Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

Dangerous Territory

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

trump cartoon

Let’s start by saying that there is no place in a democracy for violence.

It is the dark underbelly of our most cherished institution.  We are supposed to rely on our vote rather than the threat of violence in order to effect change.

That said, we have a history of political violence in this country.

The original Boston patriots were a violent group.  One of the reason the rest of the original colonies were reluctant to join the revolution was their fear that after defeating the British, the Boston militia would turn on the rest of the colonies.

The Jim Crow south was built on violence and intimidation.  A white minority imposed a social order on the black majority by taking away their votes and setting up a legal system that was rigged against them.  The latest version of that scheme was on display in Ferguson, MO.

The anti-war movement was galvanized by the Kent Massacre where unarmed students were gunned down by National Guard troops.  That single event did more than hours of news footage from Viet Nam to ultimately create the political will to end the draft and the war.

This time around, however, it is different.

MLK organized marches in the south for the specific purpose of raising awareness in the rest of the country to the institutional racism that governed the south.  The images of the peaceful protestors being attacked by police spoke far more eloquently than any speech about the injustice of racism.  Those protests also reflected a confidence in the how the country would respond when they realized what was going on.  Our government responded with civil rights legislation.

The anti-war movement protested the morality of sending kids to war who didn’t have an opportunity to vote on that policy.  Our government did eventually respond.  The war ended.  The draft was abolished.  The voting age reduced.

This time around, however, the presumptive Republican nominee for the office of the President says that he is going to deport 11M people who are here illegally and restrict and monitor the activities of Muslims.

We’ve always had extreme candidates run for President.  Strom Thurmond and George Wallace are just a couple of examples of candidates who supported legalized segregation.  None of these extreme candidates ever had a chance to become president.

Trump does.

When the potential President of the United States says that he plans to forcibly deport members of your family, how are you going to react?

When the potential President of the United States says that he plans to spy on your place of worship and keep track of your activities in a database just because of your religion, how are you going to react?

If you have trust in democracy and the courts, you may plan to vote for whoever runs against this guy in the fall; send them some money, or even volunteer to work on their behalf.

If you don’t trust that in the current institutions of our government, but you do trust in the decency of the majority of people in this country, you may take to the streets to peacefully express your opinion in the hopes that other voters will understand the depth of your concern.

If you don’t trust in the current institutions of our government and distrust the basic decency of the majority of the people in this country, you may get frustrated and angry.  That anger and frustration may drive you to confront those who you feel intend to harm you.  That’s when the fabric of society starts to fray.

We enter into very dangerous territory when groups feel as though the only choice they have is to physically confront those that disagree with them.  But what other way do we have to demonstrate to the larger population that Trump and his supporters are violent?

The dangerous territory is when this violence is used to justify violence.

The dangerous territory is when those who advocate violence are able to win an election because they claim that this tactic is the only effective response to violence.

The dangerous territory is when that violence is directed as a class of people whose only sin is who their parents were or how they choose to worship.

We’ve been in dangerous territory before.  Adams passed a blatantly discriminatory Alien and Sedition act in 1798.  The country tolerated slavery for 200 years and segregation for another 100 years.  The Justice Department under Wilson tried to create a list of all German aliens (sound familiar?).  4000 were imprisoned.  There was at least one documented incident of a lynching in Illinois. FDR interred the Japanese during WWII.  We had a massive clandestine domestic spying program.  We tortured suspected terrorists and are still holding some a decade later in a prison on foreign soil without any plan to try them.

We will survive this period too, but it will require work and will likely cause wounds that will take some time to heal.

 

 

Slip Sliding Away

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

facism

Many of those who are supporting Trump are doing so because they have lost all faith in the existing institutions, parties, and leaders to make a positive change in their lives.

What’s interesting is that, while they appear to have lost faith in existing leaders, they haven’t lost faith in the democratic process.  Otherwise, why attempt to use it to bring about change?  So in terms of a revolution, this one is still well within the bounds of our constitution and our tradition of democracy which in some ways makes it even more dangerous.

In that context then, what appears to be happening is that those working folks who have been supporting conservative causes over the past fifty years or so (stretching back to Goldwater) are finally waking up to the fact that much of what the Republican Party promised, was never delivered.  Economic reform based on tax reductions never generated the promised job or wage growth.  In fact just the opposite has occurred.  The wealthy have grown even more wealthy and powerful, while everyone else has seen their wages stagnate, their jobs become less secure, and their political power erode.  Social reform never generated the changes in abortion laws or prevented the expansion of rights for the LGBT community.  Government has not been able to slow the growth in minority and immigrant populations or their new found political power.  The government still spends a lot of money.  The debt has grown larger, on average, when Republicans controlled the White House than Democrats.  There are still structural problems with Social Security and Medicare.  The world remains an unstable place.  ISIS has replaced al Qaeda as the “great evil”.

What the Republican Party did accomplish is to erode trust in the institutions of both government, the free press, and academia.  That created an information bubble where many of those who support the conservative wing of the Republican Party live.  Being a conservative Republican became much more an exercise in faith rather than fact.

Their faith in Trump is that he is strong enough to make the changes that they so desperately want to see happen.  They are so deep in their delusion that any individual can in fact affect this sort of change, they ignore what the man is saying.   Instead they project their own individual agenda on their candidate.  This is the best example of motivated reasoning that I have ever seen, but it is also the most dangerous.  That’s because Trump only obligation is to his own agenda.

Here’s just one example of that sort of motivated reasoning.  It is an attempt to logically support an emotional decision which is at the core of motivated reasoning.  These lists generally begin – I’m voting for Trump because …..  I’ve added my comments after each assertion.

Isn’t a career politician
This is the first office he has even run for.  Minnesota voters elected Jesse Ventura as governor for many of the same reasons.  There are very few examples of successful Presidents who had no previous political experience.

Isn’t funded by Goldman (besides Bernie)
Big assumption here.  Trump has already said that he wants to raise $1B to run in the fall.  More specifically, Trump owns stock in Goldman.  Goldman has issued Trump a line of credit.  So technically Trump IS funded by Goldman.

Will take a stand against China before it’s too late
Obviously this begs the question of “too late for what”? But Trump’s promise to start a trade war with China and renegotiate our existing trade agreements has been rejected by most experts as naive and dangerous.

Is running on his own dime, not Super-PAC
See above.  Trump is not going to be running on his own dime.  He was able to run a low budget primary campaign because of all the free media coverage he received.  He perfected the art of dominating the media with outrageous statements.  It is unclear whether he will be able to get away with that in a two person race.  That’s because every time he says something outrageous, the press will also print a response from the campaign of the Democratic nominee.  As a result, he hired a former hedge fund manager to help him raise $1B for the fall campaign.

