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September 02, 2006

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and yes, this is one of those posts where I spout off on a topic I know nothing about, and then count on the rest of you to tell me where I've got it right and where I am hopelessly off-base.

Have at it, please.

emptywheel,
the BIG disconnect between public opinion and what is considered "acceptable" opinion has been a big issue for as long as i've been paying attention (sadly only about 10 years). it's not new - what (i hope) is changing is that instead of each of us thinking we have odd opinions not shared by anyone, we are now begining to learn that we are not alone.

There is an interesting Roundtable at The Democratic Strategist about whether the Dems do or should favor the poor or the middle class and how and why. The best IMHO is David Halpin's answer to the original authors--he's the guy who wrote on The Common Good not so long ago.

Mimikatz, very interesting -- I don't like the original roundtable analysis by the "third way" group at all, their message seems to be simply "No one wants to hear about how tough life is. Cheer up!"

Rather, I agree with the Halpin piece you linked to (and with Krugman, above) that, in fact, workers already know things are tough and while they do want a message of optimism they will be angry if a politician tries to pee in their ears and tells them it's just a little rain (or, in this case, sunshine).

My favorite passage from the Halpin piece:

These progressive presidents argued strenuously for non-negotiable foundational rights to housing, old age protections, guaranteed wages, education, health care, and civil and voting rights. These accomplishments and unrealized goals are not something the Democratic Party should toss into the civic books because it has had a bad couple of election cycles. These ideas are precisely why many people are drawn to the Democratic Party.

The disagreement I think I have with both articles though is seeing it as a middle class vs. upper class (or middle vs. lower) tension. I don't think that's right at all. I think it's corporate rights vs. individual rights -- I think it's one thing for middle class to be suffering, quite another for them to know they are being dealt with unfairly by credit agencies, health care agencies, even supermarkets & the phone company. I think there is a tremendous sense of getting screwed by big corporations out there, and many people would rather see Verizon brought to task for nickel-and-diming extra charges on the monthly phone bill than they would like to get even a $2000 tax break to send their child to college.

There are real economic issues, that these pieces both try to address, but I think there are also issues of pride or dignity or just a sense of getting screwed that they both completely miss.

(and, obviously, I think that's what Spitzer has brought to the table. Tax credits, better schools, all the is nice, but a little anti-CEO schadenfreude goes a long way in the present environment.)

For a video flow-chart look at the U.S. distribution of income, please see the first part of "Social Security" at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tts2uTWt6e8

and see Chap. 2 of "Tax Cuts" at:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=SA1f2MefsMM

I think it a mistake to look at this issue only through the frame of the Democratic Party and Democratic Candidates or Elected Officials. What's really needed is a Movement that stands outside the party -- a movement for Economic Democracy and Equity -- that organizes and educates on a mass basis, much the way good Labor Unions have done, and while it may act to help elect some, in essence its job is advocacy around an agreed agenda.

Included in that Agenda -- consider the following:

Reform and true enforcement of wage and hours laws, including among professionals. Far too many today work 50-60 hours per week at more than one job, getting benefits from none, and ending up with income barely adequate to meet normal living expenses. The social costs of long working hours (stress, time away from families, no time to persue personal interests, etc.,) is huge.

Two things differientiate these times from the past -- the Global Economy and the speed of application of new technologies to work -- and thus the speed at which workers must perfect and upgrade or totally change their skills. To cushion families and communities from the disruption and distress this causes, we need significant, and publicly funded lifetime education programs. These need to come in many modalities, and be very flexible.

I actually believe we need to totally divorce Health Care from Employment. We are the only industralized country to essentially allow employers to decide the extent and nature of the covered benefit menu on behalf of employees. A better model would be a tax -- perhaps a value added tax of sorts -- on all products and services as a significant proportion of the health cost, with additional revenue included from other sources, including a personal premium assessed on a sliding scale based on gross income. A case certainly can be made that no or very limited health care is a factor in economic inequity.

