Failure is Success

John Boehner1

“This is going to destroy the best healthcare delivery system in the world,” John Boehner stated last November as he discussed his fears over Obamacare. This is something that is often stated, especially by the America’s right wing. That we have the best healthcare in the world. “Moderates”, who try to be the mediator in these situations often pretending that both sides have “their points”, will respond by stating that our healthcare system merely being “different” than the rest of the Western world. In America you have a choice with the coverage you want and wait times are shorter due to not everyone having healthcare (not true). If you take both of these points at face value they still don’t really make any sense. If anything they demonstrate the weakness without the policy. Why would it be a good thing that everyone chooses their coverage? There should be no “choice” in this. If you get sick or injured the hospital treats your wounds as much as humanly possible, that’s it. Why exactly should somebody risk not being covered and having to owe tens of thousands? That isn’t a strength but a weakness. If the wait time argument was even true why would that be a good thing? If the lines are so much shorter due to people not seeking care who need it then it is a clear indication that the system isn’t doing its job.

This is something I like to phrase as “failure is success” in which failure caused by the policy is looked as a success, sort of like somebody looking at a faux silver-lining. We see this all the time in politics. When politicians give praise for savings made by cutting social services “to help those who are really in need”. How is cutting money that is meant to be a transfer from the rich to the poor, in the country where they have it the least in the first world, something to support? The entire purpose of these programs is to fund the poorest in our system. With income inequality and poverty being so high cutting these programs is the last thing we should be doing. But yet due to the government lacking more of its spending on transferring money to the poor (a failure) it is seen as a success.

These are things that need to be pointed out during these arguments. Its not a good thing that people have “choice” for coverage, nor are short wait lines due to the lack of patients, and especially the poor getting less money due to the government wanting to save “to help those in real need” when its they who are likely to suffer the most from the lack of these services.

Jus Ad Bellum – Syrian Intervention

Yuddhisthra is the eldest prince among five siblings that have been deprived of their kingdom. Now after much machination, there is a chance for Yuddhisthra to wage war against his enemies and reclaim his kingdom. Yuddhisthra however is reluctant, because he is struggling to justify fighting his enemy because of inescapable collateral damage to innocent people that an ensuing war may cause. He counsels with his trusted uncle and advisor Bhimsa. Bhimsa appeals to Yuddhisthira’s sense of justice by offering him Rules of War so to speak (or ancient code of military conduct). Attack only the soldiers, do not attack innocent people, stop attacking when enemy has stopped, etc etc. Yudhisthra is unconvinced. Bhimsa then appeals to Yuddhisthra’s virtue:

“By restraining the wicked and encouraging the virtuous, and by rites of sacrificial worship and giving gifts, kings become pure and free of taint. Kings trouble their people when they seek conquest, but after they have won the victory they make their subjects thrive once again. They drive their evil deeds away through the power of gifts, sacrifices and ascetism. Their merit increases through their kindness to their subjects. Just as the reaper of a field kills the weeds and the grain at the time he mows the field, but does not get rid of the grain; so, kings slay those they want to kill at the time they shoot their sharp bladed weapons, and the entire atonement for that is the king’s making the inhabitants flourish once again. The king who guards his subjects from the plunder of their wealth, from slaughter, from affliction by barbarians, he, because he gives life, is truly a king bestowing wealth and happiness. Worshiping with all the rites of sacrifice, giving safety as the present to the priests, that king will experience blessings and reach the same heavenly world as Indra.”

Bhimsa gives Yuddhisthra the justification for war by saying that a righteous cause can be justly pursued to it’s conclusion, no matter how much pain is entailed. Yuddhisthra is now prepared for the battle.

What we are discussing today in US Congress for the need of Syrian Intervention is nothing new. The principles of Just War go back to the 3000 year old Indian Epic Mahabharata, where the five siblings discuss and deliberate exact same conundrums we are grappling with.

