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Equality of opportunity; Equality of outcomes

8:46 am in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

The conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, recently managed to put his entire foot in his mouth.  If you’ll pardon the pun, that’s no small feat.  Johnson said:  “Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85 ….”

Boris Johnson Scarecrow

Boris Johnson Scarecrow

Conservative British chancellor, George Osborne, who, like Johnson may be in line to succeed David Cameron as the Tory leader, distanced himself from some but not all of Johnson’s remarks.

Osborne said:  “I wouldn’t have put it like that and I don’t agree with everything he said. Where I think there is increasingly common agreement across the political spectrum is that you can’t achieve equality of outcome but you should be able to achieve equality of opportunity. You should give everyone wherever they come from the best chance and actually education is the absolute key to this.”

Common agreement?  Do you agree?  Let’s poke at this a little, shall we?

First, let’s note that Osborne’s views seem to allow a whole lot more compassion to enter the discussion than we hear from the right-wing in the US.  I’m not at all familiar with British politics but in the US we hear an endless stream of calls from the right to privatize education.  When you try to bring market economics to the nation’s common wealth, you most certainly will not provide equality of opportunity let alone equality of outcome and you’ll weaken the country in the process.

What should be society’s obligation?  Should we set a goal to provide “equality of opportunity” and let the chips fall where they may after that?  Is it undesirable or at least naïve to believe that we can guarantee “equality of outcomes”?

Johnson staked out his position on the issue:  “I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

There it is … greed is good.  Nothing was offered about lifting up all boats.  The soul of competition is to drown the people in the little boats with the wake of your big boat.  Those without boats shouldn’t be swimming around in your waters in the first place.  Let them go somewhere else.

The truth is, though, that I actually agree that absolute economic equality is not possible.  In any system, some will fare better than others.  Conservatives fail, however, when they refuse to recognize that it is not necessarily wrong to set the impossible as an objective.  Put another way, just because we might never achieve perfect equality in our society doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recognize the importance of pursuing equality.  To quote the new Pope:  “Inequality is the root of social ills.”

You can parse inequality into “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcomes” but, in the end, inequality is inequality.  There is no yin and yang here.

Let’s do a little more poking at this “equality of opportunity” business.  Is such a thing even possible in a world in which inequality of outcomes persists?  The argument is to give each child an equal educational opportunity and then allow them to compete on a level playing field as adults.  Put simply, it’s nonsense.  Even public schools are not funded equally.  A disgracefully small percentage of public education is funded by the federal government.  Many schools are badly in need of repair.  Schools in poor neighborhoods suffer from high student-teacher ratios.  They lack funding for books, computers and other resources.  They suffer disproportionately from many of society’s ills such as gang violence, drugs, nutritional deficiencies and many other problems.  Perhaps worst of all, they suffer from the hopelessness and despair that poverty almost necessitates.  The war on poverty has truly transformed into a war on the poor.

So, when conservatives like Osborne use their folksy little phrase “equality of opportunity”, exactly how equal do they plan to make things for those living in poverty?  The truth is that they have no intent to truly provide equal opportunity for all.  Their real intent is to dismiss society’s obligation to care for the poor.

Finally, let’s take a look at the issue of “equality of outcomes”.  Personally, I don’t think most of us would like to live in a society that is so heavily regulated that each and every citizen would have exactly the same amount of wealth.  Somewhere, somehow, it seems desirable to allow for some degree of personal achievement and reward.  Taken to extremes, even the most egalitarian impulses become perverse.

But, again, merely because in its most extreme poles something is impossible or undesirable does not mean we shouldn’t recognize its underlying value.  The goal should be to temper extreme gaps in wealth but not eliminate all gaps in wealth.  It is those who call for untempered free markets and the unlimited acquisition of capital who are the extremists.  When we allow great disparities in wealth, we allow great disparities in access to government which inevitably leads to an inequality of opportunity.  When we allow no disparities in wealth, we imbue our government with too much power over the lives of individuals.  Finding the right balance is key.

