Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Neither political party offered genuine solutions."
July 7, 2011 1:06 PM   Subscribe

What History Teaches Us About the Welfare State. 'In the wake of the economic crash, which has led to soaring budget deficits, Democrats and Republicans are negotiating “to move forward to trillions of spending cuts,” as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said recently. A report from House Speaker John Boehner’s office called for “eliminating government agencies and programs” and “reducing transfer payments to households.” These changes would result in unprecedented reductions in the size of the welfare state and the American social compact as it developed over the last century.'

'Lost in this debate is an appreciation of the historical origins of the American welfare state -- long before FDR and the New Deal, after another epochal financial crash.'

'The Panic of 1873 triggered a severe international economic depression in both Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879, and even longer in some countries.'

'In the face of economic calamity and skyrocketing unemployment, the government did, well, nothing. No federal unemployment insurance eased families’ suffering and kept a floor on demand. No central bank existed to fight deflation. Large-scale government stimulus was a thing of the distant future.'

Neither party did anything - 'neither Democrats nor Republicans were inclined to challenge their corporate masters.'

'The vast disparities between rich and poor, the spectacular concentration of wealth amassed by the richest Americans in the previous two generations, and the inability of government policies to mitigate the crisis brought the nation to the edge of class warfare and social disintegration.

'The specter of a European social order, with societies irredeemably divided between aristocrats and a permanent underclass, seemed to have arrived on U.S. shores. Wealthy Americans began to fear for the stability of the social order. What force, the wealthy asked in desperation, might mitigate the social chaos and misery, and mute what one public official called “the antagonism between rich and poor”?

Today, new fortunes have been accumulated that rival those of the Gilded Age. Some of that wealth, possessed by people like Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch or Peter G. Peterson, has been used to promote cuts to social spending. Before these opponents and their allies in Congress move forward with the dismantling of the welfare state, however, they might think harder about the reasons such policies were put in place.

The Gilded Age plutocrats who first acceded to a social welfare system and state regulations did not do so from the goodness of their hearts. They did so because the alternatives seemed so much more terrifying.'
posted by VikingSword (142 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
The poor need to step up and do more, of course. Duh!
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:08 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, it's not like that same exact scenario would ever play out again!
posted by Mister_A at 1:14 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


If these bastards don't watch their step, then poor people are going to step up and do more, and it will involve torches and pitchforks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:21 PM on July 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Paul Krugman:
In general I’m not big on worrying about how we’re setting ourselves up for the next crisis; after all, we’re nowhere near done with the current crisis. Yet it is worth noting that current trends in our policy and political discourse, in addition to blocking efforts to promote recovery, are also setting the stage for a much worse crisis further down the line.
posted by russilwvong at 1:22 PM on July 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


'The Panic of 1873 triggered a severe international economic depression in both Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879

Assuming a start date of 2008, my money is on this hell lasting significantly longer than 2014.

On a side note: I'm finding today's news to be rather depressing. Going to play Nyan Cat on repeat for 20 minutes to improve my attitude.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:24 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sigh, I just hope I get to storm some barricades from this mess.
posted by The Whelk at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wind down two wars, let the Bush/(Obama) tax cuts lapse, install Single Payer to get health care costs down, and allow the recovery to continue = Road to fiscal solvency.
posted by darkstar at 1:26 PM on July 7, 2011 [45 favorites]


Yes, but they can smash up the welfare state now, as now we are monitored all the time via technology, spyed on via cameras and so on. The rulers have tanks and guns with which to keep us down. So revolting against the rulers is not going to be like Peterloo this time. They own the media, the police, the army etc etc...
posted by marienbad at 1:26 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Rand Paul repeatedly used the phrase "the rich" last night on CNN. Something's changing.
posted by No Robots at 1:27 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

President Eisenhower [socialist?].
posted by Rashomon at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [29 favorites]


What I simple fail time and time again to understand is why you would intentionally dismantle a functional government that balances the economic needs of creative destruction with the social needs for safety and security for one that simple doesn’t function. Why you would worship Capitalism while trying to ensure that the most number of people experience the worst aspects of it. I honestly don't get it.

There are many countries that can't pull it together enough to have any semblance of civil society. Countries where every person/family/clan is out for themselves and can't count on any safety net beyond this group to catch them if they experience bad luck. Places where what Americans view as shared infrastructure has to be created over and over for use by each group. I mean, why are people trying to recreate some Dickensian nightmare? What exactly is the upside to this dream that I don’t get? No one wants to move to a place like 1890’s Calcutta, but that seems to be the shining city on the hill for a certain cohort.

Why can’t the GOP leave America and live in a place where corporations are the government (Russia), Libertarians move to a place where there is no government to shackle their inner John Galts (Somalia), and the Tea Party followers go to a classroom where they can learn basic logic? Then maybe people that want a functional government could get one again.
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [73 favorites]


They own the media, the police, the army etc etc...

Suddenly flashed on Kafka's Amerika and its Statue of Liberty with a raised sword instead of a torch. And was it facing in toward shore instead of out to sea? I can't remember in the sudden dark sadness...

Then Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass started playing "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and I feel better.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:33 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rand Paul repeatedly used the phrase "the rich" last night on CNN. Something's changing.
posted by No Robots at 4:27 PM on July 7


Let's start this debate soberly and calmly with a definition of rich. Household income, personal income, maybe net worth. Or maybe you can map that to a percentile, to X% of households, or top Y% of workers, something like that. Tossing about the word "rich" like it's a pejorative is no different that tossing around "welfare state" like it's a pejorative.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:33 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


President Eisenhower [socialist?].

Not so much.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:35 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd be really happy if these assholes a) retired b) died or c) Moved to Mars.
posted by angrycat at 1:36 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


On Saturday May 1, 1886, 80 000 people marched down Michigan Avenue in Chicago under the red and black banner. On Tuesday May 4, they convened again...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:39 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


The disparity is the point of it for some. What is mere wealth if you do not know that others, many others, are beneath you? With equal wealth, how can you economically force others to accept your whims and moods? Go to a coffeeshop and watch the wealthier patrons maltreat people behind the counter for the grand total of four dollars.

If they all ran off to the Island of the Fabulously Wealthy, who would wait upon them? To drive down streets, without a chauffeur, unable to look upon the relative poor would be unbearable.

"Getting ahead" means nothing until one acknowledges that you can only be ahead of someone else.
posted by adipocere at 1:39 PM on July 7, 2011 [25 favorites]


when was the last time the US had a good old fashioned riot? The underclass in American society have been tamed by easy credit...now everyone can live like a rock star and never have to pay for it, not even the corporations. Once the bubble bursts I'm sure sucker middle class Americans will reach down deep into the pockets of their descendants and give up even more of the common wealth to bail out Visa and Mastercard, two more companies deemed "too big to fail". I just hope the actor who plays the Treasury Secty does as an amazing job as William Hurt turning a criminal into a hero.
posted by any major dude at 1:40 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pastelbagel, perhaps I should have been more expansive. To my mind, it is significant that Rand is willing to admit that there is some group that can be called "the rich." This indicates at least a rudimentary class consciousness that I have not seen previously in mainstream American political discourse.
posted by No Robots at 1:41 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


it will involve torches and pitchforks

The difference this time around is that there are more distractions: American Idol, sports, video games, etc. As well as police forces that have turned into paramilitary security operations. There will be torches and pitchforks, but at a much more manageable level.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2011


marienbad:So revolting against the rulers is not going to be like Peterloo this time. They own the media, the police, the army etc etc...

Know what we own?
The sole means of production. We completely own the means by which the very wealthy continue to get to live their very wealthy lives. We own that.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


America has a welfare state‽ Seriously‽
posted by cmonkey at 1:46 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Know what we own? The sole means of production.

We own the labor forces in China and India? And all the automated equipment implemented in the last 50 years? Cool. </sarcasm>
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:46 PM on July 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


The means of production are owned by whoever will work for the least.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why the Rich Fear Violence in the Streets (WSJ)
..trends seen throughout the world of wealth today: the rich keeping a lower profile, hiring $230,000 guard dogs, and arming their yachts, planes and cars with military-style security features.
posted by stbalbach at 1:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love it when you people talk all fiery and revolutionary.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Here is a serious question that deserves a serious answer: When you cut the budgets (or even abolish) the FDA, the EPA, and the CDC, how in the hell does capitalism "pick up the slack"? I have heard this canard repeated endlessly. That if we do away with the Federal inspection of meat, for example, that the meat industry will just police itself, in order not to alienate its customers. I think that is 100% bullshit. A laissez faire doctrine leads to more dead workers and more dead customers, but ...hey! it is industry's American right to make as much money as possible.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:48 PM on July 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


Why the Rich Fear Violence in the Streets

Well, if they want to avoid violence, maybe they should start doing all that hiring conservatives keep promising the wealthy will do right after they get yet another tax break. I'd say they're in-arrears on that bit.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:50 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ratio of Personal Transfer Receipts to Federal Government Receipts
Nearly every dime of federal government receipts goes to personal transfer payments. In theory, there should be no room for anything else, including wars, roads and bridges, and wages of federal employees. Personal Transfer Receipts examples: Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance.
posted by stbalbach at 1:52 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love it when you people talk all fiery and revolutionary.