New World Order

In international relations, one government defers another belligerent government’s actions to a certain extent. It happens only until that government or its assets gets attacked by the belligerent government, or there is a clear and present danger to national security. For example, America did not spring into action in World War 2 until Pearl Harbor. This has more to do with human response than international relations during wartime. Kill the threat before it kills you.  But post-WW2 has changed the landscape of…everything. United Nations is established, NATO is formed, Geneva Conventions are updated, treaties are ratified. There is now a clear emphasis on preventing war from breaking out and a need for a (lack of better term) new world order. Much more importantly, there is a need for preventing loss of human lives in a grand scale. This new idea however has been exploited for reasons other than preventing death and destruction (most recently, US Invading and Occupying Iraq in 2003 under false pretenses). Remember mushroom cloud talk?

In a nutshell, what we have learned over the past 70 years is that we should make an active effort in preventing mass loss of human lives anywhere in the world, especially if it’s state sponsored military action because we’ve seen how those movies end.  The problem is that the New World Order is not perfect. We have had unspeakable crimes against humanity gone unpunished in the past. Why intervene now? What about *insert war torn state in Africa*? Why the double standards? Well, good cannot become the enemy of the perfect. Just because we failed to act in the past does not mean we should never act in the future. Maybe there is a national security interest, or maybe there isn’t. But a human life that is saved does not care about the national security interest or the other motive you may have had in intervening. Let’s make it a point to be more consistent in the future, rather than be shackled by the past. We intervened in Serbian conflict despite not given authorization by US Congress or UN. We intervened solely under Just War principle. It was Bill Clinton who spearheaded the intervention. Had we became paralyzed because of our past, ethnic Kosovar Albanian Muslims could have been wiped out from Eastern Europe. Or in more recent example of intervention in 2011, the city of Benghazi could have become a bloodbath.

Why now?

Weapons of Mass Destruction have significantly altered the calculus post WW2, and made the security of world a balance where deterrence is directly proportional to potential impact. For example, India and Pakistan (two countries that have gone to war 3 times since independence) have not gone to war once since nuclear armament (despite border skirmishes). Yet at the same time, the threat of destruction has catapulted to a mind numbingly catastrophic level.

Thus, when Bashar Al Assad allegedly uses Sarin gas to kill a number of his countrymen, the alarm bells go off in the government intelligence headquarters of every civilized country on earth. It is an abhorrently disproportional action, regardless of whether it was used against terrorists or innocent people. The law of proportionality dictates that as long as warring factions keep it to standard munitions, the alarm bells will not blare. In other words, US keeps the option open of giving Syrian government the benefit of doubt in their case against fighting terrorism within the parameters of conflict. Under this situation Assad could have theoretically slowly wiped out the entire Syrian population using nothing but small arms fire. But the usage of weapons like Sarin gas, nerve agent, mustard gas etc means that the parameters of conversation no longer hold true. The Syrian government is now slaughtering the civilians wholesale and making sure that the generations to come will be affected by it due to birth defects. In this modified situation, the US can no longer defer Syria’s actions. Their intentions are now clear, which no longer include the safety of it’s citizens. That is why the red line was drawn by Obama.

The situation right now isn’t clear cut because of the complexity of the issue, Russia and China’s stonewalling. Lack of evidence is no longer an issue. The majority of countries on the NATO Security Council agree that it was Syrian government that used the chemical weapon, along with Germany and other important EU nations. The fact that Assad could have used the chemical attack against his people not in spite of Obama’s warning, but because of it is also a unique factor in this conflict. He could have done so under the shelter of Russia’s protection, in order to show his friends in Iran and Lebanon that he was able to poke a dragon in it’s nose and get away with it. Maybe he will do it again because he knows the dragon is shackled by the weight of public cynicism and the current president’s confrontational relationship with the opposition in Congress. Also, the Arab League and OIC are both in favor of a military strike. These are the two largest and important regional bodies outside of UN, and one of them kicked out the Syrian seat.

Isolationism

Isolationism is a perfectly valid philosophy of how your country should behave with respect to other countries. It might sound opposite of what I am suggesting in this post, but it’s a respectable default position. I would rather a country have a default isolationist policy rather than default interventionist policy. The sweet spot however is finding the right balance obviously. But in my view, a judicious interventionist action is not mutually exclusive with a default isolationist country. There always has to be “all options on the table” leverage for a President to exercise his executive authority. But however, there has to be reconciliation with the moral quotient when it comes to isolationism. Does the death and suffering of a group of people be neglected, simply because they don’t share the same passport as you? Please keep in mind that we are looking at situation where all other peaceful options have failed. Diplomacy can only work if both sides can come to a common goal. Rwandan genocide provides a macabre case study for isolationism where an intervention could have possibly prevented or reduced the number of lives that were lost. When you look at the full historical context of the massacre, then there is even a more need for intervention. The power structure in place in Rwanda was created by Rwanda’s Colonial Master Belgium, which was the leading institutional culprit that led to the uprising against Tutsis. The west has created uneven power structures during it’s colonial period that have since become highly unstable and a powder keg of disillusionment waiting to be set off.

