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Public Policy, Political Organization, and the Precipitous Rise of Top Incomes in the United States
October 21, 2010 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Winner-Take-All Politics [1,2] (PDF) - "The sources of American economic inequality are largely political – the result of deliberate political decisions to shape markets in ways that benefit the already-privileged at the expense of a more-or-less unaware public." (via bd)

BONUS
How the Roberts Court works - "Under the stewardship of its boyish chief justice, John Roberts, the court has taken the law for a sharp turn to the ideological right, while at the same time masterfully concealing it."

Money Talks Louder Than Ever in Midterms - "After a Supreme Court ruling and other decisions, groups feel more able to make direct appeals for or against candidates."

Confronting Income Inequality - "Economics was founded by moral philosophers, and links between the two disciplines remain strong. So why won’t economists make judgments on the gap between rich and poor?"
posted by kliuless (47 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The sources of American economic inequality are largely political – the result of deliberate political decisions to shape markets in ways that benefit the already-privileged at the expense of a more-or-less unaware public."

Isn't that the definition of capitalism?
posted by londonmark at 4:58 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, no shit, sherlock. In other news, water is wet and the sun is hot.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:12 AM on October 21, 2010


Counterpoint: Over 200 years the United States has gone from political domination by a wealthy, plantation oreinted, southern aristocracy built on cheap land and slave labor to a pluralistic society with widespread suffrage for non-felon citizens over 18. Durable progressive coalitions have been able to push through and maintain policy objectives like the minimum wage, Medicare, social security, the income tax, and civil rights.
posted by humanfont at 5:29 AM on October 21, 2010 [12 favorites]


Beyond the mere fact that income inequality exists, do you have anything interesting to say about it? Or a link to someone who does?

The Marginal Revolution link interests me, at the very minimum. It may not interest you. So the answer to your question is yes.
posted by blucevalo at 5:31 AM on October 21, 2010


londonmark: "The sources of American economic inequality are largely political – the result of deliberate political decisions to shape markets in ways that benefit the already-privileged at the expense of a more-or-less unaware public."

Isn't that the definition of capitalism?


I can't tell if that was sarcastic or not, but no, that's actually profoundly un-capitalist. The passage would be closer to the definition of plutocracy.
posted by spaltavian at 5:40 AM on October 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Tyler Cowen responds.

Basically, the Hacker/Pierson argument is nice, gets some things right, but misses the fact that almost the entirety of the really disgusting inequality is driven by finance. Also, there's this:
If the top earners are screwing over their wage earners in the big companies, by pulling in excess wages, options, and perks, we should observe non-stagnant median pay for people who avoid working in firms with fat cat CEOs. Or we should observe talented lower-tier workers fleeing the big corporations, to keep their wages up. Yet no evidence for these predictions is given, nor are the predictions considered. It is likely that the predictions are false.
In other words, Hacker and Pierson are making the same mistake of thinking that small businesses are better than big ones.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:48 AM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't tell if that was sarcastic or not, but no, that's actually profoundly un-capitalist. The passage would be closer to the definition of plutocracy.


Well, maybe if you believe in a completely free market. In practice, I don't see a difference.
posted by londonmark at 5:51 AM on October 21, 2010


I like this. It's interesting. It's important.

Just because one person knows about something already doesn't mean other people shouldn't talk about it if they want to. Metafilter's front page currently has a whole host of different posts on geek related or arts related subjects, if this one seems like old news. What is to be gained by silencing conversation on this subject?

Besides, the review in the first link claims that this book is "one that should transform the ways in which we think about and debate the political economy of the US."

Maybe it is. I'd like to see what the clever people on Metafilter make of it.

So: thank you, Kliuless.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:53 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good post, looks like there's some concrete evidence behind their claims, which is what makes it interesting. Thanks.
posted by antihostile at 6:05 AM on October 21, 2010


I don't know about anyone else, but I hardly call that news.
posted by valkyryn at 5:36 AM on October 21 [+] [!]


You did get the memo that MeFi is explicitly NOT NewsFilter, right? I find it's a given that if kiluless makes one of these encyclopedicOPs™ you will offer in opposition that this is not news. kiluless, I think, has shown an effort to trim the logorrhea of that last post to something more manageable, and certainly worthy of discussion. An out of hand "It's not news" does nothing to further the discussion, which you have shown you don't really want to have.

My grandparents and their friends and neighbors fought and some died for laborers to get a weekend off, and not just a Sunday, and eventually a 40 hour work week and a minimum guaranteed wage for everyone's labor, the right to freely organize for collective bargaining--all of which those who are at the top of the capital pyramid have fought to overturn, limit, and eliminate. Put universal health care into that mix, too, although we are far from achieving it. Oh, and they also fought in wars to keep America the land of opportunity for ALL that they hoped it would remain. They would be disheartened to see how unions squandered their missions (union leadership either in moral bankruptcy or in some cases collusion with management--rather than partnership with management--has been as much to blame for the loss of faith in unions as has the relentless onslaught from ownership).

