America: The Bravely Incompetent

that-tattered-old-flag-mike-hendren

Crisis averted, sort of. But sort of seems to be the best we can do these days. The fact the Government only ever pass Continuing Resolutions now, rather than real Budgets, is only one of many examples.

But the true ‘sort of’ of the deal passed Wednesday night regards the question: is governance through crisis the new norm?

Although the attentive portions of the World may have breathed a collective sigh of relief at the House’s acquiescence to reality, the stage is set for a repeat in January. The CR passed only extends Government operations until 15 January and the debt-ceiling will need to be re-negotiated on 7 February.

Ted Cruz ominously pronounced on ABC News following the agreement that ‘[He] would do anything, and [he] will continue to do anything [he] can to stop the train wreck that is ObamaCare.’

The one kernel of hope is that, unlike the previous debt ceiling debates, the Democrats did not cave. The Republicans were not whole-heartedly rewarded for their actions. ObamaCare lives.

But this perception of utter failure is not entirely true because despite obviously losing the present battle, the Republicans may still be winning the war, and terroristic obstanancy is still their most powerful weapon. The Senate CR finally passed by the House is $37 billion lower than the draconian 2011 Paul Ryan [R-WI] Budget.[1]The budget delineations are not strictly uniform with Ryan’s proposal  –welfare and domestic spending took less of a hit, and more came out of Defense– but in many ways the Republicans have managed to achieve their budget goals even though they lost the Presidency.

Yet they still ask for more, Ryan’s 2014 proposal is $19 billion lower than the Senate Bill, making it $56 billion lower than his wish-list from 2011.

The situation may resolve itself if this latest debacle causes enough lasting popular anger to lose the Republicans control of the House in 2014, even in the currently gerrymandered condition most Congressional Districts languidly reside.

But this may be a fantasy. Historically, the Party that controls the Presidency loses House seats in midterm elections. Democratic voters also have a poor track record of turning out for non-Presidential elections, which are often dominated by those of the political extremes, which can only help the Tea Party.[2] Further, according to a YouGov/HuffPost poll, although Ted Cruz’s unfavourability among Republicans almost doubled to 17% during the shutdown, his favourability rating stayed virtually unchanged at 60%.[3] Meanwhile, according to the same poll, both Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio)  and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have lower favourability ratings, and higher unfavourability ratings than Cruz among Republicans. But fundamentally, midterm elections are more than a year away, and anger can fade.

Regardless of any hope of a totally Democrat controlled Government in 2014, one still cannot help but feel we have been duped. That we exist in a good-cop/bad-cop single party state tricking us into swallowing corporatist policy.

Things probably aren’t that contrived, they almost never are. But it still seems that we live in a Single Party state, or at least two separate Single Party states. We no longer have political choice. In the political bubble-worlds that have arrived, either you think the Democrats are crazy, or the Republicans are crazy. And no matter in which world you reside, you are offered no choice over viable candidates for office.

The arrival of this reality seems to have accompanied a Rightward shift in American political dialog. This is probably not the only contributing factor. My pet guess is that the continuing degrading of campaign finance regulations is leading to greater and greater influence by the inherently Right-leaning group of people, due to their operating codes, known as corporations. Helping fuel the new-Right-American political reality.

But lack of viable political choice would logically seem to exacerbate the issue. The politically active have less ability to influence political dialog through their vote if they are automatically placed into two classes, there is muted outlet to voice political descent.

And a Rightward shift is undeniable. That ObamaCare has become the epitome of Liberalism and that the Democrats are now writing and endorsing budgets that would have been hard-line Republican proposals three years ago, are but the most recent examples of this phenomenon. To cite another example, the beloved Ronald Regan, placed in the contemporary Republican Party would both fail to win a Primary election and be derided as a Socialist overlord if elected as a Democrat. Reagan raised taxes eleven times, including the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 –the largest peacetime tax increase in American history– he supported amnesty for immigrants and was the head of a labour union: the Screen Actors Guild.[4]

This shift seems only to be worsening, with the moderate Republicans losing standing the Tea Party seems to be coming to speak ever more readily for the GOP and the Democrats are simply scrambling to implement Republican policies from twenty years ago.

This is highly distressing to someone of my political leanings. But regardless of this, the dysfunction and obstinacy of the new-American politics is the true terror. Even the recent actions, which saw the worst possible scenario averted, were estimated by Standard and Poor’s to have cost the US economy $24 billion, leading them to slash their growth forecast for the US by 0.6%.[5] The tentative nature of the resolution is warned to have further negative consequences on consumer confidence, with people’s fear of a repeat leading them to save rather than participate in consumer capitalism.[6] Like Standard and Poor’s, Fitch has only scathing remarks for our actions, placing the US on a ‘rating watch negative’ in preparation for a possible credit downgrade on the basis that ‘political brinkmanship and reduced financial flexibility could increase the risk of US default’ –i.e. for being self-absorbed incompetents.[7]

China has been similarly scornful of the debacle. Although these statements must be taken in the propaganda fueled context in which they were released, the following excerpt from the Chinese state controlled News agency Xinhua sheds some light on how the World’s second largest economy views our actions.

