Saturday, January 07, 2012

The End of Empire-- Economist David Korten And Progressive Candidate Ken Aden


Another book that's been absolutely invaluable to me this past year was David Korten's Agenda for a New Economy. It helps me keep current economic events in historical context and part of a meaningful and hopeful narrative. Korten sees the current economic and political dominance of Wall Street as perhaps the last gasp of empire. He calls for a serious makeover of the entire economy, one that services the greater good of mankind, not just the tiny percentage (actually far less than one percent) that owns nearly everything and has the system rigged to perpetuate itself.
We have for too long put up with an economic system designed to make money for rich people and maintain them in a condition of obscene excess by confining billions to lives of desperation and reducing Earth to a toxic waste dump. We can do better.

...In an earlier time, rulers were kings and emperors. Now they are corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers. Wall Street is Empire's most recent stage, and hopefully the last, in this tragic drama. Five thousand years is enough.

This week Romney accused President Obama of favoring an "entitlement society"-- yet he seems to consider himself and his bracket entitled to taxation at half the rate imposed on the middle class. That's the kind of thing Korten was talking about when he wrote how the wealthiest among us feel they have the right to "maintain them[selves] in a condition of obscene excess." That's the entire basis of the Romney tax plan.
Individuals in the top 0.1 percent, or those making over $2.8 million, would get an income tax cut of nearly half a million dollars.

Individuals in the top one percent, or those making over $629,000, would get a cut of over $80,000.

...If Romney’s tax plans pass, in 2015, they would add $180 billion to the deficit-- on top of the $400 billion cost of extending the Bush tax cuts-- for a total deficit explosion of nearly $600 billion. And over 10 years, it would be roughly 10 times that.
Ezra Klein looked at it as well and came to similar conclusions: "Compared to current rates, Romney’s plan would cost a family in the bottom 20 percent $157 and save a family in the top 1 percent $82,000. That looks pretty tilted toward the rich."

Perry's and Gingrich's plans are even more slanted against ordinary working families and toward the richest people. Coincidentally, the NY Times ran an interesting feature the same day on the ossification of the American class structure, now the worst in the developed world, Harder for Americans to Rise From Lower Rungs.
Benjamin Franklin did it. Henry Ford did it. And American life is built on the faith that others can do it, too: rise from humble origins to economic heights. “Movin’ on up,” George Jefferson-style, is not only a sitcom song but a civil religion.

But many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe. The mobility gap has been widely discussed in academic circles, but a sour season of mass unemployment and street protests has moved the discussion toward center stage.

...“It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.”

One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.

At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations. A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent)-- a country famous for its class constraints.

Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes.

Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.

By emphasizing the influence of family background, the studies not only challenge American identity but speak to the debate about inequality. While liberals often complain that the United States has unusually large income gaps, many conservatives have argued that the system is fair because mobility is especially high, too: everyone can climb the ladder. Now the evidence suggests that America is not only less equal, but also less mobile.

...The causes of America’s mobility problem are a topic of dispute-- starting with the debates over poverty. The United States maintains a thinner safety net than other rich countries, leaving more children vulnerable to debilitating hardships.

Poor Americans are also more likely than foreign peers to grow up with single mothers. That places them at an elevated risk of experiencing poverty and related problems, a point frequently made by Mr. Santorum, who surged into contention in the Iowa caucuses. The United States also has uniquely high incarceration rates, and a longer history of racial stratification than its peers.

“The bottom fifth in the U.S. looks very different from the bottom fifth in other countries,” said Scott Winship, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, who wrote the article for National Review. “Poor Americans have to work their way up from a lower floor.”

A second distinguishing American trait is the pay tilt toward educated workers. While in theory that could help poor children rise-- good learners can become high earners-- more often it favors the children of the educated and affluent, who have access to better schools and arrive in them more prepared to learn.

“Upper-income families can invest more in their children’s education and they may have a better understanding of what it takes to get a good education,” said Eric Wanner, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, which gives grants to social scientists.

The United States is also less unionized than many of its peers, which may lower wages among the least skilled, and has public health problems, like obesity and diabetes, which can limit education and employment.

Perhaps another brake on American mobility is the sheer magnitude of the gaps between rich and the rest-- the theme of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which emphasize the power of the privileged to protect their interests. Countries with less equality generally have less mobility.

This week at Counterpunch Mike Lofgren asks the very relevant question, Have the Super-Rich Seceded from the United States? He wasn't talking about secession in terms of physical withdrawal from the territory of the country, although that happens occasionally. "It means," he writes, "a withdrawal into enclaves, a sort of internal immigration, whereby the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well-being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension-- and viable public transportation doesn’t even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call, who cares about Medicare?" To have these people in Congress, let alone dominating Congress, is a death senteence for the interests of the 99%.

The Kennedys have served America far better than any other wealthy dynasty in our lifetimes, and I have no reason to think Joseph Kennedy III is anything but a fine fellow, but I wasn't one of those doing a jig Thursday when he announced he plans to run for the Massachusetts seat being vacated by Barney Frank. Don't we have enough millionaires in Congress? Something like half the Members are millionaires. Even the right-wing faux-populist movement, the Tea Party, is represented by a pack of millionaires.
While the median average net worth in the U.S. House of Representatives was $755,000 in 2010, the comparable figure for the House Tea Party Caucus’ 60 members was $1.8 million, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The caucus-- known for its populist politics-- has 33 millionaires, including six members who are worth more than $20 million, the center found.

