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January 11, 2014 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Jesse A. Myerson described five economic reforms millenials should be fighting for in Rolling Stone. Conservatives were generally aghast at the suggestions. Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog wrote a response, "Five conservative reforms millenials should be fighting for". Liberals disapproved. Both articles argued for I. Employer of Last Resort II. Basic Income III. Land Value Tax IV. Sovereign Wealth Fund V. Public Bank. Ezra Klein discusses the trolling.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth (107 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
This really aggravates me. It reeks of "everyone is dumb except me I'm smart" garbage that has destroyed discourse in the US.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 11:42 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Jesus, that Wonkblog list is just the same old supply-side and privatization crap that conservatives have been pushing for thirty years. Cut taxes and red tape, privatize social security and give money away to business. Oh and I love the scare quotes around stimulus and infrastructure.
posted by octothorpe at 11:54 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Hmm. I've read both the liberal and the conservative version of each of these ideas, and I'm ready to sign up. I mean...I'm not a millenial, but I'll vote for it and make contributions to it. So which of the two parties will step up to adopt these five planks to their platform?
posted by Ipsifendus at 11:54 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that what has damaged modern discourse the most is that (in my experience, at least) so many people are no longer capable of separating the idea from the person/group/side/tribe that proposed it. The merits of an argument aren't even worthy of examination or discussion if the "wrong" person initiated it. Everything is just one more intellectually lazy ad-hominem laced wankfest.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:54 AM on January 11 [60 favorites]


From the Ezra Klein link:

But the policies Myerson advocates are rather less radical. His agenda, at its core, calls for a work guarantee, a basic minimum income, a land-value tax, a sovereign wealth fund and a public banking option. As Dylan Matthews noticed, all these policies that Republicans were labeling as socialism have been endorsed by major conservatives. So he rewrote Myerson's piece from the conservative point of view, advocating all the same policies but changing those cited as authorities and those blamed for the state of the economy.

All of a sudden, conservatives liked the article, and liberals -- well, liberals didn't really like Dylan anymore. And they told him so in pretty offensive terms.


I don't read this is "everyone is dumb except me I'm smart". I read it as, "actually read what's written, not the label that's attached to it; maybe this will get us past some of our crippling socio-political divisions".
posted by philip-random at 11:55 AM on January 11 [20 favorites]


So, if you think all of these are horrible ideas, does that make you an Independent?
posted by madajb at 11:57 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Good old labels! Remember, it was Milton Friedman who pushed the idea of negative income tax.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:02 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Cyclopsis , perhaps we just need to get back to the peaceful, measured discourse of the early Republic?
posted by wuwei at 12:03 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Jesus, that Wonkblog list is just the same old supply-side and privatization crap that conservatives have been pushing for thirty years. Cut taxes and red tape, privatize social security and give money away to business. Oh and I love the scare quotes around stimulus and infrastructure.

Is this a joke? I mean, did you... not read the FPP? I'm not even asking if you read all the links: I'm asking: did you read the post itself, the stuff written by save alive nothing that breatheth? They're the same radically progressive proposals that Myerson made, just under the rubric of conservative rhetoric.

I think propaganda is a serious problem for democracy, but I think our motivated reasoning and skepticism are worse. So I ask you: how can we distinguish propagandistic speech from our own self-deception?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:03 PM on January 11 [21 favorites]


save alive nothing that breatheth: "Liberals disapproved."

I follow a pretty good chunk of the left blogosphere regularly, and I didn't see any prominent liberals disapproving of Dylan Matthews' post. Other than some idiot commenters at WonkBlog, do you have a cite for this statement?
posted by tonycpsu at 12:06 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's trolling, I think it's a nice demonstration that economics has identified some points of public policy that are so inefficient that they can be solved in ways that have (to some degree) ideological appeal to the left and the right.

They are quite obviously not the same ideologically though, most importantly in points III and IV, which take the same two insights in 180 degree different directions.

I -- excess labor inventory is a deadweight loss; we should figure out a way to clear it, and the government probably has a role in this sort of engineering.

II -- (a) the welfare bureaucracy is a deadweight loss, and (b) we have sufficient resources not to require people who can't work, or whose parents won't work, to starve, therefore some form of basic income could be accretive to overall wealth

III -- taxing desirable conduct (investment, labor) discourages it; therefore tax the thing that will be unchanged without any incentive (unimproved land). Note that only the "conservative" piece makes the orthodox argument, the "liberal" piece advocates taxing the full value of real estate improvements, and doesn't support (explicitly) support cutting other taxes.

IV -- governments should have diversified investment portfolios -- note here again the WP makes the orthodox argument and the RS seems to support some rather addled monetization of private wealth (government deflates the currency in order to buy out private assets, and then presumably manages them?)

V -- there's no obvious case for "too big to fail" private financial institutions, and there are a variety of better configurations for public and private risk.
posted by MattD at 12:06 PM on January 11 [10 favorites]


In somewhat related news: Norway's sovereign wealth fund, which owns ~1% of the world's shares, hit a milestone in the new year, effectively making each Norwegian a crown millionaire.
posted by ageispolis at 12:07 PM on January 11 [14 favorites]


Good old labels! Remember, it was Milton Friedman who pushed the idea of negative income tax.

And the land tax (aka Georgism). Regardless of Friedman's endorsement, all of the ideas are sound, and system approaches, but the one sticking point that everyone knows is controversial is the free money. Without conditions attached, poverty-related phenomenon such as addiction, truancy, and lack of family planning could get worse.
posted by Brian B. at 12:08 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Conservatives were generally aghast...

Isn't it the definition of a conservative to be always aghast?
posted by grounded at 12:09 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


Ezra Klein's piece is a little false-equivalency. Yes, Matthews' piece drew criticism... from anonymous commenters & Twitterers such as "Austerity Sucks". But the initial piece drew tribalistic fire from ostensible Republican intellectuals like the writer mentioned in the piece, and the New York Times' Ross Douthat.

Yes, humans are all subject to motivated reasoning; yes, it's something that we all have to guard against. But in this context, in the US today, the salient fact is that, as one perhaps-hyperbolic anonymous Internet commenter put it, "tribalism is the sum total of what one of the two major parties in the US has to offer."
posted by ibmcginty at 12:09 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Brian B.: "Without conditions attached, poverty-related phenomenon such as addiction, truancy, and lack of family planning could get worse."

???
posted by tonycpsu at 12:10 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


Interesting links. Thanks for posting this.

Isn't it the definition of a conservative to be always aghast?

If liberals are always outraged, then sure.
posted by Noms_Tiem at 12:12 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


They may be advocating for broadly the same things, but the practical implementation of those things as proposed differs tremendously, which makes me skeptical that you can chalk the difference in reception up to ideology alone.

1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody
The easiest and most direct solution is for the government to guarantee that everyone who wants to contribute productively to society is able to earn a decent living in the public sector.

vs.

1. End the long-term unemployment crisis
[T]he government [could] directly hire the long-term unemployed. This could be implemented by simply paying businesses to bring on more workers...you could do away with the minimum wage and its burdens on businesses entirely if this plan were adopted.


Expanding public-sector hiring vs. adding government subsidies of private-sector business while removing minimum-wage regulation aren't exactly the same plan.

2. Social Security for All
A universal basic income, combined with a job guarantee and other social programs, could make participation in the labor force truly voluntary, thereby enabling people to get a life.


vs.

2. Tear down the welfare bureaucracy
The solution...is to burn down the bureaucracy and replace it with simple checks to everyone.


Basic income + social security vs. basic income - social security are, again, two different proposals. Namely, one gets rid of social security, welfare, etc, and the other does not.

...

You can do this for all of these; when Klein writes that "[t]wo articles [are] both advocating the exact same policies," he is simply wrong. They do not.
posted by cjelli at 12:13 PM on January 11 [42 favorites]


1, 2, and 5 sounded like good ideas in both articles. 3 and 4 sounded like bad ideas in both articles.
posted by 256 at 12:16 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I really liked Ezra's piece on this. It helped me understand a lot of the psychology of people who seem to be, from my perspective, a little too lenient with President Obama on a few issues in ways that otherwise just don't make sense to me. (And of course, the other side of that coin where people treat him like the devil when he is looks to me to be clearly a reasonable and competent leader.)

Now, what worries me isn't that people can be tribalistic and only take to a message when it comes from voices they respect, it's more that even once you do build that consensus there are severe political roadblocks in the way. One issue I would point to as an example is the massive popularity of medical marijuana. Polls show absolutely overwhelming support across party lines, demographics, and age groups. (Here is an example for Florida, national polls are similar.) And yet at the federal level it is still viewed as political poison. Why? Not for reasons that are responsive to the wishes of the vast majority of constituents. The potential for political backlash is coming from a source other than the voters.