It is pretty cute, isn't it?

Wake me when one house in the Hamptons has been burned by a mob, or a banker thrown out the window by his own employees. Or, in fact, when anything happens at all aside from some nice stencil work on the sidewalk, maybe a newspaper box set on fire, or a couple of slogan stickers placed on a vacant storefront. Days of rage my ass.
posted by aramaic at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


Go to a coffeeshop and watch the wealthier patrons maltreat people behind the counter for the grand total of four dollars

Or go to any inner-city neighborhood and watch the patrons of any small shop treat the clerk behind the counter. Bad behavior isn't linked to people with big bank accounts. Violence in the streets? The Rodney King riots didn't spread to Beverly Hills but destroyed the neighborhoods where the rioters lived.
I think the people most likely to rebel are small business owners and the self-employed. Here in LA, the city tries to impose a business tax on anyone who works out of his/her home, including freelance writers, artists, and consultants.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:55 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Know what we own? The sole means of production.

Outsourcing of services and locating production in other countries is fairly popular. All the people the ultrarich really need are:

1) a docile populace, easily led and placated (Reality TV, beer, and so forth)
2) diversion of the more contentious folk, primarily into arguing with one another via wedge issues (Democratic Party)
3) subversion of the moral flexible as bodyguards and figureheads, for the usual crumbs from the big cake.
4) poverty, prison, and silencing for those who fail to fit neatly into the above slots

So let's allow single corporations to own more and more local media and help the police to install cameras just everywhere while we quiver in terror from broadcasts by those same media outlets. Let's monitor the network to protect the children. The TSA needs to touch everyone, because of the terrorists, and wouldn't they be a great idea at bus stations? If we can just be kept too busy to look up, buying ... stuff ... or working to buy stuff, how fantastic.

People simply cannot throw their freedoms fast enough or as far away as they would like.
posted by adipocere at 1:57 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


There will be torches and pitchforks, but at a much more manageable level.

Things would have to happen massively and suddenly. Which is not how I imagine things going. More like small outbreaks, easily controlled and the participants easily marginalized and vilified.


My hope would be for a sombre, non-violent demonstration in Washington on a scale that would dwarf any of them that have come before. Ten million people on the mall, just standing silently. No speakers. No "stars".
posted by Trochanter at 1:58 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


SeanOfTheHillPeople: What I simply fail time and time again to understand is why you would intentionally dismantle a functional government that balances the economic needs of creative destruction with the social needs for safety and security for one that simply doesn’t function. Why you would worship Capitalism while trying to ensure that the most number of people experience the worst aspects of it. I honestly don't get it.

Paul Krugman:
What explains this opposition to any and all attempts [fiscal or monetary] to mitigate the economic disaster? I can think of a number of causes, but Kuttner [PDF] makes a very good point: everything we’re seeing makes sense if you think of the right as representing the interests of rentiers, of creditors who have claims from the past — bonds, loans, cash — as opposed to people actually trying to make a living through producing stuff. Deflation is hell for workers and business owners, but it’s heaven for creditors.
posted by russilwvong at 1:58 PM on July 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


Wake me when one house in the Hamptons has been burned by a mob, or a banker thrown out the window by his own employees. Or, in fact, when anything happens at all aside from some nice stencil work on the sidewalk, maybe a newspaper box set on fire, or a couple of slogan stickers placed on a vacant storefront. Days of rage my ass.

When those things happen, liberals and progressives will be first in line to denounce them, trust me. Don't you know that we achieve change by asking power politely to restrain itself?
posted by Frowner at 1:59 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


What I simple fail time and time again to understand is why you would intentionally dismantle a functional government that balances the economic needs of creative destruction with the social needs for safety and security for one that simple doesn’t function

You wouldn't, of course. But you're working from a different set of premises than those you disagree with. That the current system is indeed functional, that the current system is sustainable on the money we have, and that there are no better options.

All of which premises are themselves the stuff of barroom brawls.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:02 PM on July 7, 2011


By which I mean, "one wouldn't." Please assume no sneering tone in that "you wouldn't".
posted by IndigoJones at 2:03 PM on July 7, 2011


We own the labor forces in China and India? And all the automated equipment implemented in the last 50 years?

No masses of foreign are going to build the houses of the wealthy (or fix their toilets when they break). No foreign workers are going to man the registers at Walmart in order to make Sam Walton's family insanely rich. Neither will they be serving them their meals at Le Grande Bourgeoisie or coming to their homes when their computers break or acting as underpaid bank tellers. We do all that and a lot more besides.

Feeling helpless is what you are meant to feel . The massive strikes in Britain lately , in Greece and the recent protests in Iceland - not to mention the worker strikes right here in America back in the early 1900's all point to the fact that we are far from helpless. Organizing the very real power that the American workforce has and then acting on it is the wealthy elite's greatest fear.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


The disparity is the point of it for some.
Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality. Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats.
via digby
posted by enn at 2:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Everything is for the Best in this the Best of all possible democracies.
posted by Postroad at 2:10 PM on July 7, 2011


Organizing the very real power that the American workforce has and then acting on it is the wealthy elite's greatest fear.

If we could find a practical way to get every minimum-wage worker in the US to strike for a few days without a) their kids going hungry or b) herds of unemployed people flocking to be scabs, it could be a good start.

But I can't work out a practical way to do that.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:12 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, and the rest of us would strike too, but it's the min-wagers that would matter.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:13 PM on July 7, 2011


No masses of foreign are going to build the houses of the wealthy...
You have obviously not checked-out the work crews on most new home sites.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:13 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


No masses of foreign are going to build the houses of the wealthy (or fix their toilets when they break). No foreign workers are going to man the registers at Walmart in order to make Sam Walton's family insanely rich. Neither will they be serving them their meals at Le Grande Bourgeoisie or coming to their homes when their computers break or acting as underpaid bank tellers. We do all that and a lot more besides.

A guest worker program that is exempt from a minimum wage would easily handle this. American workers are in no way indispensable to the rich.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:14 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


(Or lax enforcement of immigration law)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:15 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hell, we don't need to go on strike. Just stop buying so much stuff. WalMart goes away if nobody buys the extra tub of lard-infused dessert topping.

That if we do away with the Federal inspection of meat, for example, that the meat industry will just police itself, in order not to alienate its customers. I think that is 100% bullshit.

And you would be right. In more ways than one.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:18 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


The underclass in American society have been tamed by easy credit...

The underclass is America has been tamed by a potent and all pervasive ideology which teaches them that their poverty is all their own fault, a result of lack of resolve or strength or family values or what have you. It's a form of internalized oppression that I'm not sure will ever be shaken off-- especially when the idea of joining together in common grievance with the aim of getting redress from the powers that be is considered heretical and communistic (the Tea Party may look like a grass roots uprising, but it's not grass roots and its aims are absolutely aligned with that of the rich and the upper classes).
posted by jokeefe at 2:21 PM on July 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality.

It really does bear repeating that there are conservatives and there are conservatives just as there are liberals and there are liberals. Granted that some see "conservatism" it as a way of fudging the spoils in there favor - but there are plenty of plutocrats in the democratic party as well. I've known plenty of egalitarian meritocratic conservatives and a whole bunch of Bollinger bolsheviks.

Brush me no broad brushes. Let me see how you well, or even if, you tip the waiter.

WalMart goes away if nobody buys the extra tub of lard-infused dessert topping.

If only. And then, if they are the only game in town because the drove every other shop into ruin and then they leave, well, hard times in the country.

Ideally, they might have been broken up in the nineties, but at the time, Hillary Clinton was on the board of directors....
posted by IndigoJones at 2:22 PM on July 7, 2011


A guest worker program that is exempt from a minimum wage would easily handle this. American workers are in no way indispensable to the rich.

That assumes that the United States keeps being the destination of choice for immigrants. If the economy continues to fall, the welfare state (such as it is) is cut back even more, the education system continues to crumble, and so on might we see more immigrants finding greener pastures less similar to where they came from?

I'm not saying this would happen in the near future, but at some point, obviously immigrants would have to see other nations as being a better place for them than an ex-superpower. Especially if other nations, seeing the importance of foreign labor loosen their own immigration laws with a stronger welfare state.
posted by tittergrrl at 2:23 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Tea Party could morph into a populist movement dangerous for all existing political formations.
posted by No Robots at 2:25 PM on July 7, 2011


that the meat industry will just police itself, in order not to alienate its customers. I think that is 100% bullshit.

When corporations can no longer disassociate themselves from their criminal activities they just change their names. Look how many names Suez water goes by to keep people from researching their scorched earth policies regarding the purchase of municipal water supplies around the world until it's too late:

Ondeo, Aqua Chem, Degrmont, Nalco, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, Calgon, Elyo,
Trigen Energy, United Water Resources, SITA, Groupe GTM, Tractabel.


This is how a corporation polices themselves. The "name" committed the crime, not the executives running the company. For more on this see Rupert Murdoch's dissolution of the News of the World when by all rights he should be drummed out of the news business if for nothing else but for running too big of an empire that he himself could not root out the corruption in his system.
posted by any major dude at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]



At the rate things are going, by the time 2012 rolls around, and I walk into a voting booth, I wll stare at it blankly for about five minutes and then turn on my heel and walk out without casting one vote.