‘It is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world… a self-serving Washington has abused its superpower status and introduced even more chaos into the world by shifting financial risks overseas…Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated, and a new world order should be put in place.’[8]

But the real fear is that if the Government is forced to apprehensively grasp at retaining its existence and preventing a default, no positive movement towards addressing any of the major issues facing the Nation and the World can be made. We are rendered incompetent by the breadth of divide in American political culture, by the exacerbating tendencies of gerrymandering and campaign finance deregulation, by the obstinacy of the new-Right.

– My personal reaction to this has been an ever greater detachment from reality. I felt it exaggerate during the run up to the potential debt ceiling breach. An attempt to dull the horror I felt as every day ticked by. An attempt to pretend that what was occurring in American politics was a fictional satire, a television show contrived for my amusement. This is a disturbingly recurrent disassociation.

I have long felt that News-junkies suffer from a form of masochism. And although I am not sure I would find it so fascinating if we were not so submerged in the solidly dystopian world that the twenty-first century has become, attentively tracking our probable slide towards self-immolation certainly chews at the soul I probably don’t have: I can never truly forget it is real. Maybe I don’t even like it. Maybe I just have the personality of someone who should be obsessed with Reality TV. But because I already decided Reality TV is for the stupid, for those helping to perpetuate the problem, I’m stuck with the News. I’m stuck with paying attention.  

But for dedicated followers of News, things have reached a new high. This has been creeping up upon us since Obama took office. For Conservatives, the election of a secret Muslim, immigrant, anti-Christ as President was clearly a traumatic event. For Liberals, the cage of jaded depression has been slowly closing all along. If a black man from Chicago, running on a platform of ‘Change’, turned out to be a proponent of the status quo, how can we ever trust a mainstream politician again? I can’t. The Democrats are dead to me. I might still vote for them, but I will never again be excited by their campaign promises. Fool me once ass-holes.  

Fuck it, all hail King Kardashian. Too bad I’m too lazy to learn Mandarin.      

[1] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/budget/news/2013/09/30/76026/the-senate-continuing-resolution-is-already-a-compromise/

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/17/shutdown-ends-heres-whats-next_n_4117386.html

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/19/ted-cruz-ratings_n_4124957.html

[4] http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2012/06/15/Why-Ronald-Reagan-Would-Not-Lead-Todays-GOP.aspx#page1

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/16/government-shutdown-cost_n_4110818.html

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/fitch-us-credit-rating_n_4102262.html

[8] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/china-wants-to-de-americanize-the-world-2013-10-14

Dancing Dumb: The American Tea Party Movement and Historical Hysteria

cruz and palin

Dancing Mania was a perplexing social phenomenon that intermittently griped widespread sections of the European mainland between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. It often began with single individuals and spread to dozens or even thousands of men, women and children who proceeded to uncontrollably dance for days, or even months, often until many collapsed and sometimes died from exhaustion, heart attacks and strokes.[1]

One well documented occurrence in Strasbourg –The Dancing Plague of 1518– began in July when Frau Troffea took to the street in fervent dance. Within a month, some four-hundred had joined her. As the dancing consumed more and more of the populous, concerned nobles sought advice of local physicians who decided the plague was caused by ‘hot blood’. Although we now know that this conclusion is humoral nonsense, the authorities ignored this cutting-edge diagnosis and instead of prescribing bleeding, encouraged more dancing, even opening two guildhalls, a grain market and constructing a stage for the afflicted, believing continuous dancing would cause an end to the episode. The specific number is unknown, but through the course of the summer and autumn of 1518, dozens danced themselves to death.[2]

The exact cause of Dancing Mania still escapes modern Historians. Ergot, a psychedelic mould that grows on damp rye has been proposed as a contributing factor. But it is a point of contention, and social forces are generally assumed to have played a role. It has also been noted that outbreaks often coincided with times of natural disaster and economic hardship. Moreover, source documents note that observers who refused to join in were treated violently by the dancers and although some who partook reached apparent euphoric states, many were gripped with looks of desperation and fear as they danced.[3] Despite disparate attempts to make sense of these events, multiple Historians concur that fear of reprisal was a general contributing factor to the participation of at least some dancers.[4] Thus, regardless of the initial source, its social penetration radiated beyond direct causal proportion due to its force as a social presence: individuals engaged in the eccentric behavior to, ironically, blend in.

Dancing Mania has not returned. But I find parallels to the contemporary American Tea Party movement and current debt ceiling, government shutdown and ‘Obamacare’ debates to be inescapable.

