Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reality has a liberal Bias

At Think Progress dot Com, Joe Romm cited a commentary by Paul Krugman in the NY Times,republicans-against-science . They can speak for themselves on these topics, but I found these comments (at Joe Romm's blog) especially spot on. 

cervantes says:
August 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm
Indeed. This mad rush back to the 12th Century should no longer be treated as just another political position. Conservatives like to complain that most scientists – and for that matter, most academics – are liberal, which they take as evidence of bias in the university. Nope. The university hires people who study and think. It’s reality that has a liberal bias, and it’s not just evil and terrifying, it’s just flat stupid that people who systematically deny reality get to be a political party, get respectful treatment from the corporate media, and get to hold powerful political offices. They should be laughed out of public life.
Tim says:
August 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm
By the criteria that define "liberal" now in the minds of "conservatives", the claim that academics are liberals is becoming truer by the day. As for scientific community, academic or otherwise, a 2009 Pew study found that only 6% of U.S. scientists now identify themselves as Republicans. 50 years ago, there was no such extreme rejection of the Republican party. As one editorialist I remember reading concluded, "it's not the scientists who have changed, it's the Republicans."

I have been arguing that "Yes the media is liberal. Honest Journalism is inherently a liberal activity". Krugmnan and Romm's commenters merely document the retreat of the conservatives from any pretense of authentic truth telling.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tax the Rich Because That's Where the Money is.

What happens when the guiding principle of an economy is to promote wealth?

The claim is that the opportunity to accumulate wealth motivates people to engage in economic activity. Putting aside whether people need a chance to get rich to be motivated (is that your motivation?), how is wealth accumulated? On the street it is called "The Profit Motive", and indeed, the explicit goal of business is to maximize profits.

What happens when the guiding principle of an economy is to maximize profits?

The value of the work done by wage earners and salary workers is split between the workers and the profits. And as worker productivity climbs, the value of the work done is split between fewer and fewer workers, and profits. But the split favors profits, not wages, and then competition for remaining jobs goes up, putting even more downward pressure on wages. It is the inherent tendency of for-profit business to eliminate workers, and reduce the amount of money paid to remaining workers, hence the money returned to the economy is doubly reduced, and demand for goods and services doubly depressed. As profits increase, the ostensible stimulative effect of a business having more money is canceled by the real effect of regular folks having less.

Putting aside the charge that the owners have "stolen" their profits from the workers, to whom does the ownership class expect to sell their goods and services if the wages they pay aren't proportional to the worker's productivity? That we are in the midst of a depression results directly from the simple contradiction that arises from this uni-polar ideology: All profits, all the time, no social investment, no sharing, no greater community well-being to worry about. And as a result, the economy grinds to a stop.

This would seem counter-intuitive to anyone who believes that the drive for profits drives the economy, but the drive for profits, the need to produce wealth from wealth, is the problem. It is the drive for excess profits which causes people and corporations to cut corners with worker safety, wages, social capital, the environment, etc. It is the drive for profits which sucks the productivity of the workers out of the economy and puts it into the bank accounts of people who already have more than they need and aren't inclined to spend it. The dirty little secret of capitalism is that if corporations were forced to spend their money - or lose it to taxes - the stimulative effect on the economy would be huge. But they are sworn to return their profits to investors. Who just take their money and look for new ways to accumulate more wealth -- but where are the new investment opportunities coming from when most people don't have enough to live on and can't afford what that new business might be selling?

Small "s" socialism, the idea that government protects the well being of the entire community of citizens, with high taxes for the wealthy and corporations, is a natural counterbalance to the drive for profits.

But similar results are possible otherwise. Corporations could be required to adhere to a triple bottom line - which includes social responsibility. Hence higher wages would be paid, people would have money to spend to meet their needs, and the economy would be more stable. We - the society with its various intellectual resources - could develop metrics to determine the real value of labor, and force corporations to pay the real value. One very helpful change would be to strengthen the social safety net, so that people in retirement are not fixated on high returns on their investments. We could have a progressive income tax for corporations, wherein the greater the profits, for the amount of capitalization, the higher the rate of taxation would need to be paid.