To what degree should we seek to move towards an equality of outcomes?  The right balance occurs when the poorest citizens have the resources to live humanely and to live with hope for a better future and when the wealthiest citizens no longer possess so much wealth that they are able to spend freely to exert a disproportionate influence over the government.

“Equality of opportunity” can never exist if we don’t make substantial efforts to create reasonable “equality of outcomes”.  To espouse any belief that disassociates the two is at best naïve and at worst disingenuous … and dangerous.  The two aspects of equality are integrally intertwined.
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Pedantic Pandering from the Pillars of Progressive Pablum

1:36 pm in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

Whew… talk about a one-two punch. First Krugman; then Obama.

Krugman started off so well. He had all the buzz phrases: rich man’s recovery, children of the wealthy, meritocratic ideology, oligarchic reality… and this: “the power of money is crowding out effective democracy.” And this: “whatever is causing the growing concentration of income at the top, the effect of that concentration is to undermine all the values that define America.”

Tell it, Brother Paul.

“Crowding out effective democracy”. “Undermining all the values that define America.” Yikes… that’s some pretty serious stuff. It sounds like the corpus Americana is in critical condition. What say ye, Dr. Paul? What say ye, Mr. Nobel prize winner? What say ye, Mr. NY Times? What say ye, Mr. Voix des Liberals? What prescription will you offer to sickly old Uncle Sam?

Ah, here we go… the article transitions with a very clear “What can be done?” Now we’ll get some answers. Ouch, the New Deal “seems politically out of reach” but “that doesn’t mean we should give up on smaller steps.” Paul’s only suggestion? He likes de Blasio’s call for “universal prekindergarten education, paid for with a small tax surcharge on those with incomes over $500,000.”

That’s it? Democracy is gone and that’s it? All the values that define America have been undermined and that’s it? Sheesh… if this doesn’t highlight the utter bankruptcy of liberal America I don’t know what does. It’s hard to believe the NY Times even wasted their column inches on such drivel.

But fear not… we also heard from Mr. Obama who was only slightly less dramatic than Mr. Krugman.

Appearing today on an ABC News program, Mr. Obama was interviewed by George Stephanopolous.

Stephanopolous: “Maybe a president just can’t stop this accelerating inequality.”

Obama: “No, I think the president can stop it.”

After blaming Republicans, Mr. Obama argued that globalization and technology were causing the loss of American jobs and that his solution included increased education, more infrastructure projects and tax incentives for businesses to create jobs.

Say what? Let me see if I’ve got this? We’re suffering from “accelerating inequality” and all that’s being offered is a few dead-in-the-water programs to address the situation? Ask yourself this: will the gap between rich and poor continue to increase if all of Obama’s suggestions were fully implemented? The liberals have nothing to offer beyond bandaid democracy. Let the wealth gap continue to grow. Do whatever you can to patch up the wounded. Let the extreme concentration of wealth continue to poison the good old US of A. We’ll offer some scholarships to the poor or maybe even a discount on student loan rates. Yeah, talk about revolutionary change. That oughtta do it.

Although it’s been said many times, many ways, we cannot leave in place any system that leaves so few with so much that they are able to write the rules and control both the government and the media. You need to understand that money is power and too much money is too much power. Even if you could impose a system that taxed the income of the super-wealthy at 100%, they would still be able to exert a perverting influence on our democratic processes. Got that? You cannot allow the current concentration of wealth to remain in place because it leads to oligarchy. The problem is not just income; it’s wealth.

So, all of it, i.e. all the liberal programs of the great safety net, fail to achieve the necessary objective which, of course, is real democratic government. You can’t get there from here. You can’t pay teachers more and reduce class sizes. You can’t save Social Security and Medicare. You can’t create jobs. You can’t provide increased opportunities to women and minorities. You can’t address climate change or our depleted-nutrition food supply. You can’t overturn the Citizens United decision. You can’t slice the military budget in favor of programs that benefit everyday Americans. In short, when wealth and power are as concentrated as they are, you just plain can’t. And that is the current state of liberal America and the Democratic party… they just plain can’t.

