Businesses do not give to politicians for charity.
No matter what Bill Gates says.
Food for thought.
As the slide continues.
You don't have to want to replace capitalism entirely, but "crony capitalism" will test your restraint.
I've always enjoyed looking at pretty economic charts, haven't you?
They tell us so much about the value of beauty in our and past times, and the art that depicts it.
(Keep in mind as you read that the prices for "art" today have traveled to Mars and back on our backs (and it didn't happen accidentally).)
By Y. Falkson
June 05, 2014
Of Two Minds.com
Americans know that something is wrong, deeply wrong. They see signs of the problem everywhere: income inequality, growing concentration and power of mega corporations, political donations/corruption, the absence of jobs with decent salaries, the explosion of the US prison population, healthcare costs, student loan debt, homelessness, etc. etc.
However, the true causes and benefactors behind these problems are purposely hidden from view. What Americans see is Kabuki Theater of a functioning form of capitalism and democracy, but beyond this veneer our country has devolved into the exact opposite.
Those who benefit from this crony capitalist state go to extreme lengths to paper over the reality and convince Americans that the system works, the American Dream is still a reality and that American democracy is in fact democratic.
Below I hope to begin to outline some of the underlying dynamics and trends that have evolved in recent decades and led us so far from what we once were. As fun as it would be, the answer is not some evil conspiracy by the Illuminati, but rather the unfortunate result of three long term and mutually reinforcing components that have been attacking the fundamental roots of the structure of our Republic.
The first is the increased concentration of corporate and private wealth. Both of which are quickly yelled down in the media as anti-free market and class war hysteria.
The second is the use of this wealth to capture all three branches of government in order to ensure the continued extraction of capital from the many and to the few. The rich might have climbed the ladder because they earned it, but they have then purchased government to pull up the ladder behind them.
The consequence of the first two components is a democracy in name only that represents the very few.
1. Faux Capitalism = Wealth Consolidation/Income Inequality
While there is no true beginning to the story, we can start with the incredible build up and concentration of wealth among corporations in recent decades. The USA now boasts a cartel-like set of corporate titans in almost every industry. It goes beyond, but certainly includes, our Too Biggerer To Fail banks, merged from what was 37 banks in 1995 into a Frankenstein’s monster like 5 (Citigroup, JP Morgan-Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs).
In agriculture, Monsanto alone controls over 85% of all corn and soy bean crops, four companies control 83% of the beef market, 66% of the hog market and 58% of the chicken market. So while shopping at the grocery store might appear to be the manifestation of capitalism at its finest, it doesn’t take much digging to look behind the curtain to see how little competition truly exists.
When the average American goes to pick up some groceries, they are shopping at Walmart and buying something from P&G that is mostly made of Monsanto corn. Is that true choice?
The same story plays out with our news and media (and other industries) where we have gone from 50 companies in 1983 to the big 6 which control over 90% of all media. Is choosing to watch one of 30 news channels, all of which are owned by News Corp (Rupert Murdoch) a real choice? This is not capitalism and they are not competing, not in the true sense of the word.
Along with this consolidation of corporations in recent decades, their senior leaders have taken up a larger and larger piece of the pie at the expense of their employees. In particular, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay has increased 1,000 percent since 1950. Unsurprisingly, Walmart is both the largest employer in the country and the worst CEO pay offender with a ratio of over 1000:1. This is at a time where worker productivity has increased significantly, something that historically correlated with increased pay. But no more. It’s a new twist on the old Soviet saying “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”, but now it’s closer to “we do all of the work and they pretend to pay us”.
illusion of choice
As a consequence of the royal tribute we pay to the C-suite class these days, we have likely surpassed the pre-Depression Roaring Twenties in terms of inequality.
This, amazingly, has only accelerated since the crisis in 2008 in thanks to bailouts, Quantitative Easing and other gifts from Congress and the Fed. The wealthy 1% and in particular the .01% have now grown their fortunes to levels that tax comprehension and even their ability to spend it (the decisions by a few billionaires such as Bill Gates to essentially donate his fortune is a tacit acknowledgement that our current system over-provides wealth to a select few).
So what is an incredibly wealthy capitalist CEO of a mega-corporation do once they control their industry and have essentially limitless wealth? Well in a competitive market, the only way to go from the top is down and the only thing that can make that happen is competition. Consequently, competition must be avoided whenever possible.