Has grown a business ten-fold into a third generation which is very hard
Business success does not necessarily translate in political success.  Until Trump releases more tax returns, the scale of his business success will be hard to measure.  The last successful business man to occupy the White House without previously holding an elected office was Herbert Hoover.  That didn’t turn out very well.

Admits we are in a bubble in this country that isn’t far from popping
If that were true, you would expect Trump would be shorting a bunch of stocks and investing in gold.  Trump’s investments don’t reflect that strategy.  But even if they did, the real question is what he would do to either prevent the bubble from popping or mitigate the damage from that pop.  He has demonstrated a reasonable understanding of monetary policy but clearly doesn’t understand how national debt works in a global economy.

Doesn’t drink, do drugs or smoke
He doesn’t appear to have any problems selling alcohol.  As far as drugs, he and his brother were patients of Dr. Greenberg in the 80’s who prescribed amphetamines for weight loss.  This was also documented in a controversial Trump biography by Harry Hunt.

Has a history of promoting women to high positions in his businesses
That’s true.  He also has had a reputation as a playboy.  He has been married three times.  He has admitted having extramarital affairs, and has a long history of describing women in objectified ways.

Is friendly to the LGBT community
Not sure what “friendly” means.  Confused might be a better term.  On the campaign trail, he has said he opposes marriage equality.  He did also say that he was opposed to the NC law prohibiting transgender bathroom accommodations.

Has great support from Orthodox Jewish community
This is true because the Orthodox Jewish community does not want to see the sort of two state settlement between Isreal and the Palestinians that the Democrats and most of the rest of the world support.  Sheldon Adelson has also promised Trump $100M if Trump supports Adelson’s call for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, which would clearly put the two state solution in jeopardy.

It isn’t clear what Trump’s agenda is, other than to bolster his own over-inflated ego.

He divides the world between winners and losers.  He is the classic school yard bully who will seek to ingratiate himself to those he views as more powerful and denigrate those that he feels are weak.

The problem is that everyone eventually proves themselves to be weak.  Everyone will eventually be a loser.  What will happen to those losers if this deeply unstable man suddenly becomes the most powerful man in the world?

And what happens to his followers if he doesn’t win?  They have already demonstrated their willingness to respond violently to those who disagree with them.  We are also witness to increased unprovoked attacks against immigrants who are the scapegoats in the Trump narrative.

This is how the United States slipped into facism.  Not with a shout, but with a whimper.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Come gather ’round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters round you have grown and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.  If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen and keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again and don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’.  For the loser now will be later to win.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call.  Don’t stand in the doorway.  Don’t block up the hall.  For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled.  There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’.  It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand.  Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.  Your old road is rapidly agin’.  Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.  For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn. The curse it is cast.  The slow one now will later be fast.  As the present now will later be past.  The order is rapidly fadin’ and the first one now will later be last.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan 1964

We baby-boomers LOVED this song.  It was our declaration of independence.  We are the children of the greatest generation.  But in our youth, all we could see was the hypocrisy of discrimination and the stifling effects of social conformity.  We celebrated individuality, freedom, and creativity.

Now we are the ones who are, at least in part, the rapidly fading order.  Millennials finally outnumber us.  We are also rapidly becoming a diverse racial country where whites are no longer the dominant race.  For some, that is welcome.  For others it is terrifying.

These tectonic demographic shifts drive our politics in ways that aren’t always obvious to those who feel the ground shifting underneath their feet.  These shifts are, none the less, a reliable prediction of where politics are moving in the future.

In order to provide a sense of context, here is an historical example.

Republicans under Abraham Lincoln forced the south to bend to the will of the federal government and free the slaves.  Whites in the south joined the Democratic Party and newly enfranchised blacks voted Republican.  The resurgent Democratic Party forced the government to remove federal troops who had been enforcing southern reconstruction. This allowed the rise of Jim Crow laws and the end of black political power.  Those white politics continued pretty much unchanged until the 60’s,  Democrats supported civil rights legislation and again imposed a new order on the south.  Blacks had been moving away from the Republican Party for decades because that party failed to support black interests (e.g. Teddy Roosevelt’s disbanding of a black army unit).  Democrats earned black votes in response to Democratic support of civil rights legislation.  Nixon’s southern strategy completed the transition of Dixiecrats to the Republican Party.

Let’s look at some of the other important growing demographic segments to see which parties they are aligned with and why.

Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans
All of these demographics are SIGNIFICANTLY younger than the white population.  The implications are obvious.  As the white population ages, the these groups will gain more political power.

It should also be obvious to even the casual observer that all of these groups have good reasons to affiliate with the Democratic Party.  Republicans have chosen to be the party of white people.  That choice was not lost on these groups.  Both Trump and Cruz promise to deport 12M undocumented workers.  Those opposed to that are going to vote Democratic.  The Republican Party largely blames the poor in this country for their condition.  Those who oppose that view are also going to vote for Democrats.

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman accurately described the Republican problem.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of all white voters and won election in a 44-state landslide. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of all white voters yet lost decisively. What happened? African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other non-whites — all overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning groups — rose from 12 percent of voters in 1980 to 28 percent in 2012.

Women
Regardless of how you feel about abortion, from a political perspective 54% of women are pro-choice.  Republicans are aggressively pro-life.  According to Gallup, 70% of women have an unfavorable view of Trump.  Even with Clinton’s negatives among women at 50%, she has a 20 point advantage.  If Trump continues to attack her in the run up to the presidency in the same ways that he attacked women during the primaries, it is likely that his negatives will go up and hers down.

Highly Educated Professionals
These people are naturally liberal because they value science.  Republican positions on climate change only exacerbate this Democratic advantage.

Young People
Young people are very supportive of LGBT rights and many carry massive college debt.  Republicans oppose LGBT rights and oppose any efforts to reform higher education financing.

Evangelicals
Carter woke up evangelicals.  Reagan and Schafly converted them to Republicanism.  Lately, however, evangelical leaders have moved away from the narrow social issues and embraced a larger set of concerns about helping the poor.  They remain an area of support for Republicans, but the religious zealotry of right wing conservatism has taken over from the pulpit-lead politics of previous decades.

Working Class Whites
Republicans have an advantage with low information white voters.  Trump has mobilized them because they have felt that their previous Republican votes did not deliver the change that was promised.  They are looking for someone to materially change their current tenuous condition.  Their wages have stagnated.  Their job prospects are grim.  What investments they had have not recovered from the 2008 financial collapse.  They have determined that the game is rigged against them and they want someone to blame.  This all fits well with the Republican emotional approach to politics.  The problem is that this group, while passionate, is a declining demographic and in 2016 may represent 10% of the voting population.

Conclusion
The next election will be a contentious one.  Assuming that there are no bombshells between now and November, Clinton should win with relative ease regardless of who Republicans run.  That is going to be incomprehensible for Republicans because Clinton IS in many ways the devil of their religion.  It was just as incomprehensible for them that a white country elected a black man twice, but they blamed that on Romney and McCain not being conservative enough and the government bribing 47% of the population.

The facts tell a different story.  Too many of the growing demographic groups currently have natural affiliations with Democratic policy positions for any Republican to win.  The real question is what choice the Republican faithful, in the face of yet another national failure, will make – start swimmin’ or sink like a stone.

Belgian Dip

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

 

belgian dip 2 big

 

Donald Trump showed remarkable, if momentary, insight regarding the root causes of the recent terrorist attack in Belgium.

This all happened because frankly there is no assimilation

While this isn’t the only reason that ISIS targeted Belgium.  It is the primary reason why Belgian residents have been involved in the last two major ISIS attacks in Europe.

The unemployment rate for Belgians of North and sub-Saharan African descent is between 40 and 50 percent. Last year, the BBC reported that of Antwerp’s 2,600 police officers, only 22 are non-white. In 2011, Belgium became the first country in Europe to ban the veil nationwide.

Like most of Europe, Belgium does not provide a path to citizenship for their immigrant population.  Instead many Belgian born Muslim languish in a guest worker status with few jobs and few alternatives.  It should not be surprising that Belgium has supplied between 400-500 fighters in the Syrian war.

Belgium is also a mess politically.  They don’t have the public safety infrastructure to track the activities of these fighters when they come back home.  By comparison, the US has maybe a dozen residents who have left the US to fight in the Middle East and have returned.  The FBI has all of them under close surveillance.

In this country, however, assimilation does not face the same barriers, even for those who are here illegally.  The result is a US Muslim population that is generally well integrated into their communities and happy with their circumstances.

According to a 2011 Pew Research poll, only 20 percent of American Muslims surveyed would prefer to “be distinct” than to “adopt American customs.” Half say that many of their friends are non-Muslim. Almost 80 percent rate their community an “excellent” or “good” place to live.  Crime rates in Muslim communities are generally low and the children of Muslims, like most US immigrants, marry outside their community and are indistinguishable from any other US citizen.

Yet politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump call for bans on all Muslim immigration and increased internal surveillance of all Muslims already here include those that are US citizens.

A 2014 study found that Muslim immigrants in states that experienced more anti-Muslim hate crimes were less likely to intermarry with non-Muslims and learn English.

Our ability to peacefully assimilate Muslims along with every other immigrant demographic IS one of the major factors in insulating America from the domestic terrorism we see in Europe.

The net result of raising the level of Islamaphobia in this country is that our country becomes less safe.

Ted Cruz’s proposed response to Brussels would have a similar effect. The day of the attacks, he called for police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” Asked what that meant, Cruz cited a program in New York that, according to The New York Times, allowed to the NYPD to designate “entire mosques as suspected ‘terrorism enterprises,’” and thus “collect the license plate numbers of every car in mosque parking lots, videotape worshipers coming and going, and record sermons using informants wearing hidden microphones.” What Cruz didn’t mention is that an NYPD official himself admitted the program didn’t yield a single terrorism investigation. What it did was alienate law-abiding Muslims. As a Newark-based FBI special agent noted, the program led “people [to] pull back cooperation” and thus impaired “our ability to have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on around the state.”

The New York police chief said that he had hundreds of Muslim officers on the staff and if Ted Cruz has a campaign stop in New York, part of the squad assigned to protect him will likely be Muslim.

Embracing peaceful Muslims in the same way we embrace any other peaceful immigrant population, is our strongest weapon against ISIS ideology.

Persecuting Muslims, treating every Muslim as if they were a terrorist and subjecting individuals to a higher level of scrutiny and regulation just because of their religion will re-enforce the ISIS message that the West really does want to destroy Islam.

 

 

 

 

Who is John Galt?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

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The Republican Party is struggling to come to grips with the fact that their “base” is no longer loyal to their “principles”. Even worse, the one leading these people astray is a businessman who should be poster boy of what the party principles say all should aspire to.

The party clearly has two choices. They can either reflect more deeply on how their “principles” apply to those they seek to lead, or they can blame this wayward band and their leader as apostates.

It probably doesn’t surprise you that the conservative Republican establishment response is that the working class who are the core of Trump’s support can only blame themselves for their situation and their leader is not a true conservative.

At the core of this dilemma is the Randian Objectivism that has become the bedrock philosophy of mainstream conservatism. It was reflected in Romney’s claim that 47% of 2012 voters would never support him because they were dependent on the government. Paul Ryan famously described the social safety net as “a hammock the lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency”.

Rand’s prototypical hero is the businessman, John Galt. He criticized any state intervention in society because it allowed poor people to leech the hard-earned wealth of the rich (sound familiar?). Conservative Establishment Republicans use this philosophy to absolve themselves from any responsibility for their own actions by claiming a sort of social Darwinism. They claim that the outcome of any individual’s life is purely a function of their willingness to overcome any adverse circumstance they encounter with ability and intelligence. Helping those that are in need only prolongs their struggle. They point to their own success as evidence of their piety to this principle without acknowledging that in most cases it was the result of an advantageous birth.

Paul Krugman does a wonderful job of summarizing this attitude.

Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values. That is, for some mysterious reason why many of our citizens have, as Mr. Ryan puts it, lost “their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers.

What science tells us, however, is markedly different. The basic cause for the social dysfunction in the black community in this country is not some genetic inability to form strong family bonds. It is the result of systematic elimination of economic opportunity. To paraphrase a Baltimore resident, it is unreasonable to expect people to demonstrate middle class values in the absence of middle class jobs.

What we are now seeing are the same social ills that have been associated with the black community, showing up in the white working class community — addiction, violence, crime, single parent families, chronic disease, increased suicide, and shorter life expectancy.

That in and of itself should not be surprising.

It also should not be surprising that those who are suffering from decreasing economic opportunity and collapsing social stability are both angry and afraid.

What is surprising, however, is that though this phenomena is present throughout the industrialized west, only the US is suffering a rise in mortality among middle-aged whites. Everywhere else mortality continues to trend downward.

Why are things different here?

Paul Ryan and the self-serving conservative Republican elites have successfully used Randian Objectivism to dismantle much of our social safety net. Every other western industrialized country has robust systems to help workers manage the transitions during these sorts of economic disruptions. The result of our purposefully frayed social safety net is not a robust new generation of John Galt’s freed from the shackles of dependency, but a surly terrified generation of workers who have finally realized that they are being exploited and are no longer willing to take the blame.

The delicious irony is that the man leading this populist revolution bent on overthrowing the Republican Objectivists is the epitome of Randian self-responsibility. He is supposed to suggest that those who are struggling just need to be more responsible and work a little harder. Instead his whole career has been built on a false promise that Trump’s success was contagious. It would rub off on you if you just purchased one of his products, visited one of his properties, or watched one of his reality shows. Rather than lecture the disgruntled white working class, he agrees that they have received a raw deal. Rather than suggest that they are responsible for their own success, he blames the current political establishment (Republican and Democratic) for making bad deals that have disadvantaged workers. He promises his followers that he will be able to relieve their pain by replacing those bad deals with good ones that he will negotiate on their behalf.

FDR recognized the same thing. The Great Depression decimated the economy because unregulated capitalism ran amok. FDR made a new deal with workers. Rather than replace capitalism, he proposed a new mixed economy — strong business constrained by a strong government. Government will also construct a social safety net. That safety net would allow workers to retire with some dignity when they grew too old for physical labor. It would also mitigate the pain of individual job loss when economies contract or individual companies fail.

After the biggest economic constriction since the Great Depression, workers are again stressed and angry about the abuses of big business and the failure of the government to live up to its promises.

Donald Trump claims he can deliver a better deal. His ability to convince workers that this is possible is testimony to the level of their desperation as well as his talent as a con man.

But it is also fascinating that when faced with the choice between channeling John Galt or FDR, he chose FDR.

Joe The Plumber 2016

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

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“You bet I liked it,” he told “Inside Edition” when asked about the rally. “Clocking the hell out of that big mouth.” Of the victim, he said: “We don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American and cussing me … and sticking his face in my head. If he wants it laid out, I laid it out.” He added: “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

That was 78 year old John McGraw justifying his assault on Rakeem Jones during a Trump rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayeville, NC on March 9.

There is so much wrong with this that it is difficult to know where to start.

But let’s start with the dangerous confluence of Authoritarianism and Populism that has become the Trump campaign.

Trump didn’t invent this particular type of appeal, nor is he even the first.  This particular philosophy has been growing over the past 25 years in western Democracies.

Le Pen in France dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail of history”.  Fortuyn was assassinated in the Netherlands in 2002, but his anti-immigrant anti-Muslim party has grown to become the second largest in the Dutch parliament.  The Swiss People’s Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Swedish Democrats, and the Danish People’s Party have all been gaining support.  Hungary is now building a wall to keep out immigrants because of the success of the Jobbik neo-fascist party in that country.

These parties are attracting radical right wingers because of their Authoritarian stands.  But they are also drawing center-left less educated men and the economically marginalized because of their populism.

What’s happening?

Long-term dramatic demographic, economic, and social change going on in western democracies.  The Great Recession is still being felt in much of the industrialized world.  Gender and sexual roles are also changing as the LGBT community gains rights and legal protection.  Globalization, immigration, and the aging baby boom left less educated elderly citizens fearful of being marginalized and left behind in countries that they felt they helped build.

In the 2011 World Values Survey, almost half of those in the US who didn’t graduate from college approved of having a strong leader unchecked by elections and Congress.  Normally we would only expect to see these sorts of results in countries like Russia who don’t have our strong democratic tradition.

The Republican Party didn’t create this gap between the emotionally disenfranchised and the “elites”, but they did give voice to those who objected to social and political change.  They become the “party of no” the day after Barack Obama was elected.  That immediately legitimized a whole set of conspiracy theorists who previously were forced to live on the looney fringe.  Fox News jumped at the opportunity to pander to this audience with a daily concoction of tabloid fiction that they claimed the liberal media refused to air.  Finally the Tea Party gave structure to what has become a political movement.  Now this same revolution has turned upon those who used anger and fear for political gain.  The new authoritarian populists are blaming their Republican Party leaders that they helped elect for the failure to stem the tide of social, demographic, and financial change.

The result is clear in the words of John McGraw.

Those who disagree deserve the beating that they receive.

Tolerance for gay marriage, sexual equality, and social diversity is condemned as “political correctness”.

Anyone of color may be a terrorist.  Those who are terrorists deserve to be killed.

Whether or not Trump is elected, he and his followers have articulated a new brutalism and intolerance, altering what’s speakable in American politics.

The chilling difference is that parliamentary democracies have many methods to limit the power of populist authoritarian parties.  In our representative two party democracy, the authoritarian populists may be able to take over the Republican Party.  Then that party will have to decide whether they are willing to trade all of their past principles for the opportunity to remain in power.  Those principles of sound government and fiscal responsibility have already been severely damaged by the actions of the last eight years.

More concerning, however, is how this angry violent bigoted xenophobic subset of the voting public is going to handle defeat.  I don’t believe that they are going to accept it graciously.

It is fascinating to consider that those who most fear the “enemy within” may in fact become the very instrument of destruction of the democracy that they claim they are protecting.

More Thoughts on Income Inequality

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Paul Krugman recently published a good summary of the historical discussions regarding income inequality.

Before diving into climate change, I thought it would represent a reasonable addendum to what has already been posted.

It does venture in a little bit into the territory of why we should reduce income inequality and how we should go about doing that.

First let’s explore the three generally accepted reasons for the current huge income inequality.

Productivity
People get paid based on the value of their work. The reason some people get paid hundreds or thousands of time more than other people is because they are uniquely capable, skilled, and experienced. It is the old plumber joke. A man calls a plumber because he is having a problem. The plumber walks in, looks around for a minute, and hits a pipe with his hammer. The problem is fixed. The plumber hands the homeowner a bill for $100. The homeowner objects complaining that the plumber was only in the house for 10 minutes. The plumber takes the invoice back, adds these itemizations, and hands it back to the homeowner. Labor – $20. Knowing which pipe to hit and where to hit it – $80.

For the record, I have no problem with those with unique skills getting paid what the market will bear for those skills. Those include athletes, entertainers, and actors as well as brilliant developers and visionary entrepreneurs.

Luck
People get rich because they are in the right place at the right time. No better example of that than the recent Powerball lottery. That event produced roughly 5 people each worth $200M or so after taxes. Their chances of winning were ridiculously thin, but they won none the less because there are always winners. Not many who participated in one of our gold rushes struck it rich either, but the number of people who did participate spoke to the belief in this country that we all have an opportunity to strike it rich. But this sort of windfall has nothing to do with character, talent, or persistence. Just luck. That same luck is evidenced in the fact that parentage directly or indirectly accounts for a significant percentage of those who are wealthy today. This whole concept of “wealthy” luck was explored deeply in Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers book.

I have no problem with those who end up being wealthy because they were lucky. I don’t think that they have any standing to suggest that a higher tax rate will somehow reduce the small percentage of people who figuratively or literally win the lottery. But I agree that we have always been a “gold rush” country where we celebrate the good fortune of those who overcame enormous odds through blind dumb luck.

Power
Executives at large corporations who get to set their own compensation programs. Financial speculators who benefit from information that the rest of the market doesn’t have. Fraudsters who get rich off schemes that fleece the naïve or greedy. Power brokers who are able to exchange political power for financial gain.

These are the segment of wealthy that I think are the most troublesome. That’s because they use their wealth to acquire political influence. They use that political influence to gain an unfair advantage. That process is corrosive in a democratic society.

So What
There is the claim that “it has ever been thus”. We’ve always had income inequality, the claim goes. What is so different now?

The difference is that the income inequality is now larger than it has been since the robber baron gilded age. The public’s disgust about the influence of wealth at that time elected reformers like Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. These wealthy civic-minded leaders realized that our democracy couldn’t survive if so much wealth was concentrated in the hands of so few people. That’s because our political system then, and our political system now, allows money to purchase political influence. Those that are driven to dominate industries through economic power see political power as just another opportunity to acquire an unfair advantage over their competitors. Reformers passed legislation to break up the trusts and monopolies built by folks like Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Schwab.

I’ve documented how the same thing is going on in markets today. It is clearly more sophisticated, but it is no less insidious.

There are certainly those, like Mark Zuckerberg, who built his fortune on the strength of a great idea that created a whole new category of software. We can talk about his luck of being in the right place at the right time, combined with being born into a wealthy family that could afford to send him to the best schools, to getting accepted at Harvard at a time when the college-based social networks were just taking off. But for every Mark Zuckerberg, there are roughly 30 corporate execs just making a salary.

70% of the top .1% of fabulously wealthy wage earners are corporate execs, financial professionals, real estate speculators, and lawyers. It is this dramatic growth in executive salaries that has been the dominant force in creating a new gilded age.

What Should Government’s Role Be?
That leaves the fundamental question of the purpose of progressive taxation, government oversight in market rules making, and money in politics.

The extraordinary gap between the rich and poor, driven by power rather than luck or skill, demonstrates that money is already providing the “Power” wealthy inordinate influence in politics. The powerful have already reduced the impact of taxation on their annual income as well as increased their ability to preserve their wealth for their heirs. They have manipulated the rules of the marketplace to provide their companies an unfair advantage against both competitors and the public. Finally they have achieved this by becoming the primary funders for political campaigns of those politicians who are willing to do their bidding. Four hundred families have provided half the funding for the current presidential campaign. That is unprecedented.

Progressive taxation is not punishment for success. Instead it is a tool that a democratic society can use to balance the political power that naturally accrues to the wealthy. The purpose of that balance is not to discourage success, but rather to lower the barriers that the “Power” wealthy can put in place to make it more difficult for others to succeed.

Revenues generated from higher taxes on those that I characterize as “powerful”, can be used to build a stronger social safety net and provide access for all citizens to the tools (education, investment, and government subsidies) needed to participate in the start-up economy. The 50’s and 60’s were the period of our most rapid growth and technological progress. We also had much higher top tax rates and much lower income inequality. Sweden is a good example of a high-tax, low-inequality state today. They have high marginal tax rates on their top earners and a very healthy start-up economy. They use the revenue generated from these high taxes on top earners to build a strong social safety net. They claim that this strong safety net encourages more risk taking because it reduces the personal costs of failure.

Creating markets that operate more fairly than today’s markets protect investors and reward innovation in ways that our current markets don’t. Most start-ups get acquired today because big companies continue to have significant market advantages over small ones. Freeing up small companies from issues of tortuous patent infringement, contractual barriers to competition, and de-facto monopolies will benefit consumers and the economy in general.

Breaking the connection between money and political influence will deliver on the promise of our democracy. One person. One vote.

Summary
The issue is not wealth.

The issue is not talent.

The issue is not luck.

The issue is how we want our economy to function.

We currently have a wealth-based economy. Wealth-based economies are inherently less stable than consumer-based economies. Our wealth-based economy was not the natural outgrowth of the disruptive events of automation. It was the unnatural influence of money on government policies. Those government policies encouraged a dramatic increase in corporate executive compensation that was not justified by company performance, allowed insider trading and stock manipulation, and increased corporate power and protection which weakening the bargaining power of workers.

I submit that a wealth-based economy is also not sustainable in a democracy. That’s because the natural tendency of those who have wealth is to protect it. That “protection” inevitably becomes influence on government policies from taxation, to market rules, to executive compensation.

At some point, those who are not part of the wealthy class will begin to realize that they are playing a game that is rigged against them. Rewards don’t go to those who are willing to work hard and play by the rules. Rewards go those who make the rules.

In a democracy the rules should be made by and for the largest number of voters. Right now many of our rules benefit only a small minority – an oligarchy.

One of those rules will be a rejection of the myth that high taxes discourage investment innovation. There is no data to support that claim. Innovation suffers when markets are dominated by large companies and rules/monopolies prevent the emergence of disruptive technologies.

If we want to encourage innovation, subsidize education, promote new business formation, expand the social safety net, and invest in emerging technologies. That would increase the number of “Productivity” billionaires even with high marginal tax rates. We would return to the meritocracy of the 60’s where talent and determination opened the doors to opportunity. Today, parentage is the primary determination of success.

We would not reduce the number of “lucky” wealthy because taxes have no impact on luck. Those who are lucky will continue to be lucky and should in some ways be willing to give back to a society that afforded them an opportunity that they didn’t themselves deserve.

We WILL reduce the number of those who achieve their wealth through warping the marketplace to their own benefit. The savings will diversify our economy, reduce those companies that became “too big to fail”, and close all of the loopholes and shortcuts to prosperity that only the “smart” money could take advantage of. In other words, those who in the past depended on Power to secure their wealth will now have to work for it just like everyone else.

That may result in some of the fabulously wealthy becoming just wealthy. It may also reduce inequality, but inequality will always be with us. It will expand opportunity which has always been the basic promise of this country.

Conservative Myth – Income Inequality is Fine

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

We’ve already gone through the question of whether or not an unregulated free market really exists in this country (it doesn’t) and whether that market is a fair distributor of wealth (it isn’t).

Just as a reminder. I’m not attempting to suggest any solution to the problem, but just addressing the conservative myths. I want to separate those two discussions, because so often the defense of a myth is the suggestion that there is nothing reasonable you can do to prevent it. We can get into solutions in future posts. Let’s focus these discussions on existence rather than remediation.

So now let’s dig a little deeper into the related conservative myth regarding their tolerance of income inequality. That myth has three parts.

The first, like many conservative myths, ignores the facts and suggests that income inequality isn’t really that bad for the individual. Everyone has a higher standard of living after all and so those who are concerned about income inequality are really just engaged in class warfare.

The second, is that a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is good for the economy. It is the ultimate expression of a free market at work and it is the wealthy who create jobs, so any attempt to limit their ability to maximize their income is going to hurt the economy.

The third, is related to the second, but more philosophical. Wealth is the natural outcome of a free market. So progressive taxes and other methods which require the wealthy to pay more than everyone else is unfair. These methods punish success and by implication discourage others from making the same sacrifices that these special individual are willing to make.

Let’s take these in order.

Income Inequality is Harmless

Hopefully we all can agree that income inequality is great if you are part of the small group whose share of the income pie has been growing. We’ll talk about that group in more detail in the next two parts of this myth.

For the purposes of this portion of the discussion let’s focus on the rest of those who are primarily wage earners and whose incomes have been basically flat since roughly 1970.

Here’s how life has changed for this group.
1. Mom’s went to work. They did this to allow their families to remain in the middle class, or as an effort to get into the middle class. One wage earner used to be sufficient for a comfortable middle class life, but it isn’t anymore. The nature of middle class jobs changed for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that executives began taking a bigger piece of the compensation pie. Up until the 1970’s, workers’ wages kept pace with productivity. After the 1970’s only executives benefited from increased corporate productivity.
2. Families got smaller. Middle class families could no longer afford four kids. The costs to raise kids went up in part because mom’s were no longer at home to help. Smaller families mean smaller schools, slower growth in the consumer economy, and long term fewer workers paying taxes and supporting Social Security and Medicare.
3. Commutes got longer. Middle class work weeks got longer. Middle class workers took less vacation. The United States in some ways turned into Japan in terms of the 24-7 nature of middle class jobs. As a result, the health of middle class workers declined as their stress levels went up.
4. The bargaining power of middle class workers decreased. Several factors at work here. One was an aggressive union-busting strategy championed by Ronald Reagan. Another was an aggressive outsourcing of manufacturing to right-to-work southern states and offshore low cost of labor centers. The third was decimation of the white collar workforce as a result of automation. Many middle management jobs simply disappeared as factory work contracted, clerical work disappeared, and software replaced paper and the workforce that managed that paper.
5. The cost of college skyrocketed as Republicans purposefully cut funding to higher education as part of the larger supply side economic fantasy. The middle class did get a tax break, but that modest increase in income fell far short of the cost to send their kids to college. So those families pulled money out of the only other asset they had, their homes. That asset was dramatically devalued in the financial crisis of 2008. The result is that those families are no longer able to pay for a college education. That burden has now shifted to students who leave college with huge debt burdens that previous generations did not have to deal with. The result of those burdens are being felt across the economy as college graduates spent a decade or more paying off debts rather than buying houses, starting families, or starting new businesses.
6. College education used to be the huge social melting pot where smart kids from modest means could make the jump to high paying jobs based on their willingness to work hard. Now college, particularly the elite colleges that are the gateway to the executive level jobs in this country, are only available to the children of those executives. The meritocracy of the 1950’s has been replaced by an oligarchy.

The Concentration of Wealth is Good for the Economy

I’ve dealt with this in previous posts. But here is a quick summary.
1. There is no trickle down economy. Wealthy people only buy from other wealthy people.
2. The wealthy get a substantial amount of their income from the stock market. As a result, their spending habits fluctuate based on the market. This makes for a far more volatile economy than one based on a large set of middle class consumers.
3. The wealthy are NOT job creators. Most jobs in this country are generated by medium size high growth companies. Most of these companies are privately owned. Those owners are not taking big salaries. They may have high net worth because of the value of their business, but all of their assets are tied up in their business. So they aren’t generally reporting high incomes. Too many small businesses fail or get acquired, so the gains of small business are pretty much offset by the loses. Big companies that can afford high priced CEO’s are the ones doing the acquiring. As a result, they lay off more people than they hire. So they also are not a long term significant contributor to job growth.

Wealth is the Natural Outcome of a Free Market

While it is true that in a free market income distribution is going to produce some wealthy people, we have already proven that in this country, markets aren’t free. Worse yet, markets have become warped by the political influence of wealth. Because we’ve allowed markets to become biased to benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, we shouldn’t be concerned that an effort to remove some of this bias is “unnatural”.

While it is true that wealth is an incentive, there is no evidence that progressive taxes are a disincentive, or that a multi-millionaire is any less driven than a billionaire. If higher marginal tax rates were a disincentive to wealth, we would see it reflected in slower economic growth during times of high marginal tax rates and higher growth during times of low marginal tax rates.

During the period 1951-63, when marginal rates were at their peak—91 percent or 92 percent—the American economy boomed, growing at an average annual rate of 3.71 percent. The fact that the marginal rates were what would today be viewed as essentially confiscatory did not cause economic cataclysm—just the opposite. And during the past seven years, during which we reduced the top marginal rate to 35 percent, average growth was a more meager 1.71 percent.

Finally there is the myth that a progressive tax system removes the incentive for those who aspire to wealth to make the same sacrifices that those who achieved it where willing to make. The reality as we covered in the previous post is that great wealth in this country is much more an accident of birth than the product of hard work. Less than 20% of the billionaires in this country earned all of that income themselves. The other 80% inherited a substantial amount of money, in some cases more than a billion dollars.

That is not to say that those who achieve great wealth weren’t willing to work hard and make sacrifices. They were. But it wasn’t their hard work and willingness to sacrifice that distinguished them from those who didn’t achieve great wealth. The difference is that they were lucky. They stood at the table of life and rolled a 7. They were born into the right family at the right time with the right skill set to take advantage of a disruptive moment in our economy. There is nothing wrong with being lucky, but there is something wrong when we suggest that taxing the lucky will somehow diminish their ability or desire to take advantage of their good fortune.

But that still leaves one question unanswered. What sort of incentive does wealth provide for those who are already wealthy? Turns out that the major incentive is preservation of their family’s wealth through investments to minimize their taxes and secure the future for their children. Over the past 50 years or so, those investments have include political contributions to influence favorable rule making.