There are plenty more issue areas that fit in here under the mantel of Economic Democracy and Equity -- and no one Pol can be adept and represent all of them. It needs the identity of an extra party mass movement.

Every "worker" participating in a globalized pension plan--Calpers, for example, or TIAA-CREF--happens to be an "owner" whose interests do not, and cannot, coincide with those of people who can't participate in these plans. Many a good Democrat, who thinks of himself or herself as a true believer in social and economic equity, is caught in this inevitable bind. The mirror-image, we might say, of reactionary anti-government corporate types whose companies are entirely dependent on long-term contracts with the Pentagon. Clinton's politics have always been based on clear grasp of these anomalies, and of the anachronisms of party rhetoric. He even set out to enact a program in the light of that grasp--whence NAFTA and the failed healthcare reforms. And the idea that Spitzer doesn't operate within these constraints is truly bizarre: for example, he's seen by the investment banking community as an exceptionally obliging ally, and his posturing as a populist and reformer would seem to support that view.

EX-X-X-Xcellent post. I was out working on an addition I'm building onto my house this morning and KUT radio here in Austin was playing a colection of old union and protest songs on a program they call folk ways, and as the morning went on I was really getting into it. I was thinking "Wow, this is all so right on." And you know it is. There will always be people that sit around all day long trying to figure out how to exploit other people. I'm an educated guy, I've owned businesses. I've had partners, and we lots of time trying to figure out how MUCH we could afford to pay people. It never hurt us one bit. This corporate animal is the problem. People are sick of corp. America, and even sicker of CEOs. People are not at all happy about Job exporting, and people are fully aware that our industrial base is in a shambles. The Dems have to quit pandering to this. Most people I talk to don't think they want real change just that they want to be in charge. They consider them the lesser of two evils right now. But the reason I am commenting is this - This is a ONE-TWO punch issue and I haven't heard it looked at in this way anywhere. The thing is, if you want to talk about national security. Lets talk about what has been the deciing factor in every major war since the American Civil war. In all instances the most industrialized power won. So attack on jobs then knock 'em out with the national security angle. The busiest port in the world is New York Harbor. I recently read a really good investigative report called "On the Waterfront" Forget which magazine, and it said the we needed new monster cranes for the port. We didn't have a single foundry in the US that could make them. They came from......China - of course. People talk about them becoming our biggest competitor (read foe) and we are exporting the number one factor in victory to them every day - our idustrial base. Republicans are terrible on national security, and in this way more than in any other. I want my country back.

And I DON'T want corporate America running it!

YES YES YES! I have thought for several years now that Elliot Spitzer is exactly the populist model Democrats should adopt. It's not about being anti-business, it's about a ensuring level playing field. That means making sure everyone follows the law. That means ensuring that small businesses don't get squeezed out. That means making sure that the benefits of capitalism don't just go to the guys making the big campaign contributions.

The barrier that we must cross is meaningful campaign finance reform. You can't get elected to anything above School Board without getting some real money, and Woody Guthrie is not the listening choice of CEO types.

This is the type of crap we hear from you handwringers ever four years, and every four years you put forth candidates who we are supposed to accept who don't and won't do shit about it.

Then you have people in fantasyland like Kenneth Fair. What the hell? Like maybe if we can get a candidate who uses buzzwords already adopted by the corporate community to rape other countries through "free trade" agreements, everything else will just work itself out. As if the rest of us were just waiting for him to bring down the kumbaya solution on the fucking tablets!

Please resume your irrelevant moral outrage and saccharine, maudlin appeals to notions of fairness and equity that you (1) have no intention of conforming to yourself and (2) have no idea how to bring about, thus the savior complex, not unlike the herd following the Christian Right.

Corporations ARE anti-business!

(It's a slogan...)

