Saturday, August 28, 2010

Republicans & The Resistance

Hat-tip to Bloggling Blue

If Obama is a Muslim agent, Ronald Reagan was an admitted "terrorist" organizer/sympathizer. Neither of these are true, just politicians and monied operatives choosing sliming and appealing to low, primal emotions, rather than meaningful dialogue.

Weekend Reading

Democrats Saving American Capitalism Since 1933

After Voting To Kill The Recovery, GOP Lawmakers Tout It's Success

Economic Setbacks That Define The Bush Years

Closing The Book On The Bush Legacy

Praise The Public Sector

Some thoughts on governance and the public sector:

37 percent of public workers belong to a union, 7 percent of private sector workers belong to a union. Of approximately 20 million public workers 7.4 million workers are unionized. Of the roughly 123 million private sector employees 8.6 million workers are unionized. The total unionized workforce represents 11 percent of total employment. The decimation of union representation is a major reason for our declining wages, increasing inequality, and general insecurity. [The funny part is that this small percentage of workers are always blamed for any economic issue that arises. If they wielded that much power, much more of the workforce would be unionized.]

Keith Bender and John Haywood have found, "Over the last 20 years, the earnings for state and local employees have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees." The overly-compensated, lavishly-rewarded public employee is a myth. Yet, despite these facts, somehow I feel this delusion will live on with anti-government know-nothings and FOX News talking-heads. [Sorry, that was redundant.]

Conceptual Guerrilla highlights numerous government provisions - legal infrastructure, physical infrastructure, and other services - without which our lives would be decidedly more barbaric. As a thought experiment, think of all the places you venture in a day. Think about water, roads, street lights, the police, the sewers, etc. Think about what life would be like without all these public provisions. Then actually express some appreciation for all these necessities most take for granted everyday. And, lastly, the next time some obnoxious know-nothing spouts the tired old anti-government lines, rattle off a list of all the things government has done and does for us daily.

"A large part of the political class is showing it's priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton era boom, or allowing the nation's foundations to crumble - they're choosing the latter," declares Paul Krugman. In a country that has allowed wealth inequality rivaling the Gilded Age, today's enriched barons would rather watch the institutions and infrastructure (that allowed such wealth) crumble; rather than pay a small percentage more in taxes to ensure the continued strength of their nation.

Decent pay and a dignified retirement no longer fit into our over-financialized economy. In this race-to-the-bottom, the uber wealthy will not be content until health care is demolished, retirement is purely a worry of the worker, and WalMart wages are the standard. How can this change? Organize!

For Further Reading:
Defeat The Right in Three Minutes
The War on Public-Sector Unions

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rumbling For Dollars

The economic war among the states is alive and well. Good to see this inefficient, zero-growth, overbidding continuing. [Recall Mercury Marine.] Just the kind of job "negotiations" we need to see during a recession. Nothing like blackmailing one community against another to see which one will cough-up millions of ill-gotten dollars. Way to go, Harley!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Perilous Posturing

Lately conservatives have come out with a barrage of attacks, false claims, and general chest-thumping in preparation for the midterm elections. They are attacking Obama's economic policies; fighting the allowance of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts; ignoring the hardships many Americans are facing; pushing lies about taxation and tax rates, in general; trying (again) to kill Social Security; dithering on unemployment insurance; and scapegoating public workers.

As Larry Bartels states, "The clearest and most significant implication of aggregate election analyses is that objective economic conditions are the single most important influence upon an incumbent president's prospects for reelection." Which is why Republicans are obstructing everything. They care only about their own power. Never mind the hungry, homeless, unemployed, and hurting...the right-wing just wants their political power back. They will avoid anything close to actual governance, in hopes the economy will continue to falter. It's a sick and diabolical plan. It shows their true aim. Unless you're in the top 1 percent, I can't understand why someone would want these people deciding the policies of our country.

Regarding the noise surrounding the expiration of Bush tax cuts, one fact the Republicans never seem to mention is that extending them for the next 10 years would add about $3.8 trillion to our national debt. It has also been shown, "less than 3 percent of filers with small-business income pay at the top two income tax rates." So, the tax cuts add to the debt, and they do nothing to help "small" business.