To squash or prevent competition, the oligopolies and oligarchs target their resources on the one place that can make competition illegal, our government. Something to keep in mind the next time you see a corporate billionaire grandstanding about the importance of “Free Markets” when their strategy is quite the opposite.
As this capture of the government has taken place we have essentially shifted from capitalism and to crony capitalism. So we now have industries that have mastered the art of faking capitalism by turning our government into one that fakes democracy.
This government takeover took time, but the purchase of all 3 branches of government has almost been completed by 2014. You don’t have to take my word for it, luckily that has now been empirically proven in an analysis of over 20 years of government policy where the clear conclusion was that policy makers respond solely to those in the top 90th percentile and essentially ignore the large majority of Americans.
Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens
Wealth Inequality in America (6:23 video)
2. Wealthy Purchase of Government Institutions/Elections
Purchase of the Executive Branch:
Let’s take a step back and take a glimpse at how the government was purchased, beginning with the executive branch. In 1980, Reagan’s election cost less than $300 million. When Bush beat Kerry in 2004, it cost almost 3x times as much, almost $900 Million. 4 years later, the 2008 election cost a record $1.3 Billion. It was in this election where Obama hammered the final nail in the coffin for government-funded elections.
Obama, more so than any other candidate in recent decades had the widespread support of millions of small donors, but in the end I guess it wasn’t enough. So when Obama “leaned to the green”, it forever set the precedent that you can’t win without the backing of our nation’s oligarchs. Consequently, the money has only gushed in since as the cost of Obama’s reelection in 2012 skyrocketed to an unfathomable $7 billion.
Needless to say this is slightly above the rate of inflation. Our Presidents (that) are now pre-selected exclusively by a tiny fraction of Americans (are the only ones that can) have the money to fund what has become necessary for a legitimate run.
Summary: Candidates spend years courting the super-rich to build up a multi-billion dollar war chest. Only those who succeed can actually run a campaign that an average American will be aware of. Then Americans get to choose one of the pre-selected “candidates”. No wonder voter turnout is so low …
Executive branch, check!
Note that media corporations benefit doubly as they can use their cash to fund elections, but are also the beneficiary of all that money as it is used for campaign spending.
Purchase of the Legislative Branch:
The process has progressed similarly in Congress. In 1978, outside groups spent $303,000 on congressional races. In 2012 that was up to $457,000,000. That is over 1,500 times the level in 1978. It would be funny, if it was so blatant and terrifying. By many accounts, our “leaders” in Congress spend 50% or more of their time working the phones or fundraisers rather than trying (and failing) to actually do the “people’s business”.
Let’s also take a minute to appreciate the hypocrisy of anyone that pretends that the money doesn’t influence our government. Businesses do not give to politicians for charity. This is a payment for services that has proven exceedingly reliable and profitable. The ROI for money invested in purchasing Congressman is what CEO dreams are made of.
No wonder the incentive is to invest in Congress rather than R&D or marketing. There are very few places in the world or times in history where you can find ROI’s in the thousands, or even the tens of thousands.
In addition, increasingly those who work on Congress (and regulators) were previously employed by these large corporations or expect to work there later. A recent example is Chris Dodd who left the Senate the head lobbyist for Hollywood at the MPAA, the guys behind SOPA and PIPA, but there are many many others.
Review: Congressmen beg for money to get elected, make sure to vote the way (their) benefactors would like, consequently get more money to get elected again. If at any point they do lose or quit, they take the big payday to work for those who have been paying them all along.
Legislative Branch, Check!
Judicial Branch Endorsement of the Purchase of Government:
Last but not least, we have the enabling Judicial Branch. It only took a few purchased presidents to ensure the appointment of a majority of “free market” and “pro-business” judges. For instance, and disgracefully, Clarence Thomas was once legal counsel for Monsanto, but has not once recused himself from any cases involving Monsanto and always votes in their favor.
These radicals have now fully endorsed and enabled the influx of money used to purchase the other branches. Specifically, 2 major decisions have completely opened the floodgates, Citizens United and McCutcheon. The first allowed unlimited contributions of corporate money into elections and brought us the notorious declaration that “corporations are people” and that “money is free speech”.
This was more recently followed up with the private wealth equivalent in McCutcheon. In this ruling, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said as part of his majority opinion (presumably with a straight face) “ … nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over or access to elected officials or political parties”.