I don't know how you can fix that sort of thing. The millionaires who run both parties don't want to make the sort of economic reforms we need. And even if the will was there they seem pretty complex and difficult to implement. Voters lack patience for that sort of thing, as the Obamacare rollout makes clear. It's hard, and politically scary to do. That's why we often just don't get what we want. I think we would be better off if we cooled off the tribalist antagonism. I know there are real, serious policy and cultural differences involved but there is way more common ground in policy than it can seem like. We should try and work on that rather than battling on issues we show no signs of coming to agreement on. If legislators can't handle that, as the Republicans in Congress clearly can't right now, they should be voted out for more moderate candidates who can hold the line where they feel the need to but not scorch the Earth. I'm...not holding my breath on that.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:17 PM on January 11


cjelli, they're the same proposals, with the details reorganized. So Myerson starts talking about state employment, then pivots to the private sector:

"Some economists have proposed running a job guarantee through the non-profit sector, which would make it even easier to suit the job to the worker."

It's the same for each: this was always envisioned as a parody troll, so the parallels are there on purpose.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:20 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I met Myerson at Occupy Oakland. He struck me as immature and unoriginal, just like this article.

What he's calling for is basically a Marxist solution.

David Simon recently penned an excellent longread on how Marx was a fine diagnostician, but his prescription was a clueless power fantasy.

Simon's right. Myerson is just regurgitating old ideas that were tested and found wanting generations ago.

It saddens me that a man who's managed to put himself in a position to be considered a voice of his generation is pushing ideas should've been dead before he was born.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:31 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Leaving aside the ideological argument for a second, I thought that it was great to read an article – aimed at young voters – that offered some positive reform ideas.

I hear lots of commentary aimed at young people that suggests the system is broken and radical change is needed, but so often the only suggested action is to not vote and wait for some unspecified "revolution" to fix everything.

So for me, the more interesting question is how do you get some of these ideas into the broader public consciousness?
posted by bakery at 12:33 PM on January 11


wuwei I was expecting this.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 12:38 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Are we really having a serious discussion about a Rolling Stone article that uses the verb "blows" about 20 times?

Because as much as unemployment blows, so do jobs.

Someone give that man a Buzzfeed Award for Excellence in Writing.
posted by mmoncur at 12:39 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


they're the same proposals, with the details reorganized.

I understand that's the claim, I just think that changing the details of the proposals in question goes beyond, as the Post puts it, "Frame[ing]...a bit differently," and more substituting different proposals for those in the original piece. It's a discussion of policy: the details are the policy. You can't change them and call that solely a shift in framing; it goes beyond that to actually changing the proposals. Arguing for for-profit subsidies instead of non-profit subsidies isn't 'framing subsidies differently;' it's arguing for different subsidies, even leaving aside the minimum-wage-removal aspect that has no parallel in the original piece.
posted by cjelli at 12:40 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Hey, but point 3 doesn't look like the same point. The liberal version is adding land value tax, the conservative version says to abolish all other taxes entirely in favor of relying on that tax.

Generally, what cjelli said. It's not just the details reorganized, some of the points brought out in favor of each point are different, things are left unsaid in both lists that are objectionable to their target audience, and presented as primary virtues in the other.
posted by JHarris at 12:40 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Klein cites a supposed shift in partisan attitudes toward NSA surveillance based on Pew polling, but I think he does so in error. The questions asked in the 2006 and 2013 polls around the NSA are different enough that I don't think we can properly draw conclusions from partisan crosstabs.

This is the 2006 question:

On another subject: as you may know, the National Security Agency has been investigating people suspected of involvement with terrorism by secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails between some people in the United States and other countries, without first getting court approval to do so. Would you consider this wiretapping of telephone calls and e-mails without court approval as an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

And here's the 2013 question:

As you may know, it has been reported that the National Security Agency has been getting secret court orders to track telephone call records of MILLIONS of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism. Would you consider this access to telephone call records an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism?

Now, given that the very high approval rate of the FISA court, I don't think there's a lot of substantive difference between not getting a court order and getting one, but from a separation of powers perspective, involving another branch of government does make a lot of people more comfortable, which would likely make polling more friendly to the scenario posed in the 2013 question than in the scenario posed in the 2006 question.

I'm not denying tribalism exists -- of course it does, and I'm pretty sure if the exact same question had been asked in 2006 and 2013, there still would have been a statistically significant amount of shift in attitudes based on whose team was in charge. But the scale of the shift is likely magnified due to the changes in how the executive branch is going about getting the authority to do this surveillance.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:43 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I agree with cjelli. Klein and Matthews are both being quite disingenuous. I'm especially surprised that Klein doesn't see past that, considering he generally seems mid-left-ish. But that also means he is "sensible, moderate" and able to sellout actual ideology in the name of bipartisanship.

For example, Matthews (and I say this as someone who appreciates his rants, even though I'm not necessarily on the same side politically) says:

...This approach would be far more cost-effective than Obama' giveaways to wind and solar companies, state and local governments, and countless other interests

Now I get it... "corporate welfare" yada yada... And yet... What's he want instead? Corporate welfare to already existing companies in the form of tax subsidies... WHAT? Also - what he's saying then is "pay coal, oil companies to take on new workers then phase out the subsidies"(hahahaha, yeah, subsidies phase out sooooooooooo well, don't they?) Don't waste it on that wind/solar crap (that could be a long term sustainable thing if we fucking got the balls to start it up with proper funding that only the government is willing to put enough investment in to make such a large scale risk. No no no... Let's stick with short term monopolies.

Sure Dylan would say "nooooo... I oppose corporate welfare, so of course, I don't advocate supporting oil over solar or coal over wind" and yet... that's what he's saying - he's picking winners and losers here.

And this is where we get into issues. Right off the bat. There will always be differences especially as these solutions warrant, because there are two sides. No matter how you try to paint it: Capital and Labor. Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. It's not always a zero-sum game, and yes, you can find common ground now and then, but sometimes finding that common ground requires a lot of struggle on those who do not hold the reigns of power.

And Milton Friedman, sure he promoted negative income tax, and you look at, say, Nixon and Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Guaranteed Income proposals, and you find they fall far far short of what's actually required to sustain any sort of living. Is it better than nothing? Most assuredly, but when you look at how much one would receive, in the end, it's not going to help that much.

Of course, the idea of a universal income guarantee of some sort has the advantage that if you include EVERYONE (as opposed to just "the poor" or whatever), they all start to feel they have a vested interest in it (witness Social Security/Medicare).

But that makes the assumption that the right-wing of the ruling class won't continue to foster divisions against "the undeserving poor".

Frankly, any attempt at any solution to work has to remove this vile and despicable concept of "undeserving poor" from political discourse, and it has to reframe our entire system of debate and mindset, and that is not going to happen easily or without a tremendous fight. The so-called "left" in this country (the electable left, I should say) are so beholden to this "middle-class" myth/narrative, that getting them to start fighting against this framework is probably a Sisyphean task.

Platitudes are great bright and shiny. The devil, the dark shadowy corners, are always in the details. And that is where we have debates and arguments. And the fact is, as long as the narrative is dominated by this class war against the poor (oh sorry, I guess it's the poor with their vast media empire against the oppressed wealthy job creators), we won't find any common ground solution that really solves jack shit.

PS I kinda like a Georgist tax system, though I'm not sure it really solves everything, it's at least *something* to try to break out of our current system.
posted by symbioid at 12:43 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


Without conditions attached, poverty-related phenomenon such as addiction, truancy, and lack of family planning could get worse.
But even white people are getting around restrictions using cases of EBS purchased Pepsi as currency!
posted by Talez at 12:45 PM on January 11


but so often the only suggested action is to not vote and wait for some unspecified "revolution" to fix everything.

Not really.

Those suggesting not working through the current party system generally suggest withholding votes from the two major parties, not a complete boycott of the polls- although poll boycotts are far from unheard of in countries where the election system is sewn up by an oligarchy, and should not be written off. Russell Brand had a point.

Secondly, it's not about waiting for revolution- if you just wait for a revolution, it will never come. Serious change (in the form of a revolution or merely a political sea change) is the product of hard work. Leak documents. Organise, march, write articles, and speak your mind in situations where you wouldn't have before- but don't keep pulling the same voting levers at the polls expecting a different government to come out.
posted by anemone of the state at 12:45 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch, are you aware that a job-guarantee like program has actually been tried and found pretty successful?
posted by wuwei at 12:46 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


A was pointed out upthread, the implementations of these "similar intent but different framing" are very different. The conservative one starts going off the rails for me, in terms of equivalency, when it wants to do away with taxes and regulations. The Market will never benefit from the public good.
posted by Windopaene at 12:50 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I'm 100% in favor of replacing the minimum wage and all state welfare programs with minimum income guarantees in the form of a check. Seems a lot simpler to me. And has the benefit, along with some form of universal health care, of greatly increasing the power of labor to negotiate. Because everyone would be free to tell their employers to go fuck themselves if they're being mistreated or grossly underpaid.
posted by empath at 1:14 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


What he's calling for is basically a Marxist solution.