The House Republicans seem to live in a world of their own. Poll numbers show that the current strategy to hold government funding hostage as a means to prevent enacting health-care legislation passed three years ago is highly unpopular. 72% of Americans, and 49% of Republicans disapprove of this action, and by a margin of 10%, Americans blame the GOP as the main entity responsible for the shutdown.[5] The strategy has led Republican approval ratings to drop from 38% to 28% since the shutdown began, and this derision is even reflected within the Party: 27% of registered Republicans now view their own party unfavourably. [6] Numbers for the Tea Party faction are even lower, with only 21% of Americans expressing a positive view, and 70% saying the Republicans are putting politics ahead of the country.[7] While, at the same time, approval for Obama and the ACA have risen to 47% and 38% respectively.[8]

Yet all the while some Republicans still scream they are speaking for the majority of Americans, only 5% of whom now approve of the job being done by Congress as a whole.[9] And this claim to speak for America is all the more absurd given the Republicans lost the House in popular figures by 1.4 million votes, only taking the House through gerrymandering antics.[10]

The question is becoming, why are Republicans embarking on such a seemingly suicidal mission in regards to their future electability? This is a point so obvious it has even been taken up by some Conservative pundits and politicians.

Bernie Goldberg, a man who has made a career appearing on the O’Reilly Factor and complaining about Liberals, penned ‘it would be great if [Ted Cruz] could succeed, but he can’t… Standing up for your principles is one thing. Committing political suicide is something else altogether.’[11]

Last week Republican Senators met with Cruz to discuss his end-game plans for the government-shutdown he spearheaded. When allowed to talk with anonymity during a post-conference closed-door meeting with the press, the general tone came off scathing.

One Republican Senator is quoted as saying, ‘It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was.’

Another Senator went on to say ‘I think he’s done our country a major disservice. I think he’s done Republicans a major disservice.’[12]

Yet when speaking publically, most continue to march in line. But this is indisputably bad for the GOP. Beyond poll numbers, corporate America is decidedly against this action. Prior to the shutdown, the Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Congressional lawmakers signed by hundreds of businesses stating ‘We respectfully urge Congress to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner’.[13] This is coming from an organization that last November put its full funding force behind attempting to unseat President Obama.[14]

What is going on? Most likely, it seems, the Republicans fear Primary elections. The country is against them and much of their party is against them, but there is a sizable minority of fervent believers shifting the Republican dialogue. The grassroots Tea Party movement cannot swing general elections, but is a force to be reckoned with during Republican Primary season. This dialectic was observable in the shift in rhetoric by Mitt Romney after he won the Republican Primary in 2012.

It is not unreasonable to assume many Republicans fear appearing moderate could lead them to be usurped by more radical Republicans in the Primaries, leading many to commit actions that will doom them in the general election out of desperation to make it to the general election. It seems un-coincidental that almost half of those Republicans who have pledged to vote for a clean Continuing Resolution [CR], would it come to the House floor, occupy the most vulnerable Republican Congressional districts.[15]

John McCain [R-AZ] summed up the issue with disturbing clarity on CNN, stating ‘We started this on a fool’s errand, convincing so many millions of Americans and our supporters that we could defund Obamacare, which obviously wouldn’t happen until we have sixty-seven Republican Senators to override a Presidential veto’[16]

Republicans are dancing to their doom out of fear. Some believe, sure. But it seems inconceivable that the two-hundred-and-seven House Republicans who are uncommitted to passing a clean CR truly think preventing Obamacare is worth defunding the Government and allowing America to default.

And this is what is most perplexing to Progressives about this issue. Obamacare is not what we wanted. It is not single payer, it is not socialized medicine. Its origins are with the Republicans, Newt Gingrich and the Heritage Foundation as an alternative to the Clinton health-care proposals in 1993.[17] And when the specifics of the law are looked at, this is not surprising. It is market based and does not cut out insurance companies. It is simply an attempt to solve the issue with the reigning American health-care policy of allowing the poor and irresponsibly uninsured to use the Emergency-Room as their sole source of health-care, without resorting to European style socialized medicine. We already had socialized medicine, it was simply socialized emergency medicine that often bankrupted those who received it, but nevertheless passed those costs onto the population at large and raised overall health-care expenditure because people were prevented from accessing preventative care.[18] Some Republicans might be so ill-informed as to think Obamacare represents a Liberal apocalypse worth anything to prevent, but it is hard to imagine all are so naive.

This point is driven even further home when looking at Republican complaints over Government finances in general, and specifically the claim that Democrats refuse to negotiate over the budget. The CR passed by the Senate that is currently being held up in the House is $133 billion lower than the 2014 Obama budget. And even more strikingly it is $37 billion lower than the 2011 Paul Ryan [R-WI] budget, which was, at the time, derided as draconian and unreasonable.[19] The specific funding delineations of the Democrat budgets are not uniform to the Ryan proposal, but it is absurd to suggest the Democrats have not compromised.