And with this, the Supreme Court has fully endorsed both major sources of immense wealth to purchase our elections and consequently our government.
Review: The rich fund Presidential elections, Presidents nominate “business-friendly” judges and then the bought Congress approves their nominations. New judge then votes to ensure even more money is allowed to purchase elections.
Judicial Branch, CHECK!
3. A Faux Republic Dependent Upon the Funders and Not the Voters
The Founder’s Hope and the Sad Reality:
Acknowledging where we are as a country, it is often helpful to look to where we started for some perspective. Unsurprisingly, this type of problem was not overlooked back in the 18th century. In 1776, James Madison stated that his goal was to design a republic in which “powerful interest groups would be rendered incapable of subdoing the general will”. Madison hoped, perhaps naively, that factions would be thwarted by competing with other factions.
Sadly, we are now in a time where factions (aka wealthy special interests) subdue the will of the people and ensure the government responds to them alone on those issues where they have a “special interest” and consequently asymmetric stakes in the game (Charles Hugh Smith). As a result, these groups essentially collude to allocate their resources to their own issues, but do not “thwart” or compete with other factions as they do the same. It’s a pretty great system, as long as you’re one of the wealthy few who can use their money to drown out the poor and voiceless many.
And just like that, what was once a Republic has become a corrupt shell of its past self. All the signs are still there; votes, elections, campaigns, branches of government, etc., but behind the scenes the only ones represented are those who can afford to be heard.
Summary: This massive consolidation of wealth, combined with the removal of any limits on money in campaigns, has allowed for the purchase of our government, or as Dick Durban once stated, “frankly they [the banks in this case] own the place”. If money = free speech, then those with all the money, have all the free speech.
What Might Help?
Now that I have likely and thoroughly depressed the reader, let’s bounce around some ideas for what can be done. As stated in the beginning, this is not an unknown problem and many people are promoting a number of ways to fix or at least ameliorate the problem. I will briefly describe just a few which I think provide some direction any of us could easily implement or support.
Change the Rules: Laurence Lessig of Harvard Law has put forward a visionary proposal for re-writing the way that campaigns are financed in his book, Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress - and a Plan to Stop It.
Put simply, he would like to empower every voter with a stipend, say $150 per election to give to whatever candidate or candidates they prefer. If you would like to accept this money, you would need to forgo any other contributions or support (one would hope including the indirect PAC kind). This would actually provide even more money than is used in current elections, but would effectively democratize the funding process. While there would still be a “funding election” that takes place before the actual election, the funding would not be unequally provided.
Lessig’s work has only begun, as this sort of bill or likely constitutional reform is nearly impossible to achieve, but he has undertaken and I assume will continue to implement many brave and creative ways of bringing about the change all American’s should support.
Most recently he has suggested we begin to fund, ironically enough, a Super PAC to end all Super PACs. It would be funded with the solitary goal of changing how money impacts our elections.
Please support them here: www.mayone.us/
Change Our Day-to-Day: At the more micro-level, Charles Hugh Smith believes that we will inevitably see our overly centralized and inefficient system erode away as it is replaced by more resilient, local and efficient businesses and societies outside of the current system. With that in mind, he recommends that “all anyone can do is the basic things - lower our energy footprint, stay healthy and avoid unnecessary medications and procedures, support local businesses, organic food growers, etc. In other words, what we can do is support local businesses that are part of the emerging economy rather than support corporate cartels.”
Your Vote Does Matter: Do you live in Ohio, Florida or New Hampshire? Probably not.
Despite what we are told every 4 years, there are actually states outside of the “swing states”, and even more surprising, the very large majority of Americans live in those states where your “vote doesn’t matter”. New Yorkers an Californians all know their state will turn Blue no matter who the candidates are and either don’t vote at all, or often vote for the Blue team in order to feel like they are on the winning side.
The truth is that if you see the election as Red vs. Blue, you vote probably doesn’t matter. But here is the trick, if all the people who think their vote didn’t matter decided to vote for whom they might actually believe in, then their votes just might matter.
What if all the growing number of “Independents” (who usually still vote Blue), chose to vote for a third party? What if a third party candidate won a state like New York or California? What if that candidate was one whose primary promise to the voters was to champion a change to the role of money in government (perhaps in line with what Lessig proposes)? Would you vote for such a person?
