Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Values breakdown

Tom Friedman, in the NY Times, on "We're No. 1(1)!"
We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.....

So much of today’s debate between the two parties.... “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”

...[I] would get excited about U.S. politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.

Who will tell the people? China and India have been catching up to America not only via cheap labor and currencies. They are catching us because they now have free markets like we do, education like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but, most importantly, values like our Greatest Generation had. That is, a willingness to postpone gratification, invest for the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations.
Emphasis mine.

Instead, we have a culture of entitlement, fanned by the rotors of helicopter parents, and an "I've got mine, screw you!" ethos encouraged by a putative Christian right wing. Is it reparable? i don't know. Increasingly, I don't see how. I come back to the US and am struck by our rampant homelessness, potholed streets, bankrupt states, crumbling public schools, and minor universities teaching remedial reading to uninterested teenagers. There is out-of-control religious bigotry fanned by one party, a political discourse that is no more than a shouting match between polarized center-right and far right voices, and heterosexist bias that deprives GLBT citizens of fundamental protections. I'm not seeing a shining city on a hill, but a crumbling vestige of a dying empire.

7 comments:

Fred Schwartz said...

IT,

When one looks at the country in its entirety, we are in a deep battle. Old white men, assisted by women intimidated by old white men, and ideologue young white men, are so threatened by the idea of a patchwork quilt of cultures rather than a dominant one that they will go to any length to put women back in their place, GLBT persons, back in the closet, minorities back in their countries and old white men back in power.

dr.primrose said...

As long as we're talking about depressing columns from the N.Y. Times, take a look at yesterday's column from Bob Herbert -- A Recovery's Long Odds.

Based on Robert Reich's new book "Aftershock," he argues that the purchasing power of the middle class has declined so significantly over the last 30 years that the expected consumer purchasing power that has been expected to get us out of the Great Recession simply isn't there.

"A male worker earning the median wage in 2007 earned less than the median wage, adjusted for inflation, of a male worker 30 years earlier. A typical son, in other words, is earning less than his dad did at the same age. A male worker earning the median wage in 2007 earned less than the median wage, adjusted for inflation, of a male worker 30 years earlier. A typical son, in other words, is earning less than his dad did at the same age."

Instead all of the growth has gone to the top:

"There was plenty of growth, but the economic benefits went overwhelmingly — and unfairly — to those already at the top. Mr. Reich cites the work of analysts who have tracked the increasing share of national income that has gone to the top 1 percent of earners since the 1970s, when their share was 8 percent to 9 percent. In the 1980s, it rose to 10 percent to 14 percent. In the late-'90s, it was 15 percent to 19 percent. In 2005, it passed 21 percent. By 2007, the last year for which complete data are available, the richest 1 percent were taking more than 23 percent of all income.

"The richest one-tenth of 1 percent, representing just 13,000 households, took in more than 11 percent of total income in 2007."

That's astounding -- one/one thousandth of the households in this country make over 10% of all income. And they pay taxes on this at a rate significantly less than the middle class.

As Warren Buffett famously said several years ago:

"Speaking at a $4,600-a-seat fundraiser in New York for Senator Hillary Clinton, Mr Buffett, who is worth an estimated $52 billion (£26 billion), said: 'The 400 of us [here] pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you’re in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.'

"Mr Buffett said that he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made last year, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent. Mr Buffett told his audience, which included John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley, and Alan Patricof, the founder of the US branch of Apax Partners, that US government policy had accentuated a disparity of wealth that hurt the economy by stifling opportunity and motivation."

Politics has increasingly become all about money. The moneyed fund the politicians and the politicians take care of the moneyed. It’s becoming a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. This does not bode well for the future of this country.

dr.primrose said...

As long as we're talking about depressing columns from the N.T. Times, take a look at yesterday's column from Bob Herbert -- A Recovery's Long Odds.