I'm glad I'm in my fifties. I feel sorry for you young folks just starting out. Sincerely.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:30 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


When I think of armed revolt, I actually see it starting Spartacus style in the private prison/slave labor system and working outwards.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:30 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad I'm in my fifties. I feel sorry for you young folks just starting out. Sincerely.

I'm glad I'm in my fifties, too, and may well live to see a socialist Amerika.
posted by No Robots at 2:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The underclass in American society have been tamed by easy credit...

The underclass in American society has been enslaved and ruined by easy credit.

Thirty years ago, Suze Orman would not have had a TV show.

I wll stare at it blankly for about five minutes and then turn on my heel and walk out without casting one vote.

I urge you to vote for a fringe candidate. It will encourage the dreamers and if enough of us do so, it might unnerve the powers that be. Doing nothing is just fruitless surrender.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:33 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


What exactly is the upside to this dream that I don’t get? No one wants to move to a place like 1890’s Calcutta, but that seems to be the shining city on the hill for a certain cohort.

"Rawls would have us imagine the worse endowed persons say something like the following: 'Look, better endowed: you gain by cooperating with us. If you want our cooperation you'll have to accept reasonable terms. We suggest these terms: We'll cooperate with you only if we get as much as possible. That is, the terms of our cooperation should give us that maximal share such that, if it was tried to give us more, we'd end up with less.' How generous these proposed terms are might be seen by imagining that the better endowed make the almost symmetrical opposite proposal: 'Look, worse endowed: you gain by cooperating with us. If you want our cooperation you'll have to accept reasonable terms. We suggest these terms: We'll cooperate with you only if we get as much as possible. That is, the terms of our cooperation should give us that maximal share such that, if it was tried to give us more, we'd end up with less.' If these terms seem outrageous, as they are, why don't the terms proposed by the worse endowed seem the same? Why shouldn't the better endowed treat this latter proposal as beneath consideration, supposing someone to have the nerve explicitly to state it?" -- Robert Nozick, Anarchy, state, and utopia
posted by blucevalo at 2:33 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think most people would agree that the collusion of the ruling governmental elites and the monied class is problematic. In fact it seems that for the most part governmental elites are composed of the monied class. However I'm not sure that it is the only part of the problem.

The US worker has developed an almost irrational attitude towards work and the role of organized labor in improving the standard of life for all citizens. Increasingly people are willing to put up with long hours, with low pay, with limited benefits because they feel like that's acceptable. We have it drilled into our head from an early age that they only thing we need to succeed is to work hard. Furthermore at some point in time the national narrative about labor unions seemed to shift from necessary check on unrestrained capital interests to leeches that prevent efficiency and line their own pockets.

While technology and training is liable to be responsible for the increases in productivity driving corporate profits upwards it doesn't seem to be translating to increased hiring or increased worker salaries and wages. Capital basically sitting on the fence waiting. Obviously they could take a risk and hire some people but as long as they are seeing significant profits based upon productivity gains it seems unlikely that they are going to take the risk.

It seems that this would be a great time for labor unions to step up and demand a greater percentage of the wealth generated by productivity gains, or better benefits, or reduced work hours etc. That would redress part of the growing income gap. The problem is that we aren't stepping up and demanding our fair share of the economic pie. As long as the average American can afford cheap consumer goods made overseas in factories with even more disparate labor-capital relationships and can afford a moderately sized single family home they seem to be content to allow elites to siphon off a greater and greater percentage of the fruits of our labor.

We should expect out elected officials to look out for the collective best interest but failing that we should be willing to get off our assess and organize direct action if we want our lot in life to improve.
posted by vuron at 2:34 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why do people think that violence will change things? There is violence every day in the impoverished inner city, mostly against other impoverished residents. When it occurs against more privileged people, the leash around the inner city residents just gets tighter.
posted by desjardins at 2:39 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did Nader's candidacy make Gore any more leftish? Honest question (I mean, I think the answer is no, but how would one measure this? would be interested to hear from those who thought Nader accomplished anything positive in his presidential runs).

This is response to those who urge voting for a third party.
posted by angrycat at 2:40 PM on July 7, 2011


I'm glad I'm in my fifties, too, and may well live to see a socialist Amerika.

You're going to have to live through some seriously scary times before that ever happens here, my friend. This country is poised to swing hard in entirely the opposite direction.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:41 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


marienbad: "Yes, but they can smash up the welfare state now, as now we are monitored all the time via technology, spyed on via cameras and so on. The rulers have tanks and guns with which to keep us down. So revolting against the rulers is not going to be like Peterloo this time. They own the media, the police, the army etc etc..."

Or, as Souls of Mischief said:

"The got the FBI, CIA,
ATF, DEA,
big guns for pay
yeah, plus them armed forces and them fools don't play
and the coppers that you see everyday"
posted by symbioid at 2:42 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't every penny of welfare get spent on something? So it goes straight into the pockets of business, via the wellbeing of the people to whom it is given?

How that can be compared to defence, where the money is literally destroyed, is ... well. Not beyond me. I understand what's going on.

But it makes me sigh.

Good luck, America.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:43 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Democracy and capitalism may not be compatible.
posted by fuq at 2:46 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I don't get the fetishization for violent revolution. It's not a cure-all. Most of the time, the problems of old regime transfer to the new one, but the new regime is just much poorer. And that's IF there's only one new regime.

And, based on precedence, it's plain ugly when large and populous countries undergo revolution.

India's independence and partition resulted in millions displaced, millions dead, and the country eventually split 3 ways (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh).

Imperial China started fragmenting in the mid-19th century, and finished in the mid-20th. The country basically became run by a bunch of warlords and colonizers and had to deal with modernization, a drug war, multiple civil wars, two regional wars (Sino-French, Sino-Japanese), and being jumped by a belligerent Imperial Japan.
posted by FJT at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Poet_Lariat: "marienbad:So revolting against the rulers is not going to be like Peterloo this time. They own the media, the police, the army etc etc...

Know what we own?
The sole means of production. We completely own the means by which the very wealthy continue to get to live their very wealthy lives. We own that.
"

Shame nothing is, you know... produced in America.
posted by symbioid at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2011


Shame nothing is, you know... produced in America.

It's purchased here though. That's the means nowadays -- in the end, it's still our dollars the rich are rolling around in Scrooge McDuck style.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:51 PM on July 7, 2011


I don't get the fetishization for violent revolution.

In part, it's just natural impotent frustration and rage. Hell, I'm a pacifist, and part of me would be genuinely happy to see all those Wall Street and banking and real estate bastards (for starters) frog-marched up to a god damn guillotine. "Up against the wall, motherfuckers," is unfortunately what sometimes happens when people are treated like shit long enough, despite the fact that you typically end up with a reign of terror.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:54 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


@adipocere: Go to a coffeeshop and watch the wealthier patrons maltreat people behind the counter for the grand total of four dollars.

Because, of course, the less well off never maltreat those they perceive, or want to portray, as beneath them. I don't particularly disagree that some people get off on making themselves feel superior to somebody, and occasionally anybody, but the idea that this is somehow a trait exclusive to the well off is, frankly, a load of shit.
posted by kjs3 at 2:59 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


In my current role as a counterparty risk analyst, I generally try to steer clients away from mitigating risk based on "Black Swan" scenarios. However, the US seems to have turned into one big black swan breeding ground.

An inherently unstable system is more likely to suffer outsized consequences from unexpected events, and we've already got one side of that equation down.
posted by digitalprimate at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why can’t the GOP leave America and live in a place where corporations are the government (Russia), Libertarians move to a place where there is no government to shackle their inner John Galts (Somalia), and the Tea Party followers go to a classroom where they can learn basic logic? Then maybe people that want a functional government could get one again.

I'm reminded of Michael Caine's character (Frank Jones) when he finally tracks down and confronts Sir John Gielgud's aristocratic communist sympathizer (Sir Adrian Chapple) in "Whistle Blower". Jones challenges the ideological communist Chapple and asks why, if Chapple were so enamored of communism and disparaging of capitalism, did he not simply leave England and defect to Russia? Why does he instead live in the lap of luxury as a privileged member of the nobility, amid a society he purports to loathe?

Chapple disparagingly retorts that he (Chapple) knew he should not have expected Jones to understand. To which Jones retorts, "I'll tell you why...because your kind always manage to have your cake and eat it."

Libertarians and conservative ideologues - the most vocal of them - don't really want to live in a country that has a government so small you can drown it in a bathtub. They generaly like nice roads and Medicare and all the things that come with having a government that's able to keep things running smoothly, and which maintains a semblance of a stable marketplace and can step in and set things back on track - especially when capitalists screw things up badly. They like all the government pork that is funneled back to their own neighborhoods that keeps people employed and the standard of living elevated. They like safe food for themselves and their pets, safe cars, etc.

They like the infrastructure humming along nicely, so they can take advantage of all kinds of business opportunities and life chances that simply wouldn't be available if the government were to let it all go and expect the private sector to handle it.