I would argue you should. If California alone (with 55 electoral votes) were to vote for a 3rd party that would likely prevent either Red or Blue candidate from winning the requisite 270 electoral votes.
Think about the message that would send to both parties. I would predict that both sides would start to bend over backwards for an endorsement from that 3rd party and they would have to get it by taking up the same primary cause for reforming money in government. Consequently, at the root of our corrupted system which is perpetually ignored as both sides might suddenly become the big issue of the election. Then maybe we might begin to turn things around.
(Sources: Charles Hugh Smith (oftwominds, Surivival+, etc.), Yves Smith (Naked Capitalism, Econned), Laurence Lessig (Republic Lost, multiple TED Talks), Matt Taibbi (blog at Rolling Stone and now at The Intercept), Zero Hedge, John Robb, Max Keiser, Clay Shirky (Cognitive Surplus), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, Brave New World Revisited), George Orwell (1984), Michael Lewis, Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow), James Richards (Currency Wars), Han Joon Chang (23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism) and Joseph Stiglitz (Mismeasuring Our Lives))
spacenergymassThe title of the article is very good. " Americans know that something is wrong, deeply wrong. They see signs of the problem everywhere: income inequality, growing concentration and power of mega corporations, political donations/corruption, the absence of jobs with decent salaries, the explosion of the US prison population, healthcare costs, student loan debt, homelessness, etc. etc."
The etc. etc. part was disheartening.
Environmental degradation was not mentioned. Our populace has been socially engineered. That is why our public at large is so lost as to how to repair our situation. While many of us were on prozac during the 90's and trusting the lying media on TV, our country was bought and sold. etc etc. didn't seem to mention the pesky Bill Gates funded Common Core tagging our youth, nor smart meter spy machines. blasting out EMF's and disrupting our natural biorhythms. And how about aerosol geoengineering? tar sand spills, BP corexited oil spill in our Gulf region, that is just waiting for a big storm to pull it ashore. People need to understand that you can't eat money or bullets.
Then the article makes this statement:
"As fun as it would be, the answer is not some evil conspiracy by the Illuminati" FUN?
I am tired of this kind of insult, it is a dressed up insult and has grown tiresome, passe. This article offered useful information. But it was written with limited awareness. This would be a good article for people who are just waking up. And there are a lot of those and the number is growing.
But please, stop insulting people by using derogatory language. Readers will just shut down when you do so. Thanks
DrSExtreme individualism and capitalism will be the major downfall of the Western World.
Exploiting our world for GREED/PROFIT will be our undoing.
Leaving citizens without decent/living wages with benefits will create much anger, fear, pain and suffering.
Just remember the French Revolution: Apres moi, le deluge.
The elite can be taken down even if they might be unaware of the situation.
Read the speeches from Davos. They don't see the problem other than there is no recovery in sight. They don't know how to get the world out of our economic woes.
We are ill served by our many leaders/politicians!!
Citizens will need to UNITE to bring about the necessary change we all want to see.
uphillbillYou can come up with all the foolish articles you want and it will achieve nothing. Take a look around you when you're out and about today. 3/4's of the people you see have no clue. It's the everyday ho hum people that are the problem in USA today. Pro sports, american idol, nascar, and 100 other goodies take up the majority of mindless interest of americans. As long as you can buy cheap junk food and have the boob-tube in your living room you're good to go.
Logger Hedz"Faux capitalism"?
I'm afraid that's dead wrong. Nothing fake about it. Nothing at all. Capitalism ends this way, and calling this result "fake" is an attempt to defend capitalism against its critics.
Mosleydislike even thinking what follows - the system of control through continuity of an imperial military has been worked out - the other problem - transfer of power to maintain its dynamism is what critiques like this attempt to keep us engaged in solving; Mr. O's admin has been brilliant at setting up an administrative apparatus of empire, hasn't succeeded with continuity - the voting thing means nothing if one is voting for emperor/ess.
As a final thought/addition (but one I've addressed many times before) . . . lucky us! . . .
a member of the .001% has declared a warning for his brethren (in the pages of that centrist pretender rag, Politico).
Although it's couched to look like it's for ours. (And he's misinformed about the wages of many of those "technical" engineers/programmers who are in-sourced H1-B's, etc., etc., and have replaced the middle-class, well-educated citizens who used to have those highly-paid positions. And you'll just gag at his embrace of the Tea Party's desire to "cut government" - but don't mess with their Social Security or benefits!)