Through budget compromises and caving on the previous debt ceiling standoffs, the Democrats have acted like the concerned nobles of 1518, they opened the guildhalls to allow the insane to dance in hopes that they would eventually come to their senses. And like in 1518, the numbers of deranged appear inflated because of all those who have joined in out of fear. But in addition of dancing themselves to death, they are going to dance the entire global economy off a cliff. We can only watch and hope those whose dancing is contrived avert course in the next few days.

[1] Sirois, F., ‘Perspectives on Epidemic Hysteria’, In M. J. Colligan, J. W. (eds.), Mass Psychogenic Illness: A Social Psychological Analysis, (New Jersey: Pennebaker, & L. R. Murphy, 1982), (pp. 217-236).

[2] http://web.archive.org/web/20121013075434/http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/08/01/dancing-death-mystery.html

[3]Bartholomew, Robert E., Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns, and Head-hunting Panics: A Study of Mass Psychogenic Illness and Social Delusion, (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2001) pp. 132, 139; http://web.archive.org/web/20121013075434/http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/08/01/dancing-death-mystery.html

[4] Waller, John (July 2009). “Looking Back: Dancing plagues and mass hysteria” (PDF). The Psychologist (UK: British Psychological Society) 22 (7): 644–7

[5] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57605822/poll-americans-not-happy-about-shutdown-more-blame-gop/

[6] http://www.gallup.com/poll/165317/republican-party-favorability-sinks-record-low.aspx

[7] http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/10/10/gop-plummets-obamacare-soars-in-shutdown-standoff/

[8] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/10/11/boomerang-poll-reveals-gops-government-shutdown-bolstered-obamacare-popularity-by-20/

[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/09/congress-approval-rating_n_4069899.html

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/opinion/sunday/the-great-gerrymander-of-2012.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[11] http://www.bernardgoldberg.com/real-conservatives-on-a-suicide-mission/

[12] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQcMLrz0Kxo

[13] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/02/think-budget-impasse-is-bad-wait-until-debt-ceiling-battle/

[14] http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/10/obama-business-time-start-worrying-about-government/70135/

[15] http://www.ontheissues.org/Vulnerable.htm#Republicans; http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics-live/liveblog/live-updates-the-shutdown-4/?id=207dd6e1-30d1-42fb-9457-466a9bfa96e2

[16] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0lDcT9aQdA

[17] Wilkerson, John, Smith, David, Stramp, Nick, ‘Tracing the Flow of Policy Ideas in Legislation: A Tet Reuse Approach’, (New Directions in Text as Data Workshop, London School of Economics, 2013) p.2. http://www.kenbenoit.net/pdfs/NDATAD2013/PolicyIdeas2013TextasData.pdf

If academic articles aren’t good enough for you, FOX News even backs up this point: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/03/28/5-reasons-obamacare-is-already-good-for/

[18] OECD Health Division (October 29, 2012). “OECD Health Data 2012 – Frequently Requested Data”. Paris: OECD.

[19] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/budget/news/2013/09/30/76026/the-senate-continuing-resolution-is-already-a-compromise/

American Self-Harm:

1607-35_Pesttafel_Augsburg_anagoria

The ongoing fight over ‘Obamacare’, aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, blatantly highlights that America has chosen a path of self-harm by means of boggling confusion.

Take the most recent Republican talking-point regarding the probable entwining of the debt ceiling negotiations with the resolution of the partial shutdown of the Federal Government and the ‘Obamacare’ squabble. These comments have splattered the news but are perhaps most succinctly summed up by Senator Tom Coburn [R-Okla] who stated on CBS This Morning ‘There’s no such thing as a debt ceiling… I would dispel the rumor that’s going around that… if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we’ll default on our debt — we won’t.’[1]

This balks common sense, the Treasury Department and historical precedent. It is possible for the United States to default on loans. The US defaulted on approximately $122 million worth of Treasury Bills in 1979 due to unanticipated demand and a computer glitch. This quickly rectified accident led to a drop in confidence and a rise of 0.6 in national borrowing costs in an era when America played an indisputably larger role in global affairs.[2]

When more nuance and explanation is added, the claim is even contradicted by those who support the notion. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) justified his denial of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s warning of pending default through stating ‘the federal government still has about 85 percent of the revenues that we spend coming in, and all they have to do is prioritize that we’re going to pay debt service first.’

Since when is 85 percent 100 percent? And without credit, where does the Government get the funding for the remaining government services even if debt service payments are prioritized? Nor would prioritization protect the full faith and credit of the United States. It might soften the impact to the bond market, but the nation would still be defaulting on assigned financial obligations.

