Keeping them down

Following up on a previous post about, once again, inequality, it occurred to me that there are groups of people bent on making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Certainly the rich prefer this. But an entire political party may see their fortunes improved by increasing income inequality. That’s one of the takeaways from Thomas Edsall’s piece in today’s New York Times.

Citing recent research, he writes:

If Voorheis, McCarty and Shor are on target, Republicans have a vested political interest in exacerbating inequality because inequality moves voters to the right.

The three researchers opine:

We find that income inequality has a large, positive and statistically significant effect on political polarization. Economic inequality appears to cause state Democratic parties to become more liberal. Inequality, however, moves state legislatures to the right overall. Such findings suggest that the effect of income inequality impacts polarization by replacing moderate Democratic legislators with Republicans.

Once Republicans dominate legislatures, they steadily resist efforts to redistribute incomes via tax schema, thereby intensifying inequality, leading to the election of more conservatives, and so on. Edsall concludes:

Finally, and most important: Republican success at the state level – in contrast with control of the United States House and Senate – has empowered the party to actually make policy without the crippling effects of partisan gridlock.

More law and regulatory policy – much of it conservative and controversial – has been enacted at the state level than at any other level of government in the past five years. In terms of policy initiatives, the 24 states where Republicans are in full control are the most productive of all: the 11 Confederate states, except Virginia, along with Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska (with a nominally non-partisan legislature), Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah.

It is in these states that the retrenchment from social and economic liberalism is moving into high gear, as much of the rest of the country and the federal government remains mired in conflict.

The structural changes in the political system have, then, put the Republican Party in the vanguard of action on a gamut of issues from voting rights to union rights to reproductive rights; from taxation to health care and environmental policy to spending on the poor to education.

Democrats may have the edge in presidential elections, but Republicans now have the advantage where it counts: in the states, where they can set the policies that govern a majority of citizens’ daily lives.

Spreading around

It seems axiomatic that those who accumulate more wealth than they can spend save more of their income than those whose paychecks barely keep them afloat. Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez’s chart below confirms (source):

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 8.46.53 AM

In his book The Darwin Economy, Robert Reich (also teaching at Berkeley) reports that as more riches flow upwards to the top, economic output slows. Moreover, governments at all levels lack the resources to invest in public goods and services. As a result of the latter, bridges collapse, roadways deteriorate, schools struggle.

Meanwhile, and as you’ve no doubt noticed, the Republican presidential candidates propose to further reduce taxes on the wealthy. They say, without evidence, that making rich people richer will spur the economy and thus boost government revenues. Jeb Bush claims that his “new” tax plan will grow the economy by an annual rate of four percent; Donald Trump, of course, does Bush one better by claiming a six-percent growth rate should his proposal be adopted. Both plans recall “voodoo economics” sketched on Arthur Laffer’s napkin.

Back to savings. It’s clear that the wealthy’s surplus has not trickled down to the Rest of Us. But why not contribute to the commonweal? Why not spend a bit of their surplus to help provide necessities for the bottom 90 percent? Why not, to borrow from Trump, make America great again?

Never mind. That would require more taxes.

The slightly-less-crazy John departs

Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire, captures the moment:

Welcome to the monkeyhouse, America. The prion disease afflicting the Republican party finally has devoured the last vestiges of the Republican party’s higher functions. I had as many problems with Boehner as Speaker as anyone did, but, dammit, he at least believed that the government should keep running. And, as much as the Times wants to believe it, this has nothing to do with the “challenges of divided government,” and everything to do with the fact that the modern Republican party, especially in the House of Representatives, is completely demented.

Saving less

Source: FRED

Source: FRED

We’ll note that Americans were able to save more money from their paychecks during the 60s and 70s than in recent decades. We should look at these and other economic indicators within the context of income inequality. Also, averages mislead. The Rest of Us spend all that we make, and perhaps then some. The rich, on the other hand, have money left over to “invest” or hoard. For the most part, those surplus dollars are withheld from productive activities that would benefit society.

Like polishing a duck

Vox‘s David Roberts tries to parse or otherwise make sense of Donald Trump’s statements to Hugh Hewitt on climate change. He ultimately gives up, and you can see why from this transcript:

Well, first of all, I’m not a believer in global warming. And I’m not a believer in man-made global warming. It could be warming, and it’s going to start to cool at some point. And you know, in the early, in the 1920s, people talked about global cooling. I don’t know if you know that or not. They thought the Earth was cooling. Now, it’s global warming. And actually, we’ve had times where the weather wasn’t working out, so they changed it to extreme weather, and they have all different names, you know, so that it fits the bill. But the problem we have, and if you look at our energy costs, and all of the things that we’re doing to solve a problem that I don’t think in any major fashion exists. I mean, Obama thinks it’s the number one problem of the world today. And I think it’s very low on the list. So I am not a believer, and I will, unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again. And it changes depending on years and centuries, but I am not a believer, and we have much bigger problems.

Does this shit actually appeal to voters? I know the answer, and it frightens me.

Here’s Roberts’s gem:

And I realized that factchecking Donald Trump is a category error. It’s like polishing a duck.

Homeless vs. refugees

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. would accommodate as many as 100,000 refugees per year from the war-torn Middle East. So, how many people have been displaced in Syria alone? According to the United Nations, the number reached 6.5 million by the end of last year. Our effort, then, will be small indeed, a bit more than a gesture.

Another question: How many Americans are homeless? According to HUD (pdf), there are over half a million in the U.S. on any given night.

The system (as the pope would put it) delivers both the homeless and the refugee. Can’t we do better?

Betting the future

The pope will soon arrive in the U.S. He has spoken forcefully about climate change and its causes, placing much of the blame on rapacious capitalism. It’s therefore unsurprising that many, if not most, Republicans are at least uncomfortable with the visit and at least one member of the House announced his decision to “boycott” the pope’s address before Congress. The GOP’s constituency, for the most part, rejects the science and fact of climate change, all the while averring that they are “not scientists.”

But for saner inhabitants of the planet, global warming presents profound, though uncertain, risks to current and future generations of animal species, including Homo Sapiens. For decades, now, the scientists have warned in increasingly strident tones that unless action is taken sooner rather than later, there may be no way to mitigate climate change. (See the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.) Each warning is met with hollow words.

There is much at stake, for both the planet and fossil-fuel companies. The carbon embedded in oil reserves will exacerbate climate change should it be burned. But it’s black gold for the likes of Chevron, Shell, and Exxon. It has no value to them unless extracted and combusted.

And speaking of Exxon, Bill McKibben writes in today’s New Yorker that the massive corporation knew that its product would warm the planet. One of its principal scientists, James Black, told Exxon’s management committee that the “greenhouse effect” was real. That was in 1977. A year later, according to McKibben, Black reported that a doubling of carbon emissions would raise global temperatures by two to three degrees Celsius. Those numbers reflect today’s current estimates. However, rather than seek alternatives to oil and gas, Exxon management chose to disparage the scientific community, bribe legislators, and expand its operations.

As I see it, the reason we don’t act to keep carbon buried is that (a) our current lifestyle, heavily reliant on the automobile, gets in the way, and (b) the effects of climate change are gradual and their increments barely noticed from month to month. We are like the frog in the warming pot of water, failing to act until it’s too late.

We can only imagine what future generations, suffering the ravages of a warming planet, might say about their predecessors. I’m guessing that they will not be kind. Nor should they be.