And so we go to war. We are mocked as “class warriors”. Our values, our country and our very survival is under attack by the ruling class and it is we who are mocked. There is only one solution “progressives” should be addressing and that is that the extreme concentration of wealth that exists must no longer exist. Until there are millions of us in the streets who identify with this message, we will have no power. When that day arrives, however, and it will, our first call should be for the voluntary surrendering of assets above some value. Consequences for those who fail to comply should be made very, very clear.

The Best Defense

9:43 am in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

“The best defense is a good offense.”

There’s been plenty of squawking from the left and even from progressive Democrats about the Democratic Party.  Obama is seen as a centrist or a pragmatist or… well, pick your own label.  The bottom line is that he has done virtually nothing to advance any semblance of a progressive agenda.  Washington and the media seem to enjoy telling Americans what is “on the table” and what is “off the table”.  Perhaps it is time for an entirely new table.

The scope of discourse in the US is painfully narrow.  The entire framework of debate, often couched in dire terms about deficits and debt, has become focused on sacrifices Americans must make.  We’re told Social Security will go bankrupt and that Washington is here to help us avoid that by making painful, yet necessary, cuts.  We’re told that Medicare and Medicaid, while good programs, must be squeezed due to cost increases.

We’re told that America’s corporate taxes are the highest in the world and that they must be reduced for the US to remain competitive.  We’re told that massive subsidies to Big Oil must be preserved so that our energy needs can be met.  Hidden behind these and other corporate welfare programs, of course, is the not-so-subtle threat that your job will be exported if you raise any objections about them.

Democrats are playing on a table selected and controlled by right-wing Republicans.  When the question becomes “how much should we take away from the elderly, the poor and just common working folks” instead of “how much should we take away from Wall Street and its investors, from the military-industrial complex and from Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma and the rest of the corporate welfare state”, there can be no progress on the progressive agenda.

So, let’s spend a little time talking about just what “going on offense” could mean.

The wars, unpaid for of course, ran up a $5 trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) tab.  Who benefited from the great fear campaign?  Military contractors made a bundle.  Oil companies have seen record profits too.  If debt and deficits are a concern, that seems like the most sensible place to recoup (uncoup?) the money.  Declare both wars over; shut down foreign military bases; make deep… very deep… cuts in the military budget.  Why is no one in Congress discussing 25% cuts… 50% cuts… 75% cuts… even 90% cuts?  Could it be that those we elect are fearful about the political fallout… or worse?  I mean, we’ve all heard the phrase “guns or butter”.  Wouldn’t it seem reasonable to call for an honest national discussion about which priority Americans prefer?  The discussion is not even on the table.

Instead of subsidizing greedy multi-national industries that provide “necessities” to Americans, let’s talk about nationalizing them.  It is nothing less than propaganda to argue that “greed is good” and that the profit motive makes these companies successful.  What they’re doing is blackmail.  You can’t live without your food, your meds, your oil,  so we can charge you anything we like and you even have to subsidize our efforts.  That’s the perfect case for nationalizing these industries.  Throw the banks in there, too, while you’re at it.

Instead of talking about the amount of Medicare cuts, suppose we talked about providing Medicare for all Americans and expanding what is covered.  Even those on Medicare incur huge medical bills or are forced to buy supplemental coverage.  Let’s put an end to that.  Before we spend trillions “defending Americans” by fighting unnecessary wars around the world, how about defending the health of Americans right here at home?  Until all Americans have the opportunity to obtain quality health care at an affordable price, we have no business pumping our tax dollars into the military-corporate state.  That’s the priority I would establish; you won’t hear the issue discussed on the Sunday morning propaganda shows.  Such themes are “off the table”.