You are clear that you believe in unfettered capitalism--you are certainly within your rights to do so. kiluless is not injecting his position into his post, although the inference can be drawn that he (like many of us) believe that laborers are not fairly compensated for their contribution to the creation of capital in the consumption/production cycle.

It is particular reprehensible to me--oops, showing my bias if it weren't already clear--that there are people making huge sums of money from sheerly the manipulation of capital--not creating goods and only marginally providing a service that provides for the common good. No, I do not buy the trickle down theory of economics. We've had 30 solid years of that theory being the dominant economic driver, and the separation between the top 25% and the bottom 25% is stark, dramatic, and supported by any number of statistical measures.

I don't have a pipe dream that communism or socialism provide any hope of a panacea, but I do think that the elimination of regulations on banking (f'rinstance) beginning in the 80s set us up for the huge bubbles of the late 90s through the late 00s.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:06 AM on October 21, 2010 [29 favorites]


I am always reminded of Al Sharpton's brilliant quip about "trickle down" economics: "They got the trickle and we got the down."
posted by three blind mice at 6:18 AM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


You are clear that you believe in unfettered capitalism

No I don't. Read through my posting history. You won't find that the balance of my participation here supports that view. Suggesting that yet another post on economic inequality is not Best of the Web shouldn't earn me that approbation, either.

I don't see any of the posts amounting to much more than "Economic equality is bad, getting worse, and conservatives are evil!" except for perhaps the first one, which is more like "Economic equality is bad, getting worse, conservatives are evil, and we have graphs to prove it!" Nowhere do I see any discussion about a potential solution to the problem, an interesting series of photos taken in locations that are emblems are inequality,* a collection of blog posts getting inside people's heads at both ends of the spectrum, etc. Those'd make good posts. Instead, we get what amount to op-eds.

Someone wants to call me out on MeTa, go right ahead, but I just don't see this as being anything more than opportunity for the people who are exercised about economic inequality to vent their spleen like you just did. That being the case, I don't see any reason not to say so.

*Actually, that'd be a really cool post...
posted by valkyryn at 6:21 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have been thinking recently that some level of economic inequality is good, even if it's unfair.

Many advances in culture, science, etc, are only possible because some people have leisure time and the excess resources to indulge in it. If we were to distribute wealth equally among all people on the planet, it seems to me that it would be a net negative to society. Which isn't to say that wealth redistribution is bad, but that it should probably be at some level less than 100%, even in an ideal world.
posted by empath at 6:27 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem comes from the way economists view markets. A totally unregulated market is seen as an ideal because of its ease of use by economists, making it some sort of default model, rather than a policy choice in itself. Hence, the downsides of deregulation are not adequately represented because of this bias.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:35 AM on October 21, 2010


You know, valkyryn, nobody is forcing you to read these posts. Flag it and move on applies just as much to posts you consider axe-grindy as it does those you consider offensive or content-less (or indeed combos of such factors). Any time I see any thread about inequality, you're right there, instantly, claiming it's not a valid discussion to have.

If you want to see threads about solutions or alternatives, then contribute in that direction, instead of questioning the existence of every single thread that has anything bad to say about conservative/pro big business fiscal policy.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:37 AM on October 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


This is still kind of a crap post (seven links, three from NYT and one from Slate? Really?), but it's not the all-consuming clusterf*ck that this one was.

We get that you're upset about inequality. We get that. Beyond the mere fact that income inequality exists, do you have anything interesting to say about it? Or a link to someone who does?


Like Milton Freedman or Thomas Sowell? If you've got something to say about the content, fine, but you're just thread-shitting otherwise.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:39 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Durable progressive coalitions have been able to push through and maintain policy objectives like... Not to say that significantly good objectives weren't achieved by progressives, but they have their skeletons too, so if you could maybe stop turning progressive vs. conservative politics into some sort of simplistic good vs. evil thing, that would be great.
posted by thesmophoron at 6:55 AM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you have not done so yet, I high recommend reading Yves Smith's book ECONNED and her blog, naked capitalism. My only caveat is that you will rage and despair at so much truth.
posted by liza at 7:00 AM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Or, empath, the people who currently have no leisure time and/or no resources would create awesome things but right now they spend all their time making bullshit for rich people to consume and/or scrubbing rich people's floors and/or being so irrelevant to rich people that they have to struggle for basic necessities.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:09 AM on October 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


[A couple early comments removed. The process is (1) flag and (2) move on. There's a whole other part of the site you can go to if that's not sufficient, but cut out the out-of-the-gate metacommentary in threads.]
posted by cortex at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Progressives are more awesome than conservatives and have been. There is no Joni Mitchell-style "both sides now", bad journalism bullshit.

The "bigotry of low expectations" has zero to do with systemic racism when compared to segregation, lynching, anti-miscegenation laws...

It is great that we don't elect all of our government employees, because FUCK, I don't even know who to vote in as comptroller, much less as IT guy or janitor.

Forced sterilization is always the huge OH NOES LIBERALS thing (Planned Parenthood = eugenics!!! liberals hate your reproductive freedom!!!) but you forget the long, persistent horror that is forced childbirth, lack of medical care for indigent women, lack of medical care for people who can't care for themselves, slashed social services budgets....