I guess it's just one rich guy's best shot at being empathic with the poor, left-behind dolts.
Many of us think we’re special because “this is America.” We think we’re immune to the same forces that started the Arab Spring — or the French and Russian revolutions, for that matter. I know you fellow .01%ers tend to dismiss this kind of argument; I’ve had many of you tell me to my face I’m completely bonkers. And yes, I know there are many of you who are convinced that because you saw a poor kid with an iPhone that one time, inequality is a fiction.
Here’s what I say to you: You’re living in a dream world. What everyone wants to believe is that when things reach a tipping point and go from being merely crappy for the masses to dangerous and socially destabilizing, that we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time. Any student of history knows that’s not the way it happens. Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand. That’s the way it always happens. If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible — for everybody. But especially for us.
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression — so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks — that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too.
It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.
What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.
It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas — by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines — and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.
Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it. The middle class creates us rich people, not the other way around.
On June 19, 2013, Bloomberg published an article I wrote called “The Capitalist’s Case for a $15 Minimum Wage.” Forbes labeled it “Nick Hanauer’s near insane” proposal. And yet, just weeks after it was published, my friend David Rolf, a Service Employees International Union organizer, roused fast-food workers to go on strike around the country for a $15 living wage. Nearly a year later, the city of Seattle passed a $15 minimum wage. And just 350 days after my article was published, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed that ordinance into law. How could this happen, you ask?
It happened because we reminded the masses that they are the source of growth and prosperity, not us rich guys. We reminded them that when workers have more money, businesses have more customers — and need more employees. We reminded them that if businesses paid workers a living wage rather than poverty wages, taxpayers wouldn’t have to make up the difference. And when we got done, 74 percent of likely Seattle voters in a recent poll agreed that a $15 minimum wage was a swell idea.
The standard response in the minimum-wage debate, made by Republicans and their business backers and plenty of Democrats as well, is that raising the minimum wage costs jobs. Businesses will have to lay off workers. This argument reflects the orthodox economics that most people had in college. If you took Econ 101, then you literally were taught that if wages go up, employment must go down. The law of supply and demand and all that. That’s why you’ve got John Boehner and other Republicans in Congress insisting that if you price employment higher, you get less of it.
Because here’s an odd thing. During the past three decades, compensation for CEOs grew 127 times faster than it did for workers. Since 1950, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio has increased 1,000 percent, and that is not a typo. CEOs used to earn 30 times the median wage; now they rake in 500 times. Yet no company I know of has eliminated its senior managers, or outsourced them to China or automated their jobs. Instead, we now have more CEOs and senior executives than ever before. So, too, for financial services workers and technology workers. These folks earn multiples of the median wage, yet we somehow have more and more of them.
The thing about us businesspeople is that we love our customers rich and our employees poor. So for as long as there has been capitalism, capitalists have said the same thing about any effort to raise wages. We’ve had 75 years of complaints from big business — when the minimum wage was instituted, when women had to be paid equitable amounts, when child labor laws were created. Every time the capitalists said exactly the same thing in the same way: We’re all going to go bankrupt. I’ll have to close. I’ll have to lay everyone off. It hasn’t happened. In fact, the data show that when workers are better treated, business gets better. The naysayers are just wrong.
Most of you probably think that the $15 minimum wage in Seattle is an insane departure from rational policy that puts our economy at great risk. But in Seattle, our current minimum wage of $9.32 is already nearly 30 percent higher than the federal minimum wage. And has it ruined our economy yet? Well, trickle-downers, look at the data here: The two cities in the nation with the highest rate of job growth by small businesses are San Francisco and Seattle. Guess which cities have the highest minimum wage? San Francisco and Seattle. The fastest-growing big city in America? Seattle. Fifteen dollars isn’t a risky untried policy for us. It’s doubling down on the strategy that’s already allowing our city to kick your city’s ass.
It makes perfect sense if you think about it: If a worker earns $7.25 an hour, which is now the national minimum wage, what proportion of that person’s income do you think ends up in the cash registers of local small businesses? Hardly any. That person is paying rent, ideally going out to get subsistence groceries at Safeway, and, if really lucky, has a bus pass. But she’s not going out to eat at restaurants. Not browsing for new clothes. Not buying flowers on Mother’s Day.
