Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

It’s the Income Inequality, Stupid

Americans are feeling lousy and it’s no surprise.  Unemployment is at ‘recent memory’ highs, the Federal deficit is approaching existential crisis and the national economy is limping along with little sign of immediate recovery.  This disaffectation is based on real issues.  We have lost manufacturing and professional employment to overseas labour competition, an inevitable consequence of profit discovery by our ‘entrepreneurial’ corporate globalists.  Wages are stagnant, largely due to increasing, and arguably opportunistic, health care costs applied by a domestic ‘growth industry.’  The financial sector has recently plundered our collective savings and investments after having convincingly encouraged us to live beyond our declining means.

It’s not hard to have some sympathy for the middle-Americans whom are now agitating for radical changes to the way our government does business.  Something is clearly wrong.  But many of us have apparently failed to identify the real problems.  There is a lot of money sloshing around in the hands of a few privileged actors with very radical political agendas.  That these actors have been channelling much of the public anger and frustration towards their own long-standing and inherently selfish objectives, the same policies which have already eroded the prosperity and quality of life of so many citizens, is the tragic irony of our current political dilemma:

As Politico recently pointed out, every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn’t currently holding office and isn’t named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News. Now, media moguls have often promoted the careers and campaigns of politicians they believe will serve their interests. But directly cutting checks to political favorites takes it to a whole new level of blatancy.

Arguably, this shouldn’t be surprising. Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.

Paul Krugman – Fear and Favor NYT 4 Oct 10

This is a profound and serious challenge to ‘real America’ which we seem unwilling, or incapable, of meeting.

We like to cite our origins as a nation ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ a point on which the Tea Party and the progressive Left can both tacitly agree, but we are probably closer to losing that ethos in the miasma of anonymous political ‘slush funds,’ media manipulation and hidden influence by a few powerful institutions than at any other time since the robber-baron era of the late 19th century.  We are facing, as citizens, virtual serfdom within our own constitutionally mandated democracy.

And yet there is a radical political movement afoot to rectify these wrongs, albeit largely financed and guided by unseen hands.  Too much government is their answer.  They would have us believe that our problem is the deficit and, consequently, our spending on entitlements.  But why, if that were the problem, should we retain tax cuts for the wealthy?:

As [Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center] points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”

So how did we get to the point where one of our two major political parties isn’t even trying to make sense?

The answer isn’t a secret. The late Irving Kristol, one of the intellectual godfathers of modern conservatism, once wrote frankly about why he threw his support behind tax cuts that would worsen the budget deficit: his task, as he saw it, was to create a Republican majority, “so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.” In short, say whatever it takes to gain power. That’s a philosophy that now, more than ever, holds sway in the movement Kristol helped shape.

And what happens once the movement achieves the power it seeks? The answer, presumably, is that it turns to its real, not-so-secret agenda, which mainly involves privatizing and dismantling Medicare and Social Security.

Paul Krugman – Downhill With the G.O.P. NYT 23 Sep 10

How could they be so wrong?  That Republicans have sought to diminish government ‘down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub’ has been no secret for twenty years.  The GOP moderates are gone now and the reality TV quality of many of their current candidates well masks the underlying issues.  We should probably best refrain from gleefully latching on to each ‘witchcraft’ gaffe which comes our way.  It’s time to watch the donut, not the hole.

The curious thing is that the Republican agenda is so transparent.  Consider again the current controversial entitlements for the wealthy in our tax code:

Yet if you want to find real political rage – the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason – you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled “The Wail Of the 1%,” it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.

Paul Krugman – The Angry Rich NYT 19 Sep 10

So why are Tea Party candidates such advocates for these, rather exceptional, tax holidays for the wealthy?  One wonders at the apparent irrationality of Republicans promoting the extension of the tax cuts and yet issuing dire warnings about the deficit in the same speech, sometimes in the same sentence.  “What?” says the man on the Clapham omnibus, “That makes no sense.”

And that’s the clue.  The consensus on tax cuts for the wealthy seems to be that they’re a clumsy way of stimulating the economy.  We always understood that, really.  But tax cuts are a very popular ploy for eroding the general revenue.