Prohibition, man, considering the bullshit that women went through at the hands of their spouse-beating, alcoholic, money-wasting husbands who they couldn't easily leave or have prosecuted, I sympathize with Susan B. Anthony on that one.

Try again.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:16 AM on October 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


There was a great series on the reasons for increasing economic inequality in the US on Slate recently. Not sure if it was on the blue. The end summary was as follows :

Here is a back-of-the-envelope calculation, an admittedly crude composite of my discussions with and reading of the various economists and political scientists cited thus far:

* Race and gender are responsible for none of it, and single parenthood is responsible for virtually none of it.
* Immigration is responsible for 5 percent.
* The imagined uniqueness of computers as a transformative technology is responsible for none of it.
* Tax policy is responsible for 5 percent.
* The decline of labor is responsible for 20 percent.
* Trade is responsible for 10 percent.
* Wall Street and corporate boards' pampering of the Stinking Rich is responsible for 30 percent.
* Various failures in our education system are responsible for 30 percent.

Most of these factors reflect at least in part things the federal government did or failed to do. Immigration is regulated, at least in theory, by the federal government. Tax policy is determined by the federal government. The decline of labor is in large part the doing of the federal government. Trade levels are regulated by the federal government. Government rules concerning finance and executive compensation help determine the quantity of cash that the Stinking Rich take home. Education is affected by government at the local, state, and (increasingly) federal levels. In a broad sense, then, we all created the Great Divergence, because in a democracy, the government is us.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 7:42 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


In a broad sense, then, we all created the Great Divergence, because in a democracy, the government is us.

Can you imagine a system where the very rich don't use their wealth to influence the democratic process and ensure their privilege? Otherwise, we're all turkeys voting for Christmas.
posted by londonmark at 7:56 AM on October 21, 2010


At the risk of being too simplistic, I see the core problem as this:

We decided, as a country, to take the path of capitalist democracy. A capitalist economy depends on expansion to function. Growth depends on disposable income. A large and stable middle class is the only efficient way to achieve this; a large pool of people that can absorb the basic costs of existing and still have some ducats left to feed the machine. The middle class in this country (once the largest and most successful in the world) has been decimated. We can disagree on the causes of this situation, but the fact is, in the long term, growing income inequality is the equivalent of a noose around the neck of the system we profess to believe in.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:02 AM on October 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


The idea that capitalism means markets, or free markets, or a total lack of regulation, et al, is silly and obfuscates the role of the capital relation. There are market-based economic systems and theories which are not capitalist, and the idea that a particular capitalist economy is not capitalist because it has rules is silly and dumb.

I mean, you totally can use "capitalism" to mean "any market-based economy" or "only a pure unrestricted free-market economy", but these are imprecise and make it harder to talk about capitalist economies.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:02 AM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Since the FPP is about the ideas in a book, this is how it was summarized by Kevin Drum -- here's the nickel version:
1) In the 60s, at the same time that labor unions begin to decline, liberal money and energy starts to flow strongly toward "postmaterialist" issues: civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, gay rights, etc. These are the famous "interest groups" that take over the Democratic Party during the subsequent decades.

2) At about the same time, business interests take stock of the country's anti-corporate mood and begin to pool their resources to push for generic pro-business policies in a way they never had before. Conservative think tanks start to press a business-friendly agenda and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce start to fundraise on an unprecedented scale. This level of persistent, organizational energy is something new.

3) Unions, already in decline, are the particular focus of business animus. As they decline, they leave a vacuum. There's no other nationwide organization dedicated to persistently fighting for middle class economic issues and no other nationwide organization that's able to routinely mobilize working class voters to support or oppose specific federal policies. (In both items #2 and #3, note the focus on persistent organizational pressure. This is key.)

4)With unions in decline and political campaigns becoming ever more expensive, Democrats eventually decide they need to become more business friendly as well. This is a vicious circle: the more unions decline, the more that Democrats turn to corporate funding to survive. There is, in the end, simply no one left who's fighting for middle class economic issues in a sustained and organized way. Conversely, there are lots of extremely well-funded and determined organizations fighting for the interests of corporations and the rich.

The result is exactly what you'd expect. With liberal money and energy focused mostly on non-economic concerns, the country moves steadily leftward on social issues. With conservative money and energy focused mostly on the interests of corporations and the rich—and with no one really fighting back—the country moves steadily rightward on econonomic issues.
One of the historical turning points was when George Meany took the AFL-CIO hardhats out of the Democratic party in 1972, it's been a downhill slide ever since. Rick Perlstein's book, Nixonland, offers a view of that time.
posted by warbaby at 8:10 AM on October 21, 2010 [12 favorites]


thesmophoron writes: that "progressives" "pushed through," the less invidious, more insidious "bigotry of low expectations" that included the push to permanently disqualify drug felons from voting and labor regulations intended to protect white male wages and drive down black and female employment (see also [1][2])"

Wow, interesting. But too bad none of the three links plopped into this sentence (they looked like citations, anyhow...) says anything about progressives having managed to "permanently disqualify drug felons from voting." This is a shame, since it might have been interesting to read about this, since nowadays the list of states that prohibit drug felons from voting
(Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming) doesn't exactly read like a who's who's of regions entirely dominated by socialists and hippies. I wonder what the story is here? Maybe the progressives briefly took over all those red states and forced them to disenfranchise drug felons. Then, I presume, the insidious progressives all moved to Seattle to chill out.
posted by washburn at 8:34 AM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Or, empath, the people who currently have no leisure time and/or no resources.