By comparison, the House Progressive Caucus’ 73 members reported a median average net worth of $639,500. Twenty-four members of the progressive caucus are millionaires.

A Fred Upton, the Michigan plutocrat and heir of the notorious jobs-offshoring bandits Whirlpool, will never have a clue about how 99% of Americans live. Neither will John Kerry. We need to start electing more teachers and other ordinary working Americans to Congress. You may have noticed over the years that we have a great deal of animus towards the DCCC. That is in part because they always favor wealthy candidates over working-class candidates. The DCCC would rather persuade a rich Republican to switch parties and run as a Democrat than back a blue-collar true-blue Democrat.

There are no hereditary millionaires among the Blue America endorsements. Our Senate page has exactly three candidates, all from modest backgrounds. And our House list is made up exclusively of men and women proud of their working-class backgrounds. Don't expect to see any Kennedys on that list, or anyone else whose parents can cover the campaign with a personal check.

Instead, you'll find a guy like Ken Aden. Actually, you'll find Ken Aden. If Ken goes to Congress to represent northwest Arkansas, you'll never have to worry about him compromising away Social Security or Medicare or anything that harms working Americans. Ken's from a working-class background, and he's an 11-year combat veteran who saw active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's nothing like incumbent Steve Womack, an aloof, self-entitled one percenter, whose family (conveniently) owns a bunch of radio stations.

Folks who attended a Womack town hall meeting Wednesday got a firsthand experience of what it's like being "represented" by a self-entitled one percenter, a kind of junior Mitt Romney. Womack doesn't like being questioned by a lowly constituent. He blew his top publicly, as Blue Arkansas reported Thursday. Kelly Eubanks, a Fayetteville resident who works two jobs to support her two children and is finishing a degree at the University of Arkansas, went to Womack's town hall meeting to find out why her congressman voted to cut the Pell Grants but defends oil subsidies for the most profitable corporations in the history of mankind. Womack's reaction is typical of what happens when, as Blue Arkansas put it, "the schoolyard bully grows up and gets elected to something."
According to Kelley and a handful of other witnesses, Womack happily retorted that it wasn’t the federal government’s job to pay for education (he’s doing this in a college town mind you) and then quickly added that he paid for his education by joining the military, apparently suggesting that the mom of two do the same and totally oblivious I guess to the fact that it was, in fact, the federal government that paid for his education then. Well Womack tried to skirt the rest of Ms. Eubanks question and she proceeded to try and get him to address the discrepancy she pointed out. Well at this point, according to Kelly and several other people that were in the room, Womack blew a gasket.

"He skirted the rest of my question and I called him out on it... he ended up getting pissed off... and screaming at me... 'are you going to be quiet and listen'?”

According to Kelly, some of his aides came up and tried to get the mic from her, but she held her ground and kept her cool, insisting her congressman answer her question. Following being shouted at by Womack and told to “be quiet and listen” like a good little girl, Kelly had to put up with some of the usual Rethuglican sleaze telling her to get a job, even after she told them she had two. (They’ve continued this on Womack’s facebook page.) What’s more, according to Kelly, Womack’s constituent service representative, Pam Forester, cornered her and according to Kelly got right in her face to inform her that if she wanted to talk with the Congressman again she needed to go through her and set up an appointment.

Aden didn't seem surprised by Womack's arrogance, and says screaming at constituents is --
symptomatic of the obstructionist Republican Congress... Womack's display of unbridled arrogance is beyond the pale. Why anyone would behave this way toward a constituent, much less a mother working her way through school by working two jobs, is unbelievable... This is arrogance and pretentiousness run amok. Congressman Womack needs to publicly apologize to Ms. Eubanks and everyone in his district for treating a constituent this way. A member of Congress should be above this kind of behavior. I'd expect something like this from a defendant on Judge Judy, but not from our Member of Congress... Womack, like his radical, Tea Party colleagues that want to shut down the government, kill tax relief to the middle class, and ensure that corporations continue to get the biggest tax exemptions in American history while exporting our jobs overseas, has lost sight of the fact that he was elected to represent the people and hear their concerns.

More like Ken Aden, fewer like Steve Womack? You can help here. Ken's just $115 away from our first goal for him.

Labels: , , , ,


At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent article. It gave me something to think about as I drank my coffee this morning. I know that by electing Ken Aden to Congress, what will emerge from the Fall, will be a more human world. I saw Ken Aden's opponent at his "Listen To Me" Town Hall in Fayetteville arrogantly putting down all his constituents and their questions.

Ken Aden is going to be such a great Congressman. He makes me proud of living in the 3rd District of Arkansas. He belies the stereotypical redneck image of our state with his intelligence, sensitivity and strength of character.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Prison Slavery said...

Shared on Facebook, and thanks...

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is it that you think that someone without much money won't be corrupted? By your way of thinking you would have supported LBJ who was born dirt poor and died very rich only because of his corruption by political friends but would have shot down FDR who was born rich and became the best president this country has yet seen. Character matters more than wealth.

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Ranger Leading the Way said...

Please help Ken Aden with his campaign. We need him in Congress!!


Post a Comment

<< Home