When Republican concern over the deficit is peeled back it is always the spending they are worried about, spending on social services they consider unnecessary and federal regulation of, read ‘interference’ in, the business affairs of their major campaign contributors.  The rest is easy, it’s about keeping the needs of the majority out of the pockets of the system’s biggest beneficiaries, while exposing them as affordable labour and pliant consumers.  The 21st century equivalent of the ‘company town.’  First, let’s have a closer look at what these tax cuts really mean, in actual taxpayer dollars, and the impact on the general revenue:

Huh?  So how are we going to recover the deficit?  And it isn’t just tax relief vs the deficit.  When was the last time you heard the minimum wage raised as an election issue?:

Late last week, Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon was quoted as saying, in vague terms, that she’d be open to the idea of adjusting the federal minimum wage laws. That was followed on Monday with a much more declarative statement  from Alaska Republican Joe Miller, who called the minimum wage laws outside the constitutional purview of Congress. And as the website Hotline pointed  out, businessman John Raese, who is running for the Senate in West Virginia, “has been most adamant in opposing the minimum wage” while in Washington, Republican Dino Rossi “has a checkered history on the minimum wage.”

Sam Stein – GOP Walking ‘Into The Snakepit Of Minimum Wage’: DSCC Spokesman Huffington Post 4 Oct 10

This is adolescent Ayn Randism and ‘tenther’ nonsense.  How could conservatives and their electoral champions be so dumb as to fall for this junk?  Well, the voters may be confused but the candidates aren’t.  This is all just about money, sadly.  That many congressional Democrats couldn’t find the resolve to take a pre-election stand on the tax cut issue is a salutory lesson that our own party is increasingly subject to, and in thrall of, the same influences.  It appears we have a Herculean task ahead of us cleansing the Augean stables of the toxic waste of our contemporary politics.

The old distinction of Left versus Right is probably no longer particularly valid, in this respect.  If we all saw clearly that the machinations of the few were a concerted attempt to relieve us of our collective mandated electoral power by manipulation, influence and subterfuge it would seem that partisan arguments might be set aside, for awhile.  Is this merely a national epidemic of attention span disorder?  An infatuation with shiny things?  If so it is surely disempowering us and by all accounts our inability to better educate our next generation in these matters is not promising.  The risk is that all but few of them may well be destined to virtual serfdom in a capitalist oligarchy over which they have limited control.

If some disgruntled Tea Party activists could just get their heads out of the xenophobic, nativist, evangelical sand for a moment they might actually be worth having on our side.  At the rate we’re going we might need ’em before this is finished.


  1. But one of the key books to counter thirty five years of trickle down Reaganism and privatising Thatcher is The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

    Many fascinating comparisons, using the principles of  epidemiology, both internationally and between US states of different levels of inequality.

    Of course we’d assume that more unequal states/societies create worse outcomes for the poor in terms of crime, health and educational achievement. But the stunning thing Wilkinson and Pickett seem have ‘proved’ is that inequality is bad for the rich too.

    There are good reasons for this – from Mississippi to Manchester – we are social animals, and though we enjoy vaunting our wealth and superiority, the decline of real connections in vastly inequal societies, the rise of gate communities, educational ghettoes of self selection and self exclusion, and of course crime and latent antagonism, actually impacts badly on everyone.  

  2. creamer

    I’m having trouble comprehending this.

    Firefighters in rural Tennessee let a home burn to the ground last week because the homeowner hadn’t paid a $75 fee.

    Gene Cranick of Obion County and his family lost all of their possessions in the fire, along with  three dogs and a cat.  

    from todays headlines

     Apparently if you live outside the city limits of South Fulton Tennessee you need to pay 75 bucks for fire protection. He didn’t pay. Forgot, didn’t want to, I don’t know.

     They sat in their truck and watched. Where they Christians? Islamic? Atheist? Don’t know that either.


    Not like any that I know or want to know.

    Tennessee I’m ashamed of you.

  3. Shaun Appleby

    We are so screwed (h/t BooMan):

    WASHINGTON – Half a billion dollars from independent groups with strong but unofficial connections to Republicans and Democrats is flooding into congressional campaigns across the country this year, according to a study released Monday.

    The Center for Public Integrity found that Republican-allied groups are likely to outspend their Democratic-oriented rivals by 3 to 2, and maybe even by 2 to 1. The center is a respected nonprofit, nonpartisan source of investigative journalism devoted to making institutional power transparent and accountable.

    David Lightman – Tidal wave of outside money swamping 2010 elections McClatchy 4 Oct 10

    Time to pick up that old copy of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and read it for loopholes?

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