They just don't want to have to pay for it. And they surely don't want to pay for OTHER people getting those things, whom they think are probably undeserving. It's simply selfishness, greed and tribalism expressing itself as a political ideology with a thin veneer of respectability.
posted by darkstar at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [48 favorites]


Shame nothing is, you know... produced in America.

The US tops the list of 10-top industrial producers followed by China, Japan and Germany. Brazil was at the bottom of the list. "Ranks are not stable due to close competition of emerging economies. In the coming years, Russia, Mexico and Spain might increase their share and occupy higher position," he said.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:04 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Shame nothing is, you know... produced in America.

The US is the fourth largest exporter in the world (third if you don't count the EU as one thing).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Tea Party could morph into a populist movement dangerous for all existing political formations.

Yes. This strikes me as the #1 existential risk for the US. I am not a fan of populist movements, they always end badly.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:08 PM on July 7, 2011


Because, of course, the less well off never maltreat those they perceive, or want to portray, as beneath them. I don't particularly disagree that some people get off on making themselves feel superior to somebody, and occasionally anybody, but the idea that this is somehow a trait exclusive to the well off is, frankly, a load of shit.

Oh, it's hardly exclusive. In fact, that's one of the great ironies of the system. "It's my day off, I have ten dollars. I'll buy a croissant and treat a teenager like dirt." People have always aped their "betters."

It's turtles all the way down with humans, who would like to have the nicest house on the street, even if they are in a bad neighborhood. CEOs rent senators, senators rent aides, and so on and so forth.
posted by adipocere at 3:17 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


No masses of foreign are going to build the houses of the wealthy (or fix their toilets when they break). No foreign workers are going to man the registers at Walmart in order to make Sam Walton's family insanely rich. Neither will they be serving them their meals at Le Grande Bourgeoisie or coming to their homes when their computers break or acting as underpaid bank tellers.

They already do. That's why illegal immigration (and legal immigration, too, for cheap labor), for all the Teabaggers' wailing and gnashing of teeth, is wholeheartedly embraced by America's upper classes, and will be for the forseeable future. They build the houses of the wealthy. They pick the fruit and slaughters the animals on assembly lines. They cook the meals at Le Grande Bourgeoisie. They clean the hotel rooms (and occasionally get sexually assaulted by French politicians). You think the powers-that-be want to mess with that? They'll do occasional raids to show Joe Exurban Six-Pack that they're fightin' the brown hordes, and spend money on border fences, robots and other gimmicks, but it's all for show. Whether it's Steve Ballmer needing H1-Bs to drive down IT wages or Smithfield Farms needing to push down the costs of dismembering millions of pigs, they will get what they want.

Personally, I'd like to see an amnesty with a raise in the minimum wage and protections for unions (and vigorous enforcement). But that ain't going to happen for a while. Look at California, where Jerry Brown, pallbearer of Cesar Chavez, didn't sign the bill aiding farmworker unionization. The best underclass is the one with no legal rights. But don't worry - judging from the efforts of Teabagger governors to mess with the very structure of elections, I'm sure that a lot of poor native-born Amurrkans will be joining that voiceless underclass soon.
posted by jhandey at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


>I am not a fan of populist movements, they always end badly.

We up here north of 49 have had some success with them. My political hero is Henry Wise Wood, who came here from Missouri.
posted by No Robots at 3:24 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That assumes that the United States keeps being the destination of choice for immigrants.

Anecdotal point of data: I had my change of status interview with the USCIS within two months of submitting my I-485 and the wait for green cards to come through is about two weeks.

For reference the first is usually 3-6 months and the latter usually 6-8 weeks.
posted by Talez at 3:39 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've given up. I realize that as soon as my phd is done, I am going to have to leave the country. My health is such that I am unfit for any job outside of academia, and even with what healthcare coverage I can get through my husband's job right now, if things get much worse with my health or his, we will be drowning in debt, even if one of us gets lucky enough to be declared sick enough to qualify for disability.

I'm watching my grandparents, who worked hard every day of their lives up until retirement, well past the normal age for their generation, now struggle to be able to survive and find healthcare for themselves as they reach their 90s, and my own parents are in no position to help out more than just barely, due to being in their mid 60s and still working full time jobs just to make ends meet and get healthcare for their own health problems. That I am 30, and already have more health problems than them, and each month seems to bring something worse with it, scares me, especially since I will never have children to take care of me.

Why? Because I can't afford to have children, at all, primarily because of my healthcare bills. Oh sure, I could have a kid, but then who would take care of it, and pay for its food, medical bills, etc? I couldn't, that is for sure. And I don't have the energy to take care of a child, nor does my husband, because what energy I do have is put towards working (both towards my degree, and teaching to pay my tuition and fees and what not), as is his, so that we can feed ourselves and pay our medical bills. And what right do I have to have a kid, knowing that the next day I may be back in the ER, unable to take care of my kid, and unable to find someone to take care of them, when my husband is at work or dead tired from working 12-15 hours?

What's going to happen when I'm unable to work enough to get insurance? What's going to happen when I can't make enough money to make ends meet? At this rate, the people in power seemed determined to let people like my grandparents, my parents, and me die slow, painful deaths because the government, and by proxy the people, cannot be bothered to think of those of us who, through no fault of our own, require medical care just to stay alive and functioning in society.
posted by strixus at 3:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


darkstar: Wind down two wars, let the Bush/(Obama) tax cuts lapse, install Single Payer to get health care costs down, and allow the recovery to continue = Road to fiscal solvency.

And for the daring: add in some infrastructure re-dos and perhaps some tax credits/rebates/cheap loans aimed at improving the energy efficiency of the current building stock, and we'd be well on our way to a prosperous 21st century.

Far too reasonable to ever happen, of course. But a guy can dream.
posted by notyou at 3:54 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The US tops the list of 10-top industrial producers followed by China, Japan and Germany. Brazil was at the bottom of the list. "Ranks are not stable due to close competition of emerging economies. In the coming years, Russia, Mexico and Spain might increase their share and occupy higher position," he said.

But aggregate numbers don't tell the whole story; the size of our economy skews them. What's important is what is manufacturing as a percentage of GDP, and what is the trend. As late as 1980, manufacturing in the US was 20% of GDP. Last year, I believe it was less than 12%. Some numbers from 2008 are here.

If the trend continues - and there's no sign that it won't - our situation will only get worse.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:58 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


vuron: "Furthermore at some point in time the national narrative about labor unions seemed to shift from necessary check on unrestrained capital interests to leeches that prevent efficiency and line their own pockets."

Kind of like when a supposed "liberal" company holds you hostage on your first day and makes you watch a video like this.
posted by symbioid at 4:02 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, symbioid. I'm surprised that that video is legal.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:08 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


(god, I hate that I'm saying this, because it gets into the xenophobic shit I hate)...

When they're giving stats on manufacturing in the links you guys gave, saying the US is in the top 10 (or 4th according to the other comment) do they mean these are American workers? Or do they mean these are American companies producing it? Because if they're counting Levi jeans made in Bangladesh or whatever as American Manufacturing, then the stats are completely bogus.

I don't know either way, I would like to find out for sure, though, if anyone knows what these stats actually mean (US company+foreign workers or US Company+US Workers or even Foreign Company+US Workers (isn't there a fairly new plant owned by ... Nissan is it? that opened in the past couple years in the south (Kentucky?))
posted by symbioid at 4:09 PM on July 7, 2011


In fact, that's one of the great ironies of the system. "It's my day off, I have ten dollars. I'll buy a croissant and treat a teenager like dirt." People have always aped their "betters."

If anything, the aping is the other way around. Thanks to popular culture, no one wants to imitate some lady from Back Bay Boston. People don't think they have "betters"--people with lots of money aren't perceived as having better public behavior or manners. And buy a croissant from a teenager? Maybe if you live in Utah, but here in LA, those jobs are filled by grown-ups.
I'm all for paying for government services, if such were delivered. In California, nothing functions the way it was designed to. Maybe at the top levels of federal agencies--dept of State and such, there are brilliant, hardworking government employees. But at most levels I deal with, people aren't inspired to do more than collect their wages and wait for retirement.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:45 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks to popular culture, no one wants to imitate some lady from Back Bay Boston. People don't think they have "betters"--people with lots of money aren't perceived as having better public behavior or manners.

Maybe they should. Want to imitate, that is.

There is no automatic corollary between money and shitty behavior.

Or being a lady from Back Bay Boston and shitty behavior, for that matter. Rather the opposite, in my experience.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Much of the US' export success is in armaments. Which isn't going away any time soon, at the very least your political institutions have embedded that as a national specialisation. (yay for your team).
posted by wilful at 5:29 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, symbioid. I'm surprised that that video is legal.

I walked into a Target store as they unlocked the doors for the morning. All of the employees were gathered around what I assume was the store manager, who was giving them their morning pep talk.

"Team leaders, let's keep those aisles clean. Let's stay ahead of our retailing, make everything pretty and square. How's everyone feel today? Are we pumped? Bring it in."

Damn near every person in the circle tried not to roll their eyes while they put their hand in the center.

"Okay guys, remember: we're not Wal-Mart; we're Target!"