No, not really. Myerson's introduction to each proposal is not inconsistent with a Marxist analysis, but the proposals themselves don't really follow, and are pretty solidly liberal, not left wing. The difference, much like the difference between Myerson's and Matthew's proposals, lies in the power dynamics of how the basic idea gets implemented.

Let me illustrate with a different but related example: disaster relief and food aid. A Matthews-like approach would entail the government paying private industry to provide disaster relief, such as feeding people in affected areas. If, as Matthews suggests, a decision is made to specifically partner government with for-profit relief providers, this means that government money goes to for-profit businesses, and specifically not to not-for-profit organizations, nor directly to government employees as it would if a government agency were itself providing disaster relief. This enriches those who already own a share in the relevant industries, which is not going to be the folks in the disaster-affected areas despite the government money having come, in part, from those people. So it increases wealth disparities amongst different groups (in this example, regionally as well as in the usual ways). It also entrenches the political power of related industries, given the ties between wealth and political power that we have currently. At the end of the day, people affected by a disaster get fed and housed and provided with safe drinking water and all that. But at the end of the year, they end up worse off in comparison with other areas of the country; they don't get helped back to quite the same economic position they had before the disaster, because there has been a net transfer of wealth and power. (And that's not even looking at issues of profit and the inefficiencies that it creates.)

A Myerson-like approach would entail the government paying non-profit groups or government branches themselves coming in from outside and providing assistance. This does not structurally guarantee the same sort of transfers of wealth and power as the above approach does. But neither does it prevent them, if the government agencies or the non-profit groups stepping in are primarily based in regions other than the disaster-affected region.

A more leftist approach would be to involve the people in the disaster-affected region in their own relief efforts, employing them under the auspices of outside organizations and giving them extra assistance to return to "normal" afterwards in a central government style approach, or providing the resources they need but ensuring that the people affected get to make all of the major decisions regarding the disaster relief organization and goals themselves and to provide mutual aid to each other in a more anarchist style approach. The main idea here is that, like in the two other cases, at the end of the day people get fed and housed and provided safe drinking water and all that, but at the end of the year they have been structurally guaranteed to maintain the level of wealth and power relative to other regions that they had before the disaster, and perhaps have even been strengthened as a community by working together on common goals of caring for and then rebuilding and healing their community.

Similar short term effects, which seems to be what Klein was considering, but very different analysis and treatment of economic and political power of different groups, and thus very different long term effects.
posted by eviemath at 1:14 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


The other advantage of directly subsidizing low income workers over increasing the minimum wage is that it happens to keep prices down -- so that people with low incomes will continue to be able to afford walmart and mcdonalds.

And if the money comes from wealth taxes, all the better.
posted by empath at 1:16 PM on January 11


You just don't need the same kinds of taxes or minimum wages under these proposals, liberal or conservative. So you don't need a minimum wage if you have guaranteed employment at some wage: if McDonalds won't pay more than the government job, you go to the government job. This is doubly true if you also have a basic income guarantee, but especially with a BIG you don't want a minimum wage anymore, because of the disincentive effects. Businesses are paying either way, but with the BIG minus minimum wage more people are able to supplement their guaranteed income.

The same thing goes for the land value tax: sure, you're still going to have some taxes under Georgism, but you're going to run them mostly through the land value system: rich people won't pay as much income tax, they'll just pay more land value tax. You want the tax to be fairly large for it to do its incentive thing, so it ends up eclipsing most other taxes.

I personally favor a value-added tax over a land value tax, but I'm just explaining the logic.

It's totally the case that Myerson doesn't mention the more conservative-sounding elements of the policies he's proposing. But Dylan Matthews doesn't foreground liberal-sounding bits of them, either. They're still the same policies with different rhetoric, in just the same way that "tax cuts" and "tax relief" are the same policies with different rhetoric.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:20 PM on January 11


I'm 100% in favor of replacing the minimum wage and all state welfare programs with minimum income guarantees in the form of a check. Seems a lot simpler to me. And has the benefit, along with some form of universal health care, of greatly increasing the power of labor to negotiate. Because everyone would be free to tell their employers to go fuck themselves if they're being mistreated or grossly underpaid.

One little quibble: I would keep a number of welfare programs, especially things like school lunch and breakfast programs or ones that promote certain positive outcomes such as supporting education or independence for people in potentially abusive families, until we've gotten rid of non-class-based structural oppressions as well.


With the proposal for a land value tax as (essentially) the only tax, I think that would under-tax some wealthy people who don't own a lot of land per se, but do hold a lot of non-land investment wealth. I'm not so worried about super-rich people paying less income tax (my understanding is that they pay relatively little already), but rather the loss of capital gains taxes. Eg. I could be Bill Gates, but totally avoid paying what a liberal viewpoint would likely consider my fair share of taxes by owning a modest amount of actual land (in the US), but multiple giant yachts, private planes, technically mobile boat- or truck-vaults to store whatever i wanted that I wasn't using at the moment, and spending a lot of my time in luxury rentals around the country (as well as my vacation property that I actually own outside of the US somewhere non-taxable due to loopholes in this land tax that I suspect would inevitably arise - I mean, it's hardly reasonable for the US to tax ownership of land that is outside of it's jurisdiction, after all, no?). Then there are the house-poor. Perhaps you see this more in rural areas, where people own a house and some bit of land because they inherited it, but don't actually have the income or wealth to maintain it, or sometimes even for proper food and clothing. Maybe there's a threshold such that if you own less than a certain amount of property you don't get taxed by this land tax. With no other taxes, though, could a corporation not get around the land tax by spinning off a whole ton of subsidiaries, each of which own just below that taxable limit, but rents out their property for the use of the main corporation at basically negligible rates? Or could hypothetical me-Gates marginally employ a whole passel of peasant-owners to technically avoid ownership of and thus land tax on a larger property? There are some pretty important implementation issues here.
posted by eviemath at 1:37 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I'll just throw in with those saying that (pace anotherpanacea) not all of these policy proposals are equivalent.

While the second and fifth are the same as far as I can tell, the others are not. At least, not taken on their own.

Point #1. The Rolling Stone article recommends permanent employment, with direct hiring to be done by the public sector or by non-profits.
The easiest and most direct solution is for the government to guarantee that everyone who wants to contribute productively to society is able to earn a decent living in the public sector.
By contrast, the Post article recommends temporarily subsidizing private employers to hire workers.
Kevin Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who was one of Mitt Romney's lead advisors during his 2012 run, has proposed that the government directly hire the long-term unemployed. This could be implemented by simply paying businesses to bring on more workers, and then phasing the subsidy out over time.
I'm curious: After the temporary subsidy ends, are private employers supposed to keep paying their employees out of the goodness of their hearts? It seems to me that the same profit motive that leads businesses to cut workers now would do so after the subsidy ended.

Point #3. The Rolling Stone article begins with a land-value tax as its boring option and then goes on to municipalities or communities owning all property. Importantly, the Rolling Stone article says nothing about other taxes one way or the other.

The Post article begins with the suggestion that all income taxes be eliminated and then suggests that they can be replaced with a land-value tax. That proposal still leaves the landowners with their privately held property. And it takes a definite stand on taxes other than property taxes.

Even if you think that income taxes could be changed after implementing a land-value tax (which seems reasonable to me), it is wrong to say that the two articles are making the same proposal here. One is saying, "End income and capital gains taxes; add a land-value tax," while the other is saying, "Add a land-value tax."

Point #4. Both articles say the words "sovereign wealth fund," but the Post article suggests this as a replacement for Social Security, while the Rolling Stone article is silent about the relationship between a new sovereign wealth fund and existing policies.

I can well believe that this wouldn't come to much if all the other policies were implemented. I mean, we wouldn't really need Social Security if we had a guaranteed minimum income. But if we're considering these as separable, independent policy goals, then we should judge the two proposals to be subtly different. Again, the Post article is saying more than the Rolling Stone article, and the extra thing that it says matters.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 1:43 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


In practice, an LVT is most important for the way it discourages suburban sprawl. The idea is to punish McMansions and keep the middle-class living closer to work in denser, more environmental housing. There are very few tax regimes that are legitimately good at dispossessing the very wealthy, primarily because the ones that would actually work are adamantly opposed by the people with all the money, but also because the very wealthy are best able to modify their behavior to avoid tax.

The nice thing about a LVT is that Bill Gates would pay it whether he owned anything or not; take the Kennedies, who actually lease most of their big estates. Their landlord would have higher taxes, and so would have to charge the Kennedys more. This is known as "tax incidence" theory: it doesn't matter who nominally pays the tax, what matters is who ends up bearing the brunt of it in higher costs and lower consumption. Given how much very valuable land the rich tend to consume (one way or the other) an LVT would end up hitting them pretty hard, while also having some good incentive effects.