Oh, I fully believe that if we randomly jiggled around who has extra leisure time and resources, we'd suddenly find that the new 'privileged' would be creating just as much awesome stuff as the current crop. However, if we distributed resources perfectly equally, nobody would have the time or resources to do much of anything.
posted by empath at 8:54 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


the list of states that prohibit drug felons from voting
(Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming) doesn't exactly read like a who's who's of regions entirely dominated by socialists and hippies. I wonder what the story is here? Maybe the progressives briefly took over all those red states and forced them to disenfranchise drug felons. Then, I presume, the insidious progressives all moved to Seattle to chill out.


Oh I must be mistaken then. When did they move Seattle out of Washington?
posted by thesmophoron at 9:25 AM on October 21, 2010


Oh, I fully believe that if we randomly jiggled around who has extra leisure time and resources, we'd suddenly find that the new 'privileged' would be creating just as much awesome stuff as the current crop. However, if we distributed resources perfectly equally, nobody would have the time or resources to do much of anything.

I think that's inaccurate, empath. If we distributed resources perfectly equally, I suspect that many people would suddenly find extra time and resources to spend on taking more resources from their weaker neighbors.

Inequality develops over time, because human beings aren't equal in fundamental ways -- some of us happen to be bigger, meaner, smarter, more charismatic, more numerous, and/or more willing to hurt and kill than the others.
posted by vorfeed at 9:55 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that's inaccurate, empath. If we distributed resources perfectly equally, I suspect that many people would suddenly find extra time and resources to spend on taking more resources from their weaker neighbors.

Well, that too. I figured as long as we were living in a perfectly fair world, we'd have perfectly moral people, too.
posted by empath at 10:00 AM on October 21, 2010


Oh I must be mistaken then. When did they move Seattle out of Washington?

Well, first, let's guess that you're pretending not to get the joke.

Even so, there's a basic problem with the "progressivism=racism" line of argument you're promoting in this thread, thesmophoron, that goes beyond the uncited and highly dubious claim that "progressives" (however you define them) are somehow historically responsible for laws that disenfranchise drug users (you'd have to believe something like my "Seattle migration" story for your claim about these laws to make sense, you see...).

It's certainly fair enough (and, more than than, imperative) to carefully examine the long history of racism among progressives in the US. But your account (in wide circulation nowadays, thanks to Glenn Beck etc.) is a dangerous half-truth, since it leaves out the crucial fact that American society has been widely racist throughout its history. Your account makes it seem that progressives somehow invented racism the day they started thinking about a "larger good" that went beyond studying the Bible and protecting property rights. And that's simply not true--if you were to quote Rockefeller-type captains of industry or other conservatives from the early twentieth century, you'd find plenty of racism there, too.

The narrative you're advocating is one that takes advantage of historical illiteracy, by presenting progressivism as the source of American racism, rather than as a movement that included both racist and anti-racist elements as it developed. As I hope you know, more progressives would identify with the progressivism of Martin Luther King and Big Bill Haley and the Wobblies than with Jack London. The story of how the progressive movement has both tried and failed to try to include workers of many races is an interesting, complex, and ongoing one. So it's sad to see this story being distorted into a caricature of history in which the progressive desire to improve the society we live in can be perversely regarded as the origin of racism in America.
posted by washburn at 10:49 AM on October 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


Much is not right here.

I high recommend reading Yves Smith's book ECONNED and her blog, naked capitalism

Yes, do, but the real action is at PAE

Here is a back-of-the-envelope calculation, an admittedly crude composite of my discussions with and reading of the various economists and political scientists cited thus far:

* Race, gender, single parenthood ~ 0 percent.
* Immigration ~ 5 percent.
* computers ~ 0 percent.
* Tax policy ~ 5 percent.
* decline of labor ~ 20 percent.
* Trade ~10 percent.
* Wall Street and corporate boards' ~ 30 percent.
* education system ~ 30 percent.

What. I like how these are delineated in a way where they look like they have nothing to do with each other. You can't make accusations of economic theory handwaving when this is around.

Also, WTF computers. Computers are machines ya know. So we're going to try to honestly believe that the largest wealth/quality of life change in the history of the planet just happened to occured at the same time as these things became ubiquetous. Ok then.

the core problem as this:

We decided, as a country, to take the path of capitalist democracy. A capitalist economy depends on expansion


You mean exploitation? Barely anywhere in this thread is it recognized that the US isn't this bubble of economic activity and income and that it actually interacts with the world around it.

In the 60s...business interests take stock of the country's anti-corporate mood

This power dynamic is much older. Even within the US you have Robber Barons and Lincoln worried about banks up to 100 years before this article starts talking about an 'anti-corporate mood'.