And even if this was not true, what is supposed to go? Non-military Discretionary spending only makes up 17 percent of the budget, almost all of that would have to be cut to meet the deficiencies caused by this plan.[3]

But the Republicans seem to miss the fundamental point entirely. The October 17th date is the estimated time at which we run out of money. It is not an arbitrary date. We have already spent the money, most of it is gone, and October 17th is when the Treasury Department predicts that it will all be gone. To continue funding our governmental obligations, as of that date, including debt service payments, the debt ceiling must be raised.[4]

Regardless of the validity of any of this, the markets speak for themselves. The Dow Jones, NASDAQ, and Standard and Poor’s 500 Index all closed Monday at the lowest levels in a month.[5] It is ironic that the ‘Party of Capitalism’ seems to have forgotten that the economic reaction to a debt ceiling breach is fundamentally not up to the Government. It depends on how businesses will react to viewing our moronic Legislatures playing with fire. And as it seems, even the prospect of a debt ceiling breach is having negative market consequences.

Yet what is most confusing about this crazy-speak is it seems to undermine the Tea Party’s plan. If the debt ceiling is meaningless, why should the Administration negotiate with the GOP in order to secure its increase? I thought the plan was to hold the entire global economy hostage in order to strong-arm out of existence the centre-right legislation known as ‘Obamacare’. The Republicans are conjuring a way to blame the Administration for the catastrophe they are creating, but through doing so are undermining the leverage they need to avoid the catastrophe and get their way.

Perhaps this represents a psychotic break from reality. An attempt to feel better about the irreparable harm they intend to inflict on the global economy by way of a temper tantrum over the fact the Democrats have taken credit for a Republican health care plan.[6]

The other option is that the GOP thinks their constituents are dumb, and that everyone who is smart enough to see through this already opposes them, and maybe they are right about that. But the insanity must end. America is giving democracy a bad name. No wonder the Chinese are still fake Communists.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/07/tom-coburn-debt_n_4056976.html

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/07/debt-ceiling-breach-1979_n_4058492.html

[3] http://cbo.gov/publication/43904

[4] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-09-25/business/42373223_1_debt-limit-treasury-secretary-jack-lew-house-republicans

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/07/stock-market-default_n_4059585.html

[6] Wilkerson, John, Smith, David, Stramp, Nick, ‘Tracing the Flow of Policy Ideas in Legislation: A Tet Reuse Approach’, (New Directions in Text as Data Workshop, London School of Economics, 2013) http://www.kenbenoit.net/pdfs/NDATAD2013/PolicyIdeas2013TextasData.pdf

Sequestration, Right America and Economic Narratives:

Lindsay_German_monster
PART I:

The American political spectrum has shifted right. Example of this abound, but the phenomena can be relativity irrefutably conveyed with two. Despite his contemporary lionization, Ronald Reagan could not run as a contemporary Republican. During his term he raised taxes eleven times, including the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, the largest peacetime tax increase in American history, he supported amnesty for immigrants and was the head of a labour union: the Screen Actors Guild.[1] The second example is gleaned through a comparison of ex-Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s budget proposals and a quote from a less adulated, but still staunch conservative for his time, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower, in expressing his political views and assessment of the national sentiment in 1954, stated: ‘Should any political party attempt to abolish social security and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history… There is a tiny splinter group that believes you can do these things… Their number is negligible and they are stupid.’[2]

The irony of particularly Reagan’s incompatibility with the contemporary Republican party is the lasting legacy of his ‘Takers and Makers’ rhetoric on Republican economic narratives. The mainstream acceptance of this concept that used to huddle in the corners of Ayn Rand Members Only Clubs, is the sea-change that has taken America Right. But the question might be: was this sea-change caused on purpose, or by accident?

The debate surrounding Sequester 2013 (the most recent manufactured across-the-board spending-cut catastrophe designed to force our apparently inept government to do something, anything, to address the dying behemoth that is the US economy) is a perfect example to examine this point. Although Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s comment two days ago that John Boehner would lose his position as Speaker of The House if he were to compromise tax increases into a budget proposal to avoid the Sequester is not necessarily true, it highlights the tenuous relationship the status quo members of the GOP have with the hard-line Tea Party insurrection. It is also worth pointing out that the stalled and inept nature of our current government is arguably the contrived policy of the ideologically anti-government new Right. Through making the government inept they fulfill their own prophesy of inherent government ineptitude. The flaw in the ‘inherent’ part of that sentiment is a perspective to which I will return in Parts II and III. But the fundamental problem for moderate politicians is that political fundamentalists are more likely to vote, and in this world of declining voter participation, and Fox News rabble rousing (and general media bubble worlds), fundamentalists are both growing in number, but more so are coming to represent a greater proportion of the electorate. Although this assertion is not backed by any study I know of, this apathy would seem to be logically fueled by the growing ridiculousness of political culture, itself fueled by the growing influence of political fundamentalists.