If you ever gasp in horror at some of the ideas you see in internal corporate structures, remember that the only type of personality that gets that excited, or does a good job of pretending to be that excited, about mundane or stupid ideas are the ones that get promoted. Only the most doggedly loyal to their hierarchy, when push moves to shove, are going to make it through the politics of their company. They're the people who gladly give up their social lives to sacrifice everything for their workplace, and eventually they develop a sort of Stockholm syndrome for the entity that feasts on their lives like a vulture does on a corpse. The company, but not the people in it, become their family, their identity, their tribal brand that they obsess about for most of their conscious hours.

This is the behavior you see in Congressmen becoming teary eyed at the very thought of Wall Street, of capitalists who looked us straight in the camera when they said they had to violate their fundamental economic principles in order to save their economic system because it worked so well without government interference. They need a third vacation home. They need a seven car garage. They need a media room, and a library, and a living room, and a den, and matching flat screens with touch remotes for all of them, because their life is things. They are nothing without their things. They have no thoughts that aren't about some ultimately meaningless market projection, which they often get wrong.

They're desperately holding on for the moment, but nowadays they can't even hold an economic summit without drawing tens of thousands of protestors. They have to turn modern western cities into Stalingrad for a few weeks because they are so terrified of the populace that they can't say their ideas out loud in public. I hope they decide to curb their own greed before a moment of violence erupts into something that will be bad for everyone, but it looks like they are once again falling into their favorite trap: over-valuing and over-leveraging their assets. As the past few decades have shown, this appears to be all that they know how to do.
posted by notion at 5:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [22 favorites]


Part of the problem is the reigning economic ideology in Washington, deficit hysteria, is so deeply out of touch with reality. This is true for the Republicans as well as the Democrats.
posted by wuwei at 6:30 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


strixus, I hate to tell you this but I think a lot of the nice places to emigrate to are pretty picky about the health status of the people they let in, especially the ones with universal health care. They don't want to admit people who are going to be a huge net drain on the system.

I remember looking longingly at some of the Canada immigration information at one point, and the degree-less-ness is something I can fix in theory, but my lifelong medical condition is not. It's discouraging.
posted by marble at 7:11 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


All of the "RAR RAR FIGHT THE POWAH!" let's duke it out in the street types...

Remember, there is ONE thing we, the middle class, do control:

The technology.

How many IT workers out there own a yacht? None. Just the CEOs of the tech companies. Do you think they know the first thing about their Exchange servers?

I seem to recall a disgruntled IT worker wh locked up his company's email and refused to open it up, even after they sent him to jail.

That's all we gotta do. We walk right into the servers, tell the executives and the rich smug assholes "Hey. I got your PDA locked down, I know what websites you visit, I know your online banking passwords, and I got some emails that could make for an expensive divorce settlement...

We can make things fair, or I could have some fun. What would you prefer?"
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:18 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I love the welfare state. It removes one layer of anxiety, though it is absurd that I know people who are unemployed who are getting as much from the government as I do working.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:39 PM on July 7, 2011


It's too soon to talk of revolution and barricades. It underestimates the problem - we are still waiting for an idea to arise out of the ashes of 20th century communism. (And good riddance to 20th century communism.)
posted by AlsoMike at 7:44 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


symbioid: "do they mean these are American workers? Or do they mean these are American companies producing it?"

This is the distinction between GDP and GNP. Gross domestic product is the market value of all final goods and services produced within a region in a given period of time; gross national product is the market value of all final goods and services produced by the nationals of a given country in a given period of time.

So the products made by a Japanese-owned plant in the US count towards the US GDP and the Japanese GNP. So if the graph cites GDP or GNP data, that's how you know.

Of course, both measures are bullshit (well, misused, at best), but that's another story.
posted by kprincehouse at 7:46 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]




It's too soon to talk of revolution and barricades. It underestimates the problem - we are still waiting for an idea to arise out of the ashes of 20th century communism. (And good riddance to 20th century communism.)


European style socialism?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's no point in trying to retaliate against the super-rich or their political associates. They are all so entrenched with so many redundant safety nets that none of them are even worried about it.

The only way to cause worry is to make elected officials accountable. I would start by docking their pay as was recently done to legislators here in California. On the other side of the coin, though, I wouldn't oppose paying them so effin' much that they would be untouchable; give them a reason to have primary allegiance to the constituents they're supposed to be representing in the first place.
posted by snsranch at 7:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


European style socialism?

There was a big swing to the left and the right in Europe in the wake of the Great Depression. This time, it's only to the right: austerity measures and anti-immigrant politics. Some populist rage, but there's no real program they are agitating for, they're just trying to hold on to what they have. In the US, social security is on the table for cuts. There are no political consequences to what they're trying to do, so they will just keep doing it.

If there is hope for European-style social democratic welfare state in the US, of all times we should be seeing it now.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:24 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rand Paul repeatedly used the phrase "the rich" last night on CNN. Something's changing.

Um, is this comment meant to suggest that Rand Paul and his ilk are the voice of the American underclass? That his political policies will somehow result in a more equitable, just, egalitarian society? Because, if so, pardon me while I laugh hysterically then choke on my tears.

Rand Paul and all the rest of the Tea Party Insurgency (the politicians, that is) have absolutely 0 interest in pushing back against their corporate masters (who, in some cases, are themselves or their close friends/relatives). They want to bootlick just as much as the rest, just maybe different boots or altered tongue movement. And they want to make sure that a certain group of formerly uber-privileged, now somewhat less-privileged people (upper middle class WASPS) don't have to be the ones to bear the burden/whips and lashes required to construct the new pyramids. I'll grant you that Tea Partiers may actually have some investment in maintaining a middle class -- as opposed to Cheney-neocons who want to squash everyone who isn't a member of their exclusive country club -- but the middle class that the Tea Party wants is a very, very limited one.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:38 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


jhandey: They cook the meals at Le Grande Bourgeoisie.

At first I thought that said 'they cook the METH at Le Grande Bourgeoisie." And I was all, like, whoa.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:49 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


All I know is that news of the Arab Spring has really been toned down.
Especially as it happened in Egypt. The fact that it's now bogged down or turned into scary armed insurrections is something most Americans would fear, and mob violence is ugly, I don't care who does it or why, people in mobs lose reason.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:12 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


>Um, is this comment meant to suggest that Rand Paul and his ilk are the voice of the American underclass?

Not at all. I'm just saying that it is helpful when discussing politics with people like Pastabagel to be able to point out that even Rand Paul accepts that there exists an identifiable group that we can call "the rich." That something so simple is such a huge step forward just shows how puerile American political discourse has become.
posted by No Robots at 9:46 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's no solution to running out of money. The immediate battle ahead is the blame game and who can win an election with it. Romney can blame Obama, and Obama can blame the wealthy (because Obama can't blame Walmart for selling out America to China when the poor still shop there).

Must say that it's an amazing feat that Republicans can still pretend to save us with tax talk, but when Americans are bitter they vote against people, not for them, so they only need to facilitate their anger. Obama needs to visibly dress down as of yesterday, maybe wear a hard hat everywhere. Then he needs to make a radical campaign suggestion to endear him to the vanishing middle class who is divided. He needs to rename the iincome tax as a DISPOSABLE income tax, and then flat tax "excessive" income specifically. Then we're just debating the only rate that matters. It's generations late in coming, but it will work for the economy, because the middle class with spend their tax reductions on things that make a big difference. Conservatives will be reeling and vomiting after their stale tax memes take on new life from Obama's lips.

Finally, Obama needs to sail into a familiar storm of his choosing, perhaps revising the public health option by making a very big deal about conservatives pretending sick people can get insurance somewhere, and offering to pay exactly half of all claims for anyone who qualifies, even sending them abroad for treatment, and use it as a pioneer program to control costs and batch buy medications. The insurance companies will see no threat to their business model, and then start signing them up as co-insurers. He might even get lucky here, but he can't lose a debate that he refuses to give up.
posted by Brian B. at 10:27 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


marble, the only things wrong with me are as follows: rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic pain condition (that requires an inexpensive, non addictive drug to manage to a level I can generally get by with mild opiate pain killers), and chronic neuropathy (tingling in one hand). I get a kidney stone or three about ever 2 years. However, all three of my chronic problems have flareups unexpectedly, randomly, and without any warning or cause.

These combined conditions make me virtually unemployable in the States outside of an academic setting. There are some days it is illegal for me to drive. There are some days I will wake up, and be unable to get out of bed. There are some days that I can't type. I can't do extended periods of standing. And I can't raise a child, or work an office job (I've tried), or do any of the sorts of jobs anyone thinks of as being a last ditch job (see all of the above problems, plus being "over-qualified").

I'm not a net drain on our current system by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not a public health risk. I've been in the ER once this year so far, and only needed 4 weeks of physical therapy (severe ankle sprain). None of my organs are set to fail. I don't need any transplants. I don't require mobility aids (yet!) and none of my drugs are that expensive anywhere else in the world by here (I've checked, trust me). And I don't intend to move until I have a job waiting for me wherever I am going. But it scares me, every day I wait further is a day my husband may lose his job, or something happens to one of us that we can't pay for even with the insurance we have. What if my appendix goes? What if there are complications from a kidney stone? What if?