My take? Super summary version:
- power positions needed to protect nascent financial practices (which insulated their power) from the new trend of democratic governance and the best trojan horse around was emerging theory on political economy. It lended physics-like science to what is essentially politics.
- jockeying continued around constituent pieces of the pie with the 'golden days' being what people most people think of as normal, when American labor had its highest share, well, ever.
- two things have rocked the boat, (1) the US's turn to come down the other side of the teeter-totter and (2) the unsolved problem of non-physical property rights and how that works in an information economy

bonus - the physical economy must stop because the planet is falling apart, which is the final bluff being called of the original nascent financial practices
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 10:57 AM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


empath: Oh, I fully believe that if we randomly jiggled around who has extra leisure time and resources, we'd suddenly find that the new 'privileged' would be creating just as much awesome stuff as the current crop. However, if we distributed resources perfectly equally, nobody would have the time or resources to do much of anything.

It sounds as though you're saying that it's acceptable that some people be forced (whether they wish it or not) to not have leisure time — or to have insufficient leisure time to be able to do anything creative with it — so that others can have that leisure time, because the positive aspects of the awesome stuff the latter creates outweighs the negative aspects of the former being denied those same opportunities. Is that a reasonable summary?

That fails the veil of ignorance test badly.
posted by Lexica at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


You've got to be kidding me. Let's walk through this step by step, shall we?

Even so, there's a basic problem with the "progressivism=racism" line of argument you're promoting in this thread

I never argued such a thing. In fact I'm pretty sure I said "significantly good objectives were[] achieved by progressives, but they have their skeletons too." The fact of the matter is that YOU are the only one in this thread equating the two. I never did.

that goes beyond the uncited and highly dubious claim that "progressives" (however you define them) are somehow historically responsible for laws that disenfranchise drug users (you'd have to believe something like my "Seattle migration" story for your claim about these laws to make sense, you see...).

Um. No, you wouldn't really have to believe that, unless you also believe the patently, obviously false proposition that laws are never repealed or changed, and also make a fundamental logical error in thinking that (P -> L) -> (~P -> ~L).

It's certainly fair enough (and, more than than, imperative) to carefully examine the long history of racism among progressives in the US.

Then how come you attack people when they bring it up?

But your account (in wide circulation nowadays, thanks to Glenn Beck etc.) is a dangerous half-truth, since it leaves out the crucial fact that American society has been widely racist throughout its history.

Slavery existed until the mid 1860s, and the Progressive movement didn't start for some decades after that. I'm pretty confident that the facts I've "left out" are self evident to anyone who studied 8th grade social science. If you'd rather replace all productive conversation on Metafilter with remedial history classes, that's your prerogative to engage in with your own posts, but don't expect me to be so reductive.

Your account makes it seem that progressives somehow invented racism

Where, in any of my post, did I come within a thousand miles of suggesting racism didn't exist before the Progressive Era, and that therefore they "invented" it?

The narrative you're advocating is one that takes advantage of historical illiteracy...

Since you can't seem to understand what my original post did and did not actually say, and since you seem incapable of following basic logical reasoning, I'm going to question whether you really ought to be talking about what does or does not constitute illiteracy.

So it's sad to see this story being distorted into a caricature of history in which the progressive desire to improve the society we live in can be perversely regarded as the origin of racism in America.

Agreed. But that "perverse[]" "caricature" is not what I presented. I'd appreciate if you stopped trying to project Glenn Beck onto me.

Just to be clear:

I DID say that progressivism has a history of racism and other negative traits, such that "turning progressive vs. conservative politics into some sort of simplistic good vs. evil thing" is unwarranted.

I DID NOT say that progressivism is the origin of racism, such that we should instead treat progressive vs. conservative politics into a yet-again-simplistic evil vs. good thing.

If you feel the need to object to what I said, please keep in mind to stick to what I actually said, instead of autistically make-believing me into some shadow of someone whose existence barely registers for me, whose show I do not watch, and whose general opinions I abhor. It's intellectually dishonest and quite a pain in the butt.
posted by thesmophoron at 1:02 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


thesmophoron: if at time t_0 "progressives" are responsible for enacting laws that disenfranchise drug users and at time t_1 > t_0 "progressives" are responsible for repealing such laws, how does your schema for assigning collective responsibility for those laws account for such facts?

Please be precise.
posted by hoople at 1:33 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


A Tea Party of populist posers
posted by homunculus at 3:32 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit sorry for derailing this thread a little (or a lot) by taking issue with thesmophoron's characterization of progressivism. I'm not happy to be drawing attention away from from Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's promising new book on how politics has produced an enduing structural inequality in the US (though in my defense, this post could have been focused a bit more narrowly on this book and its arguments).

I won't continue this derail much longer, but thesmophoron's familiar but discombobulated characterization of the legacy of progressive movement isn't easy to pass by.

thesmophoron now (setting aside his or her remarks about progressives being responsible for the disenfranchisement of drug users) objects that I oversimplified his or her position, writing: "I DID NOT say that progressivism is the origin of racism."

