Friday, January 24, 2014

Inequality: a tale of two pyramids

David Seaton's News Links

This pyramid appeared in the Washington Post.

Looking at it I was reminded of another pyramid in a classic poster from the 19th century, which could be a "poetic" rendering of the graph from the Post.

The signs are all around us, if you want to take a peek at the near future, have a look at the scheme Jeff Bezos has dreamed up over at Amazon. It is called "Mechanical Turk" and its goal is to turn clerical tasks that require education and specialized training into sweatshop piece work like making T-shirts in Bangladesh. I urge my readers take a very close look at it to see where their training and skills might be used and what pay they would receive for performing these tasks.

That is the story: in developed countries we are in the process of recreating the class differences and the ensuing class struggle of the 19th century, but this time in a world where consciousness, class or otherwise, with the new social networks, quickly becomes universal. The 1% are sitting on a powder keg. These graphs explain the Tea Party and the Koch brother's spending millions bankrolling it. The idea is to keep a person from thinking clearly and like the fellow said, avoid an individual being "at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

If the problem of controlling the "powder keg" is one of consciousness, the system seems to be working rather well. It would appear that converting human beings into mental cripples is an enormous industry and they have to catch them rather young. The following is a sample of what a school teacher wrote Thomas Friedman, quoted in the New York Times.
We are dumbing down our classes.  It is an inexorable downward progression in which one day all a kid will need to pass is to have a blood pressure. The kids today are not different in ‘nature.’ ... The difference is that back then, although they didn’t want to, they would do the work. Today, they won’t. ... This is a real conversation I had with a failing student who was being quite sincere in her comments: ‘I know you’re a really good teacher, but you don’t seem to realize I have two hours a night of Facebook and over 4,000 text messages a month to deal with. How do you expect me to do all this work?’
Maybe Americans are finally waking up, but for the moment, from my perch on the other side of the Atlantic, the only one really talking any sense is Naquasia LeGrand. DS

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Explaining the virulence on the right... Social Democracy in America?

David Seaton's News Links
 Naquasia LeGrand... the right stuff
Naquasia LeGrand, the lady that tops this page, works at minimum wage shoveling fried chicken, for KFC. She is leading a fight to organize fast-food workers and raise America's minimum wage to $15. She is facing some of America's most powerful multinational corporations and an ideological set enshrined in think-tanks, PACs and mainstream media which has prevailed in the USA since the days of Ronald Reagan and... She looks like winning!

How could this happen? Not that complicated, really.

The price of elitist politics is that, in a democracy, or anything remotely resembling one, when issues become so simple and self-evident that "you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows": at that point the money's "gate-keeper" function no longer guarantees that numerically small, but powerful groups are able to achieve their desired outcomes. 

This is the sort of opposition that Ms. LeGrand is facing:
Koch-backed political coalition, designed to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 - Washington Post
The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents. (...) The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach. Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations.
They must think that it's worth the expense. 

How can a minimum wage worker like Naquasia LeGrand face anything like that, with even a ghost of a chance of succeeding?

The answer might be contained in an article about the right-wing political consultant, Frank Luntz, that I came upon in "The Atlantic".

Few people are as in touch with American public opinion as Luntz is, he has made a fortune crafting his clients' messages to suit or bend that opinion. And, according to the article, Luntz, who spends a fortune on focus groups and polls is in the depths of a black dog depression because of what he is hearing and seeing.

This what his fine-tuned nose is sniffing:
But what if the Real People are wrong? That is the possibility Luntz now grapples with. What if the things people want to hear from their leaders are ideas that would lead the country down a dangerous road? "You should not expect a handout," he tells me. "You should not even expect a safety net. When my house burns down, I should not go to the government to rebuild it. I should have the savings, and if I don't, my neighbors should pitch in for me, because I would do that for them." The entitlement he now hears from the focus groups he convenes amounts, in his view, to a permanent poisoning of the electorate—one that cannot be undone. "We have now created a sense of dependency and a sense of entitlement that is so great that you had, on the day that he was elected, women thinking that Obama was going to pay their mortgage payment, and that's why they voted for him," he says. "And that, to me, is the end of what made this country so great." The Agony of Frank Luntz - The Atlantic
Serendipity? Coincidence? On the same day I read the piece about Frank Luntz, I read the following rave review in Slate by Matthew Yglesias about a book called Social Democratic America.
It's too bad for Lane Kenworthy that his new book, Social Democratic America, was published on Jan. 3, 2014, because otherwise I'd be comfortable calling it the best public policy book of 2013. Matthew Yglesias - Slate
What is the author's social democratic menu-shopping list, agenda, for the USA

  1. Universal health insurance
  2. Universal system of one year of paid
    parental leave
  3. Universal early education
  4. Increased Child Tax Credit
  5. Universal sickness insurance
  6. Eased eligibility criteria for unemployment
  7. Wage insurance for unexpected drops in
  8. State-run supplemental defined-contribution
    pension plans with automatic enrollment
  9. Extensive, personalized job search and
    (re)training support
  10. Government as employer of last resort
  11. Minimum wage increased modestly and indexed
    to inflation
  12. Earned Income Tax Credit extended farther up
    the income ladder and indexed to average wages
    or GDP per capita
  13. Higher benefit level for social assistance
    (i.e. TANF-like programs)
  14. Reduced incarceration of low-level drug
  15. Affirmative action shifted to focus on
    family background rather than race
  16. Expanded government investment in
    infrastructure and public spaces
  17. More paid holidays and vacation time
This policy list would be par for the course in say, Sweden, which is certainly not a "socialist" country and whose business community hosts many a billionaire. The billionaire business folk of Sweden have no problem with Kenworthy's list, but their American counterparts like the Koch brothers are spending a fortune to paralyze the country's political system to avoid what they consider "socialism", "communism" or worse.

People in the USA, certainly the Tea Party, often confuse social-democracy with "socialism", however they are very different. 

Socialism advocates state/public ownership of the means of production: for example, nationalizing the steel or automobile industry would be socialist. On the contrary, social-democracy is about "civilizing" capitalism. 

Social democracy is anything but revolutionary, FDR's New Deal was considered largely social-democratic and many felt that, by his measures, Roosevelt saved the capitalist system from destroying itself. For this very reason, the hard left, like Marxist-Leninists, consider social democrats "Judas goats" for the capitalist system. For them the harder the brand of capitalism, the easier it is to overturn; the Koch brothers are dream enemies for them.

If Frank Luntz is right about a sea change in American opinion, Naquasia LeGrand may win her fight and Kenworthy's list may be more than a pipe dream. DS