A recent article, The Middle Class in America is Radically Shrinking, cataloged numerous statistics showing the dramatic predicament working-Americans face. Here are just a few excerpts:
  • 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the public
  • 61 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck
  • 66 percent of income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1%
  • 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement
  • Since 2000, the average executive earns 300 to 500 times more than the average worker
  • As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held on 7% of the liquid financial assets
  • The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the U.S. now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation's wealth
  • The top 1% of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago
  • 21 percent of all children in the U.S. are living below the poverty line in 2010
  • The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income
In 2009, only 7 percent of federal revenues came from the corporate income tax. The individual income tax and the payroll tax accounted for 44 and 42 percent, respectively. And, although the top quintile of income earners pay 67.2 percent of federal taxes, they earn 53.4 percent of income. Corporation are not facing onerous taxation. We have a slightly progressive federal tax system.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Previous periods with much higher tax rates also coincided with much more growth and broadly shared prosperity. As Paul Krugman noted, "The problem with super-high rates isn't so much that they reduce incentives to work; it's that they create huge incentives to avoid or evade."

"Between 2002 and 2007 the bottom ninety-nine percent of income grew 1.3 percent a year in real terms - while the incomes of the top one percent grew ten percent per year. That one percent accounted for two-thirds of all income growth in those years," asserted James Surowiecki. If a privileged, minuscule segment of the population is making a majority of the income, and increasing such year after year (alongside shrinking wages for the rest of society), shouldn't we be raising tax rates on such persons? Obviously societal institutions are allowing them to garner such lopsided gains. Shouldn't they be made to pay back to the system that nourished them? Shouldn't they help fund the infrastructure, courts, public works, etc. that allow them such a fortunate life?

Another public program, which has been in the sights of right-wingers for years, is Social Security. A basically well-liked and solvent program. The average annual benefit is only $14,000. Even the bleakest forecasts show it can pay full benefits until after the 2030s (some until the 2050s). Yet as usual, Republicans have tweaked and twisted the facts to mean just the opposite. They've completely lied and told a story about Social Security going bankrupt in the 2020s. Raising the retirement age to 70, as some have suggested, is the same as a 15 percent cut in benefits. In predicting Social Security will only be able to pay 75-80 percent of benefits by 2037, the CBO uses an extremely low long-term growth rate. "Lower than anything we've seen in more than a century," wrote Doug Henwood. Even the forecasters are being grossly pessimistic. And yet, after the 2050s, the program will still be able to pay 80 percent of benefits even if we do nothing to change how it currently operates.

Henwood also reveals the average weekly payout for an unemployment (insurance) benefit recipient is is $307. All those chastising the unemployed and claiming they're lazy, coasting on easy-street, and purposefully choosing not to work, I encourage them to see how much of an easy-street they can live on for $307 a week. Another very sad and despicable quality many Americans seem to wallow in - bashing the most downtrodden, while seemingly revering those oppressing them.

Right-wingers also want to pretend this is all the fault of Barack Obama. Yet according to the latest analysis of BLS job numbers, by Rob Shaprio, "it's hard to credibly blame the White House for the vast, vast majority of job losses...Out of 8,467,000 private sector jobs lost in this dismal cycle (December 2007 to July 2009); 7,796,000 of those jobs or 92 percent were lost on the Republican's watch or under sway of their policies."

Then there is the always useful scapegoat, the public worker. You know, those lavishly rewarded school teachers driving Cadillacs. In the 1980s it was welfare Queens driving Cadillacs. So we squashed welfare as we knew it and basically threw people off the welfare rolls. As with all public initiatives (other than the transfer of public dollars to the privileged), the right-wing feels public endeavors must be stopped. The latest target in the 'bash-everything-public' theme is public employees.

Conservatives love to attack public pensions. How dare some people want a dignified retirement! 'Work 'til you drop' should be the Republicans campaign slogan. The fact that public workers accept lower wages in lieu of better health care and a pension is beside the point. For Republicans, public workers should have no pension, earn WalMart wages, and pay their own health care. Since right-wingers align themselves with businessmen, this anti-worker model is what they want the world working under. Low labor costs with all the rewards going to the owners and captains of industry.

As Jonathan Cohn asked, "To what extent is the problem that retirement benefits for everybody else have become to stingy?" If workers can never retire, many jobs are then unable to turnover to a younger generation looking for work.

Furthermore, the pension plan shortfall (revenue vs. payout) represents less than 2 percent of projected state and local government spending. "If we assume this shortfall must be filled over a 30-year period, then this would imply a gap that is less than 2 percent of projected spending over this period." Meaning - this is another red herring Republicans are falsely portraying as a failure of government and public work, in general.