And let’s not leave Big Pharma out of the Medicare discussion.  If Medicare were allowed to negotiate prices using its massive buying power, the US could save roughly $130 billion per year.  To their credit, some Democrats raised this issue several years ago but it was defeated by the Republicans in Congress.  This issue, however, should have been the first words out of Obama’s mouth during the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations.  Perhaps he said something about it; I didn’t hear a word.  He certainly didn’t rally the American people to demand lower prices for Medicare drugs.  Another issue off the table.

Obama allowed the fiscal cliff discussion to wallow into a discussion of taxing the wealthy “a little bit more”.  Well, why not a lot more?  I had a chance to watch Richard Wolff on C-Span about a week ago.  He pointed out that FDR called for a 100% tax on all income above $25,000 (equivalent to about $350,000 today).  Think about that!  A 100% tax.  That’s called going on offense.  And taxing income isn’t good enough regardless of the rate.  We also need to start talking about taxing wealth.

Look, we’re in a class war and we’re losing very badly.  Our government does not represent our interests.  You can’t call it democracy, or even a republic, when we, the people, are not being represented.  The “get money out of politics” meme, while well-meaning, is a dead-end.  You can’t “get money out of politics”, or frankly do anything, unless you first demand leadership that represents you.  And, you can’t have leadership that represents you unless that leadership is willing to make a 100% commitment to engaging the class war.  That’s what going on offense means.

When Democrats, even liberal Democrats, are willing to fight against cuts but aren’t willing to truly engage the battle against concentrated wealth, corporate welfare and the corporatizing of our lives and our culture, the difference between Republicans and Democrats becomes very slim indeed.  Fighting against cuts, without a major realignment of our economy, inevitably leads to austerity measures.  Put another way, without going on offense, our future is a lost battle.

The High-On-the-Hills versus the Down-in-the-Valleys

10:36 am in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

From our humble dwellings, we can look up to see, perched high on the great hills above our town, the brilliant sunshine glistening off the great white castles of the High-On-the-Hills (Hohs).  Things have been getting tougher and tougher for us Down-in-the-Valleys (Divs).

We Divs are a diverse lot made up of all sorts of constituencies.  Most active among us are women who continue to fight for control over their own bodies and discrimination against them in the workplace.  We have a variety of racial and ethnic groups, for example Blacks and Latinos, who see the American promise of justice and equality as an empty promise.  We have young people who see their futures dimmed by an inadequate national commitment to public education… among other things.  We have workers who have suffered economically as their jobs are either exported or eliminated.  They watch, seemingly passive and powerless, as their employers squeeze the very life out of them in pursuit of more profits to reward the Hohs.

Very few of the Divs have noticed the creek has been rising… year after year after year… and that the entire valley is threatened.

This is the landscape on which the two main political parties plot their strategies.  The party of the Hohs, the Republicans, promotes hatred against those seeking a better life.  Women are “uppity”.  They put family ahead of work and thus deserve to earn less.  It’s just a handful of bitter women who do most of the squawking.  Blacks are lazy and just want government handouts.  Latinos are taking “our” jobs and are illegal.  Workers have priced themselves out of the market with their outrageous demands.  It’s all based on hatred.  It’s “anti” as opposed to “pro”.  It’s the politics of divide and conquer.

The Democrats are equally interesting.  The Democrats, at least in word if not deed, reach out to these “identity” groups.  They think of themselves as a party comprised of these constituencies.  Look no further than the recent election to see the overwhelming support they received from these groups.  They pat themselves on the back.  Look, we won women; we won Blacks; we won Latinos; we won young people; we won workers.  Better, they argue, these groups are a growing share of the electorate.  The future bodes well for us.

The creek continues to rise.

Most disturbing in this scenario is that the Divs have allowed themselves to be divided as each group aligns behind its own cause celebre.  The Divs are truly “divved.”  The implicit strategy is that each group must fight for its own equality and justice.  Each group must build its own energy, its own movement, its own spokespersons, and must petition the government for a redress of its grievances.  Instead of fighting for a common cause, the only “unity” is seen every four years (or sometimes every two years) at the ballot box as these divided groups join together to support candidates from one party or the other.  There is no “movement”.  There is no synergy.  There is no “we the people”.  There is only the periodic casting of a vote.  You can’t get there from here.  The Divs are shooting themselves in their own feet.

