Media, Politics, Progressivism, Washington Post

3 Quick Things

1) The Washington Post reports that prices are rising faster than wages at the moment…

The resulting rise in prices likely reflects a long-term trend, separate from the routine ups and downs that are traditional for oil and other commodities. That, in turn, means that prices could be rising faster than Americans’ incomes for some time to come.

You know the punchline: this is going to squeeze the hell out of the American middle-class, to say nothing of the poor. What I want to know: given that middle-class wages and purchasing power have been stagnating for over thirty years, why not at least bring that up in the story? In fact, why not do a WHOLE story on that? Why not do one every week until someone starts paying attention? We’re defending tax cuts for billionaire plutocrats while the middle class’ wages stay stagnant for thirty years? While protecting these historically-low tax rates, we’re moaning about getting our fiscal house in order? Are you out of your mind? Has the whole world gone crazy?!?

Man, I’m NOT a socialist, but sometimes I wonder if I should be.

2) Paul Krugman had a great piece on climate change (and the people who would deny its existence) in the April 3 New York Times. See, congressional Republicans held hearings on climate change, and they asked a bunch of layman to come and comment on the science behind it. They DID deign to ask a few climate-skeptic scientists, though, and one of them went rogue, admitting that the warming we’re seeing is real and man-made. It’s worth a read, if only for the great line at the end (from Upton Sinclair):

It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

3) Happy Birthday, Thomas Hobbes! Thanks for helping to found Modernity. No one I know has ever had—let alone died from—cholera. My individual choices are largely my own business. Natural law gets little purchase in modern politics. I LOVE it. Modernity>Classical World. (Hat tip: MLC)

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13 thoughts on “3 Quick Things

  1. I wonder if you are able to briefly explain why you’re not a socialist. I wrestle with that issue a lot– and I normally end up putting myself in some sort of hybrid camp. I think that market forces can often be very creative and can help us solve problems. They can be used to achieve social goals. But I also think that capitalism is fundamentally unable to address many of our most severe problems. And a lot of the “market-based solutions” we see out there are really begging the fundamental questions. Capitalistic methods for addressing climate change, for example, seem seriously flawed. Ditto capitalistic solutions to environmental degradation.

    The pursuit of profit can be creative, but lately it seems to be doing a lot more to create human misery than to improve the human condition.

    Posted by Bill | April 5, 2011, 9:00 am
    • Not sure I can explain it briefly…but here are a few thoughts:

      I’m allergic to entitlement. Ex: I’m opposed to extending the age that a child can stay on his/her parents’ health care. Most mammals are self-sufficient within a year or so. If by 26, my kid can’t take care of his/her own health care needs, I sort of want them to face the consequences on his/her own.

      Another way of putting this: In my own, private life, I’m a pretty crotchety conservative. I am fairly tolerant of the behavior of anyone not named Conor Williams. This sneaks into my politics as a bias towards personal responsibility/individualism/etc.

      None of this means that I don’t believe in a social welfare safety net, or environmental regulations…it just means that I’m not dispositionally on board with a socialist approach to political life.

      P.S.-Also: D.C. living is a good cure for socialist leanings, of course. High taxes + comedic corruption + governing ineptitude = decreasing faith in government.

      P.P.S.-Watching the federal government up-close also really challenges any socialist leanings of mine.

      Posted by CPW | April 5, 2011, 9:34 am
      • Corruption is certainly a problem at many levels of government, but one could counter by saying that unchecked corporate capitalist control of the economy and the government is an inherently corrupt situation. And I agree that personal responsibility is important, but I don’t think that socialism, especially if adopted in a hybrid fashion, amounts to any wholesale shift away from personal responsibility. Rather, increased socialization of certain sectors of society could be a way to ensure that those who ARE responsible are guaranteed a comfortable existence, while penalties remain for those who don’t contribute according to their abilities. Because as it is now, a person may work three jobs and still not make enough money to provide for their family.

        Posted by Bill | April 5, 2011, 9:49 am
        • Sure. I agree with you on everything you’ve written, but a lot hangs on your rhetoric: “a wholesale shift away from personal responsibility.” As you know, I didn’t say or suggest that socialism is anything of the sort. I just explained that I dispositionally lean towards individualism. As I noted before, this doesn’t preclude me from sharing some policy preferences with socialists (including regulations on corporate malfeasance). It just means that I’m not a socialist.

          Posted by CPW | April 5, 2011, 9:58 am
  2. “I’m allergic to entitlement. Ex: I’m opposed to extending the age that a child can stay on his/her parents’ health care. Most mammals are self-sufficient within a year or so. If by 26, my kid can’t take care of his/her own health care needs, I sort of want them to face the consequences on his/her own. ”

    So you support the Ryan budget, then? My feeling is that if senior citizens can’t support themselves, we should just impanel a death squad and be done with it. But I think it’s odd that the entitlement that enrages you is more the 26-year-old who (like almost all 26-year-olds I know) finds it difficult to afford health care and less the 26-year-old who stands to, say, inherit his class standing, education, and wealth completely unearned.

    Perhaps you need to take a trip to such distant, foreign lands as Canada, France, or even California ca. 1970.

    Posted by PM | April 5, 2011, 10:01 am
    • This is an interesting exercise in hyperbole. I write:

      “If by 26, my kid can’t take care of his/her own health care needs, I sort of want them to face the consequences on his/her own.”

      You call this “enragement.” You also claim that this very mild line about my own hypothetical kid implies that I don’t care about upper-class wealth transfer, educational inequity, etc. Given that I said nothing about that here—though I’ve repeatedly argued the opposite elsewhere on this site, in the Washington Post, etc—that’s a pretty strained assumption.

      Try harder. Troll better.

      Posted by CPW | April 5, 2011, 10:06 am
    • I mean, if you’re looking for rage, it seems like #1 in the post that spawned these comments is considerably more agitated than my “sort of want them to” formulation in the comments. Did you read the post? Couldn’t be bothered?

      Posted by CPW | April 5, 2011, 10:07 am
      • I did read the post. And the columns for the Post. And (much of) your autobiography. And, yes, this was an exercise in hyperbole–or, as I think we call it in Latin, “reductio ad absurdum.”

        But what angers me here about what you have written is the fact that you chose to go after the 26-year-old who needs health insurance, not the 26-year-old heir. To term a modest extension of the welfare state in what was a poor compromise forced by the structural deficiencies of the American government an (implicitly illegitimate) “entitlement” that is an example of “socialism” is to accept a troubling frame of what’s wrong with society and of the presumptive legitimacy of government actions.

        Your initial post stated that you weren’t a socialist, but maybe you ought to be. Well, I know I’m not a socialist, but even as an FDR-style “liberal” I’m distinctly okay with a level of state intervention that would make a nineteenth-century capitalist see the specter of Communism.

        And, in a way, that is exactly the question: What DO you think should be the proper role of government in bringing about greater societal equality? Being glib about the failings of the state, as Bill reminds you, supra, is not an argument; it is rather a call to theorizing about why the American state (especially at a local level) is SO BAD at delivering services honestly. And that theory, we hope, would deliver levers for action. But dismissing the possibility of effective state action on what (in this thread) amounts to little more than anecdotal evidence disregards pretty much all that we know about the state, about the structures that generate inequality, and about the way to treat those ills.

        Posted by PM | April 5, 2011, 11:05 am
        • Again, this seems to overextend my position considerably. I spend plenty of rhetoric above on the privilege of wealth/iniquity of attention in the US. When answering “Why I’m Not a Socialist,” I speak cautiously and to my personal biases. This appears to be the fundamental misunderstanding in this thread: I’m just explaining why I look to standard American progressivism/liberalism to address inequality instead of socialism. I’m not providing a wholesale, unified argument for solutions.

          Also, anecdotally and empirically-driven skepticism about bureaucratic efficacy is a perfectly fair politically position. We could dive into evidence of the inefficiencies here, but I think it’s fair to just gesture to them, no? After all, I’m only justifying my reticence to accepting a particular ideological label, not explaining how we might solve all of these problems. For that, again, you might consider looking to my broader oeuvre…and stay tuned for a while, because that won’t happen overnight.

          Posted by CPW | April 5, 2011, 12:12 pm
  3. The declining state of the middle class ever since St. Reagan (blessed is he among presidents, blessed is the fruit of his trickle down economics) is perhaps the most important fact liberals should be leading with when beginning any policy argument.

    Everyday folk need to understand why their accounts are overdrawn, their credit cards are maxed, and their kids are being crushed by college loans. While it’s true that personal responsibility and financial education could alleviate at least the first two issues, I submit that if middle class wages had been keeping up over the last thirty years people would not be dealing with these issues the way they are right now. It also would have probably been orders of magnitude more difficult to sell ridiculous exploding rate mortgages and NINJA loans.

    The Point?: The strength and vitality of the poor and middle class should be the first, second, and third highest priority when judging the efficacy of any economic policy as apposed to the stock market, GDP, or any other current productivity metric.

    (P.S. – As always, loved the Krugman piece.)

    Posted by Mitch | April 5, 2011, 11:06 am
    • Excellent points. You final paragraph echoes MLK, and RFK to a certain extent on how GDP privileges certain kinds of indicators and ignores other indicators that might actually say a lot more about how happy and healthy a society is.

      One other point I would add is that the poor and middle class also face a significant challenge in the current state of materialism/consumptionism that is driven by profit-seeking behavior (here’s my capitalism skepticism again). Companies often include planned obsolescence and other hidden costs in the goods and services they offer to consumers– and often consumers have no better alternatives, or information about alternatives is kept from them. I guess I’m saying that consumers’ rights efforts should be made a priority going forward, as well as corporate openness and accountability.

      Posted by Bill | April 5, 2011, 12:29 pm
    • A question: If Reagan is a saint, who is the GOP’s “economic” christ? Is it Adam Smith? There is probably a funny analogy here if we work at it. Smith could be the Holy Father. Hayek could be Christ, and um, William F. Buckley could be the Holy Spirit?

      My friend PM (who has been giving me such a hard time in this thread), has a thoughtful post on Reagan here.

      Posted by CPW | April 5, 2011, 3:14 pm


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