I am not suggesting that all colonial masters should go to their ex-colonies and fix everything. What I am saying is that the colonial masters do shoulder some responsibility as to what happens in their ex-colonies. The main culprits are the perpetrators themselves, let’s not deny that. But washing your hands of colonialism does not expiate all the injustice that may have happened or carried on since the freedom movements. At least France understands this concept.

Why us?

Yet, America was not a colonial power and did not own any colonies, so why should America have picked up Belgium’s slack? Simple answer is because it was in a position to. Ginormous military spending is an old addiction from Cold War that we cannot quit. America spends more on the Military than the next 3 countries combined, so at least put that effort to good use. I understand that the money can be argued to be better spent at home in education, infrastructure and healthcare, but I ask why not both? Are we really deluding ourselves into thinking that each $1.2m spent on a tomahawk missile can be just as easily directed to our public school system? It’s not like there is a limited set of money America can play with. America has it’s very own money printer. If our collective nation was concerned about the infrastructure, public education and healthcare, we would have printed enough money to last 100 years to fix them. But sadly, our priorities are directed elsewhere (thanks to the lifestyle that we have had to become used to due to corporate money in politics). If we are going to argue against intervention, let’s not use this excuse.

End Game

Whether America does intervene or not in Syria, that is for the President to decide. We should keep in mind that not all conflicts are exactly alike with same set of factors, externalities and outcomes, even if some of the actors look familiar. It’s simply ignorant to compare Iraq war fiasco with Syrian intervention. It’s also wrong to compare it with Operation Allied Force. Or Somalian intervention. Or even Libyan intervention. It’s fine to draw comparisons or look for patterns, but it’s wrong to arrive at same conclusions. It is a perfectly valid question to ask what we are trying to achieve. Just weapons degradation, or a complete government capitulation? For now, we are saying we simply want weapons degradation. This will result in just enough tipping in balance scales for rebels to gain momentum, but we are not the rebel’s Airforce. The US does not even recognize the National Transitional Council, let alone the Free Syrian Army. As a matter of fact, the US will likely also strike at what it perceives to be Al Qaida or elements that sponsor terrorism, which is why Al Nusra and friends have already packed their bags and are checking out. The best case scenario for US is that the rebels overthrow the government, and NTC takes over the command smoothly. The worst case scenario is the more unsavory types getting hold of the government reins and pushing aside moderates and NTC. I don’t see the worst case scenario happening, because the extremist elements do not have the Syrian mandate. Only Free Syrian Army does, and they are tolerating the extremists because they are both opposed to Assad. No rebellion is going to let a minority that gets its orders from foreigners take over the country after sacrificing so much blood and money. Syria will not become the Afghanistan of 1996. The conditions are not there for it to occur. For one, Syria has much higher literacy rate, standard of living and human development index than Afghanistan. Three important factors that work against extremism and descent into tribal chaos. There is also the National Transitional Council which will get the backing of every western nation, because there is no other suitable alternative. In any case, the situation would be lot better if chemical stockpiles were taken out of the equation so neither Assad nor the rebels have access to them.

The political solution will likely look something like from neighboring Iraq or Egypt, where majority Islamic parties will form a coalition with minorities. But, the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt’s political sphere has sent shockwaves throughout the middle-east, and every elected leader is going to be wary of taking drastic power-consolidation steps through executive branch.

I started my post with the 3000 year old epic Mahabharata. The questions our country is grappling with are complicated, tough and with no clear answers. If this problem was clear cut with simple “never intervene” or “always intervene” solutions, then who really cares for detail, minutiae and other nuanced discussion? The world does not fit into neatly cropped boxes. What we can do is understand the world that we live in is an unregulated mess. We know on a macro level no system can regulate itself. Laissez Faire theory has been an utter disaster for 80% of the country, while a godsend for the few, the powerful. In the same way, if we let the world regulate itself, the few, the powerful will consolidate gains and tilt the system in their favor.

