

Sorry, but the simplistic theory of free market economics has been drowned in a tsunami of fact in the past 35 years. Berkson says:

Both Democratic administrations since Reagan—that of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—have raised taxes, and under them, the economy grew more rapidly than under the tax-cutters Reagan and George W. Bush.

This opens a path for the Pant Suit. In order to win, she must assure voters that she will deliver more and better jobs. Family income must go up. But how to achieve this?

By advocating a policy of economic opportunity through public investment in infrastructure. It fulfills the promise of opportunity for all, a populist message that has proven to work throughout America’s past. And it allows Clinton to hammer the GOP Congress and Paul Ryan about the lack of any track record for laissez-faire policies, since they have never worked, not even once, as a miracle cure for jobs and income inequality. This would be an open return to Keynesian economics. Here is Eduardo Porter in the NYT:

The Keynesian era ended when Thatcher and Reagan rode onto the scene with a version of capitalism based on tax cuts, privatization and deregulation that helped revive their engines of growth but led the workers of the world to the deeply frustrating, increasingly unequal economy of today.

And led to the low growth economy that drives today’s populist anger.

How to fund that infrastructure expense? More revenue. For the last 40 years, Democrats have been unwilling to counter the conservative argument that higher taxes are a redistribution of wealth between classes. Clinton should argue that current tax policy is really a transfer of resources from tomorrow’s generation to today’s. This is a strong populist message.

Younger Millennials understand this clearly. They already believe Social Security will not be there when they need it. She can win them over if she makes a case for new jobs and new revenues.

When conservatives say that it is unfair for people in their highest earning years to pay more taxes on that income, Clinton can point out that this is a past-due bill that they need to pay just as their elders paid higher taxes that supported the current earners when they were starting out. It was that investment in public resources such as public education and infrastructure, and in research, technology and industry that enabled today’s peak earners to get where they are.

While the strategy opens Clinton to criticism from Grover Norquist and the right about fiscal irresponsibility, it pits Trump against the Tea Party and the GOP. He would need to choose between being a populist or a doctrinaire fiscal conservative. Either way, it will bleed votes from some part of his base.

The strategy could work in down ballot races as well, particularly in the Rust Belt. Maybe working class conservatives will hear her, and not vote against their economic interests for once.

We’ll see if she will move from status quo, to “let’s go” as a campaign strategy.

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More Questions for The Pant Suit and the Pant Load

Yesterday, Wrongo broke the bad news about the May job report. Exactly one year ago, Wrongo wrote “Technology Isn’t Creating Enough Middle Class Jobs.” That article spoke about how deploying new technologies continues to cost more and more mid-skilled jobs.

With low interest rates, the cost of capital investments have fallen relative to the cost of labor, and businesses have rushed to replace workers with technology. Because of technology, since the mid-1970s capital and labor have become more substitutable, and it’s a major global trend. Some proof of this is in the article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, where  Loukas Karabarbounis and Brent Neiman from the University of Chicago found that the share of income going to workers has been declining around the world.

As Brad Delong, economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote recently, throughout most of human history, every new machine that took the job once performed by a person’s hands and muscles increased the demand for complementary human skills — like those performed by eyes, ears or brains.

This is no longer true. From Wrongo’s June, 2015 column:

Facebook is touted as a prime player in the knowledge economy, but it only employs 5,800 to service 1 billion customers! Twitter has 400 million total users. It has 2,300 employees.

What is the value of Facebook and Twitter to the jobs economy? These are two of our very “best” success stories, and they only employ 8,100 workers.

These firms have had a huge impact on society, but the total jobs they have created are only a rounding error in our economy.

As the idea sinks in that human workers may be less necessary than in the past, what happens if the job market stops providing a living wage for millions of Americans?

How will people afford to pay the rent? What will happen if the bottom quartile of workers in the US simply can’t find a job at a wage that could cover the cost of basic staples?

What if smart machines took out the lawyers and bankers? Bloomberg is reporting that job loss is on the way for bankers. Banks are racing to remake themselves as digital companies to cut costs. In other words, they’re preparing for the day that machines take over more of what used to be the sole province of humans: knowledge work. From Bloomberg:

State Street had 32,356 people on the payroll last year. About one of every five will be automated out of a job by 2020, according to Rogers. What the bank is doing presages broader changes about to sweep across the industry. A report in March by Citigroup…said that more than 1.8 million US and European bank workers could lose their jobs within 10 years.

They close by saying that Wall Street will go on—but without as many suits.

Some estimates say that automation could cost half of all current jobs in the next 20 years. The OECD thinks the number is smaller. They argued last month that lots of tasks were hard to automate, like face-to-face interaction with customers. They concluded that only 9% of American workers faced a high risk of being replaced by an automaton.

9% of today’s American workforce equals 13.6 million jobs. It just took us seven years to gain 14.5 million jobs, most of which were contractors and temp jobs.

The prognosis for many medium and some higher-skilled workers appears grim.

The corporatists have seen these forecasts. It explains their unwillingness to do anything serious to create effective jobs programs here at home. They don’t need to do anything, because there is a (virtually) infinite supply of skilled and unskilled workers in the overpopulated third world.

So, these are today’s questions for the Pant Suit and the Pant Load, and their answers need to be specific:

  • Where will the household’s income come from when jobs alone can’t provide it?
  • How will we deal with large-scale inequality that requires large-scale redistribution?
  • Is it time to think about how to provide more income that isn’t directly tied to a job?

From Eduardo Porter:

For large categories of workers, wages are already inadequate. Many are withdrawing from the labor force altogether. In the 1960s, one in 20 men between 25 and 54 were not working. Today it’s three in 20. Although the population is generally healthier than it was in the 1960s; work is almost uniformly less demanding. Still, more workers are on disability.

The issue is not technology, or robots, or restoring our manufacturing base. It isn’t better skills, or technology or outsourcing. We have too many people chasing too few good jobs.

This is why we need the presidential candidates to speak the truth about job creation in America.

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