I have no safety net here, nor does my husband. My parents, who worked hard every day of their lives, who scrimped and saved their entire lives have no savings because of their own aging bodies betraying them. And my grandparents, who had savings, and who worked their asses off, have no safety net now, because the one they were told would be there isn't able to provide for them. And I know I can't work nearly as hard as any of them did. I'm not physically capable of being a trucker, or packing milk, or working 19 hours a day or more 3+ days in a row. And what thanks would I get for that now, if I did?
posted by strixus at 10:46 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Obama needs to visibly dress down as of yesterday, maybe wear a hard hat everywhere.

Not sure if serious...
posted by codswallop at 11:24 PM on July 7, 2011


Civilization costs money. If we're to cheap to pay for it, pretty soon we won't have one.
posted by and for no one at 11:57 PM on July 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Not sure if serious...

I'll be counting the photo ops with hard hats this time, and I bet the Republican wins it. He shouldn't be photographed outside of a hard hat context either, but maybe a chef hat at a barbeque. And always stay away from pretending to be an enlisted person in the military, unless you're not the commander in chief.
posted by Brian B. at 12:20 AM on July 8, 2011


strixus, my heart breaks to read your story (and to know that it's far from unusual, in the States). When people in America talk about "freedom" and so on, I want to say that genuine freedom can be experienced in knowing that you can leave your job or start a business (or even get a divorce) without having to worry about losing your health care. It makes all the difference in the world, as you know.
posted by jokeefe at 12:28 AM on July 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Weakening the safety net will just accelerate our movement towards social change. Our government and the wealthy both rely on the majority of the country to play their game. They are relatively few and they are highly vulnerable. Regardless of where things are made, they all have to move through US ports and roads. And no matter how nice your castle is, you are going to want to go out from time to time without getting harassed.

If enough people become disenfranchised. They will be forced to create their own system. Even better is if people voluntarily avoid the current capital system and put their energy towards darknet economies, resilient communities and hyper-local manufacturing.

It's going to be difficult and uncomfortable, but all change is. I am personally looking forward to it.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:41 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brian B., can you tell me how the federal government can run out of money in an operational sense?
posted by wuwei at 12:58 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remember, there is ONE thing we, the middle class, do control:

The technology.


Other things too: doctors, many lawyers and teachers are middle-class. Small-business people too. Pretty much anything that actually makes a contribution to society that requires technical skill or training is done by a middle-class person.

And this is the thing that always bugs me: middle-class people have far more in common with the working class than they do with people at the top.

If you are a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, a freelancer, an IT professional, a researcher... you are a worker. Even a small business owner has more in common with a worker than a financier or a business owner - although there is a huge industry dedicated to pretending otherwise.
posted by lucien_reeve at 1:09 AM on July 8, 2011


If we could find a practical way to get every minimum-wage worker in the US to strike for a few days without a) their kids going hungry or b) herds of unemployed people flocking to be scabs, it could be a good start.

But I can't work out a practical way to do that.


It isn't easy, but it takes long term planning. You save up money. You create networks that can exist independently of your workplace. Perhaps even set up worker owned businesses that can compete, directly, with your former employer during the time of the strike, to provide necessities.

But basically you are taking on people who want to keep you enslaved (which might sound a bit melodramatic to some, but seems more and more to be the plain and ugly truth). Which means you have to be patient, cunning and work together.

Also remember that you should be counter-attacking against them. There are things you can do to make their life unbearable and cost them even more money than just the strike.

One major problem here is that dominance requires power and power springs from aggression. But aggression is something that the dominant group socializes out of the subordinate group. So, the people who most need to fight for and aggressively assert their true worth are the people who have been taught from birth to respect authority and to not fight back. Because if you started to feel entitled to the same treatment as a rich person...
posted by lucien_reeve at 1:15 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Former Reagan advisor / Bush Sr. Treasury official Bruce Bartlett was dead-on about the problem when speaking before the House of Representatives yesterday.

He made it clear that to not raise the debt ceiling would be an incredibly destructive act that would hurt every American, and arguably one that the White House could resolve without Republican approval, based on Constitutional and national security grounds... and if they did, who could stop them from doing so?!

He also closed up with a killer quote to wrap things up, that should make every serious Republican stop and reflect for a minute on this extortionist's game of chicken their party is playing with our economy...

"This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequences of a default – or even the serious prospect of default – by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result."

- Ronald Reagan, 1983
posted by markkraft at 3:19 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brian B., can you tell me how the federal government can run out of money in an operational sense?

I would refer to you this basic explanation. Then maybe this one (though I haven't read it, but the title grabs me.) Nor am I necessarily advocating the fed system, or even the idea of money itself.
posted by Brian B. at 7:08 AM on July 8, 2011


I sometimes think that things like,

the Maker Movement

Homesteaders
Homeschoolers
DIY foodies
Cypherpunks
DIY music
Repstraps
Wikis
open source software
backyard metal casters
Etsy
And even, Preppers

Are all a result of a feeling of loss of control that exists at large in society. That people are taking back into their hands as much of their lives as they can. I think it has been going on since before the current economic troubles. But I do think they may offer a possible way out of the current paradigm. If I can trade pickles for a 3d printed part for a tractor and find and make the connections without a Walmart or Target to broker the deal, I think that could be just the sort of thing that leads many to step away from the larger economy.

Of course as soon as that sort of thing becomes a significant threat to the economy I expect government to crack down.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 8:38 AM on July 8, 2011


The problem isn't "the rich" - they make up such an infintissimally small % of the electorate that they don't swing elections. On their own, although their money certainly helps.

The problem is the dude making 75k a year, driving his leased escalade who thinks its in his interest to vote in support of the rich, counter to what is actually best for him. When that group figures it out - and they will, its inevitable, watch the backlash happen. Propaganda is only propaganda.

When they're giving stats on manufacturing in the links you guys gave, saying the US is in the top 10 (or 4th according to the other comment) do they mean these are American workers? Or do they mean these are American companies producing it? Because if they're counting Levi jeans made in Bangladesh or whatever as American Manufacturing, then the stats are completely bogus.


Its GDP so its produced in the US, but not necessarily by US companies.

But aggregate numbers don't tell the whole story; the size of our economy skews them. What's important is what is manufacturing as a percentage of GDP, and what is the trend. As late as 1980, manufacturing in the US was 20% of GDP. Last year, I believe it was less than 12%. Some numbers from 2008 are here.

If the trend continues - and there's no sign that it won't - our situation will only get worse.


Look at the data for all of the developed world - they've seen very similar magnitudes of decline over the same time period. Reality is it doesn't really matter where the growth comes from. Service jobs aren't inherently inferior to manufacturing jobs. The problem with service jobs is the lack of collective bargaining or real regulation from the government - and that's purely a function of history - the progressive era and the great depression happened when Manufacturing was in the ascendency, so naturally its where the most effort was put, now we just need to repeat that for services. Personally I think given the nature of the businesses regulation is far far more effective than collective bargaining, but if the government can force some sort of labor compact wrt to the service industries, that's fine. That's a far more fixable problem than "reinvigorating manufacturing." To fix manufacturing requires either protectionism, which, just as history has shown us this sort of horse shit "austerity" isn't a solution, it has also shown us that protectionism isn't a solution, or it requires people who work in manufacturing to accept some diminuation in standard of living - which I think is just a non-starter.
posted by JPD at 8:57 AM on July 8, 2011


enn quotes Phil Agre: Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats.

Hold on a minute. If you look at Canada vs. the US, Canadian society has a tradition of greater deference; it's more "aristocratic" than the United States. (See Seymour Lipset's Continental Divide, for example.) Yet Canada has a much stronger welfare state.

I think one key factor is the American tendency towards mistrust and paranoia, particularly with respect to government--a tendency going all the way back to the American Revolution, and perhaps aggravated by the sheer size of the country. In particular, if you don't trust the government, you're not going to support strong welfare-state programs.

In this situation, it might be a good idea to focus on state-level reforms. State governments are smaller, less powerful, closer to the populations they serve. And I have yet to see a Hollywood action movie in which the enemy turns out to be a high-level intelligence official working for a state government.
posted by russilwvong at 9:02 AM on July 8, 2011


I'm not a net drain on our current system by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not a public health risk.

strixus, I too very much empathize with your situation, and I have many of the same fears. I don't think that the language that marble was using was meant to be a value judgment. I have looked at other countries' immigration websites (many of them, very closely, particularly Canada's) and that is literally the language that they use -- "drain on our nation's resources." They don't differentiate between people who can lead useful lives and contribute to a country's productivity and people who are in ICUs. Their boilerplate language just comes out and says, in bold type: We will not approve your immigration application if you have a chronic health condition because we have predetermined that people with these conditions are a net drain on our country's resources, so don't even waste our time and yours applying. It sucks.
posted by blucevalo at 9:58 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Service jobs aren't inherently inferior to manufacturing jobs

Look! I'm saying things!
posted by Trochanter at 10:27 AM on July 8, 2011


well that's a well reasoned argument.

Listen people made the exact same argument about the transition from a largely agricultural economy to a manufaturing driven economy. What is your argument for why service jobs are worse?