Us vs Them

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A common argument that many liberals and other leftists use to support their positions is pointing to nations that have enacted the policies they advocate. Whether it be welfare, universal healthcare, education, there are a variety of examples of nations that have enacted these things successfully. However the nations that tend to stand out are those in Scandinavia. They often used not only because they are arguably the furthest left wing nations on the planet, at least without authoritarian tendencies, but that they are so widely successful. Policies and services such as free higher education, top notch public transportation, and the widest safety nets on the planet. It is not as if these things are a burden to these nations, if anything they are a supplement. Not only do Scandinavian nations dominate quality of life measurements, they also rank at the least above the average when it comes to education and safety as well.

Whenever Scandinavia is given as an example it is almost always accompanied with the follow up question, “Why can’t America enact such policies?” When this question is asked there is a response that consistently follows, specifically with the more educated crowd. “Scandinavia is a very homogenous place, the people have incredibly similar cultures, backgrounds, and makeup.” This argument boils down to the fact that in society otherization often occurs as people are divided into categories. In Norway for example well over ninety percent of the population is Norwegian, with another five percent or so being white. This diverges quire radically from America, a nation in which more minority babies are being born than white babies. Could this be the source of why Americans tend to be much more phobic of social service programs? It is no secret that an individual of ethnicity X would be more reluctant to help out an individual that hails from ethnicity Y as oppose to X. Just how much would one’s opinion diverge if presented with a certain policy and just changed the demographic that said policy was supposed to aid. I decided to buckle down and look up some information on the topic.

The book Why Americans Hate Welfare explored this very point. The novel’s author, Martin Gilens, looked at poll after poll to seek the answer. He found a very strong correlation between one’s support for welfare and who they think is getting the welfare. It found that support for welfare and the thought to be recipient’s race were highly correlated. There was also the discovery of a mass propaganda campaign of an overwhelming majority of welfare going to minorities, especially blacks. Amy Bartels does a great summary of the book.

The thing that tickled my interest the most was the topic of affirmative action. It is no secret that many white college aged young adults are distasteful of some of the aspects of the admission process. However when sociologist Frank Samson went to UCLA and handed out a survey asking people how they felt that the admissions process should work, the results that followed were pretty surprising. They were divided into two groups, one in which the survey was simply handed to them and the other in which it was pointed out that Asians were vastly overrepresented in the school system. It comes to little surprise that the former group was distasteful when it came to policies like affirmative action but the latter group showed strong support for it.

If you look at the result of Samson’s study and think of yourself, “Wow, I guess these people have taken a position just as far left as affirmative action supporters”, then you are wrong. This is even further to the left.  The argument of affirmative action, at least the most common one, is that it is to help disadvantaged groups climb up socio-economic ladder. It is to help those downtrodden in society. This however isn’t what many of these people seem to be advocating. They seem to feel that it is unfair that Asians are overrepresented in the higher education system and therefore reduce their chances in getting into certain institutions so that other demographics, even those that are amongst the most privileged, have an opportunity to attend those institutions. They do not favor fair representation in higher education but equal representation.

This entire entry may seem like a “no shit Sherlock” entry. However I felt that this is an issue that needs to be given more attention. It seems that educating people about social programs is not enough, but there also needs to be more effort on integrating people with other demographics.

Curt Schilling’s Still a Teabagger

I’m not a big baseball fan, but I did develop an interest in Red Sox pitcher, and outspoken anti-government bootstrapper, Curt Schilling. Back in November, a lawsuit was filed against Schilling by the state of Rhode Island for bilking the taxpayers for millions of dollars. It’s been a while since I heard about any updates, aside from this somewhat recent report about Schilling politely asking a judge to simply forget about this whole bamboozling business and call it squaresies. Seems like he isn’t having fun anymore.

 

I was curious to see if Schilling learned anything – anything at all – from this catastrophe, so I went to check out his blog, which sadly wasn’t updated very often. So then I decided to scout his twitter feed, which fortunately, proved to be more useful. Sadly, however, it seemed Schilling was just as teabagger-y as ever:

 

Yes, if anyone has a right to speak out against crushing debt, it’s Curt Schilling.