PART II:

So… accident? I don’t know. But what seems clear is… problem. And this is where things become frustrating. Because for all the Right does wrong, what they plainly do well is present a clear, concise and consistent narrative. This being what I propose accidentally created enough fundamentalist ground support to exaggerate a slide towards polarization and apathy. But what is less speculative is the observation that the American Left is comparably inept at presenting a similarly coherent and persuasive economic narrative, and oddly so, because they have one.

This is what brings us back to the Sequester. The Right is clear, they want to replace Sequestration with budget cuts that do not touch the military, but further slashed social service to the point that a deficit neutral budget could be reached without any increase in revenue (i.e. taxes). It should be noted that the Right’s obsessive fixation on the deficit and debt (currently around 100% of GDP) seems unwarranted. For example, the UK’s national debt broke 250% of GDP during the beginning of the 19th century, US debt breached 120% of GDP in the 1940s, both were able to recover, Japanese debt is currently above 200% of GDP, and no one has ceased to lend to them. This is not the point of this article, but in sum, the debt is a problem, however worrying about the debt at the cost of everything else is foolish, especially in times of economic recession. If the economy shrinks, even if spending decreases, the debt will still grow in proportion to GDP. The Right, in some ways, acknowledges this fact in fretting over job losses caused by military spending cuts, because, in all reality, the military is one big Keynesian project. Fundamentally, the debt should be dealt with from a stable economic platform.

But this brings us back to the Sequester and economic narratives, because the Right touts austerity not only as the only path to economic stability, but also as morality. From a cynical, slightly conspiratorial perspective, this flawed ideological position would be considered the true motivation for the ginned-up deficit obsession. However, regardless of the validity of this speculation, this ideological position  is particularly relevant to understanding the Right’s desire to cut social spending. It prevents any ‘unjustified’ taxation upon the perceived sole ‘job creators’: the rich. While invoking economic justice upon the leaches of society who suckle at the teat of big government, who caused the deficit, and who, at the same time, sap social impetus for innovation by being allowed to live without making their own way in the capitalist market; i.e. the ‘Takers and Makers.’ In short: we cannot tax the rich, for otherwise they will not create jobs, and we cannot subsidize the lives of the poor, because, in the long run, it will only make them, and society, poorer.

A good narrative, and although the Democrats criticize this narratives resulting political policies as destructive , they very rarely attack its intellectual basis in the way that it deserves. It is flawed, and in my opinion, it is only as popular as it is because the alternative is not pronounced with nearly the same volume. First, where the debt comes from is more complicated than just domestic spending, a decade of war and the Bush tax cuts come to mind, although this is something I will return to in Part III, and it is a complicated topic. Although i find it somewhat compelling that US debt is higher as a percentage of GDP than the conglomerate of ‘evil’ ‘Socialist’ countries known as the European Union (102% compared to 83% c.2012).[3] More generally, the critique of this narrative comes in the form of two questions: how do rich people become rich, and why would a rich person hire anyone? The second question is particularly pertinent because companies actually have an impetus to hire as few people as possible in order to keep down overheads.

The answer, in short, is market demand. Rich people become rich, generally, because they, or the companies they invested in, are supplying goods or services that are desired by the market, and they hire people when market demand for their product increases to the point that more staff is required to adequately service the demand.

Where does market demand come from? Most of it comes from the middle class. They have enough money to purchase things, superfluous things and necessary things, and they make up large enough gross numbers that they can purchase a sufficient number of those things. By this I mean the 1% will never buy enough cars to fuel the auto-industry, because all of them are not car fetishists. And even if they were, what purchasing base would then fuel all the other industries? They both play roles. The capitalist class invests in companies, and the middle class buys the things that allow those companies to turn a profit, which then allows for more investment.

This is the narrative that supplies the intellectual basis for the Left, and it is the narrative that the Democrats bizarrely do not vehemently use to challenge the simplistic and flawed narrative repetitively screamed by the Right. We must protect the middle class, and prevent social stratification that destroys the purchasing base on which our market economy rests. This is the rationale behind providing base line educational and living standards, paid for by society, through taxes. It gives everyone the resources needed to compete in the job market, so they can then participate in perpetuating the consumption market, which then reciprocally fuels the job market. This does not mean there is not a valid debate about how welfare should be distributed, or conditions for its distribution (two position I might air on the more conservative and ‘incentivist’ side of) but it should be noted that this is a separate conversation to whether welfare should exist at all. Furthermore, this same economic narrative is also the rationale behind a Keynesian approach to recession, and against deficit obsession in times of recession. It is more important to fight unemployment to perpetuate the consumer base than cut spending that could be dealt with more responsibly following economic recovery.

