Sunday, June 9. 2013
Some scattered links, but nothing on the NSA scandal yet:
Kathleen Geier: A disturbing trend: labor's falling share of GDP, virtually
everywhere in the world: A recent ILO (International Labor Organization)
report shows a significant drop in labor's share of national income in 26
out of 30 developed countries, from 66.1 to 61.7 percent in 1990-2009.
It wasn't always this way. As Taylor notes, before the 1980s, labor's
share of national income fluctuated somewhat from year to year but
tended to be stable overall. Also, during this period, we've seen
large surges in productivity -- and yet those productivity gains are
not being shared by labor. This is an ominous sign for any society.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is this one, from John Maynard
Keynes: "Nothing corrupts society more than to disconnect effort
and reward." [ . . . ]
Thus, you had the Great Compression, where wage inequality was kept
in check, and the excesses of the previous era's robber barons (and
what a wonderful turn of phrase that was!) seemed a thing of the past.
Paul Krugman and others have noted that it wasn't market forces or
laws against self-dealing or excessive executive compensation that
reined in the corporations of yesteryear. It appears to have been
"social norms." Or, as I would describe it, a soundly based, and
healthy, fear of working class power.
Gradually, though, that system began to unravel. The trauma of
the Great Depression was forgotten. Global competition cut profit
margins and the capital class realized they didn't want to be so
generous to their workers any more. More to the point, it dawned
on them that they didn't have to be. Thus, the neoliberal new world
order was born -- not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, there were cuts to social welfare
programs in many countries, and there were also a number of important
worldwide fights against labor unions, which labor usually lost. In
the U.S., the corporate right poured enormous resources into political
lobbying efforts and to propaganda shops that massaged public opinion.
It worked! It's taken the current years-long depression to finally
dislodge some that neoliberal propaganda from a lot of folks' skulls.
Although this trend is international,
David Cay Johnston: Inequality Rising -- All Thanks to Government
Policies puts much of the blame on the US government. Nor should
this be surprising: starting about 30 years ago, the Democratic Party
abandoned its dependence on organized labor and became the pro-business
party; meanwhile the Republicans had nowhere to go to outflank them
than to become the flat-out anti-labor party. Both stances hurt, and
in a two-party system that's what you get.
Matthew Yglesias: The Charts That Should Revolutionize D.C.'s Fiscal
Policy Debate and Why They Won't: First, the charts, which show
that projected "Federal budget deficit as a share of GDP" drops in
2014 and remains relatively stable for a decade, as does "publicly
held debt as a share of GDP."
Looking at this, the deficits scolds should at least tone it down
a bit, but they haven't: "the political dialogue on the subject doesn't
seem to have changed at all." As Yglesias says:
The dialogue hasn't changed because the elites steering the discourse
don't care, even slightly, about deficits or debt.
What they care about is reducing the federal government's fiscal
commitment to bolstering the living standards of elderly people.
The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because it's
a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money not to work.
That's not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It's not a
contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It's not a dubious
interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That's the point.
It's to give people money so they can retire with dignity. "Retire"
being a fancy word for "not working." You're never ever going to
persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program
that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a
minimum, if people are hoping to not work, business leaders are
going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders)
in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in
order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace
is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public
My boldface there. I was originally tempted to end the quote
there to leave the basic point, but the rest of it is worth saying
too -- just don't forget the point in boldface.
One thing that no one really got into during the depths of the
recession was the observation that in a period where the private
sector was deleveraging and therefore killing jobs, sensible public
policy would have tried to compensate by moving optional workers
out of the workforce, so that those remaining would have a better
chance of keeping their jobs and wages. One way to do this would
be move people into early retirement -- to make Social Security
and Medicare and such available to somewhat younger workers if they
are willing to retire. Another way would be to make college more
attractive -- more scholarships and even stipends to cut down on
those part-time jobs that distract students from their studies.
And, of course, you could expand public employment, or pump more
money into the creation of public goods, including things like
art. When you think about it, a lot of this sort of thing was in
fact done during the New Deal, but none of it happened during the
Great Recession, when politicians -- mostly Republicans but I
can't remember many Democrats complaining -- decided that the
whole brunt should be shouldered by the working class.
Also, links for further study:
David Bromwich: Stay Out of Syria!: No point wishing for a plague
on both sides since that plague has already arrived:
And each day adds a new reminder of the futility of allegedly pragmatic
solutions. A Times report on May 15 by Anne Barnard and Hania Mourtada
("An Atrocity in Syria, with No Victim Too Small") told of the sectarian
"cleansing" by pro-government forces of Sunni enclaves, in the village
of Bayda and the city of Baniyas, both located in a mainly Alawite and
Christian province. Three hundred twenty-two corpses have been identified,
many of them horribly mutilated. As a pledge of retaliation, a rebel
commander filmed himself "cutting out an organ of a dead pro-government
fighter, biting it and promising the same fate to Alawites." It is a
saccharine optimism that says the country has begun to fall apart and
a more "proactive" US could hold it together.
Kelefa Sanneh: Paint Bombs: On anthropologist David Graeber,
his old book (Debt: The First 5,000 Years) and his new book
(The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement),
the latter spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement and effectively
a history and handbook of same, with various asides into all sorts
of anarchist tendencies -- James C. Scott's Two Cheers for
Anarchism is another book cited, but Sanneh also talks about
Murray Rothbard. Can't say as he does a very good job of clarifying
all this, but the last couple lines are worth quoting:
But in America anarchism's appeal surely has something to do with the
seeming durability of our current arrangement, and the inexorable growth
of the government that maintains it. Such is the power of a sprawling
and sophisticated state: the bigger it gets, the easier it becomes for
us to imagine that we could live without it.