 

For we all know, you would never do such a thing, right, Curt?

 

Indeed. And the $75 million government loan you took didn’t include a single penny from the tax payers of Rhode Island either.

 

I don’t think I’m being unfair with my criticism. Here’s a guy who constantly spewed Randian garbage like this and this, only to turn around and not only seek out evil socialist assistance, but actively encourage states to listen to that advice, as well!

 

Granted, I suppose it’s too much to expect that such an experience would cause Schilling to reevaluate his economic beliefs. But at the very least, you would think Schilling would have enough sense to keep his politics to himself. But as I’ve said many a time, self awareness and shame are commodities that were always in short supply among teabaggers.

Republicans Say the Darndest Things

Ever since I started following politics, I found that one of the most shocking things when it came to this subject was how politicians (oh hell, why sugar coat it? Republicans) consistently, and more importantly, openly say absurd and idiotic things. Things that even someone who doesn’t follow politics would say “Wait, WHAT?” Examples include one of my personal favorites, Senator Jon Kyl’s famous “Not intended to be a factual statement” comments, and Rep. Steve King’s absolutely glorious and breathtaking defense of dog fighting (easily the greatest thing I’ve seen in all of 2012).

And here’s the thing. Even in a world of chock full of moronic statements, the aforementioned examples stand out because they were prepared beforehand. These comments would still be awful and worthy of ridicule even if they were off the cuff, but one could at least grant some leeway. But no, Kyl and King came up with those remarks, presumably proofread them, and thought they appeared more than appropriate to go public.

Brother Benen provides us with yet another example of this phenomenon:

“Because of the president’s reluctance to cut spending, we’ve been caught in this battle of having cliffs and having these deadlines. This is no way to run a government. But until the president gets serious about the serious structural spending problem that we have, we’re going to have to deal with it. I suggested to the president the other day, the best thing we can do is find some way to get the Senate to finally do their work, have a large agreement that begins to address the spending problem, puts us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years, and get out of this cliff business. It’s not good for the country for us to continue to go through this.”

Let the bolded simmer in your brains for a bit. Here you have the (nominal) head of the Republican Party in the House saying that these consistent, manufactured crises are indeed a bad way to run a government, but he and his party will continue to govern in that fashion because Obama doesn’t want to give them what they want. This is Boehner’s defense! As Steve points out:

The fact that the House Speaker doesn’t see the flaws in saying this out loud is disconcerting.

Seriously.

Conservative Radio Host: “Yes, I’m Going To Make This Argument With A Straight Face”

On Friday, Fox News host, Megan Kelly held a panel to discuss the President’s remarks in a recent interview he did with Al Sharpton:

“Nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations,” Obama told Sharpton of the GOP’s motivations. He said that world-view “binds” the party together.

Now I may be biased, but I don’t see much wrong with the President’s comments. But apparently, conservative radio host, Ben Ferguson disagreed. His arguments were something I found quite stunning to say the least:

Yes, seven out of the top ten richest people in congress happen to be Democrats. President Barack Obama is the one who got us into this crisis that we’re in right now with these budget cuts as you just mentioned statistically and he’s sitting there playing this rich vs. poor man card when he’s the one that allowed the payroll tax to go up that takes away sixteen bags of groceries for an average working family right now in this country. 

“So I look at the stats and say, look at Nancy Pelosi, she didn’t want to get a pay cut. In fact, she wanted a pay increase, even talking about lowering her salary right now is beneath the dignity of her job. So you tell me who actually is a rich person looking out for rich people. Republicans are looking out for average Americans.

This is utterly remarkable. Sure, we just went through an election cycle where Obama and the Democrats were consistently criticized for allegedly vilifying the wealthiest and most hard working among us, and where the Republican presidential candidate offered an economic plan that would provide a massive blowjob to the top income brackets, but apparently, it turns out that it was the Democrats who were the ones in the tank for the rich all along!

Now, the Right does this sort of thing every so often. It’s that really annoying, Karl Rovian tactic of projecting your own weaknesses onto your opponent. While most conservatives, including Ferguson, are more than happy to carry water for the wealthy, many of them also realize it’s a very unpopular position to hold. So what they do is attack the Left for supposedly coddling the rich, while simultaneously continuing to fight for policies that do just that. If you’ll recall, Presidential silver medalist, Mitt Romney tried to pull the same shit during the first presidential debate.

