Saturday, October 25, 2014

Plutocrats Against Democracy

  • Paul Krugman, Oct.24, 2014. 
It’s always good when leaders tell the truth, especially if that wasn’t their intention. So we should be grateful to Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, for blurting out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: With open voting, “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies” — policies, presumably, that would make the rich less rich and provide more aid to those with lower incomes.
So Mr. Leung is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.
For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.
In fact, the very success of the conservative agenda only intensifies this fear. Many on the right — and I’m not just talking about people listening to Rush Limbaugh; I’m talking about members of the political elite — live, at least part of the time, in an alternative universe in which America has spent the past few decades marching rapidly down the road to serfdom. Never mind the new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created; they’re reading books with titles like “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic,” asserting that the big problem we have is runaway redistribution.
This is a fantasy. Still, is there anything to fears that economic populism will lead to economic disaster? Not really. Lower-income voters are much more supportive than the wealthy toward policies that benefit people like them, and they generally support higher taxes at the top. But if you worry that low-income voters will run wild, that they’ll greedily grab everything and tax job creators into oblivion, history says that you’re wrong. All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s — welfare states that, inevitably, have stronger support among their poorer citizens. But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe.
Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy, it does tend to crimp the incomes and wealth of the 1 percent, at least a bit; the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.
Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.
A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.
But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is Mr. Leung’s: Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.
And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.
The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Richard Wolff

Last week in seminar we watched a video with the Marxist economist Richard Wolff. As I said, if you want more, there are numerous videos on Youtube.  His most famous is Capitalism Hits the Fan.

this week a new interview has been published of Wolff talking about socialism and democracy.
Here is the interview.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Austerity, Budget Cuts, and Ebola

Republican leadership decisions on budgets pertaining to health are putting the U.S. at risk. The budgets for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have been shrinking. Is the U.S. prepared for an outbreak?

Even if Africa’s Ebola emergency never mutates into a global catastrophe, those of us who live in the world’s most fortunate country ought to consider what this fearsome virus can teach us. The lessons are quite obvious at this point — and contain implications that are political in the most urgent sense.
The tea party mania for shrinking federal budgets and rejecting international organizations — both of which are bedrock policy among the current Republican leadership — is not only bad for our national prestige but also exceptionally dangerous to our health. At the insistence of House leaders, whose answer to every problem has been cutting government and reducing taxes, the United States has steadily starved the budgets of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Krugman In Defense of Obama. 2014.
And this big improvement in American society is almost surely here to
stay. The conservative health care nightmare – the one that led
Republicans to go all-out against Bill Clinton's health plans in 1993
and Obamacare more recently – is that once health care for everyone,
or almost everyone, has been put in place, it will be very hard to
undo, because too many voters would have a stake in the system. That's
exactly what is happening. Republicans are still going through the
motions of attacking Obamacare, but the passion is gone. They're even
offering mealymouthed assurances that people won't lose their new
benefits. By the time Obama leaves office, there will be tens of
millions of Americans who have benefited directly from health reform –
and that will make it almost impossible to reverse. Health reform has
made America a different, better place.


Let's be clear: The financial crisis should have been followed by a
drastic crackdown on Wall Street abuses, and it wasn't. No important
figures have gone to jail; bad banks and other financial institutions,
from Citigroup to Goldman, were bailed out with few strings attached;
and there has been nothing like the wholesale restructuring and
reining in of finance that took place in the 1930s. Obama bears a
considerable part of the blame for this disappointing response. It was
his Treasury secretary and his attorney general who chose to treat
finance with kid gloves.

It's easy, however, to take this disappointment too far. You often
hear Dodd- Frank, the financial-reform bill that Obama signed into law
in 2010, dismissed as toothless and meaningless. It isn't. It may not
prevent the next financial crisis, but there's a good chance that it
will at least make future crises less severe and easier to deal with.

Dodd-Frank is a complicated piece of legislation, but let me single
out three really important sections.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Krugman, Secret Deficit Lovers

What if they balanced the budget and nobody knew or cared? Oct.10,2014.
O.K., the federal budget hasn’t actually been balanced. But the Congressional Budget Office has tallied up the totals for fiscal 2014, which ran through the end of September, and reports that the deficit plunge of the past several years continues. You still hear politicians ranting about “trillion dollar deficits,” but last year’s deficit was less than half-a-trillion dollars — or, a more meaningful number, just 2.8 percent of G.D.P. — and it’s still falling.
So where are the ticker-tape parades? For that matter, where are the front-page news reports? After all, talk about the evils of deficits and the grave fiscal danger facing America dominated Washington for years. Shouldn’t we be making a big deal of the fact that the alleged crisis is over?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Reich- Why the Economy is still failing most Americans

Why the Economy Is Still Failing Most Americans
Portside Date: 
October 3, 2014
Robert Reich
Date of Source: 
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Robert Reich blog
I was in Seattle, Washington, recently, to congratulate union and community organizers who helped Seattle enact the first $15 per hour minimum wage in the country.
Other cities and states should follow Seattle’s example.
Contrary to the dire predictions of opponents, the hike won’t cost Seattle jobs. In fact, it will put more money into the hands of low-wage workers who are likely to spend almost all of it in the vicinity. That will create jobs.
Conservatives believe the economy functions better if the rich have more money and everyone else has less. But they’re wrong. It’s just the opposite.
The real job creators are not CEOs or corporations or wealthy investors. The job creators are members of America’s vast middle class and the poor, whose purchases cause businesses to expand and invest.
America’s wealthy are richer than they’ve ever been. Big corporations are sitting on more cash they know what to do with. Corporate profits are at record levels. CEO pay continues to soar.