Ok; fair enough. What did you, thesmophoron, say, then? Well, you said that, "progressive coalitions have been able to push through and maintain policy objectives" such as: "forced sterilization," "the undemocratization of government," "systemic racism," and the "prohibition of alcohol."

So, wow. It's not just that according to you progressives have "pushed through" the "policy objective" of "systematic racism" (a muddled claim if ever there was one). But they've also been behind prohibition, forced sterilization and something called "the undemocratization of government" (what?).

Following this crazily sweeping claim, you do indeed hedge your argument: "Not to say that significantly good objectives weren't achieved by progressives," a remark that in a later comment you massage into a positive claim that progressives achieved some (unspecified) good objectives. Ok, fine.

I'm glad to know that you're not a Glenn Beck fan, thesmophoron, but you did in fact attribute a lot of nebulous negative social change to an ill-defined "progressive" movement, with a historical sloppiness I've never seen outside the fandom of Glenn Beck, or maybe Rush Limbaugh.

Maybe I've been a bit harsh; but you're spreading an an ahistorical and incoherent line of thinking that's doing real damage in the US lately. I'll try to leave it at that.
posted by washburn at 3:54 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Capitalism is what an 80's movie Russian character thinks the US economy is based on. Duh.

Capitalism means: money is work, work is money. All money stems from someone, somewhere, working. If I work extra hard and save my money, I can buy stuff. I could buy a service from someone: a zero risk, pure labor play: I trade my labor for theirs.

Or I can take the fruits of my labor and risk them in an investment of some kind. If my risk pays off, I get more money because my investment somehow allowed someone else to work, and in return for that, I get to skim a little off the bottom. But those other people get money too, because they worked for it.

Capitalism rewards risk and work. It does not reward anything else, except luck maybe. It's the law of the jungle: the world doesn't owe you anything, and you'll get nothing and like it. It means that the means of production belongs to who paid for it, not the workers. The workers traded their work for money, and if they *choose* to buy a piece of the factory, their money is just as green as Rockefellers'.

That's pretty much all it means, the rest of that stuff is something else. It does not mean that *society* (as opposed to the world) can't decide to tax itself and engage in a little mutually beneficial socialism. They aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by gjc at 7:02 PM on October 21, 2010


Shared Prosperity Lost - "While the first three decades after World War II were a time of broadly shared prosperity, income gains over the next three decades went almost entirely to the very wealthy." [1,2,3,4]

The Politicians We Deserve - "I could introduce you to dozens of enthusiastic and intelligent people, highly aware of 'the issues' and very well-informed on all questions from human rights to world trade to counterinsurgency, to none of whom it would occur to subject themselves to what passes for the political 'arena.' They are willing to give up potentially more lucrative careers in order to work on important questions and expand the limits of what is currently thinkable politically, but the great honor and distinction of serving their country in the legislature is only offered to them at a price that is now way too steep... No wonder that the best lack all conviction."

Political power - "I don't mean to suggest that our votes don't matter, but for us to make wise decisions we need to think about our political leaders the way we think about our auto mechanics. Are they reasonably competent and reasonably honest? Will they do the things that need to be done and avoid expensive, unnecessary projects?"

Rise of the machines - "In my view, robotics will not create a world in which there is no positive market clearing human wage."

Darwin's Law of Maladaptive Corporate Behavior - "Entities that are maladaptive — corporations, nonprofits, governments — eventually succumb to their own mortality and collapse. This is as it should be, as there are no reasons dysfunctional corporations unable to perform their most basic function — survival — should be preserved." [1,2]

Shiva and Schumpeter - "There comes a time in every desperate recapitalisation of the creaking financial system when governments need to bite the bullet and then use it to put broken-down institutions out of their misery. Capitalism is, at its heart, a recapitulation of the basic Hindu principle of regeneration. Until there's destruction there can be no creation."

Johnny Fever, the Webification of the Power Grid, & Energy Entrepreneurism - "Why can't we, within reason, plug more things in at the edge, whether it's startup power providers, or some nutty thing I'm hacking with, and just, you know, have electrical things continue to happen. Why, in other words, can't we treat the grid as a platform for innovation in much the same way that the public Internet is? I think we can, at least much more so than we do today... when the grid is a safer place for engineering students to mess about without fear of the power cops showing up in their lab we will have made a giant step into the entrepreneurial energy future."

News from the future - "I was floored today when the director of BGI told me they would soon reach a sequencing rate of 1000 (human) genomes per day (so, 10^5 to 10^6 genomes per year is right on the horizon)... Their ambition, which I think is realistic, is to be THE sequencing and analysis center for the entire world. There are significant advantages to scale in this business (think of the cloud computing and storage issues alone), and BGI currently has the lead."

Chile's Lessons in Leadership - "Chile is on a generation-long upswing after an era of disaster, showing again that countries can, on occasion, learn from their tragic blunders... What Chileans of all parts of society recognized after 1990 is the irreplaceable social value of moderation, trust, respect for expertise, and the pursuit of truth in public management. In America, by contrast, political propaganda becomes increasingly extreme... Chileans know now that such is the path to ruin... Chile's leaders looked relentlessly forward, asking questions and proposing solutions to quality education, affordable health care, sustainable energy and technology innovation."