The creek continues to rise.

This is not to suggest that the issues of these constituencies should be dismissed.  The issues they raise are critically important.  They fail, however, to recognize that equality is not justice.  The Divs, as divided populations, have no power.  Until they form a true union, i.e. a true movement, to strip the Hohs of their stranglehold on government, they will make no real progress.  The rallying cry must go beyond the narrowness of liberating one group versus another.  It must look to the global issues.  Fighting on the identity battlefield, each group is left fighting to equalize the crumbs it receives while the Hohs walk away with the main course.  Making the crumbs equal does not make a society just.

The Divs share of national wealth has seen a rapid decline.  Their share, whether Democrats or Republicans were in control, has continued to decline.  As wealth concentrates, power concentrates.  The environment, on which all life depends, has continued to decline as well.  The Hohs view it as an “externality.”  We had better make it an “internality” very, very soon.

The creek continues to rise.

Third parties and others on the left have tried to get the Divs to focus on the global issues of wealth inequality, power inequality, and climate disruption.  Politically, this has been a disaster.  The Divs are firmly entrenched in their identity groups and, while they might or might not agree with the so-called global issues, they are driven more by what they see as closer to home.   And so, we are where we are.  The left can gain no purchase and the Divs can gain no ground.

And the creek continues to rise.

The Obama Mutiny

10:29 am in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

Perhaps it is time for another parable of the high seas.

As we make our way across the great ocean, the wealthiest remain on deck enjoying the salt sea air, the puffy white clouds floating by and the finest food and drink.

Below deck, the serfs are made to pull the oars. First, eight hours a day. Then ten. Soon, twelve. Their hands rubbed raw, they grow weaker and weaker.

Rations are severely limited. At first, the rule is that after most of the day’s rations have been consumed on deck by the wealthy, a minimal allocation will be given to those who have rowed well.

Captain Obama quickly saw the flaw. Those who grew too weak to row needed more food; not less. If starvation was the punishment, too much burden would be placed on those who continued to row and soon, they too would fail. The top-deckers would have his head for that.

To keep the great ship moving forward, Captain Obama offered a compromise.

“We will ensure that none go hungry; even those who cannot row.”

The top-deckers refused to feed the laggards. “All this will do is encourage more laziness! Surely he doesn’t expect us to row; we’re not suited for it. If they can’t survive on our generosity, let them die. The others will learn a valuable lesson.”

Captain Obama, master negotiator, saw the resolution. “We will give a greater share of rations to the wealthy. The good rowers will share their rations with those who can’t row.”

The top-deckers agreed. The wealthy would get a larger share of the overall rations while the serfs would share their dwindling rations with their weakened comrades. Of course, with overall rations reduced, more and more rowers collapsed. The wealthy grew very fat atop the deck, unaware of their peril.

You see, until the fat fools understand that we’re all in the same boat, the great ship will first slow, then stop, then sink.  Captain Obama, blind to the overwhelming evidence, still failed to see that rich-get-richer governance is ultimately unsustainable. In time, the serfs came to see what had to be done.

Obamythology – A “Pretty Words” Jobs Program

10:24 am in Uncategorized by welshTerrier2

Once I built a railroad, I made it run
I made it run against time
Once I built a railroad and now it’s done
Buddy can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower way up to the sun
With bricks and mortar and lime
Once I built a railroad and now it’s done
Brother can you spare a dime?

- Yip Harburg

(give it a listen)

In a recent essay on the Huffington Post, Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, said that we need bold ideas to create jobs.

She then went on to state:

“That’s what I heard from the president last night — bold ideas and a plan to do the big things that will keep the American workforce leading the world not only in our lifetimes, but for generations to come.