The rural poor who rent or own very low value land wouldn't pay much LVT, while rich Manhattanites in small, expensive apartments or condos would actually pay a higher LVT despite the lower overall usage.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:45 PM on January 11


This thread really needs to appreciated in light of how that link to an article in NRO went below.
posted by fatbird at 1:54 PM on January 11


I'm really intrigued by the idea of negative income tax. If it could be used to reduce the complexity and waste in welfare programs, it could end up costing nowhere near as much as you might first think. I'm increasingly dismayed by the waste I see in government agencies (I'm not in the US but I'm pretty sure it's universal) and this could be done in a way that it satisfies both sides of politics. Less complex programs means smaller government AND a guaranteed baseline standard of living. Countries are complex organisms though, so other effects need to be considered and particularly in countries such as the US and Australia where there are nonsensical arbitrary border-defined constitutional and legislative differences that would trip this up.
posted by dg at 1:56 PM on January 11


An LVT is a barbell: it encourages exurban sprawl and superdense urban development, because cheap land has a low tax burden, regardless of the quality of improvements, and expensive land requires that you max out rentable square feet and rent per square foot.

In an LVT regime, every walkable brownstone, bungalow and low-rise neighborhood in dense areas of the country would be torn down, and their residents would have choose between 20 story apartment towers or McMansions 40 miles out of town.
posted by MattD at 1:58 PM on January 11


Also, in terms of the political realities of a basic income, it's important to realize how much of the poverty-services bureaucracy it would eliminate is itself another form of welfare, giving low-end workers jobs far better than they'd get in the private sector.
posted by MattD at 2:01 PM on January 11


In an LVT regime, every walkable brownstone, bungalow and low-rise neighborhood in dense areas of the country would be torn down, and their residents would have choose between 20 story apartment towers or McMansions 40 miles out of town.

Considering the number of Mefi threads full of people complaining about they can't live in San Francisco/Manhattan because of rent prices, I'd think people would welcome that. Cute brownstones are cute, but they hold very few people, and these days those are almost exclusively the very rich. In Chicago next to my lot there is an identically sized lot that has a brownstone. Two people live there, though they are never there since they are both Investment Bankers. My lot has a taller building that is home to at least 20 different people ranging from artists to cooks to computer programmers.
posted by melissam at 2:04 PM on January 11


Again, the Post article is saying more than the Rolling Stone article, and the extra thing that it says matters.

In literally every case, incidental disagreements are being treated as primary and central agreements are being treated as irrelevant. That failure to identify which part of the policy proposal is the forest and which part the trees is important just because it makes it impossible for us to find the agreements that exist.

Sometimes the differences are real though minor differences, sometimes they're just hidden assumptions. But every time you emphasize the minor differences, you're re-asserting that motivated skepticism that skeptics of democratic deliberation say makes voting irrational. I think that's a mistake, and I think we should let this be a lesson to us, to allow us to take "Yes" for an answer when the major policy issues are identical in practice.

How many of us have laughed that the Republicans are now opposing Obamacare even though they championed it when it was proposed by the Heritage Foundation? Why do we insist on believing that we're fundamentally different, not members of the same fallible race as conservatives? Why can't we liberals and educated elites accept that we make the same kinds of mistakes, especially when psychologists have repeatedly shown that we do?
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:04 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


No, not really. Myerson's introduction to each proposal is not inconsistent with a Marxist analysis, but the proposals themselves don't really follow, and are pretty solidly liberal, not left wing.

Jesus, Lenin and Trotsky on a pogo-stick, all of Myerson's ideas in RS are crypto-conservative policies that WonkBlog just de-obfuscates. This is politics for people who think Obama's ACA is a rousing success. Just because conservatives come out publicly against something, doesn't make it left-wing: ever hear of Brer Rabbit? The ACA bends over backwards to not just maintain a private market in health care, but to subsidize a private market in health insurance. It is a conservative policy no matter if you think it benefits people. Why do conservative denounce it as communism? Because they get to rally the base against the great enemy and at the same time get a conservative policy proposal to be defended by earnest liberals. It's win-win.

1) Jobs for everyone! Yay! The point of the WPA was a last ditch effort to keep capitalism going in America. Myerson explicitly says these government jobs would be counter-cyclic i.e. they would evaporate when times are "good." Yay, business gets to lay-off when convenient without any social pressure to reform the basis of work.

2) The idea of the basic income is politically inseparable from dismantling any public welfare system. Why would you give everyone an income and a house and a car and health care? More to the point the basic income drives a giant political wedge between those who pay taxes and those who live off the basic income. It's basically making a law saying some people are makers and some people are takers: why anyone thinks this is "progressive" or left-wing is beyond me

3) Tax reform! Since we have defeated every moneyed interest in the country, we can devise a perfectly efficient tax system! Yay! If you had the power to actually defeat all of the wealthy land-owners in this country, you could do a lot better than try to manage the real-estate markets using tax policy. But by all means start some tax reform in congress and see what shit sausage comes out.

4) Sovereign wealth funds! Popular in noted socialist countries like the UAE!

5) Admittedly, having a Postal Bank would solve a lot of practical benefits in the US but not the problems of capital. Having a government run banking network is kind like a WPA for the capital side of capitalism. If capital isn't being allocatde correctly by the markets then maybe the problem is not that you need a good (government) bank but a different system.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:05 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


It may be a reflection of the poverty of American political and policy discourse that this type of bloggy rehash writeup of Marxist ideas from generations past is supposedly making such an impact.* They're interesting ideas, sure. But there's nothing special here.

*and by impact I mean that people are writing things about it on twitter and blogs this week. Whatever interest people might have will be extinguished in no fewer than 10 days... stupid twitterization of politics.
posted by willie11 at 2:08 PM on January 11


Sovereign wealth funds! Popular in noted socialist countries like the UAE Norway!

FTFY: All Norwegians become crown millionaires, in oil saving landmark.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:09 PM on January 11


just one more intellectually lazy ad-hominem laced wankfest.

MetaFilter: Just one more intellectually ...


Oh, fuck it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:12 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I read both articles and I'm curious why would you need a basic minimum income and a permanent employment. Seems like one or the other should suffice to keep people out of poverty.

More to the point the basic income drives a giant political wedge between those who pay taxes and those who live off the basic income. It's basically making a law saying some people are makers and some people are takers: why anyone thinks this is "progressive" or left-wing is beyond me

Not if you gave it to everyone, regardless of their employment or tax paying status.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:12 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Jesus, that Wonkblog list is just the same old supply-side and privatization crap that conservatives have been pushing for thirty years. Cut taxes and red tape, privatize social security and give money away to business.

And give away money to individuals. So you're saying that conservatives have been pushing a basic guaranteed income for 30 years?
posted by John Cohen at 2:14 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


or to put it another way: the purpose of the New DealTM was to forestall socialism (national or otherwise) in the US. Many on the left were persuaded by Roosevelt that government interventions in the markets under the New Deal would lead to more comprehensive reform later on and helped design policies that split the left. The result was that after the moment of crisis was over, Taft-Hartley was passed and the long process of gutting unions was begun and the left disintegrated. The reactionary (fascist) right has been able to maintain itself nicely while socialism is a dead idea in the US.

Why would the left want to repeat this?
posted by ennui.bz at 2:17 PM on January 11


It seems to me that what has damaged modern discourse the most is that (in my experience, at least) so many people are no longer capable of separating the idea from the person/group/side/tribe that proposed it.

To understand how this has come to pass, one need only go visit the Frank Luntz thread.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:18 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Brian B.: Without conditions attached, poverty-related phenomenon such as addiction, truancy, and lack of family planning could get worse.

Or, by giving away money without conditions, more money could be given away, and poor people would be treated like capable human beings, who don't actually like being poor and would creatively look for ways to rise above poverty. There are a number of such efforts that have gone on in the past, and they generally succeed, but don't end poverty (as if that was a surprise). Which brings us back to a basic income guarantee for everyone.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:28 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Why would the left want to repeat this?

Because, although far from perfect, such capital tempering policies created a lot of benefits for working people and right now they are far and away our best feasible short-term option for a more just and equitable economy in an era of unprecedented power among capital and historic powerlessness among working people.

As Chomsky has said, to argue for socialism or anarchism in today's politics is a fantasy - an intellectual exercise at best - because there just isn't a constituency for such policies in America right now. There hasn't been for 30 - 50 years now. It will realistically take decades to build up the infrastructure needed to support such efforts and in those decades we can work on reform efforts that could help improve people's lives in the short-term while keeping our eye on the long-term ball or we could be ideologically pure and wait for a revolution that, given current power dynamics, will more likely be won by the powerful and well armed elite than any working class coalition.
posted by willie11 at 2:30 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Klein and Matthews are both being quite disingenuous. I'm especially surprised that Klein doesn't see past that, considering he generally seems mid-left-ish.