Just to drive the point home, Republicans in congress currently want to cut programs that benefit pretty much all Americans, while also easing the burden on the wealthiest among us. In fact, if you can believe it, they’ve offered a new plan that’s even worse than stuff they’ve previously proposed. Not to mention you also have several Republican-led states who seem to think that the non-rich have it way too easy and are currently seeking legislation aiming to correct that.

Taken together, it’s really hard to make the argument that the Republican party is in fact the party of Robin Hood.

The Right Doesn’t Understand Economics, and They Hope You Don’t Either

I just saw Ann Wagner, U.S. representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district on TV. First, she correctly pointed out “We can get more revenue is by growing the economy.” This isn’t a rare thing for a Republican to say, but it is correct. If you grow the economy, then more people will pay in taxes, and less will be unemployed and/or using government spending programs. That’s simply what happens when an economy grows (the opposite is also what happens when an economy shrinks). What she said next, though, is where a lot of Republicans get things wrong. Sometimes they get it wrong because they simply do not understand economics, but I think most of them just hope you don’t understand economics either. She continued with, “and the only way to do that is by reining in our spending.” I wanted to slam my head into the table when she said it. It’s utterly idiotic, and completely counter productive.

As I pointed out in my last post, which mainly dealt with government jobs, when you cut spending you cut someone else’s income. When the government cuts, they’re cutting directly into the profits of the private sector. The right does a lot of talk about how we should not become Greece, or not become Europe, but whenever they trot out this little line like Ann did, they are effectively telling us that we should in fact become Greece or Europe. Our media is not doing a good enough job at all in pointing out this hypocrisy. You see, when the recession hit, Europe did precisely what the Republicans are calling for. They enacted spending cuts, while the US as of now largely did not. While we didn’t spend enough to get us out of the recession quickly, we haven’t fallen into the same trap that Europe has. In 2011 alone, “Greece’s austerity package amounted to 11.1 percent of GDP. Spain’s was 3.1 percent. Great Britain’s was 2 percent. Italy’s was 1.8 percent.”

So what happened in Europe? For one, the recession deepened. “The euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, [Spain] which is grappling with the collapse of a decadelong housing boom, fell into its second recession in three years toward the end of 2011.” Spanish unemployment is 26%, and reaches as high as 55% for those under 25 years old. Greece is also struggling with 26% unemployment. The Eurozone as a whole has a 11.8% unemployment rate as of November 2012. Things have become so bad, some in Europe are being forced to pick through the garbages in order to eat.

The IMF also “found that budget cutbacks are much more damaging to economies recovering from recession than has been previously believed. The reason is that with interest rates stuck near zero, there is no room to lower them when fiscal policy is tightened, and thus no way to offset the pain of budget cutbacks.” It also said that these sorts of spending cuts in depressed economies act to deflate confidence, and that’s precisely because they can quickly decelerate economic growth or even at times turn it into an economic decline.

Continue reading

The Chilean Miracle

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Herman Cain is fucking crackpot. Well thats at least how he had been marketing himself for some time. From his online TV channel, CainTV, which seemed like if the Adult Swim creators suddenly became deep in Austrian economics to his appearances on the Colbert Report, it seems that Cain had been cashing in on his fame when it lasted. Even when he was running for president he had his share fair of cooky moments. His 9-9-9 tax plan caught the attention of the media as Cain’s solution to our mess of a tax code was literally nothing more than a magic bullet. And who can forget Cain quoting Poke’mon during one of the debates. Yet there was one more crackpot thing that Cain tried to suggest that the less political savvy didn’t realize. During one of the debates Herman Cain proposed his plan for social security. The Chilean model. Herman Cain cited that this is a model that quite simply works. But as you can assume that much like everything else from Herman Cain its just a load of crap.