Personally, I think we need to advance legislation that would necessitate corporate death for crimes against society. When firms like the tobacco companies commit fraud to boost their sales and profits they shouldn't just be allowed to be subject to the vagaries of the market place. Just enough scumbag market manipulators might exist (actually, do exist) to allow them to continue in business. No, such firms need to be terminated immediately. If stockholders and employees get hurt in the process, well, tough. If they weren't whistleblowers when the criminal activity was taking place, then they were complicit in the crime. We need to strip away this doctrine of anonymity, which allows corporations to run roughshod over society. The time for true transparency and accountability has arrived.

I agree with Sara. She said it better than I can, so I won't repeat.

In addition, I do not think it is productive to be against corporations. Maybe some demogogic advantage in the short run, but what is the strategy? Eliminate big corporations?

Stick to the issues, and start with the obvious abuses. Many were mentioned above. A heavy emphasis on credit abuses might be an especially good idea, if a crunch in housing is coming.

The big picture that is hard to figure out is international economics. No easy answers. Again, I would attack it piece by piece.

In a slightly better world, there would be a forum for the national Democratic party to come up with a meaningful and sensible laundry list of reforms for candidates to run on. But we do not have a real party structure. This is one of my favorite bugaboos, as you may know.

Excellent comments and you have helped me to refine what's on my mind. Sara makes excellent suggestions for real economic policy reforms -- judging by the democratic strategist piece to which Mimikatz linked, that is how many people are thinking.

I think what I want to suggest is something different than economic policy talk. And what's on my mind is probably more politics than policy.

It's not just electoral politics or party politics, though. It's politics in the sense that it's about how to shift the numbers when you ask people, "how do you feel about your current financial situation?" (compared to policy, that would shift the numbers when you actually measure people's current financial situations.)

I have no background in economics, but my understanding is that people are rarely rational about financial gains and losses -- (I am probably thinking about capuchin monkey experiments) -- and my impression is that part of the emotional value of the dollar depends on who you're doing business with -- say for example you pay the same price for the same product but at one business you're treated well and another you're treated with arrogance (I'm making a consumer-based argument but I think the same could be translated to employees).

In the end your financial situation is the same, but in one case you are happier. Zzzzz... and others have an interesting point about this all being window-dressing (though next time a positive suggestion for improvement would be welcome, Zzzzz...) not real economic change. But in the end the purpose of government, one might argue, is to increase citizens' happiness, not their bank accounts.

Improved economic policy is needed and is a major help to making people happier. But money doesn't directly buy happiness, and people aren't rational economists. My thoughts have been turning more to the question of, how does one give a sense of a level playing field? How do you make people feel that they are dealing with good actors when they do business (or show up for work)? What their bank account looks like at the end of the month is part of it, but there is a lot more in people's minds than the balance sheet -- there is another "win-lose", "I got a great deal" vs. "I got ripped off" going on. As Kenneth Fair says, I think Spitzer has provided a good model here.

and MarkC, getting off-topic, but I agree it's interesting to note that our great 'populist' hero of the moment, Lamont, is a millionaire.

EP,

there are two separate economic issues (at least)

1. abuses in the system

2. patterns of economic activity

The second involves creating incentives for more productive patterns (more mass transit, etc.). It is about choices.

Many patterns are sustainable. But once you commit to one, it is very disruptive to change. See the economy of cars, for example. Therefore, it is important what you build up front.

Changing the second is vitally important, but difficult. People believe what they want to believe, and so are resistant to giving up what they are used to.

Probably necessary for Dems to get credibility addressing no. 1 first.

