Belgian Dip

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?

March 22nd, 2016

quote-the-american-businessmen-as-a-class-have-demonstrated-the-greatest-productive-genius-and-the-most-ayn-rand-349733

 

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

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.

The Six Stages of Denial (Thanks to Michael Mann)

February 14th, 2016

melting ice

The purpose of this post is to provide some science to back the standard set of climate change denial arguments that have been used by those who question climate science.

1. CO2 is not actually increasing.
Humans release roughly 29B tons of CO2 in the atmosphere every year. Vegetation and oceans absorb only 57%. Current CO2 levels are the highest in 15M years.

CO2_Emissions_Levels_Knorr

2. Even if CO2 is increasing, the increase has no impact on the climate since there is no convincing evidence of warming.

There are ten indicators of a warming planet

  • Land surface air temperatures. This may be the least reliable data because of a number of local affects that could influence the accuracy of the instruments.

Anderson12Fig1 surface temps

  • Sea surface temperature. Lots of data going back to 1850 with the most recent decade as the warmest

ocean heat content

  • Air temperature over the oceans.

marine1

  • Lower Troposphere temperature. Measured by satellites for 50 years. Every decade since 2000 is warmer than the previous one.

troposheric

  • Ocean Heat Content – 90% of the heat from climate change is being absorbed the by the ocean which is causing the sea levels to rise.

ocean_heat_content #2

  • Sea Level Rise.

Sea-Level-1

  • Specific Humidity

humidchart

  • Glacier retreat – now 25 consecutive years of net loss of glacier ice.

glacierbalance

  • Northern hemisphere snow cover.

nhsnowcover

  • Arctic sea ice

ArcticSeaIceMinimumCoverage


3. Even if there is warming, it is due to natural causes.

EOS_ChapmanDavis2010

This graph, though a little wonky, demonstrates that we have already exceeded the limits that could be attributed to natural variability. Basically all of the warming details listed above require some other source of warming besides natural causes.

4. Even if the warming cannot be explained by natural causes, the human impact is small, and the impact of continued greenhouse gas emissions will be minor.

evidence_CO2
Here’s another example of the human fingerprint. We are producing more CO2 than the earth can consume. The result is that the concentration of that gas in the atmosphere is going up dramatically.

5. Even if the current and future projected human effects on Earth’s climate are not negligible, the changes are generally going to be good for us.

brook_impacts

The impacts of climate change are making things worse for biodiversity.

6. Whether or not the changes are going to be good for us, humans are very adept at adapting to changes; besides, it’s too late to do anything about it , and/or a technological fix is bound to come along when we really need it.

The most immediate and available technical solution is to stop releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and replace fossil fuels with non-polluting alternatives. If we simply stopped pumping oil today, we would have a change to avoid tumbling over into an irrecoverable greenhouse condition.  The problem with other technical solutions is that there is little that can be done to prevent widespread destruction and political instability that will result from rising sea levels. The acidification of the oceans will kill much of the current sea life. The impacts of that can only be imagined. We will eventually run out of oil. The risk is by then are that the greenhouse effect will be self-sustaining.

Conservative Myth – Climate Change Part 1

January 19th, 2016

This is an interesting one because it is so revealing about both the politics and the psychology of the conservative movement in this country. It speaks directly to the power of tribalism that Jonathan Haidt and Chris Mooney have written about.

In this first part, let’s see if we can figure out why climate change denial is a uniquely American phenomena. In fact, it isn’t just a uniquely American phenomena. It is a uniquely Conservative Republican phenomena. No other conservative party in the world denies the science. They all differ on the responses to climate change, most supporting international cooperating and binding treaties as the solution rather than unilateral actions.

This is also a recent phenomenon. Nixon created the EPA and Bush I strengthened it. Even Reagan signed an international agreement to curb the aerosol pollution that was depleting the ozone layer.

US conservatives were generally aligned with international conservatives on all of the big issues. Then something changed. That something has left US conservatives alone in the world, not only on the issue of climate change, but also on issues like supply side economics, opposition to universal health care, and a virulent anti-government ideology.

Let’s see if history can provide us a clue.

History

The effect of CO2 on the temperature of the earth was predicted as early as 1824. The actual effects of coal burning were measured in 1938. The US military began funding climate research in the ‘40’s. Oceanographer Roger Revelle was the first to sound an alarm in 1957 when he predicted that the oceans would not able to absorb all the additional CO2 that the world was pumping into the atmosphere. In 1979 the Charney Report was one of the first scientific assessments of climate change. The report warned of substantial warming already under way and that, “A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late”.

Ronald Reagan, as part of his anti-regulation agenda, politicized climate change. He appointed a climate change denier as Secretary of Energy and proposed deep spending cuts for environmental research including CO2 monitoring. Al Gore led the opposition which managed to save some of the funding. It also saw the emergence of the first prominent climate change denier, Sherwood B. Idso. Prof Idso is a soil scientist who claimed that increased CO2 would be a net gain because of the agricultural benefits. He complained when his theories were debunked in peer reviewed journals. He later became closely associated with the coal industry. When the EPA came out with a report in 1983 warning that climate change was a real, immediate, and catastrophic threat, Reagan responded calling the report alarmist. In 1988, climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress that climate change was under way, we’d see severe effects within 50 years, and that there was broad consensus in the scientific community that human activity was the likely cause.

In 1989 the fossil fuel industry began funding a disinformation campaign. The Global Climate Coalition and the George C Marshall institute adopted the same techniques perfected by the tobacco industry. In fact they even recruited the group that invented junk science for the tobacco industry (The Advancement of Sound Science Center) to undermine climate change science. Exxon was one of their major funders. They hired a small group of scientists who disagreed with the larger scientific consensus. That group began speaking to conservative political groups. Since their theories wouldn’t pass muster in peer reviewed journals, they started publishing books to support their positions. As their arguments were refuted by the larger scientific community, the disinformation campaign switched their tactics. They began circulating the idea of a global warming conspiracy and attacking the personal reputations of the scientists supporting legitimate climate change research.

That same year (1989) conservative think tanks including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute got involved. They had originally been formed in the 70’s as an intellectual counter-movement to socialism. With the collapse of communism, they needed a new enemy in order to continue to support themselves. They positioned climate change as a threat to private property, free trade, and global capitalism.

In 1998, The American Petroleum Institute got into the act offering $5M to interested scientists who would help promote a program of “raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom’”.

This activity did not go unnoticed. Articles starting in the 2000’s documented the connections between conservative think tanks and climate change deniers. Fossil fuel industry funding of these organizations has also been well documented including a Newsweek cover article in 2007. The NYT reported in 2015 that the oil companies have known their products caused climate change since the 70’s but continued to fund deniers – much like the tobacco industry.

The dramatic rightward shift of Republican politics in general, pretty much sealed the deal. It also started with Reagan’s election, and has continued unabated since. Climate change became one of the issues of difference between the increasingly conservative Republican party and the Democrats.

From Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com blog

From Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com blog

Here’s a good summary from an October article in the Guardian.

And it’s clear from the language the Republican Party leaders use that they view climate change not as a scientific or critical risk management issue, but rather as a Democrat issue. Thus, Republican leaders simply can’t accept the need to address climate change, because that would put the on the same side of an issue as Democrats.

Summary

An aggressive propaganda campaign waged by the fossil fuel industry and conservative think tanks has successfully positioned climate change as a political rather than a scientific topic in this country. The rightward shift in American politics provided climate change denial a constituency that it does not have anywhere else in the world. Climate change denial has become a matter of belief for many of those who make up the conservative base of the Republican Party. As a result, it is a litmus test along with supply side economics, evolution, and opposition to universal healthcare. In order to run for office in today’s Republican Party, you have to at least question, if not outright deny the science of climate change.

While it won’t change any conservative minds, in the next segment I’ll go through the six stages of denial for those who question climate change. This won’t touch on every objection that has been raised over the past 25 years of propaganda, but it does follow a fairly logical progression and will address the majority of denial views.

More Thoughts on Income Inequality

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

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.

Conservative Myths – Free Market

November 14th, 2015

One of the basic claims of conservatives and libertarians is that government intervention in capitalism distorts and ultimately inhibits the free market. More importantly, the implication is that the free market would somehow operate more efficiently if it were unfettered. Republicans have claimed among other things that an unfettered free market will cure poverty, solve global warming, reign in the growth of healthcare spending, and give everyone the opportunity to become wealthy.

So let’s dig into this myth as a precursor to a discussion about income inequality.

Markets, free or otherwise, are places where goods and services are bought and sold.

Markets require rules in order to operate. Sellers want to be assured that they are going to get paid. Buyers what to be assured that they get what they paid for.

eBay is a great example. They created their own market free from government regulation. It had anonymous buyers and sellers. Everything, at least in the beginning was priced based on competitive bidding. As long as there was more than one bidder, prices would always settle on what the real value of that product or service was at that particular point in time. Basic supply and demand. But even eBay had to have rules. They had to have a way to escrow payments to make sure that sellers got paid and buyers actually received what they paid for. They have to have a way to resolve disputes if products turned out to be misrepresented. They also had to protect sellers from unethical buyers who might want to blackmail sellers using bad reviews. eBay is as close to free market as you are going to get in this day and age, and they did it through consistent enforcement of a set of rules that were fair to both buyer and seller.

Government provides the rules that allow markets to operate in efficient and predictable ways. Those rules include contracts, bankruptcy, and fraud just to name a few. The notion that markets are somehow fettered by these rules is folly. In fact, it is very much the opposite as we will soon see.

This brings us to the next step in the myth of the free market. That is the notion that the marketplace is the fairest judge of the worth of both goods and labor. That might be the case if the markets were themselves fair, but if people cheat to gain an advantage it raises the real question of how fair that market is going to be.

Here are a few examples.

Insider Trading
Insider trading is taking unfair advantage of information that you may have that is not available to the rest of the market. The expectation of most people familiar with the term is that insider trading is illegal. The fact is, however, that CEO’s trading with their own stock are exempt from insider trading rules. Even worse, companies no longer have to disclose when they are trading in their own shares, whether that is buying back their own stock or when their senior executives exercise their options and then sell the stock. Rules put in place during the Clinton administration treat executive compensation that is performance-based (e.g. stock options) as tax exempt for the company. These rules have created a perfectly legal situation where a CEO can direct his company to buy back a sufficient number of their own shares to artificially drive up the price, and then sell off shares acquired through their executive compensation package before the stock has had a chance to fall back to the normal trading ranges. This is one of the ways that CEO’s of companies underperforming the stock market can still secure windfall profits for themselves. It is not illegal. But it is certainly cheating on the principle that compensation has anything to do with performance. What’s worse, it is not only cheating those who are investing in this company or its competitors. We tax payers are subsidizing these windfall profits that CEO’s enjoy because we make up the difference that their taxes would otherwise supply.

This is just one example of how large companies since roughly the 70’s have tilted their markets in their favor through manipulation of the rules governing the market. It is also an example of how tax rules put taxpayers in the position of redistributing pre-tax subsidies UPWARD in our economy.

Another example was the subject of a three part story in the NYT.

Contracts
That covers contracts. Companies large and small now include terms of use contracts in all of their online and many of their hard goods packaging. The same language is in many supply contracts as well. Those terms of use preclude the user from participating in a class action suit. Instead the consumer or trading partner agrees to arbitration. The problem is that the arbiters who hear these cases have a built in bias to find in favor of the company. That’s because those who find in favor of the customer quickly find that they fall off the list of arbiters acceptable to the corporations. The result has been that third party arbitrations end up being resolved in favor of the company most of the time. This gives companies wide leeway to behave in predatory ways without fear of consequences.

Here’s another.

Generic Drugs
It is perfectly legal in this country for large pharmaceutical companies to pay producers of low cost generic alternatives to delay producing those drugs. The result is that healthcare costs in this country are artificially inflated because only the higher priced proprietary drug is available. Worse yet, we are the only country in the world that allows this practice. So our drug prices are also the highest in the world. The annual additional cost that the insured and the government bear is estimated to be $3.5B/year. This is another direct subsidy to big pharma.

Cable Monopolies
We also pay more for Internet service that any other country in the world because we have given the cable companies, who dominate the market, a monopoly in most areas. 80% of cable subscribers in this country only have one choice. As a result cable costs 3x more in the US than Europe where consumers have up to 7 providers to choose from.

Big Banks
Too big to fail banks now control 44% of the loans in this country. They are able to offer lower interest rates on those loans than smaller competitors precisely BECAUSE the financial markets know our government will not allow these big banks to fail.

Bankruptcy Law
Similarly the rules for bankruptcy favor corporations and banks over individuals. Corporations can use bankruptcy to walk away from pension obligations or union contracts. Individuals cannot use bankruptcy to walk away from student loan debt.

Ivy League Schools
Because wealthy people get big tax breaks to contribute to private institutions of higher learning like the Ivy League Schools. They also secure the guarantee of enrollment at those institutions for their children through “legacy” preference. The problem is that those tax deductions constitute a government subsidy provided by the rest of us tax payers that is estimated at almost $60K a year per Ivy League student. The tax payer subsidies to state schools generated primarily through direct payments rather than tax deductions is about $6K per student. So we are not only contributing to the wealth of the 1% through the tax avoidance strategies of their companies, we are also paying to educate their kids who will learn how to expand this strategy for their benefit when they follow in their parents footsteps.

Summary
I could go on for quite a while, but I think that you are getting the point.

There is no such thing as a free market because those who control the market would prefer that it operate in ways that benefit big corporations and disadvantage competition and customers.

The result is a massive subsidy that consumers, small companies, and the government provide in the form of anti-competitive rules and regulations. This upward pre-tax distribution of money is why many corporations spend more money on lobbying than they do on R&D.

Our markets are rigged to benefit the powerful and wealthy. The powerful and wealthy are perfectly happy to perpetuate the myth that they earned their wealth because they were smarter and willing to work harder than everyone else. The data, however, suggest otherwise. It shows that corporations with highly paid executives generally underperformed the market and their competitors.

The real story is that a high percentage of the wealthy and powerful got there because they started out on the inside through the accident of birth, learned the game at the same schools their parents attended and supported, and figured out how to expand their unfair advantages when they had their turn at the wheel.

The reality is that if we were able to stem the tide of this massive upward redistribution of wealth, we wouldn’t need nearly the amount of post-tax redistribution to the working poor through transfer payments. We would be able to pay our bills because the existing tax system would be generating a lot more money. We would be able to fix our roads, educate our kids, and feed our hungry.

Instead we are supporting an oligarchy who claims that they deserve what they stole because the “free market” decided that they should have it. While they are promoting the myth of the free market, they are using their wealth to buy political influence. They use that political influence to warp market and tax rules in their favor.

They say publicly that “government is the problem”, but behind the scenes this government is working just fine for them. That’s because they are getting what they paid for.

Conservative Myths – Dependency

October 29th, 2015

The basic construct of democracy is that candidates campaign for votes. The candidate that gets the most votes wins the office.

Since this is a representative democracy, candidates try to give voters a sense of how they are going to behave if they get elected. This gives voters an opportunity to select those candidates that they feel would best represent them.

What has happened over the years is that this country has divided into two dominant parties. It would be convenient to say that conservatives are served by Republicans and liberals by Democrats, but that is a fairly recent development. The Republicans of Lincoln were the liberal party and the Democrats were the conservatives. The politics of race transformed the South into solid Democratic territory as the result of the white backlash to the civil war. The Democratic Party itself under FDR became significantly more liberal, but continued to hold its southern wing together by ignoring the plight of southern blacks. Kennedy and Johnson lead the legislative charge for civil rights in the 60’s. Racial politics caused another seismic shift during the 70’s when Nixon’s Southern Strategy embraced angry white men unhappy with Johnson’s civil rights activism. That strategy was expanded by Reagan who widened the Republican tent to include the evangelical vote that helped elect Carter.

The result is that we now have two parties that are pretty far apart ideologically. Both have their sets of beliefs. This particular post is going to look at some of the myths that are at the foundation of conservatism. There are likely some myths at the foundation of liberalism too. I’ll try to find some of those too.

Dependency
The myth is simple. Cash assistance for the poor prolongs their poverty. Reagan pledged to free the poor from the spider’s web of dependency by cutting their benefits. This allows those who believe in this myth to claim that eliminating benefits is really a compassionate act.

Fortunately there is no data to support this claim.

In fact, much to the contrary, cash assistance is common place in the rest of the world. 119 countries have at least one type of unconditional cash assistance. The US has none. In 52 additional countries the cash transfers require simple acts like enrolling your children in school. The only cash assistance available in this country is Temporary Aid to Needy Families. It has a huge bureaucracy whose sole role is to make sure that the aid is TEMPORARY.

MIT studied seven cash transfer programs in Central and South America and found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work”.

The World Bank 2014 report came to a similar conclusion regarding their cash assistance programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In this country, a UC Berkeley study found that welfare payments did not increase single motherhood.

Though welfare as we know it was eliminated by Bill Clinton in 1996, the claim that welfare produced generations of dependents also failed the fact check. 40% of welfare recipients were off welfare within two years. Two thirds were off welfare within 5 years.

What about benefits?
More cash welfare improves the longevity, educational attainment, nutritional health, and adult income of poor children.

How about the results of cutting welfare?
Initially it appeared to encourage a lot of people to get jobs. But as soon as the Clinton boom faded, so did the jobs. Whatever gains the poor made during that period now appear to be the result of a strong economy and the expanded earned income tax credit.

Zombie Politics
This is one of those ideas that simply won’t die. This myth is buried so deep in the conservative mind that facts really don’t matter.

Paul Ryan proposed eliminating the last remaining vestiges of federal assistance and replacing it with block grants to the states who impose tough work requirements on the beneficiaries.

Summary
There is no data suggesting that cash payments to the needy are abused.

There is no data suggesting that reducing payments somehow provides a greater incentive to work than poverty itself.

There is plenty of data that suggest that those who suffer most from poverty are those who have the least ability to change their condition – children. There is also data that shows investing in poor children produces adults that are less dependent on the government because they are healthier, better educated, and more likely to be tax payers.

So why do we persist in an idea that is both cruel and foolish?

Because conservatives are more afraid of someone getting something that they don’t deserve than they are of injuring someone who is innocent. As a result, those who represent conservatives have found that if they blame the poor for their condition, they get more votes than the candidates who suggest that welfare could be an effective strategy to combat poverty.

Hopefully the next generation will not be so short sighted and hard hearted.

The Empire Strikes Back

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.