Chile’s pension system differs from the United States and other first world nations in which that pensions aren’t financed through a system where workers, employers and the government all contribute to the pension, but instead where workers are forced to pay 10 percent of their salaries to private investment accounts. There are some positives to this model. The most notable is that social security costs significantly less than it does in other nations. About one third less than the United States and half of Australia. In a nation obsessed with debt it seems like an obvious path to take. There is just one problem, when Cain said this nearly half of the Chilean population wasn’t covered by Chile’s system… Its pretty easy to have half the amount spent on social security compared to the beacon light of the traditional model when you only cover half the amount of people. Nor does this go into the detail that in the United States the social security system it uses the people pay nearly fifty percent less into it than Chile’s system. And it doesn’t go into the fact that the minimum amount of social security given in Chile’s system, which isn’t always given, is hysterical. Now I’m not trying to say that the American form of social security is perfect, far from it. And I am ignoring the fact that Chile has recently revised its social security, like it has many times before, to try and cover more people. I just find it odd that such a system is held up as the pinnacle of social security. Even prior to the reforms many on the right, including the then president George W. Bush, stated that the Chilean model is what the nation should strive for social security to be. Continue reading

Of Crabs and Men – How Economic Spite and Fear Gets Us Nowhere

“If I have it this bad, why shouldn’t they?” You’d think words like this only came from annoying toddlers, but I hear it all the time here, usually speaking about teachers, but more broadly it’s about all government employees. I had a discussion the other day with someone that claimed government employees never got hit by the recession. Not only that, but he argued that it’d be good if they did get hit even more. This isn’t the first person I’ve met with that sort of mindset, nor will it be the last.

First, this factually wrong, because pay raises were stopped and harsh budget cuts were enacted in state and local governments throughout the US. Many workers were laid off, and hiring was frozen, leaving  those lucky enough to have a job to pull things together and perhaps do the work of more than one person. The LA Times points to a report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, “which calculates that while private-sector employment is down 3.1% from its peak in January 2008 and on the rebound, state and local government employment is down 3.4% from its peak in August 2008 and continuing to slide.” In addition to this, because of the commitment the public sector has to equal opportunity and affirmative action, the recession in the public sector is hitting women and African Americans the hardest.

It’s not only wrong, though. It’s dangerous, and there’s a great phrase for it. That phrase is crab mentality, and it refers to a scenario of crabs in a bucket. Individually they could escape, but they end up pulling each other back down. In the end none of them escape. This collective antagonism kills any chance that any will survive. It’s a very similar thing here, especially when you’re talking about a recession. Conventional wisdom is that during a recession the government will need to spend a bit more in order to jump start things and get the economy back on its feet. Conventional wisdom also says during this time, through no real fault of their own, many more people will need government programs. That’s just factually what a recession does, and that’s just factually how one gets out of a recession. Like the crabs, stuck in their bucket, though, we end up either not helping each other upward or even not letting our fellow humans climb. Like the crabs we end up pulling others downward.

When people are frustrated with their own lives they have a tendency to lash out at others. This translates to a feeling that government employees should be cut down even more. Let’s go over exactly why such a reaction would be terrible. Right now we’re not in the midst of a recession, but our unemployment still sits at 7.9%, and a lot of people are wondering exactly why we can’t lower that. Well, if you look at this chart you can see at least one reason:

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And here’s what the Economic Policy Institute says about that graphic:

How many more jobs would we have if the public sector hadn’t been shedding jobs for the last three years? The simplest answer is that the public sector has shed 627,000 jobs since June 2009. However, this raw job-loss figure understates the drag of public-sector employment relative to how the economy functions normally.

Over this same period, the overall population grew by 6.9 million. In June 2009 there were 7.3 public-sector workers for every 100 people in the U.S.; to keep that ratio constant given population growth, the public sector should have added roughly 505,000 jobs in the last three years. This means that, relative to a much more economically relevant trend, the public sector is now down more than 1.1 million jobs. And even against this more-realistic trend, these public-sector losses are dominated by austerity at the state and local level, with federal employment contributing only around 6 percent of this entire gap.

Paul Krugman points out a very similar thing here:
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His assessment is that if public employment mirrored the growth under Bush that by the time he wrote this (April 25, 2012) we’d have 1.3 million more government workers, and our unemployment rate would be less than 7 percent. That’s a almost a full point lower than it is now, and he wrote this a year ago!

In Wisconsin this fight against public workers came down to a fight about collective bargaining. Despite the fact that there’s really no correlation between collective bargaining and state budget deficits, that right just had to go.