Moreover, we all benefit from living in a society. My profits are your spending and vice-versa, and the whole process is made a lot easier, and more profitable, if we collectively decide to do things like build roads (etc.) as we incidentally did last century, the century that saw America reach unprecedented historical heights in human achievement. It is also nice if those roads are built to places, such as small towns, where the population size does not exactly make it profitable. Furthermore, because costs of subsistence is the same regardless of income, it is right to tax more those who make more, in order to obtain enough revenue to supply the services required to perpetuate the society. It is also important to prevent degrees of income inequality that go beyond manufacturing social incentives for innovation and hard-work, and breed resentment while increase poverty levels. Although it is true that wealth and capitalism are not zero sum games, they are not all win-win either.

This, unfortunately, is where things become more complicated, less certain, and excessively nuanced. Perhaps the reality of this complexity is why the Left has such a harder time expressing their narrative than the simplistic alternative expressed by the Right. Nevertheless, my frustration abounds at the lack of a coherent and consistent rebuttal to the Republican claim that the rich are the sole driving force behind the economy, because this delusion is very damaging to the national discourse, and is something preventing the more speculative conversation that follows. Because, in addition, the Right has dug the Left into a hole, and to complete their narrative to the point of unquestionably necessitating a different policy approach, two highly ingrained concepts must be challenged. The Left must state that Capitalism is broken and America is, and has always been, Socialist.

PART III

Socialism is a partially meaningless term, at least when compared to Capitalism and Communism. Both Capitalism and Communism have logical extremes to which they have never been taken, but theoretically could exist. Even though our use of these terms often ignores these logical extremes, they are important because the branding nature of terminology allows for the cessation of discourse without proper argument. Things are either labeled ‘Socialist’, ‘Communist’, or ‘Capitalist’ and are rejected or accepted outright. Yet the existence of never implemented logical extremes makes clear that nuance must be accepted.

Pure Communism would entail no government, no money, and no class: i.e. really naïve Anarchism. Pure Capitalism would entail no government, or at least no democratic government, because those are Socialist (they are publically owned). Pure Capitalism could seemingly function with some Corporatist/Plutocratic governmental form (although it is hard to understand how a free market could truly exist in such a nepotistic world) but the functionally of pure Capitalism would have to be either Tyrannical or Anarchical, and the en-vogue Libertarian form airs on the Anarchical side. Socialism is a meaningless term because it is only distinguished from Communism by the implicit acknowledgment that Socialism utilizes aspects of Capitalism, i.e. some private property and limited markets. Rather than describing a pure economic system it simply describes all levels of Capitalist/Communist hybrids, thus describing every society that has had markets and governments. The differences between such societies must be considered in terms of degrees rather than diametric opposition. Making Socialism a term so vague it is hardly a term worth using, much less chastising. But I can say with even more certainty that it is not a term to be declared un-American given the United States has had, since its inception, a democratic and publicly owned (i.e. Socialist)  government that facilitated the existence of its market economy. America has always been part Socialist.

This is the problem with the Libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) vision of the world that has come to dominate the world view and policy making of the new Right. It denies reality, and therefore makes an unstable platform for reality. It does this by not acknowledging the important role government (socialism) has in regulating capitalism, while pretending that its mantra (unregulated markets will self regulate and perpetuate perfection) is not Anarchism, and is the American way.

It is worth stating that Anarchism, when dealing with humans in their current evolutionary state, is flawed because it is crazy to think we will let power vacuums go unfilled, and that when approaching reality in an ad hoc manner, we will not fall into the tragedy of the commons. I suggest these two points because I am aware of countless incidences in history where this has occurred, yet none at any point in history where a local monopoly on force has not been seized when left available, and we fall into the tragedy of the commons even when approaching reality from a central planning position.

Nevertheless, even the disingenuous position of most ‘Libertarians’, which is actually just excessively diluted socialism in denial, because of its acknowledgment of a need for a socially owned government to supply military security and contract enforcement to ensure the proper functionality of the market, is flawed and damaging to society because it fails to recognize the other flaw of capitalism: its corrosive effect on the middle class. I don’t want to use his name, because I have no desire to defend Communism, but Marx told us this over one-hundred and fifty years ago. Marx was wrong about many things, but on this point he was right, un-fettered capitalism destroys the middle class, overproduction is a threat to capitalism, and thus, capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction.