Research shows that, when adjusted for experience and education, compensation for state and local workers is 6.8 to 7.4 percent lower than comparable private sector workers. Plus, unions represent only 7 percent of private sector workers. So, is 7 percent of the workforce destroying, bad, and/or responsible for all our problems? Also, many have mistakenly pushed the idea that public workers have been sheltered from the economic downturn. Although, 316,000 public-sector jobs have disappeared over the past two years. Many others have been furloughed and faced shortened hours. Public servants have felt the pain yet have maintained some employment through a quasi-work-sharing system.

Here we have a host of falsities, absurdities, and slanders the right-wing has rolled out in an effort to buttress their faltering and repeatedly debunked supply-side worldview. The programs and policies that have made the most significant contribution to retirement, wages, aggregate demand, and economic security are continually maligned by conservatives. They don't want shared prosperity. They want to preserve their oligarchy. We must ignore them. We follow them at our own (empirically-proven) peril.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Supply-Side Albatross

(As an appendage to the previous entry) the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exclaims Job One: Focus on Growing the Economy and also highlights Report Calls for Overhaul of State Department of Commerce. Again they want the government to coordinate private market activity. To hold the hand of private speculators and guide them. They even encourage growing government with an expanded, more focused, and higher-paid Department of Commerce.

They want this expanded arm of the Commerce Department, a quasi-public agency, named Accelerate Wisconsin. Because just having that snappy name will surely go a long way.

This Journal editorial basically promotes a "provocative" study by Deloitte, spoon-feeding the conclusions, no questions asked, no counter opinions. The report includes such ground-breaking proposals as "prospecting harder," and "a vigorous marketing campaign." Oh, and they should try really, really hard.

The overall idea is to make the Commerce Department a massive economic development organization, "such as the Milwaukee 7." Yet, many observe that the Milwaukee 7 and similar agencies don't achieve enough for Milwaukee and often have misguided priorities. How this is the model for the state is a bit perplexing.

As evidence for the need for the new agency initiative, the Journal notes, Wisconsin, "once in the top twenty in per capita personal income...had fallen to 27th by 2008." (Wisconsin is the 20th most populous state.) They then talk of how such agencies help turn things around. They cite Indiana and Michigan as evidence of such positive experiences. Michigan is the 8th most populous state, it ranks 26th in per capita personal income. Indiana is the 16th most populous state, it ranks 37th in per capita income.

The unemployment rate in Wisconsin is 8.5%, it's 10.1% in Indiana and Michigan. If we look at median household income, Indiana ranks 32nd, Michigan 30th, and Wisconsin 21st. GDP change between 2006-2008 was -0.6 in Indiana (ranking 41st), -1.5 in Michigan (ranking 47th), and +0.7 in Wisconsin (ranking 27th). They are performing worse than we are, yet we should follow their lead?

Government should grow to aid private industry, but government is also bunglingly incompetent? Based on metrics, which don't even support the supposed conclusions, we should follow the same development strategies that are failing others? Government workers are overpaid and primarily useless, except for those aiding the private sector, which should be paid more?

Journal Sentinel, what an unsound, confused, and misinformed framework you provide to our community's policy debates. And your abhorrence to the public sector and government capabilities, except when taxpayer dollars are enabling speculative private ventures, is reprehensible. It would be nice if we could have an adult discussion in the community, beginning with the recognition that the public and private sectors both have important roles to play.

We have demonized the government for decades. We've cut taxes and deregulated. And, we've paid for it. Wages for the majority of workers have stagnated. Our society has pulled apart. Inequality is as large as it was during the Gilded Age. We are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

As we've taken a hands-off approach with government and put our full faith in the market, the volatility of our lives has increased. That wasn't part of the 'supply-side miracle' deal. HMOs were supposed to revolutionize health care, not nearly destroy it. 401Ks were supposed to increase retirement security, not obliterate it.

It's time to turn the car around.

The Persistent Deception

Recently the Journal Sentinel mused on Growing A Region. It contained typical platitudes recognizable to any even cursory Journal reader. Entrepreneurs are the answer, regional collaboration is good, and (as always when private entities have their hand out) government should provide the start-up funds for these inevitable private gains.