15 Shocking Poverty Statistics - "The number of Americans on food stamps surpassed 41 million for the first time ever in June."

The Real Impact of Food Stamp Cuts - "Congress is poised to cut food stamps again, taking more away from an extended benefit created by the 2009 stimulus, before its original expiry date, and setting up an unprecedented “cliff” in food stamps, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. To demonstrate how hurtful this might prove, anti-hunger advocate Joel Berg recently spent a week eating according to the SNAP budget... The cliff in food stamps means that one month, a family will receive a set amount of money, about $4.50 per person per day. The next month, they will get less. In his week eating according to the SNAP budget, Berg shopped for the first three days as if he received full benefits. For the second two, he shopped as if he received cut benefits. The result? Less food, or less healthy food. He took photographs to demonstrate."

The value of a dollar - "For his The Value of a Dollar project, Jonathan Blaustein took photographs of the amount of food he could purchase for a dollar."

Bill Moyers on oligarchs and plutocrats - "We are treading the edge of a precipice here... There is a disconnection between the people and their leaders. Citizens do not trust their government. And a variety of polls indicate that this mistrust extends to corporations and the media. People do not feel they have must control of their lives, and the sense of impotence grows like a great life-endangering tumor. Civilizations die of disenchantment. If enough people doubt their society, the whole venture falls apart. We must never let anger, fashionable cynicism, or political partisanship blur our vision of this point."

Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to talk about the 'culture of poverty' - "If you are a young person living in an environment where violence is frequent and random, the willingness to meet any hint of violence with yet more violence is a shield... once I was acculturated to the notion that often the quickest way to forestall more fighting, is to fight, I was a believer. And maybe it's wrong to say this, but it made the rest of my time in Baltimore a lot easier... It's also an element which -- once one leaves the streets -- is a great impediment... I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don't say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there's the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master."

The Karmic Truth - "Karma, to me, is a characteristic of a healthy community. It is almost definitional: A good community is a community in which Karma obtains... Karma is a practice, something we do, something we create. And not individually. Karma is as an emergent property of the collectives in which we entangle ourselves... Karma should constrain economics... Karma implies that people who are generally virtuous do okay and that people who are shitty to others do maybe less okay, over time... A lot of the angst I feel, about politics, about my country, has to do with a sense that we are losing the preconditions of Karma in the United States... We are suffering from a kind of social pollution, our Karmic habitat is threatened."

Red State Vs Blue State - "With the political rhetoric in full swing this election cycle. And both sides blaming the other for the countries problems. We decided to dig a bit deeper and compare which states are doing the best with social and economic issues."

'Tron: Legacy' Variant Covers Light Up Marvel Super-Heroes - "From the trailers to the posters to the merchandise to the comic book tie-ins and to the Daft Punk score, we are in 100% approval of absolutely everything we've seen and heard in advance of 'Tron: Legacy,' the increasingly anticipated sequel to the cult classic Disney film from 1981. The "Legacy" aesthetic is so pleasing, we can even forgive new Disney subsidiary Marvel Comics for totally Tronning the f*ck out with a series of wholly superfluous variant covers created in the Tron style, because they are just that awesome."

Are We Still Evolving? - "Instead of looking for changes in genes that take many generations to accumulate until they can be detected, we have measured natural selection directly. This method can reveal selection in action, working over periods of time as short as one generation – so that it can answer the question of whether modern culture has stopped evolution. The message of this approach is also clear: natural selection continues to operate in modern cultures. Whether it will operate consistently enough for a long enough time to produce significant genetic change can be answered only by future generations. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see in what direction natural selection is starting to shape us."

100-million-year-old mistake provides snapshot of evolution - "Research by University of Leeds plant scientists has uncovered a snapshot of evolution in progress, by tracing how a gene mutation over 100 million years ago led flowers to make male and female parts in different ways."

The origin of complex life – it was all about energy - "The 21st century is all about conserving energy. The push towards energy-efficient buildings, vehicles and lifestyles is both fashionable and necessary, but it's also ironic. Our pattern of ever-increasing energy consumption is deeply rooted in our history, not just since the Industrial Revolution, but since the origin of all complex life on Earth. According to a new hypothesis, put forward by Nick Lane and Bill Martin, we are all natural-born gas-guzzlers. Our very existence, and that of every animal, plant and fungus, depended on an ancient partnership, forged a few billion years ago, which gave our ancestors access to unparalleled supplies of energy and allowed them to escape from the shackles of simplicity."
posted by kliuless at 6:41 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


It sounds as though you're saying that it's acceptable that some people be forced (whether they wish it or not) to not have leisure time — or to have insufficient leisure time to be able to do anything creative with it — so that others can have that leisure time, because the positive aspects of the awesome stuff the latter creates outweighs the negative aspects of the former being denied those same opportunities. Is that a reasonable summary?