Hopefully I previously convinced you of the importance of the middle class to a functioning market system and the threat of overproduction, but on the other point, you should not simply take Marx on his word. However, this is a concept that is, at least speculatively, backed by statistics. It is most simply highlighted in the fact that US income inequality has grown significantly since the 1970s,[4] and while it is speculative to assert the adoption of Reagan-esque Trickle Down economic policy (tax rates for the top 1% have diminished by 25% and by 52% for the top 0.001%, over the same time period)[5] is the causation of this occurrence, given there are other correlating factors such as changes in technology and globalization, this notion is supported by the fact that income inequality has not grown to the same degree in other, more socialist, European countries with more progressive tax codes.[6]  Further, wealth redistribution and evening of social resources is the aspect of the three variables over which our national government has the most control. This relationship between taxation, public investment and economic growth has also been recently backed by a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which sights a correlation between higher economic growth and higher levels of personal income tax (37% disparity in growth rate) between different States in America.[7] The correlation between poverty, wealth disparity, tax levels, and market regulation is even more pronounced when looking at the mid-nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.[8] Again, increases in laissez-faire government policy were accompanied by technological and globalizing changes, but the move towards purer capitalism should be noted.

citation for graph [9]

Furthermore, there is an unmistakable logic to ‘trickle up’ in an economic model predicated on capital. Capital allows you to own the means of production, thus making capital the most valuable asset, allowing capital to breed more capital, leading to the conglomeration of capital. Statistically, this notion that capital breeds more capital can be seen in the the disproportional earnings (and growth rates of those earnings) between the median and the first percentile, but also in the disparity between the top 0.001% and 1%.[10] The process is then logically exaggerated on the other end through a poverty trap catching people only making subsistence earnings, who then have no excess capital to invest either in themselves (to increase their worth, and therefore probable salary) or in investments geared towards producing more capital, as done by the capitalist class. Therefore, if no intervention is made to disrupt the cycle, income inequality will logically grow disproportionately to the general increase in living standards experienced by society at large. One proposal for addressing this problem would be to provide personal investment (in the form of housing and education subsidies etc.) in the poor to increase their market value, paid for with taxation of the rich, and prevention of dynastic wealth through some degree of estate taxation. Thus preventing the capital conglomeration urge while growing the middle class through expanding the skill set of the under-classes, and preventing the destruction of the consumption base on which the entire system is predicated. Not to mention the whole other host of societal problems correlated with poverty and the general social dysfunction this unnecessarily causes. All being trends supported by correlatory evidence from historical experience.

I am not an economist and I do not assert to have the answers to the proper level and relationship between regulation, government ownership, and free-market enterprise. I am simply trying to make the case that government has a role in allowing a ‘free-as-possible market’ to exist. I am also making the case that the Libertarian notion of some primordial and perfectly free-marketplace is wrong and never existed. Markets need the stability created by a state to exist at all (because humans need the stability of a state to not predicate their lives on concepts of ‘might is right’) and regulation can help prevent monopolies and nepotism that naturally occur and actually cause less-free markets. Further, the Right’s vilification of the word Socialist, and the concept of taxation and social services, is either disingenuous or ill-thought-out. Social security, for example, despite being decried as a ‘Ponzi Scheme’ and an archetypal example of why government can do no good, should be heralded as an example of governmental triumph. In the 1950s, 35% of American seniors lived below the poverty line, today that number is 9%, and it is estimated that if Social Security were to be abandoned, that number would rise to 45% instantaneously.[11] Clearly the Libertarian-touted voluntary organizations did not fulfill the job sixty years ago, so there is no reason to expect they would succeed now. The Right never calls to privatize the Army, and it is obvious why not. It is too important. This, in my opinion, is the exact same reason the medical industry fails under privatized circumstances: when people need it, there is no consumer choice in participation, or even a choice in delaying participation, and therefore the accountability provided by market demand fails to function and the result is arbitrary price setting. The specifics of this argument are getting far beyond the scope of my point, but suffice it to say, if you think a national Army should exist, then it is disingenuous to blanket claim that the government should not directly oversee any area of the economy because it is incapable of effectively doing so. You have already admitted that it can do so, making a nuanced discussion of specifics required for intellectual honesty

It is imperative that we remember the middle class is the driving force behind the economy, and their protection should be the primary goal of any believer in market economics. How this should be done is open to further discussion, but if the Right cannot be made to even admit this, there is little hope is addressing our other economic dysfunctions.

[1] http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2012/06/15/Why-Ronald-Reagan-Would-Not-Lead-Todays-GOP.aspx#page1

[2] http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_eisenhower_quote.htm

[3] http://www.bis.org/publ/work300.pdf

[4] http://web.archive.org/web/20070208142023/http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/ie6.html

[5] http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/how-we-pay-taxes-11-charts/255954/

[6] http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?QueryId=26067&Lang=en

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/how-we-pay-taxes-11-charts/255954/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/28/state-income-tax_n_2784028.html

[8] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/09/can-the-middle-class-be-saved/308600/

[9] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=957

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/05/national/class/HYPER-FINAL.html?ei=5088&en=f1a744d1ce38c79e&ex=1275624000&pagewanted=print&_r=0

[11] http://www.facethefactsusa.org/facts/all-that-stands-between-many-seniors-and-poverty/