First, if the market and the private sector are so omnipotent, why does the government have to continually give subsidies, provide research, create special taxing districts and tax credits, among numerous other hand-outs and giveaways, for the private sector to function and locate opportunities?

There is not an industry or sector of the economy where the government isn't crucial. We - the government - have provided a majority of the R&D, seed money, tax breaks, and general initiative for major advancements in medicine, aviation, electronics, manufacturing, mining, utilities, energy, food and on and on.

If we didn't have or drastically downsized government, as many right-wing parrots cackle, the economy would collapse. A majority of the initial investments, the infrastructure, the risky 'getting off the ground' period of many initiatives would never happen.

But, let me get this straight, government is bad and doesn't do anything right, yet as the middleman, transferring tax dollars between citizens and private speculation, it's the go-to guy? And, for some reason, the all-knowing market and the ultra-savvy entrepreneur, in all their perfection, can't seem to achieve optimal outcomes without the inefficient and inept government leading the way?

Wow. I get such a kick out of the trickle-down, supply-side, market-humping privateers. You can just make up stuff as you go along to defend subsidizing the wealthy at the expense of the majority of taxpayers. Heck, some even claim it as a theory; as if there is actual evidence behind it. Simultaneously bad-mouthing the government, while using government as a tool to extract start-up money, for private speculation, from taxpayers.

And, even though trickle-down has been a total failure in application over the last three decades (as evidenced by decreasing retirement security and health care coverage, alongside increasing inequality of incomes and stagnating wages for most workers), by just claiming "it's in the best interest of the people" and simply repeating trickle-down is accomplishing everything as intended (which it clearly isn't), the lie persists.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Class Warfare

Uemployment insurance is a disincentive to work, yet subsidizing Wall Street profits, the outsourcing of American jobs, and tax cuts for the rich are solid economic policy. As a democracy, taking care of the majority of our citizens is a bad approach. Instead we should coddle the top 1 percent with the hope something will trickle down to the rest of us.

Public employees, Social Security, unemployment insurance, etc. are not the sources of America's problems. These are all scapegoats and red herrings in the Republicans' smoke-and-mirrors, blame-game intitative; whereby they are trying to shift attention from the colossal failure that has been supply-side economics commingled with the idea that the government can't do anything right, the market must be worshiped, and greed is good.

More on this soon.

For Further Reading:
Free Market Collapses Again
NAFTA & The Myth of Free Trade

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Readings On The Economy

America, There Is A Better Way: It's Called Germany
Fight Back Against The Oligarchy
GOP Leaders Remind Voters Economy Does Better Under Democrats
Great Decoupling Of Corporate Profits From Jobs
How To Make An American Job Before It's Too Late
Job Seekers Still Face Intolerable Odds
Living Wage Laws Don't Hurt Employers
Meet The New Republican Alchemists
Middle Class In America Is Radically Shrinking
Political Genius Of Supply-Side Economics

Social Security

Mythology of Fear About Social Security (excerpt):

Now let's take a true measure of where we are. Social Security has been the most effective government program; it has been the most responsible government program. Social Security costs are funded out of its own dedicated revenue stream. It does not and cannot borrow money to finance its operations.

There is no deficit financing. Social Security is the epitome of Yankee frugality. It could not be better managed. Social Security returns more than 99 cents to beneficiaries on every dollar collected. I dare you to find a private investment plan that can claim that.

Social Security Age 'Fix' May Not Live Up To Expectations

Top 5 Social Security Myths

Brother Can You Spare A Dime

The Journal Sentinel, again, falsely frames an issue. They want us to Hold off on tax increases while the economy lags. But this isn't an all or nothing option. (And, the Journal recently published an editorial espousing spending over austerity. Talk about having it both ways.) Democrats would prefer to simply let the tax cuts expire for the richest two percent. Taxing those whom can afford it when our country needs it the most.

Luckily the Journal also published Andrew Fieldhouse and John Irons' response, Let the tax cuts for the rich expire, to this Journal slight-of-hand nonsense.

Maybe some of the characters could pitch in.

The Roadmap To Inequality

Paul Ryan's Roadmap is a sow's ear being sold as a silk purse. A typical Republican ploy, and Paul Ryan is the latest selling such snake-oil. He's become the poster boy for right-wing propaganda over the last year. Even though his Roadmap leads us off a cliff, which is also typical of Republican policies.

For Further Reading:
Prophets of Doom
Ryan Budget's Radical Priorities