For example, one of the problems we have right now is that the really big corporations have big piles of cash they're not spending. They took the discretionary portion of their worker's productivity for profit, so the money is not circulating, and put it in the bank, or maybe paid dividends. But under the right kind of pressure they could be hiring people, repairing environmental damage, improving working conditions, and the economy would be stimulated by the improved incomes of ordinary people.

  Let's not confuse the need to have a sustainable livelihood, and the "right" to accumulate surplus wealth. If we were to think in terms of ensuring that people have the means to make a sustainable livelihood, a healthy life and a comfortable retirement, and made (excess) wealth accumulation a suspect activity, economic activity would support healthy communities and people, and really ambitious people just wouldn't have quite as much as before.

  And let's not forget that when the government collects taxes and spends money, they are hiring people, buying goods and services, and generally stimulating the economy. How is this not productive economic activity? Let's answer that from two viewpoints: For those who are rich and heavily taxed, THEY have less money, but does the economy? For those who benefit from those jobs, incomes are spent to acquire those things people need, the definition of prosperity. For the economy, the labor produced can be very cost effective, since it might mean education, health care, improvements to roads and infrastructure, protection of the environment, maintenance of parks, etc. These are all things that no one person would benefit from enough to pay for alone, but do benefit everyone enough to share in the cost of. It is a shibboleth that the government does not create jobs. The government, like any business, is a locus of productivity activity. The questions are "how do they get the money?", and "Is it meaningful work?".

Government gets its money by taxing us, and through a miscellany of fees. When we pay taxes, we are paying ahead for things we have decided - via democratic process - that we want. In business, we some times do this, such as in a CSA, a club fee, or a subscription, but usually we pay after the goods or services are produced. Here then the question is one of accountability. Most pay-after business is reserved for private enterprise. Accountability is at the cash out. Government is where we, the community and citizenry, lodge the pay-before economic activity, because is it accountable via democratic process. Do the politicians and the bureaucrats deliver the goods? Do they provide real services that are needed by people generally? We must be ever vigilant. (And when they contract to for-profit businesses, how do we hold them accountable?) But building schools and health clinics, hiring teachers and doctors, giving care to the elderly, are all very meaningful to general well being. And consider the improvement to the quality of life when parks are maintained and adolescents have good after-school programs for social, physical and intellectual enrichment! Consider the value of protected forests and clean water!

The problem is not that the government cannot produce any thing worthwhile. The problem is that some people want to maximize profit, by keeping wages low, taxes low, regulations few, by avoiding protections to the environment. They do not see government as the institutional expression of the community, where shared goods are paid for at large. They see the government as a competitor for economic activity and profit making. I say "Too bad!". I see our government as the place we - the people - go to do things we need to do together, and to guarantee general well being. Profit-making is inherently dependent on cutting corners that results in costs to other people. We all want a sustainable income, and profit making is inherently unsustainable because it cuts into the sustainability of the jobs which hinge on it.

The other dirty little secret of capitalism is that if profits are taxed and spent by government, MORE economic activity is produced than by business, if, as is now the case, there is so much money languishing in bank accounts. And when they tell you that new regulations just suppress the economy, they are snickering all the way to the bank. Let's look at Australia, which is in an upheaval because of the carbon-tax that has been implemented. Opponents charge it will reduce economic activity. But the money paid in taxes is going to be spent. If the government spends it to correct for the distortions it created by taxing carbon, the result will be huge new economic activity to build low carbon-emitting, sustainable infrastructure. The only parties that will be hurt are directly dependent on carbon, but soon enough even they could shift out of carbon and be part of the sustainable economy. No substantive harm in the long run. Only harm to profits.

The complaint is heard that the 50% of the country with more than the median income pay 78% of the taxes. But they also control 98% of the wealth. Shouldn't they be paying 98% of the taxes?

The most wealthy people, and corporations, assert they have made their wealth and deserve to keep it. I say, the economy produced their wealth and they happened to be in the right place with the right investment when the money came gushing out of the spigot. Who gets the wealth in good times is who must give it up in hard times. What is difficult to understand about that?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Who Ya Gonna Believe?"

