Archive for Economy

Feb
01

The Monetization Of Human Beings

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David Simon on America as a Horror Show


We’ve changed and we’ve become contemptuous of the idea that we are all in this together. This is about sharing and about, you know, when you say sharing there’s a percentage of the population (and it’s the moneyed percent of our population), that hears socialism or communism or any of the other -isms they want to put on it. But ultimately we are all part of the same society. And it’s either going to be a mediocre society that, you know, abuses people or it’s not…

And that once they’re in that situation, they’re not only marginalized, they’re abused. I mean, we are the country that jails more of our population than any other state on the globe. More than totalitarian states we put people in prison. We’ve managed to monetize these irrelevant people in a way that allows some of us to get rich.

Now, we’re all paying for it as taxpayers for having this level of incarceration in American society which is unheard of in the world. But we let some people, you know, get a profit off of it. The monetization of human beings like that, you know, anybody tells you that the markets will solve everything, the libertarian ideal.

I can’t get past just how juvenile the thought is that if you just let the markets be the markets, they’ll solve everything.

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Jan
30

“What You’re Worth” To Them — Not Much

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The economic “Force” is one, harsh mistress. Peter Sith … uh, Schiff schools Samantha Bee and the “poors” in the ways of the Dark Side.

The Daily Show
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Dismalist nerds like Shiff should be playing with action figures instead of people’s lives.

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Compassion for America’s poor and the long-term unemployed is audibly absent among many of the well-to-do, their on-air groupies, and politicians who once upon a news cycle tried to rebrand themselves as compassionate conservatives. A caller to a progressive radio show this week asked when heartlessness became fashionable in America.

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Dec
19

Crushing NC’s Unemployed

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As states cut back on unemployment for the long-term unemployed, North Carolina leads the way. From Bloomberg’s opinion section:

Across the country, the unemployed will lose from 14 to 47 weeks of insurance when the extension ends. Five other states will join North Carolina in providing fewer than 26 weeks of payments — the standard in the U.S until this year. What’s happened in North Carolina since July is an indication of what will happen nationwide. The picture is troubling.

The federal extension expires on January 1, 2014. North Carolina got a head start last summer when it cut the maximum benefit length and reduced the payments.

As intended, presumably, the number of North Carolinians receiving unemployment benefits has collapsed. It’s down by 45,000, or 40 percent, since last year. Expiring benefits aren’t the only reason for this. Far fewer are filing a claim in the first place. Initial claims are running at about half last year’s rate. Unemployment insurance is a thinner safety net than it has been in decades.

In addition, North Carolina’s labor force began to shrink. The state is experiencing the largest labor-force contraction it’s ever seen –77,000 fewer people were working or searching for work this October than a year ago. This should, but won’t, settle a partisan debate. Cutting unemployment insurance apparently hasn’t encouraged the unemployed to look harder for work: It has caused them to drop out of the labor force altogether. [Emphasis mine.]

That’s understandable, in part because nationwide there were still three job seekers per job as of May.

Food pantries are stretched, becoming, as Alan Briggs, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Food Bank suggested, “the safety net of the safety net.”

Please help out your local food banks this season. Decision after decision by the legislature in Raleigh seems aimed at worsening the situation for struggling North Carolinians.

Merry Christmas.

Dec
16

Picketing Art Pope’s Stores

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Art Pope has protesters picketing his Variety Wholesaler stores across North Carolina. Yesterday, protesters picketed one of his Roses stores in Weaverville, NC. The Institute for Southern Studies explains,

An informational picket campaign focused on Maxway, Roses and other stores owned by Republican donor Art Pope is attracting new followers and generating fresh scrutiny of Pope’s political network in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, Art Pope’s rise as a conservative political kingmaker — including his appointment this year as Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director — was fueled in large part with money from his business Variety Wholesalers, a retail chain and the owner of Maxway, Roses and other dollar-type stores.

Part of the NC NAACP and Forward Together Movement, the AFL-CIO announcement for the event stated that protesters would “hand out information on Budget Director and Roses-owner Art Pope and the extremist and regressive Legislative policies he supports. These policies hurt the very people who franchise his stores and supply a large share of his income.” Millions of dollars of Pope money, allowed by the Citizens United decision, appeared as campaign attack ads aimed at unseating Democrats across the state in 2010, and helped Republicans take over both houses of the state legislature.

After a week of protests, Pope responded to NAACP President Rev. William Barber, writing, “I am shocked that you and your allies would demand any public official to support your political positions, by threatening a business which is not part of state government.”

A self-described believer in “public-choice theory” and promoter of free-market economics, Pope is finding out what it’s like to face having an informed public choose to shop elsewhere. In a free Market, customers will punish a businessman who is corrupt, unethical, or not responsive to consumer demands. It’s all fun and games until you’re that businessman, isn’t it Art?

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Pope Francis last week issued Evangelii Gaudium, or Joy of the Gospel, an “apostolic exhortation.” Less than an encyclical on church doctrine, Evangelii Gaudium nonetheless stamps papal authority across Francis’ recent speeches. The National Catholic Reporter likened it to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

For conservative pundits it’s more of a nightmare:

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. [54]

Commenters looking for moral wiggle room at Free Republic debated the accuracy of the translation — not of the whole document, just the passage above. A National Review critic argued that nobody said markets were sufficient to bring down poverty. Still, people working sweat shop jobs in developing nations are less impoverished. Those who lost jobs in this hemisphere? Well, those are the breaks.

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Wisconsin and Minnesota provide a nice side-by-side comparison of Republican and Democratic economic policies in action. They’re next door to each other and share similar demographics.

Three years into [GOP Gov. Scott] Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth. Mr. Walker’s defenders blame the higher spending and taxes of his Democratic predecessor for these disappointments, but according to Forbes’s annual list of best states for business, Wisconsin continues to rank in the bottom half.

Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business. Republicans deserve some of the credit, particularly for their commitment to education reform. They also argue that Minnesota’s new growth stems from the low taxes and reduced spending under Mr. Dayton’s Republican predecessor, [GOP Gov. Tim] Pawlenty. But Minnesota’s job growth was subpar during Mr. Pawlenty’s eight-year tenure and recovered only under [Democratic Gov. Mark] Dayton.

It is a little early to assess NC Gov. Pat McCrory. In spite of McCrory’s and the NCGOP’s refrain that the state is “broken” owing to one hundred years of Democratic dominance, North Caroilna consistently ranks as one of the top ten best states to do business. But it has lost ground since last year on one survery, falling from first place to second behind Georgia. This, of course, leaves McCrory with not much of anywhere to go except down.

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Nov
26

A Vicious Set of Assumptions

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“America’s descending into madness,” writes Henry Giroux in his latest book. The author appeared on Bill Moyer’s program Friday as the nation observed the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Since the Reagan-Thatcher era, Kennedy’s calls to public service and national aspiration have been systematically supplanted with an ethos of radical self-interest and tawdry appeals to men’s basest instincts. It is a world, Giroux asserts, in which elites consider that “survival of the fittest is all that matters” and that “democracy is an excess.” Giroux is appalled.

… the notion that profit making is the essence of democracy, the notion that economics is divorced from ethics, the notion that the only obligation of citizenship is consumerism, the notion that the welfare state is a pathology, that any form of dependency basically is disreputable and needs to be attacked, I mean, this is a vicious set of assumptions.

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Nov
04

“The High Cost of Low Taxes”

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Over at BillMoyers.com, Joshua Holland started a series last week about the hidden costs of the push for lower taxes. Holland notes that compared to European countries, “we pay a hugely disproportionate share of the costs out-of-pocket*, through the private sector. And when things go badly – when misfortune hits — the safety net that we fall back on is truly pathetic in comparison. Call it the great American rip-off.” (Holland is using “out-of-pocket” to include all private-sector social spending.)

Holland’s “The High Cost of Low Taxes” mentions the experience of Asheville local, Leslie Boyd, whose son, Mike, died of complications from untreated cancer. Mike couldn’t get insurance at any price in the “free market.”

While the United States ranks third from the bottom in total taxation among OECD countries in 2010, “it’s almost a wash when you add back what we spend out-of-pocket.” And what we get for it is much worse.

At Campaign for America’s Future, R.J. Eskow observes,

Conservatives like to complain about politicians who promise too much. But when politicians claim that Americans can pay less in taxes, spend less on government, and sacrifice nothing in the way of services, that may be the biggest scam of all.

Holland’s series continues in “How Private-Sector Health Costs Are Killing the American Dream.”

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Oct
10

Treasury Truthers

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StewartFoxNewsDenialism is the go-to strategy for Republicans these days. If you confront a problem where facts are not on your side, simply deny the facts. Examples abound but one of my favorites was UnSkewedPolls.com. Polls showing President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney had to be wrong, or skewed. So Dean Chambers did some “analysis” and came up with a different set of “facts”. On Election night, the shock and awe on Republican faces including the candidate himself told the story of just how many people believed the “un”skewed polls.

Recent events have the Republicans butting up against a fact they just can’t live with. If we don’t fund the government and let it borrow more money we will be unable to pay our obligations which will trigger a default. This will have a chilling effect in world capital markets and would probably plunge us into a recession worse than the one we just went through. But none of this is a problem if you just don’t believe it’s true. Until it is true. President Romney can tell you how it works.

Now we have the Treasury Truthers.

Representative Justin Amash, R-Michigan:

“There’s always revenue coming into the Treasury, certainly enough revenue to pay interest,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. “Democrats have a different definition of ‘default’ than what we understand it to be. What I hear from them is, ‘If you’re not paying everything on time that’s a default.’ And that’s not the traditionally understood definition.”

Representative Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina:

“We’re not going to default; there is no default,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. “There’s an [Office of Management and Budget] directive from the 1980s, the last time we got fairly close to not raising the debt ceiling, that clearly lays out the process by which the Treasury secretary prioritizes interest payments. Tim Geithner understood that, because the last weekend in July of 2011 he was in New York City telling the primary dealers that we were not going to default on our debt.”

Representative Joe Barton, R-Texas

“I’m not going to vote for the so-called clean debt ceiling where we just give the president a blank check. I will not vote for that.”

“So, we are not going to default on the public debt. But that doesn’t mean that we have to pay every bill the day it comes in.”

Representative David Schweikert, R-Arizona

“I will hear language like, ‘Well, we are heading toward the debt ceiling and you are going to default.’ Anyone that says that is looking you in the eyes and lying to you, either that or they don’t own a calculator,” Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., said in a House debate Friday.

Representative Steve King, R-Arkansas

“I don’t think the credit of the United States is going to be collapsed. I think that all this talk about a default has been a lot of… false demagoguery. We have plenty of money coming in to service the debt.”

Representative Ted Yoho, R-Florida:

“I think, personally, [not raising the debt ceiling] would bring stability to the world markets.”

The Barton quote is unsurprisingly a double whammy. Raising the debt limit doesn’t give the President a blank check. Instead it allows the government to operate at the level authorized by Congress. Of course, this is from the guy who apologized to BP after the Gulf spill.

Matt Yglesias makes a good point.

Stepping back a little, I’d also note that House Republicans can’t have it both ways here. Either the debt ceiling is a major leverage point to extract concessions from the president, or else it’s no big deal. If it’s no big deal, there’s no leverage. If there’s leverage, then it’s because failing to raise the debt ceiling would be very damaging.

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