(Btw a service job isn't "a service job" virtually anything that isn't manufacturing, mining, ag, or construction is lumped into that category)
posted by JPD at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2011


You're spouting thirty year old Globalization talking points. They're worn right out.

If taxing the shit out of imports made by slave labour has an economic cost, so be it. So does not using slave labour domestically.

What is your argument for why service jobs are worse?
"The trends in value added per employee are consistent with the adverse movements in the distribution of U.S. income over the past twenty years, particularly the subdued income growth in the middle of the income range. The tradable side of the economy is shifting up the value-added chain with lower and middle components of these chains moving abroad, especially to the rapidly growing emerging markets. The latter themselves are moving rapidly up the value-added chains, and higher-paying jobs may therefore leave the United States, following the migration pattern of lower-paying ones. The evolution of the U.S. economy supports the notion of there being a long-term structural challenge with respect to the quantity and quality of employment opportunities in the United States. A related set of challenges concerns the income distribution; almost all incremental employment has occurred in the non-tradable sector, which has experienced much slower growth in value added per employee. Because that number is highly correlated with income, it goes a long way to explain the stagnation of wages across large segments of the workforce."
Source
posted by Trochanter at 10:42 AM on July 8, 2011


Right and go look at the data on similar data for the manufacturing sector from 1850-1900 - its exactly the same thing. Relative wages decline as industries consolidated. Then the history of say 1910-1940 is that of labor organization and government intervention.

I'm not debating that service jobs today are as good as manufacturing jobs - Indeed if you read what I said I'm expressly acknowledging that they aren't as good - the issue is the state need to intercede to forge a labor compact. The one issue with service jobs is that the threat of labor unrest is less meaningful - not merely because laws the protect labor have been weakened, but also because the cost of strike tends to be lower for services business given their lower fixed costs. The reality is that as long as people won't accept a lower relative standard of living, then manufacturing by definition has to decline in the developed world. You can't magically revitalize manufacturing and get us back to the post-war glory days.

They aren't Globalization talking points- go look at what happened the last time people tried to stop globalization - it was a disaster. Look at what happened when Smoot-Hawley was enacted.

This has nothing to do with slave labor. That's a lame talking point. The relative wage of a chinese factory employee is a lot higher than the relative wage of a US manufacturing employee.
posted by JPD at 10:56 AM on July 8, 2011


There is no such thing as globalization. Labour can't move. Only money can move. Money will chase and exploit cheap labour. Globalization is a myth and it always was. It's exactly about cheap labour.

Globalization has everything to do with slave labour.
posted by Trochanter at 11:10 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


cheap labor /=/ slave labor though. The fact remains that a chinese worker makes more than a chinese farmer does, or for that matter more than the median wage for the country as a whole. Chinese factory wages have been growing at tremendous rates the last ten year.

Compare that to the US, where manufacturing wages

But that's not my point - how do you propose to stop the search for lower cost bases of manufacturing? The fact that we know protectionism doesn't work (its been tried multiple times s-h, colonial empire building, etc, etc). Its inevitable that either manufacturing slowly declines as a % of GDP or manufacturing workers make less money relative to other workers.

Your point about labor is my point - it can't move, but it can change what it does, hence the shift to services that can't be offshored. The issue isn't that its services, the issue is that the government has done f-all to protect service workers, and made it hard for service workers to do anything to organize. Its just history rhyming again.
posted by JPD at 11:20 AM on July 8, 2011


We cannot have freedom until people are afforded the same mobility given to capital.
posted by aramaic at 11:36 AM on July 8, 2011


The fact that we know protectionism doesn't work

That's what I mean about talking points. What's protectionism? Who says doesn't it work? A bunch of 1980's era free trade shills? There may be a cost to protectionism, but that's not to say it "doesn't work".

If there's an economic cost to building the economy we want, we pay it. That's economics.
posted by Trochanter at 11:50 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Find me an example of protectionism that worked? And my defintion of worked is sustainable economy that maintains its relative standard of living. Without the benefit of an exongenous benefactor (you could argue protectionism/import substitution worked for Japan and Korea - except 1) they were middle (japan) and low income (korea) economies when they embarked on their plans 2)the both massively benefitted from tacit subsidies from the US in the form of negative real interest rates)

You speak like this has never been tried before. It has - many times.
posted by JPD at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2011


sustainable = stable
posted by JPD at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2011


Find me an example of protectionism that worked?

In my view, protectionism today is all about protecting against exports, not imports. Take the softwood lumber dispute between the US and Canada. So what if Canada can't export its lumber? We shouldn't be exporting raw resources at all. Instead, we should be manufacturing modular homes and exporting those to the US.
posted by No Robots at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2011


You speak like this has never been tried before. It has - many times.

And you speak as though protections of one sort or another are not in place in every economy in the world.

Protectionism is a bogeyman word. It implies an entire world view, or an entire way of setting up an economy.

And my main point, which you seem to be calling protectionism, is that we enact laws that limit this aforementioned ability of money to jaunt around the world exploiting whomever is most desperate. We'll make them global laws and call THAT globalization.

And that manufacturing jobs do more to add value and are therefore better for an economy than service jobs. Not to mention your point about their being jobs with better bargaining heft -- which is a good one. All the more reason to encourage them...
posted by Trochanter at 12:14 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's too soon to talk of revolution and barricades. It underestimates the problem - we are still waiting for an idea to arise out of the ashes of 20th century communism. (And good riddance to 20th century communism.)

I have this theory that communism will rise again, phoenix-like, from the ashes of all this. We do seem intent upon creating the conditions that necessitated the rise of communism if the first place.

If I can trade pickles for a 3d printed part for a tractor and find and make the connections without a Walmart or Target to broker the deal, I think that could be just the sort of thing that leads many to step away from the larger economy.

I think that's the only possible effective protest.

Riot in the street? They'll beat you down. And by the time the 24-hour news cycle is done with you, you'll be public enemy #1, your message utterly lost and twisted. Breaking shit doesn't work in this environment, particularly where those who ought to be out there breaking it with you have been convinced that you'll be coming for their shit next, ya communist!

So withdraw from the system, to whatever extent possible. Got money in a Too Big to Fail bank? Take it out and close down your account. Pay off your debts. Drive less if possible. Have the option of shopping at a farm market? Do that. DIY. Avoid Wal-Mart. Buy off Craigslist and give money directly to your neighbors. And get to know those neighbors.

Does that sound pissant, an entirely insufficient response to financial oppression? Maybe it is. But they've won, dude, the game is fixed, you're never gonna win it because you'll never achieve the critical mass necessary to overwhelm the powers that be. All you can do, to whatever extent possible, is to get out of the way as the damn structure falls.
posted by kgasmart at 12:15 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Find me an example of protectionism that worked?

China, the last thirty years, has been artificially deflating their currency. It protects them from imports because everything is prohibitively expensive, and helps them with exports because everything they make is incredibly cheap. They're hoping that the unmitigated disaster that is their environment can be solved with capital from economic growth, but what would they do in the event of a rice famine? Is their wager on manufacturing going to seem as smart if tens of millions die because they don't have the clean water they need to feed their population?

Look at what happened to North America after NAFTA was passed. Is Mexico better off than it was 15 years ago? Is the United States? Believing protectionism doesn't work is the same as believing that a man with $100 and a millionaire can make a fair trade. Markets only work when the parties involved have equal stake, equal assets, and equal information. That's why economics lean on that old phrase, "all else being equal."

Well, nothing is ever exactly equal. Once you let democratic governments abandon their core purpose of introducing a little bit of equality that's based on men being equal instead of dollars being equal, you're going to end up with broken economies that only operate for the people with the biggest bank accounts. They have the assets, and the information, and the leverage, and for some reason free market fundamentalists are all too excited to hand over the little bit of protectionism that keeps our nation economically viable.
posted by notion at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Believing protectionism doesn't work is the same as believing that a man with $100 and a millionaire can make a fair trade. Markets only work when the parties involved have equal stake, equal assets, and equal information. That's why economics lean on that old phrase, "all else being equal."

Nonsense. If I buy a can of beans from a millionaire for $1, it's a perfectly fair trade. If he wanted $99 and had the only available can of beans, it would not be, but you are assuming that as an inevitability. In fact, I don't care about the disparity in wealth of in marginal benefit as long as the better-off party is not abusing it in pursuit of monopoly pricing. While some people do exactly that, the fact is that in a deep and liquid market there are lots of opportunities for people to make large amounts of money without resorting to monopoly pricing, simply because there is a large pool of interested customers.

If you think markets require equal stakes and equal assets as well as equal information (itself a contested point), then logically you must either aver that everyone has equal needs or that all goods must be equally priced. Since the latter is obviously incompatible with the fact of economic scarcity, the alternative is that the state or other supervising authority abrogates to itself the decisions about what everyone needs, because otherwise people with different ideas and preferences are inevitably going to make trades that vary in profitability, and inequality will be the result. Unless everyone has their profits canceled and redistributed every time the market is cleared, profits and losses will accumulate until something resembling a Pareto distribution emerges.