Ehh, that's Klein's whole schtick, to play the clear seeing, clear thinking technocrat who's brighter than all the ideologues on both sides. A stunt like this is right up his street.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:33 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Not if you gave it to everyone, regardless of their employment or tax paying status.

think about how every earned income credit debate has gone in this country? it doesn't matter what your dream policy is, the policy will be dictated by the politics, which in this case is defined by giving people enough money not to work. If you work then this puts you into an entirely different political class.

But what you are proposing is an actuarial fantasy without the dismantling of public welfare i.e. Social security, medicaid, medicare, public education. And thus you have replaced something with a defined benefit, with a cash payment whose usefulness is subject to not just the whims of the markets for health care, housing, education, food etc. but the willngness of the "makers' to continue funding direct transfers of cash. The BI makes the "makers' the preminent political class and why would those people continue to give money to everyone else?

You've seen the politics of this in every public welfare program in the US. Food stamps subsidize everyone's food budget, but do you see any politician promoting that?
posted by ennui.bz at 2:37 PM on January 11


If a policy doesn't involve the workers taking over the means of production, calling it "Marxist" is just showing that you're a fool who talks about things he doesn't understand.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:37 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


But we are losing the "jobs" for unskilled labor. The guaranteed income means if people want to sit around watching TV all day, that's OK. Those who want to go do interesting things, projects, jobs, art, whatever, can do it. That seems like a better deal to me than having to find some kind of "jobs" for those people. Or paying to house them in jail when they turn to criminal shit to survive.
posted by Windopaene at 2:40 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Looking back at it, no, he isn't proposing Marxist solutions. He's just framing it with a tone very much a product of the contemporary anti-capitalist zeitgeist. And his 5 titles are super-infused with niche anti-capitalist rhetoric.

Guaranteed income? Didn't Moynihan and Nixon look at that in the 70s? I actually think that's a fine idea. I mean, the specifics are all reasonable or semi-reasonable ideas, in theory. But theory is useless without a path to implementation.

There's some naiveté there too. Like the idea that landlords and developers don't work. People in the real estate business work their asses off. Developers work their asses off.

As for any of them being remotely politically viable, that's another matter. Particularly if it's framed with titles like "Make everything owned by everybody". Americans are decades away from being receptive to that line, if they're ever going to be receptive to it.

It's one thing to propose taxing real estate transfers more. It's another entirely to do so and surround the proposal with ideology that basically tells Americans that it's wrong for them to take a risk, invest in property, develop it, and sell it at a profit when the time is right. Our culture can be swayed to the notion that certain things should be taxed to pay for things that benefit us all. Our culture is not going to buy into the idea that a basic concept of entrepreneurship is fundamentally immoral.

This complete lack of any concept of what it takes to craft a populist movement is why Myerson and friends' Occupy Wall Street accomplished little besides inspiring more talk.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:42 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Sometimes the differences are real though minor differences, sometimes they're just hidden assumptions. But every time you emphasize the minor differences, you're re-asserting that motivated skepticism that skeptics of democratic deliberation say makes voting irrational. I think that's a mistake, and I think we should let this be a lesson to us, to allow us to take "Yes" for an answer when the major policy issues are identical in practice.

I think we disagree about how minor the cited differences would be in practice, especially on Point #1. But in any event, I find it really annoying that when I and others in this thread point out only that the two sets of proposals are not identical, we are told that our conclusion is due to motivated cognition.

I'd be happy to have a discussion about how minor the differences are. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something. (I'm also happy to take the conservative version of Point #1 over no jobs program at all. I just don't think it's fair to say that the two proposals are equivalent.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:42 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Because, although far from perfect, such capital tempering policies created a lot of benefits for working people and right now they are far and away our best feasible short-term option for a more just and equitable economy in an era of unprecedented power among capital and historic powerlessness among working people.

As Chomsky has said, to argue for socialism or anarchism in today's politics is a fantasy


You're missing my point. Dressing up policies designed to prop up failed markets i.e. ACA, as "left-wing" only creates a dynamic where there is no constituency for actual left-wing policies. You will here lots of earnest lefty types argue that the ACA is going to lead to something better, without any hard political reason why this would be so: the very definition of fantasy.

There are plenty of short-term policies that could benefit working people that don't involve buying into saving the markets from themselves.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:43 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Even if this wasn't a card palming exercise and the "conservative" and "liberal" proposals were indeed the same, you still have the reality that if you entrust the execution of liberal plans to conservatives, you'll be disappointed time and again.

In the UK frex, the tories made all the right noises about respecting the NHS and the welfare state and all, but once they got in power again they set about dismantling it.

Ezra Klein can pretend that bipartisanship is a good idea and that those nasty ideologues don't even see it when both sides are offering the same, but he should know full well that the American right as it exists would never be able or willing to deliver these plans.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:45 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Take the idea of a guaranteed minimum income for example. It's a nice idea, but in the context of US politics as they actually exist, it would be a very bad gamble to vote for a Republican proposal for this in return for the dismantlement of social security. More than likely you end up with neither a basic income nor social security.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:48 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Doesn't moving to tax base to land encourage war for land gain?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:48 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


(To be fair, ennui.bz, the articles and most of the commentators have been using "liberal", not "left wing", and the two are quite different in the US (and around the world, but especially in the US). Vis., the policies that Myerson actually proposes (intro rhetoric aside) being decidedly not Marxist or left wing.)
posted by eviemath at 2:49 PM on January 11



(To be fair, ennui.bz, the articles and most of the commentators have been using "liberal", not "left wing", and the two are quite different in the US (and around the world, but especially in the US). Vis., the policies that Myerson actually proposes (intro rhetoric aside) being decidedly not Marxist or left wing.)


at this point the whole notion of "liberal" is defined by the Republican party. It's impossible to really talk about it. The crucial issue is really how you feel about the New Deal.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:55 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Or, by giving away money without conditions, more money could be given away, and poor people would be treated like capable human beings, who don't actually like being poor and would creatively look for ways to rise above poverty.

You are suggesting that a small but steady amount of money will solve poverty for someone who is addicted, a drop-out, or avoids family planning. Not only do I disagree, but I'm suggesting the money will actually reduce all three problems if spent to address them, short and long term. Some don't even see them as problems anyway, and the majority seems to loathe the idea of family planning with government resources, especially any incentives to do so.
posted by Brian B. at 2:56 PM on January 11


So many of the currently sitting Republican politicians are so obstructionist, dogmatic, and disingenuous that it barely matters what most of its members actually say aloud. So, that sucks.

That said, distinguishing Republican politicians from those USians in general who identify as conservatives (or as independents who behave like conservatives), there's no reason why there can't be conversation and compromise over the similarities that these proposals share. There are substantial similarities and substantial differences among them. It's not hard to imagine a good faith discussion where you could talk about these similarities and differences.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:58 PM on January 11


MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch: There's some naiveté there too. Like the idea that landlords and developers don't work. People in the real estate business work their asses off. Developers work their asses off.

So do CEOs, except they're on the top of a pyramid whose base is rather wide, and each layer is funneling money upwards. CEOs get all the attention, but developers and landlords are making money off of the lower levels just as surely, if not at the same astronomical rate. Sure, there are some landlords and developers who rely completely on the work of others and reap all the rewards, but even for those who "work their asses off," is there work really worth exponentially more than their employees?

Plus landlords and developers are often seen as capitalizing on community inequities, pricing the working class out of places they, well, work. Yes, there's a supply and demand of housing, and if people are willing to pay more, they can live in more places. That's the basic calculation and doesn't take into consideration such soft details as quality of life, both for the people who can afford to buy homes anywhere, and those whose work supports the land-owners.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:13 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]



It may be a reflection of the poverty of American political and policy discourse that this type of bloggy rehash writeup of Marxist ideas from generations past is supposedly making such an impact.* They're interesting ideas, sure. But there's nothing special here.


I think it's more a reflection of the social impact of Jacobin magazine that you can now use vaguely Marxist rhetoric in a vapid essay in rolling stone. But, I'd appreciate some actual marxist ideas to tear apart. For someone on the left, I'm not even much of a Marxist. Though it's hard to tell with Jacobin, since many of their essays are similarly vacant.... especially the editor.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:15 PM on January 11


You are suggesting that a small but steady amount of money will solve poverty for someone who is addicted, a drop-out, or avoids family planning. Not only do I disagree, but I'm suggesting the money will actually reduce all three problems if spent to address them, short and long term.

I don't think anybody has suggested eliminating programs to address those issues. Of course the government should address those issues. What people are talking about instead is replacing the concepts of "workfare" and "food stamps" with no-strings-attached cash. There is a healthy amount of evidence which shows that cash-in-hand is typically much more productive than funds that are restricted in use, and/or that require time-consuming participation in frequently inane classes and assignments, and/or that can be turned off by mistake by the government, so then you have to argue your case at fair hearings to get your gorram food back.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:23 PM on January 11


Plus landlords and developers are often seen as capitalizing on community inequities, pricing the working class out of places they, well, work.