Well you're implying that someone is doing the forcing and denying there, so I kind of reject the premise.
posted by empath at 7:13 AM on October 22, 2010


Capitalism means: money is work, work is money. All money stems from someone, somewhere, working. If I work extra hard and save my money, I can buy stuff. I could buy a service from someone: a zero risk, pure labor play: I trade my labor for theirs.

That's a labor-centered economy, not a capital-centered economy, and as such, it isn't capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system centered around the ownership of capital, thus the name. In capitalism, the profit from production goes to the owner of the capital, not to the labor that used the capital.

Capitalism rewards risk and work.

Capitalism rewards the ownership of capital. It doesn't distinguish how anyone came into the ownership of that capital, it simply rewards it. Under capitalism, the price of labor gets pushed down to the margin, so the only "reward" for work is being paid enough to go to work the next day.

Capitalism is inevitably brutal, since it regards everything, even human beings, as capital, tools to be used. Because of that brutality, the bulk of the population, those who don't own capital, are going to be discontented with it, and it will eventually fail, either gently by moving to social democracy, or harshly in a revolution.

The US economy has recently moved away from social democracy and toward capitalism. The troubles we are seeing now, including the discontent that has produced the Tea Party, the recent series of bubbles, and the current economic stagnation, are the result of that move.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:34 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


also fwiw, here's an excerpt from matt taibbi's new book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America...
America is quite literally for sale, at rock-bottom prices, and the buyers increasingly are the very people who scored big in the oil bubble. Thanks to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and the other investment banks that artificially jacked up the price of gasoline over the course of the last decade, Americans delivered a lot of their excess cash into the coffers of sovereign wealth funds like the Qatar Investment Authority, the Libyan Investment Authority, Saudi Arabia’s SAMA Foreign Holdings, and the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

Here’s yet another diabolic cycle for ordinary Americans, engineered by the grifter class. A Pennsylvanian like Robert Lukens sees his business decline thanks to soaring oil prices that have been jacked up by a handful of banks that paid off a few politicians to hand them the right to manipulate the market. Lukens has no say in this; he pays what he has to pay. Some of that money of his goes into the pockets of the banks that disenfranchise him politically, and the rest of it goes increasingly into the pockets of Middle Eastern oil companies. And since he’s making less money now, Lukens is paying less in taxes to the state of Pennsylvania, leaving the state in a budget shortfall. Next thing you know, Governor Ed Rendell is traveling to the Middle East, trying to sell the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the same oil states who’ve been pocketing Bob Lukens’s gas dollars. It’s an almost frictionless machine for stripping wealth out of the heart of the country, one that perfectly encapsulates where we are as a nation.

When you’re trying to sell a highway that was once considered one of your nation’s great engineering marvels — 532 miles of hard-built road that required tons of dynamite, wood, and steel and the labor of thousands to bore seven mighty tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains — when you’re offering that up to petro-despots just so you can fight off a single-year budget shortfall, just so you can keep the lights on in the state house into the next fiscal year, you’ve entered a new stage in your societal development.

You know how you used to have a job, and a house, and a car, and a wife and a family, and there was food in the fridge — and now you’re six months into a drug habit and you’re carrying toasters and TVs out the front door every morning just to raise the cash to make it through that day? That’s where we are. While a lot of this book is about how American banks used bubble schemes to strip the last meat off the bones of America’s postwar golden years, the cruelest joke is that American banks now don’t even have the buying power needed to finish the job of stripping the country completely clean.

For that last stage we have to look overseas, to more cash-rich countries we now literally have to beg to take our national monuments off our hands at huge discounts, just so that our states don’t fall one by one in a domino rush of defaults and bankruptcies. In other words, we’re being colonized — of course it’s happening in a clever way, with very careful paperwork, so we have the option of pretending that it’s not actually happening, right up until the bitter end.
(via br, who sez, "I don’t always agree with Taibbi’s conclusions, but he manages to tap into the Zeitgeist of the nation’s angst better than anyone else.")
posted by kliuless at 4:11 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


- Chamber of Commerce to Buy US Elections
- The haves, the have-nots and the dreamless dead
posted by kliuless at 8:24 AM on October 23, 2010


Corporate campaign ads haven't followed Supreme Court's prediction: Companies and unions have been able to avoid the transparency called for in the court's landmark ruling. Spending on next week's midterm election has been exorbitant.
posted by homunculus at 10:59 AM on October 27, 2010


That latest Taibbi piece is yet more evidence of something that the bank bailout and the vast sums paid to contractors in Iraq already abundantly proved:

Modern, large corporations are, by and large, parasitical on governments and not the other way around.

The most profitable thing for a corporation to do is to worm its way into a position where it can, essentially, tax ordinary people - and do so ruinously.

Strip away the layers of shell companies and cut through the fog of economic blandishments and what do we see? A parasitical class that is feeding on the toil, the time, the lives of everybody else.

I need a hug. :(
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:40 AM on October 29, 2010


-When Privatization Increases Public Spending
-The Privatization-Industrial Complex
-The Pittsburgh Model For The US
-Lobbying to Keep the Capital Markets a Casino
-Financial Engineering, and Its Consequences
posted by kliuless at 1:02 PM on November 14, 2010


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