Unyielding egalitarianism is just as destructive as unrestrained capitalism. As has been pointed out many times, the disparities just show up elsewhere, usually in politics; hence the strong negative correlation between economic communism and democracy.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2011


You are using the word "needs" but you mean "wants".

Some of us believe that there are things that everyone equally needs, and that some people have their literal needs supplied more than others.

Of course I may be emphasizing your point by the rest of my reply:

People are multi-level entities. So on the very primal, animal level, this means they have biological needs to sustain themselves... Those needs would be : Food, clothing, shelter and water, at the very very very minimum. Health Care could be seen as a biological need as well (and then you get the debate on whether preventive health care is an actual need, or only emergency care such as the kind that would prevent the death of the biological organism).

Higher up on the scale, people are not merely biological, they are social animals who also have a mind that allows them to create. This means that on the social level which is ultimately bound up in the transfer and flow of information, the needs of the human animal is given by access to information and the ability to filter it: Education, tools for communication, access to repositories of knowledge. These are social needs. Not everyone, you are correct, has the same kinds of needs when it comes to this.

Not all people who argue for some form of socialism are communists.

If the market is unable or willing to supply fundamental needs, I argue that it is our right as beings who the market is supposed to serve (and not vice versa) to supply the needs for all people. What was the original post about again? I think we completely lost touch with it.
posted by symbioid at 2:49 PM on July 8, 2011


anigbrowl: Look at it this way. It's possible that expanding trade and advances in technology result in higher total income, but at the same time, inequality increases so much that most people are worse off.

In theory, you can redistribute the extra income so that everyone is better off. But how do you do this without a welfare state?

In other words, there's a close connection between free trade and the welfare state. Without income redistribution, why should a democratic society support free trade which will make a small number of people fabulously wealthy, while impoverishing the rest?
posted by russilwvong at 2:54 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


They own the media, the police, the army etc etc...

The powerful have always owned whatever passed for the medium of popular discourse (be it the church or the internet service providers). I imagine modern crowd dispersal technology isn't much fun, but grapeshot and cavalry charges were the old style response to protest marches, so in this context truncheons, unlawful arrest, kettling and tear gas are small improvements.
posted by Phalene at 3:14 PM on July 8, 2011


You are using the word "needs" but you mean "wants". [...] Not all people who argue for some form of socialism are communists.

I think I'm the best judge of what I mean, thanks. You may not be a communist, but notion's insistence that any market requires all participants to have identical assets, stake and so on is fundamentally at odds with the notion of trading privately on one's own behalf. Since needs precede wants, no system of externally enforced equality can begin otherwise.

In theory, you can redistribute the extra income so that everyone is better off. But how do you do this without a welfare state?

I don't know or care, because I'm not arguing for the elimination of the welfare state. I'm arguing with notion's specific assertions that I quoted above. I also described unrestrained capitalism as 'destructive.'

I agree with the bulk of what you both said above, and yet you both seem to think that I'm some stealth laissez-faire capitalist. What is the point of qualifying my remarks and stating my position if you completely ignore those things because I don't completely affirm your political viewpoint? Really, these straw man arguments are both tiresome and confusing.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:45 PM on July 8, 2011


Nonsense. If I buy a can of beans from a millionaire for $1, it's a perfectly fair trade. If he wanted $99 and had the only available can of beans, it would not be, but you are assuming that as an inevitability. In fact, I don't care about the disparity in wealth of in marginal benefit as long as the better-off party is not abusing it in pursuit of monopoly pricing. While some people do exactly that, the fact is that in a deep and liquid market there are lots of opportunities for people to make large amounts of money without resorting to monopoly pricing, simply because there is a large pool of interested customers.

As long as you're working with such simple commodities, sure. What about HIV drugs that are patented? The world is a hell of a lot more complicated than beans. (And no, that wouldn't be solved with doing away with government patents. If a government totally abandoned regulation, a corporation would simply monopolize it for eternity.)

If you think markets require equal stakes and equal assets as well as equal information (itself a contested point), then logically you must either aver that everyone has equal needs or that all goods must be equally priced. Since the latter is obviously incompatible with the fact of economic scarcity, the alternative is that the state or other supervising authority abrogates to itself the decisions about what everyone needs, because otherwise people with different ideas and preferences are inevitably going to make trades that vary in profitability, and inequality will be the result.

This is a slippery slope down to a false dichotomy. We were talking about protectionism, not totalitarian communism versus capitalism versus libertarian socialism.

If you think a society can economically benefit from selling national resources if all of those resources are not distributed somewhat equally among the populace, look at the whole of central Africa where that's happening right now. There's no government tax infrastructure, thus no infrastructure, so the wealth is concentrated in the hands of warlords who are tearing it apart -- with the help of global corporations, no less. Sure systems like that can exist in dictatorships, like those in Saudi Arabia, but not for long.

If you don't have a strong government and a progressive tax system, you probably don't have a civilization in today's terms. If you've got an interesting counter-example from reality, let's hear it.
posted by notion at 6:43 PM on July 8, 2011


Sorry, should have previewed. You can ignore that previous post.

notion's insistence that any market requires all participants to have identical assets, stake and so on is fundamentally at odds with the notion of trading privately on one's own behalf. Since needs precede wants, no system of externally enforced equality can begin otherwise.

An ideal market does require all things to be equal. It's right there in your textbook.

Obviously it's never going to happen, but if a democratic government isn't moving towards this ideal through tax structure, protectionism, and socialization of infrastructure, it's failing as a government to represent the interests of its people.
posted by notion at 6:48 PM on July 8, 2011


Oh dear.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:07 PM on July 8, 2011


anigbrowl: I actually purposefully did NOT call you a laissez-fair capitalist - precisely for the reason you said. I almost called you libertarian, but after rereading your post I realized that you weren't. I'm not for communism either. Maybe I was just being pedantic. Whatever, really. I don't think protectionism is the answer, but I also don't think free-trade is all that its claimed to be, either, so I don't know what I'm supposed to be for.

I think we're just splitting hairs at this point. Nothing personal meant.
posted by symbioid at 8:40 PM on July 8, 2011


anigbrowl: I don't know or care, because I'm not arguing for the elimination of the welfare state.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you were personally arguing for the elimination of the welfare state. It's the Republicans who are trying to eliminate the welfare state (as noted in the original article), not you.

I'm just pointing out that the usual economic argument that free trade is a good thing, because it makes the country richer on the whole, depends on the assumption that inequality isn't simultaneously increasing so much as to make the bulk of the population worse off. This isn't just a straw man: that's more or less what's happened in the US since 1979 or so. The country is much richer than it was 30 years ago, but the bulk of the population is arguably worse off. Median household income has stagnated rather than declining, but that's because a much larger proportion of women are now working (43% in 1970, about 60% now).

That said, I would argue that the key problem is inequality, not free trade. Free trade is one factor, but there's other factors which are more important:

1. Technical change. Even without free trade, continuous improvements in automation and manufacturing efficiency over the last 30 years would have resulted in deindustrialization: as you get more efficient at making something, you need fewer people.

2. Winner-take-all pay structures. In his book Fixing the Game, Roger Martin describes how this occurred for CEO pay, as a result of a 1976 paper by Jensen and Meckling on shareholder value theory; in professional sports, with the Seitz decision on free agents in 1975; in Hollywood, as a result of George Lucas's 1980 deal with Paramount for Raiders of the Lost Ark; in finance, with the 2 and 20 fee structure (2% of assets, 20% of profits) introduced by investment manager Theodore Forstmann in 1978.

I would argue for free trade and income redistribution. In Canada:
One measure of income inequality is the ratio of income received by the 20% of families with the highest after-tax income compared with the 20% of families with the lowest after-tax income.

In 2003, for market income, this ratio was about 12.9 to 1.0. That is, the 20% of families with the highest after-tax income received about $12.90 in market income for every $1.00 received by the 20% of families with the lowest after-tax income.

However, taxes and transfers moderate the differences between the quintiles of the income distribution. After taxes and transfers, the one-fifth of families with the highest after-tax income received $5.50 for every $1.00 received by the one-fifth with the lowest.

Among unattached people, the one-fifth with the highest after-tax income received $21.60 in market income for every $1.00 received by the 20% with the lowest after-tax income. After taxes and transfers, this ratio fell to $8.40 for every $1.00.
Roger Martin argues strongly that we also need to reform CEO pay to move away from stock-based compensation.
posted by russilwvong at 11:17 AM on July 9, 2011


1. Technical change. Even without free trade, continuous improvements in automation and manufacturing efficiency over the last 30 years would have resulted in deindustrialization: as you get more efficient at making something, you need fewer people.


Let's be very, very clear about something, though. Things aren't being manufactured in China because they've got better robots.

The concern is that jobs are MOVING not that they're disappearing.
posted by Trochanter at 12:35 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The concern is that jobs are MOVING not that they're disappearing.

Okay, then how many jobs have been moved to China from the United States? Do we have any figures? And keep in mind that before starting economic reforms, China was under-industrialized due to lack of technology, war, and failure of communist policies. They weren't at industrial equilibrium with the rest of the world.
posted by FJT at 11:44 AM on July 10, 2011


« Older The Portable Rotary Phone is an original black rot...  |  American football player John ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments