It’s always about the bottom line

Despite record government handouts, ostensibly to keep jobs from leaving the state, Chicago-based Boeing company cares more about profit than labor wellbeing. Its recent decision to jettison staggered work shifts is one more case in point. In a brief memo, the company said:

“This change supports the factory vision of standard work, continuous flow and scheduled job times; and is anticipated to support our competitive advantage in the market.”

There is nothing unusual about Boeing’s behavior. It will seize every opportunity to reduce costs and increase revenues. Avoiding taxes in the form of government subsidies is certainly one way to achieve the former. Exploiting federal programs like the Export-Import Bank helps boost revenues by transferring a portion of the sticker price to taxpayers from foreign businesses and countries seeking to purchase airplanes.

The big duper

Donald Trump has managed to fool most of his supporters, who, aside from being “deplorables,” are mostly angry white men. Few, if any, occupy the top one percent of income earners.

Both Hillary Clinton and Trump have proposed tax plans. Here is a telling chart from Vox on how each candidate would tax the one percent.

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Resentment

I’m not alone in ascribing the seemingly recent eruption of far-right nativism to economic insecurity. After all, the Great Recession wreaked havoc on the global economy, which would seem to underpin hostility toward those perceived to be responsible for a decline in one’s fortunes.

The conventional wisdom is that the economic losses suffered by working-class people throughout the developed world explain the rise of this new right. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are estimated to have been lost due to free trade pacts in recent decades, with industries like manufacturing absorbing much of the pain.

That’s created an ocean of angry and frustrated people — primarily blue-collar and primarily white — who are susceptible to the appeal of a nationalist leader promising to bring back what they feel has been taken away.

But, the rise of Trump and populist parties in Europe cannot be explained by economics. The explanation, according to this very important Vox piece, from which the above quote is taken, lies with white, mostly Christian, men feeling displaced by “others,” especially those with darker skins.

Zack Beauchamp, the author of the linked essay, references dozens of research papers that demonstrate the politics of resentment. A very large segment of the American population, essentially most Republicans and nearly every Trump supporter, fears immigrants, blacks, and government “elites” who, they believe, enabled the demographic changes.

This research finds that, contrary to what you’d expect, the “losers of globalization” aren’t the ones voting for these parties. What unites far-right politicians and their supporters, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a set of regressive attitudes toward difference. Racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia — and not economic anxiety — are their calling cards.

These attitudes, while learned, are deep-seated. They go back generations, and dwell within each of us in varying degrees.

I consider myself a tolerant individual. I would never deliberately offend those who are different from me. Yet, I must admit, based on past experiences, that I have feared “others.”

I’ll retreat to my high-school days at Mt. Diablo, in Concord, Calif. Of 2,000 students over four grades, there was a single black student, one or two of mixed raced, and a small population of Hispanics, some of whose families preceded the arrival of Western caucasians, the dominant segment of both the school and city’s residents.

During the summer of my junior year, while pitching for the local American Legion baseball team, I was chosen by the manager to start a divisional playoff game against Richmond. We were the visitors.

Now, despite having spent my first five years in that city, I was not prepared for the experience. The home crowd for that game was comprised of mostly African Americans. And they were vocal. This 17-year-old pitcher succumbed to playoff pressure. I walked the first five or six batters I faced, before finally calming myself down. Upon reflection, I suspect that much of my anxiety stemmed from fear of those who were different, namely black people. As I said above, my own experience was overwhelming white. It was somewhat of a shock, then, to face a hostile crowd who happened to be mostly dark-skinned.

There was another incident. I travelled on a school bus with a contingent of Mt. Diablo students to attend a football game against rival Pittsburg. That city had, and probably still has, a significant percentage of African Americans. The high school’s student body reflected the wider demographics.

Now, I don’t recall whether or not there were any incidents, but I do remember feeling afraid, an attitude shared by most everyone on the bus, all very white. I regret that fear now, certainly.

I concede that the reaction of far-right groups and individuals may be instinctual, as it likely was in me 50 years ago. However, I cannot condone xenophobia or racism or Trumpism.

Such attitudes, however, must be overcome, not embraced and fueled by political leaders and their associates. Trump is not healthy. He poses a very real danger. As the New York Times‘s editors wrote in their endorsement of Hillary Clinton: “[We believe] Mr. Trump to be the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history.”

Mr. Beauchamp, the Vox writer, offers some hope:

The forces of reaction, of ethno-racial supremacy, have been defeated in the past, and can be defeated again. The key to doing it is to refrain from surrendering on core values — to reaffirm Western societies’ basic commitment to tolerance and to craft policies that promote that commitment rather than back away from it.

The future shouldn’t belong to the Front National and its ilk [including Donald Trump]. It should belong to the people they’re afraid of.

Easy to forget

In the endless campaign to determine who shall lead us we may lose sight of some glaring realities. In particular, we forget just how unequal our society has become and the reasons for it. Whether Clinton or Trump wins, the underlying basics of American life suck for the Rest of Us.

gini index us since 1947

Well, Bill Moyers steps up to remind us of the problems and how we got here. He has history both within and outside government and his 80-plus years on the planet give him perspective that few can provide.

“We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People.” Guess what? The Plutocrats prevail at the expense of “the People.” Moyers:

When I was a young man in Washington in the 1960s, most of the country’s growth accrued to the bottom 90 percent of households. From the end of World War II until the early 1970s, in fact, income grew at a slightly faster rate at the bottom and middle of American society than at the top. In 2009, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez explored decades of tax data and found that from 1950 through 1980 the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans had grown, from $17,719 to $30,941. That represented a 75 percent increase in 2008 dollars.