I suppose some of this is in how far you take it when you try to fix these inequities. There's a reason there are totally separate lending environments and government assistance environments for buildings with 4 of fewer dwelling units and buildings with 5 or more.

If you follow that through to what Myerson's talking about and also if you ditch the anti-capitalist jargon in his presentation, who knows, people might warm to it eventually. But if you tell an American they're gonna have an extra burden on reselling their home or reselling the small multi-unit they bought so that they could generate enough rent income to afford the property, most of them are gonna tell you that your idea, well, kinda blows.

By the way, WTF is a contemporary left wing radical doing using "blows" as a pejorative? First of all blowjobs are awesome, second of all, the kind of thinking that led "blows" to be a pejorative in the first place is patriarchal and homophobic.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:25 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Employer of Last Resort

So basically draft the unemployed into scrubbing footpaths with toothbrushes or digging holes and filling them in again, because it'd be immoral to let them laze around watching TV (or writing Wikipedia pages about anime characters, or practicing guitar or whatever)?

I think this attitude is a problem. We're coming to a situation where the amount of work available is diminishing as automation takes over; first the working class went, and now the middle class is following. Sure, there may be super-alienated jobs involving sitting in a cubicle and performing repetitive classification tasks the machine cannot yet do, but their days are numbered as well. Meanwhile, in the age of computers, people with spare time playing around creates a lot more value than it did in the age of broadcast media. I worry that, as the amount of non-bullshit jobs declines, we as a society will end up drafting the unemployed into time-consuming and meaningless games of capture-the-flag or something, just because Protestant Work Ethic.
posted by acb at 3:30 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I don't think anybody has suggested eliminating programs to address those issues.

I just replaced them with a demand-side solution, which presents itself when cash payments are assumed for everyone else. Also, by consciously not requiring a simple co-effort for cash payment, then critics and naysayers would have a reason to attack the direct payment method as being part of a wider social problem.
posted by Brian B. at 3:36 PM on January 11


ennui.bz: it doesn't matter what your dream policy is, the policy will be dictated by the politics, which in this case is defined by giving people enough money not to work.

I really appreciate the point that advocacy for a public policy has to be considered in light of the realities of how it will actually play out politically.

That said, I'm curious whether there's any policy you would be comfortable arguing for? You talk about creating a constituency for actual left wing policies. But are there any left wing policies that, given the political situation in the US, wouldn't essentially be implemented in ways that reinforce capitalism?
posted by moss at 3:39 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I just replaced them with a demand-side solution, which presents itself when cash payments are assumed for everyone else.

Could you please clarify what you're referring to here? Workfare and food stamps do not even intend to address the issues you had been talking about.

Also, by consciously not requiring a simple co-effort for cash payment, then critics and naysayers would have a basis to attack the direct payment method as being part of a wider social problem.

People already attack people on welfare and food stamps. As such, it is evident that maintaining that effort does not address this issue. Also, the effort involved is not actually simple. Indeed, I've represented clients with these exact problems, and I could thrill and/or bore you with their various details.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:40 PM on January 11


We're coming to a situation where the amount of work available is diminishing as automation takes over

This has been said of automation and the labor market for over a century. It may very well be true now thanks to hyper-globalization of capital and labor. We don't really know. But it has been a commonly held and historically untrue belief. Generally, as automation reduces work hours per task now automated, those work hours are shifted to work on something else.
posted by willie11 at 3:41 PM on January 11


We're coming to a situation where the amount of work available is diminishing as automation takes over
I don't think this is really true. You only need to look around you to see things that need to be done but aren't because there's no profit in it and governments don't have the budget for it. Mandating that everybody must do some kind of 'work' is problematic, I think but, ideally, could work to the betterment of society if that work is something that is visibly useful (ie doesn't look like punishment) and matched to a person's ability. Of course, you'd end up with a massive beurocracy to manage it all and the cycle starts again...

The thing I like most about the idea of a guaranteed basic living income is that, for many many people, it removes the need to act against society just to survive. A society that everyone can participate in has to be a better society, surely.
posted by dg at 4:00 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


On a related note, my last hope for this country is that the crusty conservatives that have run it into the ground over the past 30 years or so will finally kick the bucket and younger blood can begin building a functioning democracy. They'll have my vote.
posted by nowhere man at 4:05 PM on January 11


If you think there isn't a whole new generation of rabid conservatives that, by any useful comparison, are as bad or worse standing in line to take their place, you're in for some horrible disappointment in years to come.
posted by dg at 4:18 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Dressing up policies designed to prop up failed markets i.e. ACA, as "left-wing" only creates a dynamic where there is no constituency for actual left-wing policies.

There's a whole lot of room on the left short of dismantling capitalism. Your definition of left-wing doesn't reflect any actual left wing constituency, in the us or anywhere else.
posted by empath at 4:39 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


The BI makes the "makers' the preminent political class and why would those people continue to give money to everyone else?

That's fun to say and all, but when such an experiment was performed in Manitoba (called MINCOME), the results were counterintuitive. The only bleeding from the job market was people who shouldn't have been working anyway as they have other priorities: teenagers and young mothers. (Not that mothers have to leave work of course but I am talking about these specific results). Productivity went up. Hospital and doctor visits went down. Incidence of sickness in general went down because when people were sick they stayed home instead of infecting their colleagues.

The thing is, people want to do things. Lack of purpose kills people--quite literally in the case of retirees. If everyone could work, or not, as much or as little as they chose, knowing the absolute basics of life were taken care of? They'd still work. Sure, maybe you'll have fewer people clamoring to staff the local Wal-Mart, but maybe some of those people will write a book, or learn a new skill and teach it, or help out at schools, or in short find something to give their lives purpose and meaning which doesn't involve having to sell your soul to a CEO somewhere.

Generally, as automation reduces work hours per task now automated, those work hours are shifted to work on something else.

Those total work hours move, yes. But that is scant comfort to a machinist who's just lost her job to a robot and can't get any more machining jobs. There's this very blithe dismissal of automating labour, with the very argument you used, that evades the question of what to do with all the people whose hours are lost. It's not an easy question to answer, obviously, but handwaving it away isn't going to help the people who are losing their jobs to automation and/or outsourcing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:12 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


It's weirding me out that nobody in this thread so far has asked what "YHBT, YHL, HAND" means, even though it was an in-joke coined in the '90s. Is it the '90s again already?
posted by Kibo at 8:05 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I think we disagree about how minor the cited differences would be in practice, especially on Point #1. But in any event, I find it really annoying that when I and others in this thread point out only that the two sets of proposals are not identical, we are told that our conclusion is due to motivated cognition.

I'm sorry it's annoying. I think that motivated cognition accusations are very annoying, and they also tend to shut down argument in the same way that pointing out fallacies does. But that's literally the subject of the post, that's the substance of the argument. And the reason that it's the subject is because the proposals are the same, in the sense that each proposal contains the same basic policy but frames it differently. And look: they may be bad proposals, too, but if so they're bad for the same reasons! Dylan Matthews is doing that deliberately, so he's included all the same details, just in different places. That's key: Matthews and Myerson believe they are advocating the same proposal; that seems like important evidence that they may in fact be the same proposal.

Let's take the first proposal, on the government as employer of last resort. Jonathan Livengood and cjelli have said that the Myerson proposal is different than the Matthews proposal. As I understand it, you've identified the following differences:

1. Myerson proposes direct hiring, while Matthews proposes subsidies to corporations.
2. Myerson proposes indirect hiring by offering subsidies to nonprofits, while Matthews proposes subsidies to for-profit firms.
3. Myerson proposes permanent employment, while Matthews proposes a subsidy that tapers off.
4. Myerson doesn't mention the minimum wage, while Matthews suggests that guaranteed employment will make it unnecessary.

Now, look at those for a second: they're all the same, but re-organized. Take #1; it's true that Matthews foregrounds subsidies. But he ENDS the proposal mentioning directing hiring:

"Direct hiring, or a direct subsidy for hiring, could save taxpayers a fortune." So even though he foregrounds subsidies, he's actually also propsing direct hires. Same as Myerson, but you ignore the sameness because he foregrounds subsidies. Meanwhile, Myerson foregrounds direct hiring, but he mentions subsidies too! But you ignore the sameness because he foregrounds your preferred policy.

For #2, these are different, at least at first glance! Matthews is getting his proposal from Kevin Hassett, a Romney advisor. The total proposal is based on Germany, and it's not a true for-profit firm, but rather a special firm created by the government to find people jobs. Matthews links to the proposal, so let's look at what he wrote there:

So how about this: we invent private firms to find the long-term unemployed and get them a job, and you could have a prize for the firms that succeed. Exactly what the numbers should be requires thought and study, but suppose we think a 40 year old will be disconnected until retirement, and it will cost the government $2 million to support that person, both in terms of direct monies and the tax dollars we don't get. Why not pay a search firm $100,000 if they can document that they found that guy a job?
It turns out Germany set up a program like that, that has had some pretty good success. It's the kind of creative thinking that we should all embrace, because the situation is really terrible.


