Sunday Open Thread [6.29.14]

Filed in Open Thread by on June 29, 2014

I had a great time last night and it was great to see everyone! Hope we’ll do another DL get-together soon.

Here are two long reads for this great Sunday Morning — this piece (in Politico, but may be the best thing they’ve ever published) is from Nick Hanauer — firmly ensconced in the 1% — talking about the trainwreck to come if income inequality isn’t dealt with. This is a brilliant — and scathing — piece. He reminds us that this kind of income inbalance is at the fulcrum of alot of painful upheaval, that supply-side economics isn’t working, and that those business interests who continue to agitate for supply-side policy are arguing for long-term failure.

But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

And you can see that the entire conservative project (GOP and Democrats) is about arguing for this feudal society or the police state that is meant to suppress elements of those already oppressed.

Making the point that increasing the minimum wage is one way to cut government spending:

Wal-Mart is our nation’s largest employer with some 1.4 million employees in the United States and more than $25 billion in pre-tax profit. So why are Wal-Mart employees the largest group of Medicaid recipients in many states? Wal-Mart could, say, pay each of its 1 million lowest-paid workers an extra $10,000 per year, raise them all out of poverty and enable them to, of all things, afford to shop at Wal-Mart. Not only would this also save us all the expense of the food stamps, Medicaid and rent assistance that they currently require, but Wal-Mart would still earn more than $15 billion pre-tax per year. Wal-Mart won’t (and shouldn’t) volunteer to pay its workers more than their competitors. In order for us to have an economy that works for everyone, we should compel all retailers to pay living wages—not just ask politely. [...]

Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t shrink government with wishful thinking. The only way to slash government for real is to go back to basic economic principles: You have to reduce the demand for government. If people are getting $15 an hour or more, they don’t need food stamps. They don’t need rent assistance. They don’t need you and me to pay for their medical care. If the consumer middle class is back, buying and shopping, then it stands to reason you won’t need as large a welfare state. And at the same time, revenues from payroll and sales taxes would rise, reducing the deficit.

An YES to this:

Sadly, no Republicans and few Democrats get this. President Obama doesn’t seem to either, though his heart is in the right place. In his State of the Union speech this year, he mentioned the need for a higher minimum wage but failed to make the case that less inequality and a renewed middle class would promote faster economic growth. Instead, the arguments we hear from most Democrats are the same old social-justice claims. The only reason to help workers is because we feel sorry for them. These fairness arguments feed right into every stereotype of Obama and the Democrats as bleeding hearts. Republicans say growth. Democrats say fairness—and lose every time.

Economic policy needs to be around making sure that people who work for a living don’t need the government to survive. And if workers can pay for their own groceries, medical care and start doing the kind of saving for larger purchases, you’ve just added back to the economy the kind of purchasing power that boosts demand. The American economy is still powered by people buying stuff, and the current acceleration of income inequality means that people can’t buy as much. Credit is tighter AND may people who lived through the Great Recession were burned by excessive credit.

Go read the whole thing. Because Democrats who want the income inequality conversation to power real change need to change the conversation.

Then there’s the great Charlie Pierce picking apart The United States of Cruelty:

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled — until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

Amen. And this is the flip side of the economic weakness that Nick Hanauer discusses above. This kind of cruelty is eventually hugely destructive. But we have politicians and institutions arguing for this type of cruel feudal conditions and a media that helps cheerlead for this kind of cruelty because it gets ratings.

So what do we do to change it?

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  1. Unstable Isotope says:

    There has been a lot of chatter about that Hanauer piece. Between Hanauer’s piece and Piketty’s best-selling book I’m wondering if we are seeing the beginnings of change in economic policy.

  2. ftw says:

    Two words sum it up and that is MORAL DECAY in society and in Washington.

  3. Jim C. says:

    Time for pitchforks! Tomorrow the SCOTUS will grant Hobby Lobby their birth control religious exemption and the rule that the public employee unions won’t be able to collect funds from the folks who don’t want to pay any money to the union but still want them to bargain on their behalf

  4. John Young says:

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