Friday, January 31, 2014

Belt-tightening, Screw-tightening, and Revolution

The whole cuts-cuts-cuts strategy strikes me as rather like balancing a family budget by deciding which members of the family to starve. And when the family has a rich uncle who is living high on the hog, and a survivalist who is spending huge amounts of money getting into fights, well, I don't think starving someone makes a whole lot of sense. 

If a family has an income shortfall, it has several options. It can find more pay work. Rich members of the family might contribute more of their personal wealth. And, yes, it can decide to spend less. But spending less by starving family members is a non-starter; there is no family after that.

The past two years have been an exercise is screw-tightening for conservatives. The unemployment insurance extensions are gone, making tight family budgets tighter. Now SNAP cuts are coming in, increasing food insecurity. The conservatives won't be satisfied until we have people starving in the streets, like we did in the 1930s depression.

Something is going to break. But what? Murdoch's Wall Street Journal recently published a piece by the very wealthy Thomas Perkins saying that he fears a kristallnacht from progressives directed at the very wealthy. A remarkably ill-thought-out idea: the comparison he wants is with Stalinism, not Naziism. But give the devil his due: he isn't entirely wrong. The very rich have been subjected to enormous and vehement criticism. It must get wearing and harsh words are sometimes followed by violent deeds. The rest of us, though, are subjected to poverty, and wondering how to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, and this is the work of the very rich, who looted the banks, threw millions out of their homes with their real estate machinations, and have made it near-impossible for people of modest means to save. For the rest of us, the violent deeds have already started, backed by wealth and the power of the state.

I think the talk of an uprising is intended to justify a clamp-down. There is, I am sure, some faction of the rich, powerful, and foolish who would be delighted to put all those weapons they have bought the various police forces to work. The Journal is voicing their fears.

The years since 2008 have, I think, seen an exhaustion of options. As the Reagan Revolution reaches its culmination, the American people have been reacting through political channels. First, we changed the President. Then the House. Then we had a sit-down strike on Wall Street. Now we have exhausted simple politics, and so there is a confused time of considering choices.

What next?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Democratic Economic Policies Work

(In answer to one of these annoying forwards.)
Historically, the economy does better under Democratic Presidents than Republicans. Think about it. There was Hoover, who presided over the beginning of the 1930s depression, and then the two great borrow-and-spenders Reagan and Bush II. Bush II presided over the beginning of what is turning out to be the worst depression in US history. On the other hand, FDR presided over a decent recovery, and Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Clinton presided over prosperous times. Obama, embarrassingly, makes economic policy like a Republican, and we are now in a depression likely to dwarf that of the 1930s.

Democratic economic policies work better than Republican economic policies. I believe this is because they are closer to Keynesian macroeconomic reality.

(Reference, though not scholarly: Bulls, Bears, and the Ballot Box.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Slogans of the Progressive Libertarian Party

(Which probably isn't either, but it sounds like a good name.)

We are for:
  Full employment!
  A broad middle class!
  Saving the Earth!
  Human rights!
  Health care!

We are against:
  Human rights for corporations!

And the only one of these for which there is no obvious method of accomplishment is full employment, which must be accomplished by a mix of fiscal and monetary policy—by Keynesian economic policies, in other words.

Right now there is no leadership or organized party with these goals, but everything here is possible.  We know how to do it.  Keynes once wrote of Trotsky, "He assumes that the moral and intellectual problems of the transformation of Society have been already solved—that a plan exists, and that nothing remains except to put it into operation." But this is no longer true.  We know how to do it.

Let's get started.

(This post may be updated at whim.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Aristocrats and the Party of the People

There's an attack on the public sector being readied:
State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax
Conservative groups across the US are planning a co-ordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers' compensation and the environment, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.—The Guardian, Dec 5, 2013.
Well, you see, we had to destroy the country in order to save it.

The actors are the usual suspects—the Koch-funded State Policy Network.

This lot won't stop until there is no security for anyone outside their circle: no way to save, no reliable health care, no way to defend yourself against the whims of the wealthy, and not even the knowledge that things might be better.

If there is an organized attack, why not an organized response? ALEC and the SPN form a shadowy aristocratic party. Why is there not a party of the people?