Here’s what The New Republic says about the rollback in rights:

What proponents of the rollback in public-sector bargaining rights are unable to explain is how taking rights away from some American workers will improve the lot of others. How will denying collective bargaining rights for teachers, social workers, or parks employees in Wisconsin create good jobs in the private sector? How will taking away the rights of prison guards to bargain collectively in Ohio keep manufacturing jobs in the United States? How will reducing the pensions promised to government workers (often in return for their agreement to forego salary increases) create retirement security for private sector workers whose paltry 401Ks are unable to support them? How will holding down public-sector pay stop the erosion of the American middle-class—of which public-sector workers constitute a significant proportion?

What proponents of cutting government employment are unable to explain is how taking away jobs and cutting pay will help improve the lot of others. How will it helps a small business owner to have one more potential customer lose his job? How will it help him to have another potential customer get a cut in pay? What needs to be explained to everyone who proposes something like this is the interconnectedness of our entire economy. We are not islands with no relation to each other. Your spending is my potential profit. A cut in your pay is a cut in my potential profit. If that teacher you’re so jealous of gets her job cut, then that means every business she shops at gets their business cut. It’s all connected.

A solid example of this is found in the numbers released last week that show the US economy shrunk by .1 percent late last year. The reason for this? Government spending cuts. A lot cheered because those are spending cuts in our bloated defense budget, and I’d likely agree, but we shouldn’t cheer about an all around cut at this point. Cuts should still be made up elsewhere with spending, so that someone can at least chase that profit and we can all experience more hiring and more growth. Every cut we make at this point represents a cut to someone’s income or job somewhere.

Krugman goes further in blaming that shrinkage on the shrinking government sector. He says that “transfer payments like Medicare and Social Security are rising (although unemployment benefits are falling), but government purchases of stuff — mostly at the state and local level, where the stuff in question includes hiring schoolteachers — has been in fairly rapid decline.”

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What this shrinkage translates to is, according to him, a possible 1.5 percentage point higher unemployment than what we should have right now.

The result of his absolutely historic spite and fear throughout our state, local, and federal governments is seen here:
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We’ve hit a historic decline in our government at one of the absolute worst times to do it.

John T. Harvey does a good job of pointing out exactly why the private sector needs the government to spend. He points out that the real drivers of economic growth are in Investment and Government Spending. Since WWII, government spending has been an affective counterbalance to business cycle falls in investment. When a recession hits, government spending, without any sort of legislation attached, goes up simply because of less tax receipts and more people qualifying for things like unemployment. It’s this spending that makes these recessions less severe and damaging to the country overall, and it’s at least partially why we didn’t experience another Great Depression.

So, we really should not give in to fear and spite. I realize that a lot of people now are working themselves to the bones, perhaps with two or three jobs, and not seeing much in the way of raises. Seeing someone else doing ok can be hard, but we must not let that mean we should take it from them. That hurts us all in the long run. It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Pulling down your fellow humans as they try and escape from the bucket into the middle class during this recession does nothing but doom us all to continuing stagnation. Instead of looking to one another to see what we should cut down at this time, we in the private sector should really be looking to one another and seeing how we can come together to demand better. After all, the “U.S. corporations’ after-tax profits have grown by 171 percent under Obama, more than under any president since World War II.” The money is there. We just have to demand it. And then things will grow, because we all have more to spend.

Immigration and the Republican Divide

Image Source: Reuters
Image Source: Reuters

This past Monday, a group of eight senators, four Democrat and four Republican, announced a legislative plan to address the eleven million illegal immigrants who currently reside within the United States. Not only is the makeup of those making the announcement bipartisan, but the ideas within the proposal are as well. The legislation would create a path to citizenship for those who are already within the United States while making significant increases to border security. The following day, President Obama essentially endorsed the Senate proposal. Achieving true immigration reform is something that is politically beneficial to both parties, as it’s an issue that Democrats have sought to address for some time and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the GOP’s disastrous support among Latinos is a recipe for defeat on a national level, something Senator John McCain admitted.

Senator McCain’s public admission of their dire electoral situation highlights the feeling among establishment Republicans who see the writing on the wall that says that unless they do something to address the 3-to-1 advantage Democrats have with Latinos, they are going to be in trouble in future elections. Despite this reality, the base and the non-elected, de-facto representatives of the Republican base are not so pleased with this idea.

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