If you don't follow the link, you don't see the exact details. But the details are the same.

What about #3 and #4? Here, the specifics and the expectations matter. What happens if my subsidy runs out and my job fires me? Well, possibly I can go find another job, but if that doesn't work out... I can go back on the subsidy. No big deal. And while you may still want a minimum wage for other reasons, you don't actually need one. In fact, Germany doesn't have one, and they're doing fine, because when you've got guaranteed employment, a minimum wage is just besides the point: the minimum wage is the lowest paid job the government will subsidize.

So yes, in order to understand that these are both the same policy you need to follow the links and understand basic economics. Most people won't do that, and they'll conclude that these are different proposals. But the key here is that those people are making a mistake. That's the problem: we are justifying machines, and when we conclude there is a difference, we'll dig as deep as we can to justify it. Yet when we examine that behavior in others or in ourselves in hindsight, we recognize it is a mistake: the evidence should lead to the conclusion, not the conclusion to the evidence.

Of course, the same could be true for me: it could be that as a justifying machine I'm also digging as deeply as I can to justify my conclusion that these are the same policy. But the first step is having enough epistemic humility to acknowledge that, and to be open to alternatives. I'm willing to read (and have read several) arguments that say these are different, that I'm misreading Hassett, or that a minimum wage is still needed and Germany is actually unjustly depriving its workers of a living wage. I promise to respond to such arguments, to consider them charitably, and to admit when I am wrong.

It seems reasonable for others to do the same, doesn't it? Could you maybe start by acknowledging that motivated reasoning and skepticism exist and are prevalent? Are you aware that the most educated people are the most prone to it, because they have better resources to bring to bear in justification? Look at Sperber and Mercier. Look at Tetlock and Haidt, at Knobe and Pizarro. Look at Estlund, Schwitzgebel, and Manin, even! James Kelly just wrote a whole book just on this question, Framing Democracy! This is pretty well-trod ground!
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:08 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


There's a whole lot of room on the left short of dismantling capitalism. Your definition of left-wing doesn't reflect any actual left wing constituency, in the us or anywhere else.

Actually, in most of the world outside of the US, "The Left" is more or less synonymous with anti-capitalism, specifically any of the various forms of socialism. There are debates in Europe over whether reformist social democratic parties really count as The Left, for example, precisely because they've come to only promoting policies that work within a capitalist framework. The term you seek is liberal, not left wing.

But it's always lovely to be informed that I don't exist.
posted by eviemath at 8:14 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


By the way, WTF is a contemporary left wig radical doing using "blows" as a pejorative?

To harp on the same idea, judging by his policy recommendations, Myerson appears to be a liberal reformist, not a left wing radical. None of his policy recommendations are (or seem to me to be) calls for sysyemic change - replacing capitalism with a different economic system. Despite some of his rhetoric introducing the proposals.

I think I'm starting to have more sympathy for Ezra Klein's point of view! (Though I do still think there are significant and important differences in the details of the two proposals.)
posted by eviemath at 8:25 PM on January 11


There are some implications to full employment that are non-obvious on the surface:
We have considered the political reasons for the opposition to the policy of creating employment by government spending. But even if this opposition were overcome -- as it may well be under the pressure of the masses -- the maintenance of full employment would cause social and political changes which would give a new impetus to the opposition of the business leaders. Indeed, under a regime of permanent full employment, the 'sack' would cease to play its role as a 'disciplinary measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined, and the self-assurance and class-consciousness of the working class would grow. Strikes for wage increases and improvements in conditions of work would create political tension. It is true that profits would be higher under a regime of full employment than they are on the average under laissez-faire, and even the rise in wage rates resulting from the stronger bargaining power of the workers is less likely to reduce profits than to increase prices, and thus adversely affects only the rentier interests. But 'discipline in the factories' and 'political stability' are more appreciated than profits by business leaders. Their class instinct tells them that lasting full employment is unsound from their point of view, and that unemployment is an integral part of the 'normal' capitalist system.
Michal Kalecki, "Political Aspects of Full Employment
For example: If we set the job guarantee wage at, say, $21 an hour, with Medicare included, why would anyone choose to work a $7.25 an hour job at Wal-mart or Burger King, in bad conditions? Answer-- they wouldn't. Wal-mart and Burger King could raise their wages, of course, though this would challenge their business model.
posted by wuwei at 8:54 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


None of his policy recommendations are (or seem to me to be) calls for sysyemic change - replacing capitalism with a different economic system.

True. I guess I was too hard on him. It is a good sign that someone in his circles may have decided to stop believing in fairy tales.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:15 PM on January 11


Fairy tales like neoliberalism and supply-side economics, of course, still dominate the minds of the people who actually have power.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:25 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I never said neoliberalism or supply-side economics weren't fairytales.

But the idea that capitalism vs. socialism are two different "systems" and that one could actually do away with either is totally a fairytale.

Capitalism and socialism are forces of human nature. They could be accurately renamed "competition/self-interest" and "cooperation/sharing". They need to be in balance for a society to be healthy, and they are quite out of balance in America now, with entirely too little cooperation and sharing going on. But if we go too far in the other direction, innovation grinds to a halt, and the will to achieve goes with it.

Examples of imbalance:
Too much capitalism = we let old people starve because they can't compete.
Too much socialism = the People own your underpants, you're just using them right now.

The philosophers and their acolytes that envision either capitalism or socialism as monolithic absolutes are grossly misunderstanding just how chaotic and uncontrollable large groups of humans are.

Personally, I like Ben & Jerry's socialism. When that company was owned by the original Ben & Jerry, they had a rule that nobody could make more that 7 times what anyone else made. If more money came in, the bottom and top salaries and everything in between had to go up. But there was still room for different values on different skills and for people to advance and improve.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:59 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Take the idea of a guaranteed minimum income for example. It's a nice idea, but in the context of US politics as they actually exist, it would be a very bad gamble to vote for a Republican proposal for this in return for the dismantlement of social security. More than likely you end up with neither a basic income nor social security.

I don't really see how this is possible though - a Basic Income would in essence be like expanding Social Security. So rather than getting a guaranteed income starting at 65, you would get one starting at 18, or whatever. It would have to include social security (the guaranteed income for those of retired age) in it.

It wouldn't mean everyone would stop working, but it would mean you could relax and take a month off here and there between jobs and figure out what you really wanted to do instead of feeling compelled to accept any employment offered in order to survive. I'd bet it would correct the market on certain jobs, the sort that people take because they just feel desperate...
posted by mdn at 6:47 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Capitalism and socialism are forces of human nature.

No. Economic systems are ways of organizing production and distribution. They might be based on exploiting different characteristics of human behavior. They also get grouped into general categories - so there are a number of different ways to do capitalism that we see around the world, for example; and there's an even greater number of different economic systems that tend to be classified under the general heading of socialism, which can in fact be quite different in their basic assumptions about human behavior. Socialism as a general category of economic systems encompasses both centralized systems like state communism, and highly decentralized systems involving directly democratic decision making structures like libertarian communism, with a variety of intermediate (and non-communist) systems like various forms of syndicalism (anarcho- on the distributed power end being the most common and well-known). There are, or have been, economic systems that are neither, such as feudalism.

While it may be tempting, especially in light of the sort of indoctrination that those of us who grew up in Western countries even in the tail end of the Cold War era received on the essential characteristics of (social democratic) capitalism versus (state, often corruptly so) communism, to try to essentialize in this manner, the actual defining and distinguishing features of capitalist economic systems versus socialist economic systems are less primal. An economic system is capitalist if, primarily, it allows capital ownership - that is, private ownership of land and the means of production, and the ability to collect "rents" for use of the same, thereby gaining profit from mere ownership. An economic system is socialist if private capital ownership is disallowed, and no group can charge or gain profit from rents on use of capital (land or the means of production). While a group of people's choice of economic system to use can be motivated by ethical considerations or their beliefs about human behavior, the economic systems themselves are merely tools. Complex tools, but just as much a tool as the systems that major corporations such as Walmart or Amazon.com use to make decisions about purchasing and distribution to their various warehouses and (in Walmart's case) stores. (Which is why economists talk sometimes about the (internal) economies of businesses, and how they compare eg. Walmart's economy to that of various nations.)

What you describe with the original Ben & Jerry's company is the social democratic form of capitalism.