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Greater Depression

"WE R F*****. WE R F*****. WE ARE SO F*****. Household Employment Survey: 56-Months Straight of Awful"—Economist Brad Delong expresses dismay at long-term unemployment in somewhat less than academic language.

But Brad, what did you expect? There is no FDR to lead us into recovery, or at least palliate the disease. Instead, our leadership is either passive or actively making it worse.

Paul Krugman has called this the lesser depression. But he was wrong. This is the Greater Depression, and it promises to go on and on.

Thanks, leaders. Thanks to the Republican leadership, who seem to love nothing so much as pain, death, and destruction. Thanks to the Democrats, who didn't fight. And thanks to Obama, who passed up so many opportunities to improve matters.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Paul-Murray Budget: Centrism Made Visible

The Paul-Murray budget agreement is Centrism made visible.

"Centrism," in the sense defined by Stuart Zechman, is an ideology that claims to represent the moderate path between the extremes of US politics, but in fact is only the average of a far-right to right position. In Centrism, all political language is reinterpreted to make Wall Street conservatism the only logical, moderate, non-ideological course. In Centrism, no matter how far to the right a position is, no matter how destructive, it is the only reasonable compromise.

So let's look at the Paul-Murray budget. The claim is that, since it was negotiated by a Republican and a Democrat, it must be a moderate, reasonable compromise. Paul is far right, and Murray is a fairly conservative Democrat from a liberal state. A compromise between their two positions is necessarily to the right. But it's a compromise! It's a reasonable center position!

Ah, Centrism.

Let's take a closer look at this compromise.

The total amount of the Paul-Murray budget is less than Paul's original proposal.[1] The most important and popular single spending item, a further unemployment insurance extension, has been omitted. There is a little more non-defense discretionary spending than in the original Paul budget, and a little less defense spending, but that's about it. This is somehow a compromise between—between what, exactly? No. It is not a compromise. It is surrender to the right, with a few small concessions to the true center.[2] But it is presented to us as a victory, as a successful compromise. The more outrageous and irrational our politics becomes, the more we hear the Centrist rhetoric of moderate compromise.

With this deal, we see the end of liberal hopes for some years. Centrism is now policy. At least it is now out in the open. Conservatives can scarcely claim the throne does not exist when they are sitting on it. They can claim that the king can do no wrong. They can scream charges of lèse majesté. But even a cat can look at a king.

…or a raven.


[1]  O'Brien, "How Paul Ryan Won the Budget War—in 1 Chart," The Atlantic, Dec 13,2013.
[2]  Media Matters "The Progressive Majority."

[updated .01.10 to strengthen the language.]

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why, Conservatives?

[Every now and again these thoughts come to mind. It's time to put them down.]

There's an enormous strangeness at the heart of conservatism.  Conservatives schemed and fought, and won the rule of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. And what have they done with their power? They fight pointless wars. They crash the global economy. They build a vast and oppressive surveillance state.

They have taken something strong and beautiful, and done their level best to destroy it. How can this even be called conservatism? Nothing of value is being conserved, and much is being destroyed.

Now I know there are individual motivations: greed, paranoia, religious rigidity. But none of these require destruction. I can only conclude that, somehow, beyond ideology and simple human failings, there is a simple love of destruction. It is not hard to see that conservative ideologies have been destructive. Surely the conversion of Iraq into a Shiite state is failure? So is crashing the world economy. Yet, somehow, conservatives go on, working to conserve…nothing, apparently.


Conservatives have won many victories in the past 30 years. Most of these victories have lead to painful failures. Yet somehow they still want more. It seems that they will not be satisfied until they have destroyed the Union of the United States of America.

[1/8/2014, cleanup and addition]

I think I know. Cortez, it is said, cried when he realized he was going to have destroy Tenochtitlán in order to conquer it: he had wanted to rule the most beautiful city he had ever seen. But he destroyed it, to rule what was left. For these people it is power or nothing.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Talking to My Senators on Unemployment Insurance, Part II

So today I called my Senators, both Democrats, in support of the extension. Their personal web sites are inaccessible from outside the Senate's own offices; I hope there hasn't been an attack.

One Senator's office took my name and zip code; the other didn't even ask. Always good to see the high regard our elected officials give to their constituents.