Creating the jobs and industries of the future will require America doing what it does best — investing in the creativity, imagination, and ingenuity of our people. No nation has workers more productive than ours.”

Pretty words, aren’t they?

We have the most productive workers in the world and we’re going to “invest” in creativity, imagination and ingenuity. Does that sound like a jobs program to you? We’re going to “invest”.  We’re not going to guarantee a job for everyone who wants one. We’re not going to provide free college tuition to everyone who wants to upgrade their skills or change careers. We’re not going to wage war against outsourcing and the corporations who do it. We’re going to “invest”.

Well, no, we’re not going to invest anything. We’re being told the country is bankrupt. We’re being told by Obama’s debt commission that we need to cut Social Security and other “one step from desperation” social programs. Does anyone really believe Obama, the Democrats or the Republicans are going to “invest”?

Ms. Solis wants to hear some “bold ideas”?  Well, fine.  Happy to oblige.

How about stripping federal contracts from US-based companies that export American jobs?

How about eliminating capital gains discounts when investors make profits on the sale of stock in companies that have exported American jobs?

How about calling for boycotts against the treasonous companies that export American jobs?

How about cutting the military budget, say by 80% or so, and reinvesting that money in education and infrastructure? Without this change, Obama’s talk about American competitiveness is gibberish.

How about single-payer health care to make American businesses more competitive by holding down employee costs?

How about recognizing that when shareholders win, workers lose?

How about making it clear to the American people that, although worker productivity in the US has soared, average real wages have not increased since 1973?

How about declaring all out war on the corporate stranglehold in Washington where the people’s voice is no longer represented?

Neither Obama, the Democratic Party nor Ms. Solis will ever say or do any of these things.  Wall Street wins while workers suffer.

And, while I’m on the subject of jobs, let’s take a poke at all those “liberal”, FDR-style economists. They’re pretty much all saying the same thing: “The only way to create jobs is to stimulate demand with more federal spending.” You’ve heard the “shovel ready” sales pitch over and over.

A few things need to be said about job stimulus programs that most of these “liberal” economists aren’t telling you.

First, the employment problem in the US is “structural”.  While short-lived stimulus can “light a little kindling”, all our best firewood has been shipped overseas. So, do I oppose job stimulus spending? No, it’s fine as long as it doesn’t become a distraction, i.e. a Republican versus Democrat food fight, while the real jobs problem gets swept under the rug. That, of course, is exactly what has happened.

The economists tell us, and they emphasize how “obvious” it is, that to create more jobs we have to create more demand. That seems easy to understand, right? It’s the most elementary lesson in Economics 101. It’s also nonsense. We do not need to “create more demand”; there’s plenty of demand when you include all global markets.  We need to create more jobs in the US instead of letting US-based corporations export American jobs and export our future.

If you put relatively low-income workers back to work with “shovel ready” projects, it’s true that they are more likely to spend their income than save it. They’ll run right down to Walmart and buy goods made in China. Do I want to deprive them of the opportunity to earn a living? Of course not; do it. But this will do nothing to address the jobs crisis. Increasing demand only creates jobs if that demand is for US-produced goods and services.

GM now builds more cars in China than in the US. There’s plenty of “demand” already. The problem is that the demand is not being filled by American workers. Corporations are making larger profits because they can exploit cheaper labor overseas. We don’t have a “demand” problem; we have a corporate exploitation problem. Corporations should be forced by the government to serve the national interest or they should be shut down. This isn’t “protectionism”; it’s simple patriotism. It’s also the only way to create jobs in the US in the near-term.

We truly are facing a total collapse of the US economy. All the pretty talk about investing is never going to happen. All the cheerleading about how Americans are the best and the brightest is just feel good drivel. All the pep talks about “c’mon folks, we can do this” are just empty political rhetoric. We’re in a war for our very survival and only one side is waging it. Our corporate-owned political class is engaged in doing all they possibly can to hide the ugly truth. Americans haven’t been called to the streets to engage the class war… and time’s a’wastin’.