Again I’m not trying to make value judgments here, though obviously I do have an opinion. I’m just stating facts. For example, it is entirely natural for parents to try to make a better life for their children. By not paying closer attention to the influence that wealth has in this country, however, we are witness to the meritocracy of the 60’s becoming an aristocracy. That’s because those who benefited from the ability to make the jump from the middle class to wealth have had the means to change the system so that it benefits the children of the wealthy rather than all talented, gifted, and hard working children. There are still the same number of opportunities for Ivy League grads now that existed in the 60’s, but a much higher percentage of those grads are coming from wealthy families.

So it raises the inevitable question of which is more beneficial to our society, one billionaire or 20,000 middle class wage earners. In other words, what kind of a society to we want ?

Here are our choices. The society we have today concentrates wealth in the hands of a few who control the rules of the game for their own benefit. Those rule changes have greatly impacted the middle class which is in steep decline. The society we had during the most prosperous years in our history concentrated economic and political power is in the hands of a middle class. They received a fair share of the productivity gains that they delivered because of strong unions. That fair share was sufficient to allow them to provide their children all of the advantages and support required to also be part of the middle class. The result was a growing middle class that sustained economic growth through the 1970’s when the rules began to change.

Economic prosperity doesn’t trickle down, and neither does civic prosperity. Both are middle-out phenomena. When workers earn enough from one job to live on, they are far more likely to be contributors to civic prosperity — in your community. Parents who need only one job, not two or three to get by, can be available to help their kids with homework and keep them out of trouble — in your school. They can look out for you and your neighbors, volunteer, and contribute — in your school and church. Our prosperity does not all come home in our paycheck. Living in a community of people who are paid enough to contribute to your community, rather than require its help, may be more important than your salary. Prosperity and poverty are like viruses. They infect us all — for good or ill.

Inclusive economies always outperform and outlast plutocracies. That’s why investments in the middle class work, and tax breaks for the rich don’t.

The Empire Strikes Back

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

There are plenty of frightening things about Trump’s campaign.

What is most frightening is his xenophobic appeal to nativism. It has given voice to an ugly white bigoted segment of society that has always been there, but was not discussed in polite company. These are the neo-nazi white supremacist racists who have enjoyed resurgence over the past eight years because a black man was in the White House. They were able to scream their bigotry in the public square because conservative Republicans claimed it was all politics. The worst stuff imaginable was suddenly fashionable among those who opposed the President because of his politics AND his race.

While they weren’t looking, however, conservatives have discovered that Trump is not just a racist, which they understand. He is also a populist. Worse yet, he is a rich populist, which seems an oxymoron, but doesn’t seem to disturb his followers. Even more terrifying to the conservative Republican establishment, his populism hasn’t just targeting illegal immigrants. It has also targeted bloated corporations who have had their way for too long and CEO’s who have been packing it in at the expense of their workers.

This is a very interesting turn of events. Ever since Reagan coopted the evangelical political movement awakened by Carter, Republican candidates have run on a whole platform of social issues. Once elected, however, they only delivered on the fiscal issues that were most important to their big money backers. Over the years everyone assumed that social conservatives actually cared about all of these fiscal issues too. Turns out that those supporting Trump don’t really care about the reducing taxes, expanding federal programs, and state’s rights. They understand the impact that big money has had on politics and are just as unhappy about large corporations and high income CEO’s as they are about illegal immigrants. Trump, running as a conservative Republican, hates free trade deals, loves Medicare and Social Security, wants to punish big companies that ship their jobs overseas, wants to tax CEO’s with cushy comp packages, and pledges to hold boards more accountable for their crony capitalism. In that regard Trump is MUCH closer to Bernie Sanders than he is any other candidate on the Republican ticket.

As Paul Krugman points out

The influence of big-money donors meant that nobody could make a serious play for the G.O.P. nomination without pledging allegiance to supply-side doctrine, and this allowed the establishment to imagine that ordinary voters shared its antipopulist creed.

But Mr. Trump, who is self-financing, didn’t need to genuflect to the big money, and it turns out that the base doesn’t mind his heresies. This is a real revelation, which may have a lasting impact on our politics.

The empire has inevitably begun to strike back.

The Club for Growth, that mainline supply side shill for political big money, is raising money to start running ads against Trump because of his tax policy.

Their hope is that they are going to be able to convince enough conservative Republicans that Trump is not their friend. This is going to be really interesting because the moment those ads begin to run I predict his poll numbers will improve. Rather than vilify Trump, these attacks from the conservative Republican establishment will validate what Trump has been saying all along. Those that have been sitting on the sidelines not sure that Trump is the real deal will realize that the Republican establishment, whom they also don’t trust, DOES take him seriously. They believe that he is dangerous. They recognize that he isn’t going to succumb to their influence. And finally, the establishment is terrified of what will happen to them if Trump is elected. This attack will be the sort of endorsement some of those on the sidelines have been waiting for. Trump will use these attacks to double down on his message of change. He will say, “If you really want to see changes, rather than the same old three card Monty that the Republican Party has been running, vote for me”.

If Trump is able to prove that these sorts of attacks will backfire and that organizations like the Club for Growth no longer have the weapon they claimed, the Republican Party will enter a brave new world. They will be required to really debate fiscal policy on the basis of what is best for the voters rather than what is best for their big money interests. If that occurs, we could really see a Presidential election where Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both agree that the wealthy should pay more taxes, corporations should be penalized when they ship jobs offshore, trade pacts should benefit US workers, the social safety net should be strengthened because it benefits those that depend on it, and healthcare should be available to all at a cost that all can afford.

Compare this to the tax plans of the rest of the clowns on the Republican candidate bus.

Cruz, Paul, and Carson all favor a flat tax. Easy math says that the flat tax has to be somewhere around 25% in order to fund the government at current spending levels. Paul is at 14.5%. Carson at is 10%. Cruz hasn’t said. Beyond that, the flat tax is a huge give away to the wealthy who are paying significantly more in taxes today.

Huckabee is proposing a consumption tax. This federal sales tax would add $.23 to ever $1 spent on anything or an effective rate of 30%. The problem is that economic think tanks across the political spectrum say that it wouldn’t even come close to funding the government at its current level of spending.

Bush’s tax plan is the most interesting just because it is so weird. He has already promised that supply side economics will produce 4% growth for as far as the eye can see. But the details of the plan make that naïve prediction seem rational. Here are some quotes from a good article on the subject from fivethirtyeight.com

Bush’s plan offers an unlikely combination of solutions to the problem of slow growth.

He wants to cut the income tax rate and eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax — all policies that would benefit mostly the wealthiest Americans. At other times, he sounds like a populist, calling for the closing of loopholes that benefit corporations and hedge fund managers. And at others, he sounds like a policy wonk, arguing to shift tax policy in a way that encourages companies to build rather than borrow.