Mark C - You are quite correct. We need meaningful campaign finance reform. And one thing that irritates me about the Dems is they want to pay it lip service, but it's clear they don't want any real change. When the Abramoff scandal broke they put on the most patethetic dog and pony show. Their big reform package included "can't ride lobby planes" "can't eat lobby lunches" - Well Whoop-tee-doo! That's like trimming your fingernails when your arm has gangrene. So in this regard, I give a nod to 'ol zzzzzz up there that called us handwringers. (I think he's a frustrated closet handwringer). The fact is we have some arm twisting that must be done to get our boys to walk the line. The Republicans failed to control their leaders. If we have a good November, then don't lead our leaders, our day in the sun will be short, and we'll deserve no better. Good comments here all around. JWP, bugaboo indeed.

One additional note.

some patterns of economic activity are NOT sustainable. Classic example is the 1920s. Poor income policy that starved the farmers (bulk of population) and unchecked credit and stock market policies, and also international monetary policies tied to an unstable practice of recycling German reparation payments beck to Germany while keeping currencies tied to the Gold standard.

In the debris, the public was open to new sweeping policies of new deal

this leads some to cheer for economic collapse (depression) now. Tut, tut to the plutocracy approach

but we should not wish for it

20s collapse lead to fascism and war

Demogogues on the right would probably do as well or better than reformers on the left

we should worry about income disparities, credit policies (banks vulnerable to housing collapse) and international monetary affairs

better bandaids to creep left than a collapse into chaos with the wisp of a hope for reform

FDRs do not grow on trees

I agree with those that think that the right candidate may be the fastest solution; but absent that, Sara is right; a non party movement needs to be created.

I dream of a self-made, independently successful and wealthy (to attract I's and R's of that stripe, particularly small business) outsider Presidential candidate with some charisma, who makes the rigged-game, raw deal argument, but with a smile on his or her face also says big business doesn't like me, because I want to give the edge back to their employees.

I mean a candidate who would actually make voters believe this - when somebody like Gore (insider, long term wealth generated from access) talks about "the people vs. the powerful," nobody believes it. Kerry couldn't do it either; he didn't even try. A sane and liberal Ross Perot could have done it. A Brian Schweitzer type might be able to do it. We're waiting.

Crab Nebula, I think you just gave Mike Bloomberg shivers (right up to the charisma part anyway)

#1) Pro-worker Democrats must defeat the criticism that they are "anti-business." They must be clear that business is over 90 percent laborers. So being pro-worker is also being pro-business.

#2) Democrats must emphasize that LABOR is what makes a business run. Sure, investors and executives are necessary too. But without labor, they're just suits with bank accounts who can accomplish absolutely nothing.

#3) The issue is ensuring that LABOR shares in the fruits of its labor. When employers hoard a company's wealth, giving it to investors instead of workers, they are STEALING from employees. THIS is the "great cause" that the Democrats must champion. This is the rhetoric that will win back the majority of America.

#4) Democrats must CONDEMN corporations (and their congressional allies) for SELLING OUT the American worker. By hiring illegal aliens or exporting jobs overseas, companies are betraying the American worker and America's industrial capabilities. American workers built up this country, including corporate wealth. And when the workers demanded simple necessities such as a living wage, health care, retirement, and workplace safety, these same corporations cast them aside.

#5) As said by a previous poster, the erosion of our industrial base is the single greatest threat to our national security. Terrorists CANNOT defeat America. They can only commit murder and destroy property. But if Yamamoto toured America today, he would return to Japan with very good news: America is not a sleeping giant, but a paper industrial tiger.

#6) Democrats must introduce TAX REFORM that rewards WORK, not wealth. If any taxes are to be cut, they must FIRST be cut from payroll taxes. The rich will live lavishly whether they take home 20 or 40 percent of their income, the difference is on paper not in their comfort. But the worker sweats every dollar, every day deciding which necessity must be put off because money is tight. Keep in mind that wealth can ONLY be accumulated by exploiting others who do all the actual work. Democrats must stress that we can remain capitalistic while ensuring that work is rewarded.