Since 1980, the economy has continued to grow impressively, but most of the benefits have migrated to the top. In these years, workers were more productive but received less of the wealth they were helping to create. In the late 1970s, the richest 1 percent received 9 percent of total income and held 19 percent of the nation’s wealth. The share of total income going to that 1 percent would then rise to more than 23 percent by 2007, while their share of total wealth would grow to 35 percent. And that was all before the economic meltdown of 2007-08.

But here’s the thing. Inequality grew rapidly not because of “globalization” or “automation.” Inequality is the direct consequence of deliberate policies enacted by Congress. Citing the work of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Moyers writes:

The winners bought off the gatekeepers, then gamed the system. And when the fix was in they turned our economy into a feast for the predators, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors and taxpayers.”

Regardless of who enters the Oval Office next January, the situation is unlikely to change. It’s the nature of capitalism and its compliant “gatekeepers.”

You cut in line

Like many people, I am appalled by Trump and Trumpism, wondering how both phenomena could happen? I have toyed with the notion that there has always been a subset of Americans disposed to believe inane things, some cloaked in abject hatred for “others.” Certainly there is much history on the waves of nativism, xenophobia, and, of course, raw racism, an irrational belief that white people are superior to people of color and that the latter should be oppressed, enslaved, or deported. Trump, as we’ve come to experience, enables and encourages this subset, taking the worst in us to the mainstream. After all, Trump is the official presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

But I should suspend my judgments for a bit to consider the possibility that the subset has justification for their “feelings,” however base and divisive they may be. Perhaps there are millions of Americans who feel cheated or disrespected. They’ve tried to live by the rules in their quest of the American Dream. Yet, these “others,” which are both people and “the government,” have impeded their progress or denied them outright.

Such is the view proffered by Arlie Hochschild, whose work and conclusions are referenced in this Vox piece by Dara Lind. She quotes from an interview with Hochschild, who spent five years in Louisiana observing it’s mostly poor inhabitants.

Think of people waiting in a long line that stretches up a hill. And at the top of that is the American dream. And the people waiting in line felt like they’d worked extremely hard, sacrificed a lot, tried their best, and were waiting for something they deserved. And this line is increasingly not moving, or moving more slowly [i.e., as the economy stalls].

Then they see people cutting ahead of them in line. Immigrants, blacks, women, refugees, public-sector workers. And even an oil-drenched brown pelican getting priority. In their view, people are cutting ahead unfairly. And then in this narrative, there is Barack Obama, to the side, the line supervisor who seems to be waving these people (and the pelican) ahead. So the government seemed to be on the side of the people who were cutting in line and pushing the people in line back.

As Lind points out, these suspicions are unfounded. Yet, they exist nonetheless. Rather than dismiss these attitudes and the people who have them, liberals and progressives might try to understand and appreciate the sources of the discontent and take steps to rectify. Lind suggests:

You could stubbornly insist the pain isn’t real, because it’s not justified by economic reality, or say that it’s their own fault for being racist. That would shut down the conversation; it would drive them deeper into the conviction that they’re locked in opposition against nonwhites and the elites who aid them.

Or you could acknowledge that pain and try to fix it. But you’d have to find a way to do it without saying it’s okay to resent nonwhite people for making progress in America — without accepting the premise that one group’s gain is always another one’s loss.

Tax evasion

The European Commission ruled that Apple owes Ireland over $14 billion in taxes the company avoided through a sweetheart deal with the country. Apple’s Tim Cook called the ruling “maddening,” vowing to appeal. Ironically, the Irish government announced that it would also challenge the judgment.

Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, advocates for a “global wealth” tax to reduce or eliminate country-hopping by international corporations bent on reducing their tax liabilities. Perhaps the EC’s ruling can serve as a first step in accomplishing Piketty’s proposal.

Now comes Senator Elizabeth Warren in a New York Times op-ed. She writes:

For years, corporate tax dodgers have taken full advantage of all the benefits of being American companies, while searching out every possible way to avoid paying American taxes. Now that other leading countries are starting to get tough on tax enforcement, these tax dodgers suddenly want to move their money back to the United States. When they do, they should pay their fair share, just as working families and small businesses have been all along.

Countries, especially the United States, need a lot more money to repair and build public infrastructure and “promote the general welfare.” Over the years, corporations have used their considerable financial muscle to whittle down their tax rates. For their part, various countries have, in effect, bid against each other to attract and retain businesses. Ireland is certainly one of those countries. (Washington state, of course, enacted the largest public subsidy of all with its extremely generous tax-avoidance package that benefits Boeing, as keen a political player as any. And guess what? The state is in dire need of additional revenues to pay for public schools, among other obligations.)

Perfect killing the good

Ages ago, during my community activist days (at least that’s what I was called by the Everett Herald), I would occasionally rail against what I termed the “stiletto” approach to policy issues. While conservatives seemed to cohere around a simple message (for example, cut taxes), progressives and liberals would divide themselves into a myriad of narrowly defined interests and prescriptions. Conservatives walked around in huge clogs; progressives imprinted the political realm with stilettos.

Comes now Initiative 732, which will be on November’s ballot. In a nutshell, the initiative, should it pass, would impose a tax on carbon consumption in Washington state. The revenues collected would offset a reduction in the state’s sales tax, already among the highest in the country, and business-and-operations taxes. Even those who pushed for the initiative are having second thoughts, debating the revenue-distribution portion. Some environmentalists would prefer that the carbon-tax proceeds be spent on promoting green resources. (This article in Crosscut summarizes the divisions.)

But here’s the thing. Despite the arguments about revenue distribution, the carbon tax would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And isn’t that the point?