There’s no way to calculate yet what impact Bush’s proposals would have on the federal deficit, for example, or exactly how much more or less specific groups would pay in taxes. He hasn’t identified the corporate loopholes he would close or said whether closing them would fully offset his proposed cut to the headline corporate income tax rate.

The summary is that this is a politically motivated plan that borrows something from every other candidate including Clinton and Sanders, bundles it all up in a big confusing bag, and then wraps it in a bow of promised 4% growth. The reality once you strip everything away is that it is the same old voodoo economics that Reagan was forced to abandon, Bush I rescinded, and Bush II used to turn a surplus into a deficit.

The reality, at least for the moment, is that there are a lot of angry white voters out there who are unhappy with the Republican establishment. There are also a lot of frustrated progressive voters out there who are eager for a candidate willing to mount a full throated defense of progressive principles. Trump and Sanders are riding these respective waves. It is unclear whether those waves will propel both candidates to their party’s nomination, but the political establishment is becoming very uneasy with this populist uprising.

Trump and the Crazy Train

Friday, August 14th, 2015

There is certainly one thing that you can say about Trump – he is entertaining.

What people aren’t talking about is the fact that ALL of the Republican presidential candidates are in one way or another just as crazy as Trump.

Trump represents an interesting populist anti-establishment uprising that has surprised the party establishment, the media, and Trump. He is also the natural evolution of the “money votes” economy. Rand Paul was on the right track when he said that Trump is “used to buying politicians”. He has simply taken the next step of by passing the middle man and representing his own interests. Whether he is able to translate this into a nomination is yet to be seen.

He gained momentum by demonizing undocumented workers. He fanned the flames of xenophobia by claiming that Mexico was deliberately sending their most dangerous citizens to us to deal with.

All of the rest of the candidates were dragged along to support Trump’s claim that there is a crisis at the border. Rubio tried to distance himself from his previous support of a path to citizenship. Walker also changed his tune. Christie called his previous support a “garbage idea”. Even Trump had flipped from his earlier support of path to citizenship. Only Kasich, Hackabee, Carson, and Paul have resisted the urge to jump on the “we’re being overwhelmed with criminals” bandwagon.

The problem is that fact checkers call this claim false. Illegal immigration peaked in 2007 and has actually declined since. Deportations hit an all time high in 2013 of 400K. Most of those were convicted of crimes in this country. More robust border enforcement has not only dramatically reduced illegal immigration, but it has also discouraged undocumented workers from leaving this country for fear that they won’t be able to get back in. The result is a fairly stable population of undocumented workers in this country of 11M. Their children, at least those born here, will automatically be citizens. If these trends continue, within thirty years the number of undocumented workers will drop by 50% without any other actions on our part.

So the only value in building a bigger wall is that it will likely provide some jobs for those that the wall is intended to keep out.

How about abortion?

Trump flipped from his previous support of abortion.

Rubio lied about never supporting exceptions to abortion.

Bush questioned whether, “we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”

Huckabee said he would ignore the Supreme Court and declare that a “baby inside the mother’s womb is a person at the moment of conception.”

Santorum, who has built his political career on his opposition to abortion, took the opportunity to question Carson’s character because Carson used fetal tissue in his medical research. “When you start to see some of these cracks, I think it may show whether the person is really someone who’s going to take on an issue and be strong on it when they get into the very difficult position of being President of the United States.” An interesting attack from the guy who recently failed a significant test of character when he had to choose between politics and his religious faith on the topic of climate change.

How about healthcare?

Trump flip flopped in his previous support for single payor.

All promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better. NONE have said what that something better would be other than some discussion that health savings accounts would be nice.

How about the use of our military in the Middle East?

Rand Paul is the only one who would not put “boots on the ground”.

Fiorina lied when she claimed that the US wasn’t arming the Kurds. We are doing it through the Iraqi government.

How about the economy?

Jeb promises that he can deliver 4% growth off into the future based on his experience in Florida and his belief in supply side economics. The reality is that he presided over a huge real estate bubble in Florida. When it burst, shortly after he left office, 900K of the 1.3M jobs he claimed to create vanished. Funny the same thing happened to his brother’s supply-side experiment.

Many economists think that 4% is just out of our reach because of the demographic headwinds of the baby boomer retirement. You really have to believe in the fairy dust of supply side economics to project that we would touch 3% as a result of government policies.

Christie claimed some big job numbers, but his state ranked 44 out of 50 in job growth.

Walker did not elaborate on his failure to deliver the 215K jobs he promised would appear as a result of the massive tax cuts he gave business. Instead he talked about job growth and job participation numbers. What he didn’t say is that these were the same numbers that existed prior to his election.

Huckabee solves everything with a consumption tax. One of the advantages of that tax is that even “illegals, prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers” would be paying this tax. He claims that tax will generate 6% growth. I have to admit that 6 is better than 4 which is certainly better than 2, but just changing the tax policy won’t do it. You have to get more workers which just isn’t going to happen unless there is also a radical change in immigration policy which is not part of Huckabee’s plan. Even if you got more workers, you would also have to have a significant change in productivity because wages would have to track this growth in order to get more money into the economy. Huckabee hasn’t even thought of this because his consumption tax shifts most of the tax burden to the poor. All he has thought about is that 6 is better than 4.

Then there is Doc Carson, who suggest that we should all tithe 10% of income instead of pay taxes. When asked whether or not it would work, he said that if it worked for God, it will work for us.

Summary

In this context it isn’t surprising that Trump is having the success that he has been having. The reality is that the only half-way serious candidate in this train full of clowns is Kasich. Not surprisingly he is the most moderate of the bunch and as a result, the least likely to get the nomination.

This speaks volumes about what the Republican Party has become. This is no longer the party of George HW Bush or even Ronald Reagan. It has become the party of paranoia and extremism as the old white angry men, who have been the party’s backbone, struggle with the reality that they are no longer in control. They failed to defend marriage from the onslaught of gay rights. They failed to prevent the rollout of what they see as another big entitlement program in Obamacare. Black people are demanding justice. Hispanics have discovered the power of the ballot box. Even the Pope disagrees with their abortion obsession. And women are no longer content with staying home and raising children. They not only demand a career, but also equal pay for equal work.

These guys are growing tired of the effort required to hold back the flood of scientific evidence supporting human-caused climate change. Their dam has sprung so many leaks that they are running out of fingers to plug them. Coal-based electrical generation is not only polluting, it is expensive. The most economical and highest performance car is all electric, made in this country, and sold direct over the internet. The world is changing under their feet and there appears to be little they can do to prevent it except perhaps support someone who is willing to give voice to their fears and frustrations – Donald Trump.