I left out another point, related to #1 above:

#1b) Business grows through consumption, not investment. If no one has the money to buy the product, no amount of investment can make the company profitable. Therefore, it is ESSENTIAL that we INCREASE the spending capacity of the American worker. "Trickle down" is a myth. America has a "TRICKLE UP" economy. Without consumer spending, there is no meaningful growth. Thus, by giving the workers more money (which they earned to begin with) we are ENCOURAGING economic growth. The GOP idea that higher wages hurt business is malarky. In the long run, higher wages build a STRONGER economy. Lower wages will gut the economy, making the rich rich richer and the poor poorer until it reaches the breaking point where workers have no money to spend anymore...and then the rich find themselves without customers and businesses fail.

Corporate immorality has parallels in the political barter system, but I see corporations as a kind of structural perfection in the same sense the US constitution configured a government in a new mold. The reality is the constitution pretty well has kept us challenged to improve and has read our political instincts sufficiently accurately to curb excesses.

One of the interesting times for me recently was the dotcom era when I worked with some business consultants; the folks with the most agile judgment made the money. But the fast halt to that process was a given with a Republican administration. In a way dotcom incubated too many fantasies for Republicans to ignore; and the Repubs knew the ropes to undermining enough of the boom to profiteer a while.

I was way beyond NAFTA and the other free trade ideas. But the Repubs again have opted to play the cronyism cards to extract longtem money out of a system of international commerce which should enrich us all; in my world the aesthetic and spiritual pollination of world trade is its highest attribute, that and the part Sara is sure to like, the NGO-ish contribution truly fair trade gives to help disadvantaged people bootstrap thru thirdworld conditions and emerge.

Here is a political science article from the Harvard Law Review, which is similar to a lot of the 'liberal' discussions about business and societal life in the US in our times. Specifically the article, by D. Levinson and R. Pildes, bemoans the existence of political parties at all, saying the constitution was designed to avoid parties and that parties form kind of a parallel shadow government. I think the article has political theory wrong on that score, but it develops a lot of interesting ideas along with a core of partially developed ideas people are tossing around.

Considering my polity beyond liberal but based in government studies as well, I worry about the instinct to exit the two party system; this is a flaw very apparent in European parliamentary government structures; and countries which narrow the field to three parties have little better to offer their citizens. The cronyism of politics is best checked and balanced by grouping all the folks into two opposing camps. There is ample reporting in the news that the Repubs in PA are underwriting the greens party to detract from the Santorum challenger's evident hegemony in that race. And DemFromCT, nearby, has posted a chart that makes it look like a similar funding mechanism might be developing in southern New England, though I need to join that discussion to understand what DfCT is suggesting.

On the integrity of our voting system, I think we have 8 years of evidence it is in trouble because the way technology is rolling out favors crony schemes. I have a lot on this but it is a distant topic.

I think the Democrats have more character than they realize; but it is such a diverse assemblage often it takes nearly until the very eve of an election before that worth is realized.

It is amazing how ungainly the Repub coalition was when Bush-II finally cobbled it together sometime in 2003; but that probably was Cheney's constellation and not much a product of some cerebral dream of Bush-II.

emptypockets full of ideas.
John L.

Damn, Do. I've been running around debunking trickle down and talking about the consumer economy and 'trickle up' for years. Man, I love to hear someone else that gets that. AND when we talk about labor we're not just talking about miners anymore. I'm talking about anyone who works for a check. Engineers, even doctors have been squeezed like hell. If you don't NEED a tax attorney, you're not rich enough to vote Neo-con. Any you need to be paying attention to wages in this country. What a great discussion going here!

"When firms like the tobacco companies commit fraud to boost their sales and profits they shouldn't just be allowed to be subject to the vagaries of the market place."

They're not merely subject to the marketplace. We have courts. The tobacco companies, as part of a settlement with various states, will pay to the states billions of dollars every year forever. The states now count on that stream of income -- income that wouldn't exist if you legislated the companies out of business.

"No, such firms need to be terminated immediately."

A horrible idea as a matter of policy.

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