Consider please the commentary posted by John McLaughry on VtDigger, as found in the link in the title of this essay.

Let me not, then, dwell too much at length over the hyperbole, distortion, selective use of evidence, and demagoguery, in which Mr. McLaughry so passionately engages.

Let me just call to mind the pole to which he is drawn: He believes in the privileges of power and scoffs at the idea of a community in which we - everyone - are mutually accountable. That society might be a community of equals escapes him, and that poverty for many might attend prosperity for a few, is irrelevant. That taxation might be a legitimate way to maintain well-being, and even a healthy economy, across all income grades, is simply unthinkable to him. The only ideal, as for so many Libertarians, is individual "freedom", which to me looks like "red-in-tooth-and-claw", "I'll-do-what-I-damn-well-please-no-matter-how-it-affects-anyone-else" misanthropy.

But here is the worst part: HIS IDEOLOGY, as Libertarians are known to say, IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH DEMOCRACY. At the kindest, he elevates junk logic and demagoguery (Mr.McLaughry, please notice I am attacking your words and not you) to the status of commentary in the name of free speech. At the worst, he reflects (his rhetoric is consistent with) the views of people who would like to overthrow the United States Constitution and replace it with a Christian theocracy.

If the flaw of this intention is not obvious, the briefest clue I can offer is the one I can ask:

       In whose world are we all free to live: that one which
       values everyone and in which everyone has a voice, or that
       one in which only a selection of fortunate elites benefits
       from the Earth's bounty?

The objection of the extreme (and present) right is that wealth is taken for general good. Oh the horror! Once earned, again multiplied, under the efforts of the individual, it is unjust, it is wrong, they say, for the government to take that wealth to meet the needs of the community. Mindful that the government is where the people conduct their business, the radical right calls it oppression by democracy, the theft of wealth by people who did not earn it, through the autocracy of the mob. As rhetoric, these claims might seem sensible, but in any realistic sense they are laughable. If the conditions of democracy and mutual accountability, in which wealth is taken to support government services, are too constraining, would a state of chaos, such as Somalia today or Europe over its centuries of warfare be better?

The complaint of the left is that the right takes no responsibility for the general good. How, except by violence to people and the planet, is privilege to be maintained? At issue is whether our societies will provide opportunity to all of its members, through equal access to education, health care, housing and healthy food, or only to those endowed by prior good fortune to have the money to buy opportunity.

And of you I would ask: From what plate do you eat? Do you live in a silo of wealth making you immune to the slings and arrows of the modern world? Or are you dependent upon the good will of family, friends, strangers, and that institution upon which we depend to effect the common good, our government, for your safety and prosperity?

This is a values war. If you haven't heard a liberal say this recently, probably that is because the tradition of liberal democracy was thought sacrosanct, a foundation so precious we didn't think it needed defending. Yet it is. To witness the policy goals of the Far Right, it bears saying: We do not tug across a pit of mud from which all will emerge to pull another day. We pull across an abyss from which the loser will emerge, if not a corpse, then badly damaged. Sounds crazy, but those are the stakes. Push back time (for the benefit of my metaphor, "pull back time") is now. What are your values?

Not every Republican will want this battle. And it really is not a battle of right against left. It's a battle of absolutism against the messiness of the pragmatic middle. I would hope that practical, community rooted Republicans will be as scared as I am of the Corporatist-libertarian anti-democratic agenda. If you want to save democracy in America, Now is the time to say so, and to push back against the radical right agenda to destroy government.

To see a prominent intellectual connect the dots, go to Democracy Now! and watch the War and Peace news program for August 17, 2011, and the profile of Michelle Bachman in particular.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bigger Government by the people who fear big government

Why is Congress considering a bill to force IP companies to preserve user data? Is Congress sure we need a data base with the name, address, phone number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses, of every internet user? Surely real criminals can be tracked without making every innocent American into a criminal-in-waiting? Let us remember that law enforcement exists to protect citizens, not to criminalize them, and that government exists to serve the people, not to be protected from the people.

Bills like HR 1981 putrefy the American ideals of democracy. If there is a real problem to be solved, let's find a better way.