Even under various forms of communism (which are not the only options for socialist economic systems), you tend to own your own underwear, because your underwear is not capital - it is not part of the means of production. Some groups throughout world history have reportedly used economic systems that do not entail private property of any sort. But personal property is not the same thing as capital, and the distinctions between capitalism and socialism are concerned with capital ownership only.
posted by eviemath at 7:00 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


An easy read and good book on this topic is "Economics for Everyone" by Jim Stanford.
posted by eviemath at 7:06 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


But personal property is not the same thing as capital, and the distinctions between capitalism and socialism are concerned with capital ownership only.

OK, fine. Lose the underwear metaphor. Under too much socialism, if you're even still allowed to be a freelance carpenter, the People own your hammer.

Economic systems are ways of organizing production and distribution.

Which are representative of human nature. That self-interest and competitiveness that are represented by capitalist tendencies in an economy are indelible.

In communist economies, even when people couldn't technically own their home or any means of production, self-interested people found ways to game the system and gain more material comfort and more power and control over means of production.

And the idea that Capitalism or Socialism are ever monolithic "systems" is still absurd. In every nation they co-exist side by side in some ratio, albeit a ratio that's hard to empirically define.

The only exceptions to this that I can think of are the defacto anarcho-capitalism in failed states like what Somalia has been at times in it's history, and the totalitarian communism of North Korea. And in both cases, it takes an astounding amount of violence to repress either the basic human instinct to organize and share, or the basic human instinct to own, to compete economically.

The idea that Capitalism is "the system" is very easy for people who don't understand power to grab on to and run away with, and it all too often leads to a lot of self-defeating ideas about conspiratorial oligarchs who control everything.

If we ask ourselves of any society-wide situation "did this arise out of conspiracy or chaos", the answer is almost always "a little conspiracy, but mostly chaos". And because of that, aiming at the perceived conspiracy as a way of effecting change is rarely as effective as aiming at the chaos.

Which is to say, yes, we should be looking at the bankers and the politicians for signs of conspiracy, but ultimately, it is our culture (which is a kind of chaos) that creates the playing field in which conspiring powerful people can operate and get one over on the rest of us.

Long before we can actually make any of the policies Myerson wants, we'll need to work for decades to change our culture from one that is lopsided towards valuing self-interest to one that places a healthy balance of value on both competition and cooperation.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:56 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I have an accountant friend who once outlined to me a guaranteed income/taxation scheme that would pretty much put his entire profession out of business.

1. guaranteed income up to whatever the poverty line is (say $15,000 for simplicity's sake, but definitely enough income to survive and see some hope for the future). No tax on any of this. Free medical.

2. twenty-five percent tax on every penny of income above $15,000, medical to come out of this.

And that's it. As he saw it, you solved the two biggest economic concerns we have. 1. Nobody's starving, falling through the cracks. 2. There is still plenty of incentive for hard work etc from people who want to do more than just survive.

I can't remember what he said about sales tax, but that made sense too. We were were drinking at the time.
posted by philip-random at 11:22 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


1. guaranteed income up to whatever the poverty line is (say $15,000 for simplicity's sake, but definitely enough income to survive and see some hope for the future). No tax on any of this. Free medical.

2. twenty-five percent tax on every penny of income above $15,000, medical to come out of this.


It's basically known as negative income tax (with any percentages desired) and satisfies the requirements of guaranteed income and progressive taxation in one calculation, with incentive to work. The other nice thing about it is that any political adjustments are simple and its existence is not bureaucratic. Getting conservatives past the idea not taxing poor people is the hardest part, as they are more than willing to damage the entire economy just to express their loathing of poor people and their adulation of wealth.
posted by Brian B. at 11:41 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


For example: If we set the job guarantee wage at, say, $21 an hour, with Medicare included, why would anyone choose to work a $7.25 an hour job at Wal-mart or Burger King, in bad conditions? Answer-- they wouldn't.

That seems like a crazy high guaranteed minimum wage -- i'd think of something more like $12 or $15/hr. In any case, they replace the employees with robots or they raise prices, or you work out some kind of situation where the government makes up the difference in wages and subsidize walmart somehow, but then we'd have to have an actual political debate on the value of subsidizing walmart instead of walmart just indirectly and directly leeching off of government programs the way they do now without anyone really noticing.
posted by empath at 11:45 AM on January 12


empath: "That seems like a crazy high guaranteed minimum wage -- i'd think of something more like $12 or $15/hr."

And that's just how far the goalposts have been moved. $12/hour full-time is $25,000/year before taxes. That's barely enough to live on in many parts of the country.
posted by schmod at 12:58 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


It's weirding me out that nobody in this thread so far has asked what "YHBT, YHL, HAND" means, even though it was an in-joke coined in the '90s. Is it the '90s again already?
posted by Kibo at 4:05 on January 12 [2 favorites +] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by acb at 2:10 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


empath: "That seems like a crazy high guaranteed minimum wage -- i'd think of something more like $12 or $15/hr."

schmod: "And that's just how far the goalposts have been moved. $12/hour full-time is $25,000/year before taxes. That's barely enough to live on in many parts of the country."


Yes, it is amazing how far the goalposts have been moved. Throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s, minimum wage kept up with the productivity growth of the economy. Since the 1970s that link has been broken. Today that equivalent minimum wage should be over $21 per hour. Instead, all of the growth in the economy has gone to those at the top leaving those at the bottom far behind. The fact that someone would think $21 to be "crazy high" indicates how radically conservatism has skewed the discourse.
posted by JackFlash at 4:35 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]


Change the culture? Heard that for decades. Cop out. Markets and currency exist within a matrix of rules, i.e. the law. We construct these things for ourselves.

Regarding the job guarantee, recent polling (sample size 1000) shows that the American electorate narrowly favors it, 47% to 44%.
posted by wuwei at 11:01 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


-More Jobs Are the Antidote to Inequality (via)
-Full employment gives people jobs, but it also gives them power
-Rethinking the Idea of a Basic Income for All
-Paths to Full Employment
-Wage subsidies

-Greg Mankiw Offers a False Choice re Minimum Wage or EITC
-Are the minimum wage and EITC complements? And if so, when?

-A "Job Guarantee" Sounds Like Bad News
-Lane Kenworthy's Social Democratic America: "progressives need to start caring more about the cost-effectiveness and quality of public services and not simply see things like schools and transit systems as means for creating highly paid public sector employment..."

-Inadequate Demand vs. Policy Uncertainty
-The Wrong Debate: Helicopter Drops vs. Quantative Easing

-Shinzo Abe unveils a concerted effort to raise Japanese workers' pay
-Understanding the "Secular Stagnation" Debate: "My dream would be to tell you that the Abenomics experiment in Japan can answer this question for us..."

-Getting Back to Full Employment: A Better Bargain for Working People (pdf)
-Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?
-Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs
posted by kliuless at 9:14 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


Which are representative of human nature. That self-interest and competitiveness that are represented by capitalist tendencies in an economy are indelible.

You know, no, I don't think they are. I think a lot of what people think is "human nature" comes from looking around them and taking aspects of their environment as if they were universal truths, generalizing from specifics. This happens all the fucking time, forgetting that for hundreds of thousands of years humans were a nomadic tribal people, and that we're still practically, genetically identical to them.

This means that a lot of what we consider to be human nature isn't, so to speak, hardware, but software, what we learn to be as we grow up. Who the hell knows what humans could be like if they were brought up differently? It's hard to say, but there exist uncontacted, or rarely contacted, tribes in the secluded corners of the world that offer interesting suggestions.
posted by JHarris at 9:37 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


-Wanted: More Worker-Owners [1,2,3]
-Three posts on basic income
At Pieria, my study of the Speenhamland system of poor relief, which was actually an experiment in basic income. It was vilified for depressing wages, creating labour shortages, encouraging unsustainable population growth and requiring ever-higher taxes to support it. But as I show in the post, none of these is true. It actually worked well, and the things it was blamed for were largely caused by other factors. But when it was abolished, it was replaced with the cruellest form of welfare ever devised - and it looks ominously as though we may be heading down that same path again.

At Forbes, my discussion of why we need a minimum wage. If we are going to have in-work and out-of-work benefits, and governments are going to try to compel people to work, then a minimum wage is essential to protect taxpayers from rising benefit bills as employers bid down wages. But a basic income that didn't compel people to work would be much better.

At Coppola Comment, my technical discussion of uncertainty and safety in labour markets. The labour market is bifurcated into high-skill workers with safe jobs, and lower-skill (or rather, less marketable) workers with insecure jobs. But high-skill workers don't want or need safe jobs - it is their employers that need them to stay. It is lower-skill workers that need safe jobs, but their employers want to be able to replace them whenever they want. How do we resolve the asymmetric needs of workers and employers? If the relationship of this post to basic income isn't obvious, read the comments. Cig gets it.
posted by kliuless at 9:14 PM on January 16


25,000 is a decent income in a lot of the country. You can't set the nationwide minimum based on housing prices in Manhattan.
posted by empath at 5:19 AM on January 17


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