Is this issue more complicated than I’m making out? Of course. Are there many factors at play determining the dynamics of employment? Yup. But please, please stop insisting that if we pay low-wage workers more, unemployment will skyrocket and it will destroy the economy. It’s utter nonsense. The most insidious thing about trickle-down economics isn’t believing that if the rich get richer, it’s good for the economy. It’s believing that if the poor get richer, it’s bad for the economy.
I know that virtually all of you feel that compelling our businesses to pay workers more is somehow unfair, or is too much government interference. Most of you think that we should just let good examples like Costco or Gap lead the way. Or let the market set the price. But here’s the thing. When those who set bad examples, like the owners of Wal-Mart or McDonald’s, pay their workers close to the minimum wage, what they’re really saying is that they’d pay even less if it weren’t illegal. (Thankfully both companies have recently said they would not oppose a hike in the minimum wage.) In any large group, some people absolutely will not do the right thing. That’s why our economy can only be safe and effective if it is governed by the same kinds of rules as, say, the transportation system, with its speed limits and stop signs.
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.
We rich people have been falsely persuaded by our schooling and the affirmation of society, and have convinced ourselves, that we are the main job creators. It’s simply not true.
. I earn about 1,000 times the median American annually, but I don’t buy thousands of times more stuff. My family purchased three cars over the past few years, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. I bought two pairs of the fancy wool pants I am wearing as I write, what my partner Mike calls my “manager pants.” I guess I could have bought 1,000 pairs. But why would I?
Instead, I sock my extra money away in savings, where it doesn’t do the country much good.
So forget all that rhetoric about how America is great because of people like you and me and Steve Jobs. You know the truth even if you won’t admit it: If any of us had been born in Somalia or the Congo, all we’d be is some guy standing barefoot next to a dirt road selling fruit. It’s not that Somalia and Congo don’t have good entrepreneurs. It’s just that the best ones are selling their wares off crates by the side of the road because that’s all their customers can afford.
So why not talk about a different kind of New Deal for the American people, one that could appeal to the right as well as left — to libertarians as well as liberals? First, I’d ask my Republican friends to get real about reducing the size of government. Yes, yes and yes, you guys are all correct: The federal government is too big in some ways. But no way can you cut government substantially, not the way things are now. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush each had eight years to do it, and they failed miserably.
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.
This is, in other words, an economic approach that can unite left and right. Perhaps that’s one reason the right is beginning, inexorably, to wake up to this reality as well. Even Republicans as diverse as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum recently came out in favor of raising the minimum wage, in defiance of the Republicans in Congress.
One thing we can agree on — I’m sure of this — is that the change isn’t going to start in Washington. Thinking is stale, arguments even more so. On both sides.
But the way I see it, that’s all right. Most major social movements have seen their earliest victories at the state and municipal levels. The fight over the eight-hour workday, which ended in Washington, D.C., in 1938, began in places like Illinois and Massachusetts in the late 1800s. The movement for social security began in California in the 1930s. Even the Affordable Health Care Act — Obamacare — would have been hard to imagine without Mitt Romney’s model in Massachusetts to lead the way.
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.
But just because the two parties in Washington haven’t figured it out yet doesn’t mean we rich folks can just keep going. The conversation is already changing, even if the billionaires aren’t onto it. I know what you think: You think that Occupy Wall Street and all the other capitalism-is-the-problem protesters disappeared without a trace. But that’s not true. Of course, it’s hard to get people to sleep in a park in the cause of social justice. But the protests we had in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis really did help to change the debate in this country from death panels and debt ceilings to inequality.
It’s just that so many of you plutocrats didn’t get the message.
Dear 1%-ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable. And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us.
The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. The folks like us at the top have always told those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically, we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics.
What nonsense this is. Am I really such a superior person? Do I belong at the center of the moral as well as economic universe? Do you?
My family, the Hanauers, started in Germany selling feathers and pillows. They got chased out of Germany by Hitler and ended up in Seattle owning another pillow company. Three generations later, I benefited from that. Then I got as lucky as a person could possibly get in the Internet age by having a buddy in Seattle named Bezos. I look at the average Joe on the street, and I say, “There but for the grace of Jeff go I.” Even the best of us, in the worst of circumstances, are barefoot, standing by a dirt road, selling fruit. We should never forget that, or forget that the United States of America and its middle class made us, rather than the other way around.
Or we could sit back, do nothing, enjoy our yachts. And wait for the pitchforks.