Based on Robert Reich's new book "Aftershock," he argues that the purchasing power of the middle class has declined so significantly over the last 30 years that the expected consumer purchasing power that has been expected to get us out of the Great Recession simply isn't there. "A male worker earning the median wage in 2007 earned less than the median wage, adjusted for inflation, of a male worker 30 years earlier. A typical son, in other words, is earning less than his dad did at the same age. A male worker earning the median wage in 2007 earned less than the median wage, adjusted for inflation, of a male worker 30 years earlier. A typical son, in other words, is earning less than his dad did at the same age."

Instead all of the growth has gone to the top:

"There was plenty of growth, but the economic benefits went overwhelmingly — and unfairly — to those already at the top. Mr. Reich cites the work of analysts who have tracked the increasing share of national income that has gone to the top 1 percent of earners since the 1970s, when their share was 8 percent to 9 percent. In the 1980s, it rose to 10 percent to 14 percent. In the late-'90s, it was 15 percent to 19 percent. In 2005, it passed 21 percent. By 2007, the last year for which complete data are available, the richest 1 percent were taking more than 23 percent of all income.

"The richest one-tenth of 1 percent, representing just 13,000 households, took in more than 11 percent of total income in 2007."

As Warren Buffet famously noted several years ago:

"Speaking at a $4,600-a-seat fundraiser in New York for Senator Hillary Clinton, Mr Buffett, who is worth an estimated $52 billion (£26 billion), said: 'The 400 of us [here] pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you're in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.'

"Mr Buffett said that he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made last year, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent. Mr Buffett told his audience, which included John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley, and Alan Patricof, the founder of the US branch of Apax Partners, that US government policy had accentuated a disparity of wealth that hurt the economy by stifling opportunity and motivation."

Politics has increasingly become all about money. The moneyed fund the politicians and the politicians take care of the moneyed. It's becoming a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

dr.primrose said...

As long as we're talking about depressing columns from the N.Y. Times, take a look at yesterday's column from Bob Herbert -- A Recovery's Long Odds.

Based on Robert Reich's new book "Aftershock," he argues that the purchasing power of the middle class has declined so significantly over the last 30 years that the expected consumer purchasing power that has been expected to get us out of the Great Recession simply isn't there.

"A male worker earning the median wage in 2007 earned less than the median wage, adjusted for inflation, of a male worker 30 years earlier. A typical son, in other words, is earning less than his dad did at the same age. A male worker earning the median wage in 2007 earned less than the median wage, adjusted for inflation, of a male worker 30 years earlier. A typical son, in other words, is earning less than his dad did at the same age."

Instead all of the growth has gone to the top:

"There was plenty of growth, but the economic benefits went overwhelmingly — and unfairly — to those already at the top. Mr. Reich cites the work of analysts who have tracked the increasing share of national income that has gone to the top 1 percent of earners since the 1970s, when their share was 8 percent to 9 percent. In the 1980s, it rose to 10 percent to 14 percent. In the late-'90s, it was 15 percent to 19 percent. In 2005, it passed 21 percent. By 2007, the last year for which complete data are available, the richest 1 percent were taking more than 23 percent of all income.

"The richest one-tenth of 1 percent, representing just 13,000 households, took in more than 11 percent of total income in 2007."

Much of this is taxed a very low rate. As Warren Buffet famously noted several years ago, he is taxed at lesser rate that his secretary -- he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made last year while his secretary was taxed at 30 per cent on a $60,000 salary.

Politics has increasingly become all about money. The moneyed fund the politicians and the politicians take care of the moneyed. It's becoming a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

IT said...

Becoming? Primrose, once the SCOTUS confirmed that corporations are people, it was all over. We are have returned to the days of economic oligarchy, the gilded age of unbridled wealth. And the irony is that the people have willingly done it to themselves.

Grandmère Mimi said...

And the irony is that the people have willingly done it to themselves.

Ain't that the truth? And apparently, a good many of the people seemed determined to make things even worse for themselves.

dr.primrose said...

Without putting to fine a point on it, the word I used was "become" not "becoming." :>) !!

Corporations have long been treated as "persons" for some purposes under the law but not for others. The real problem that the Citizens United case had, I think, was continuing the line of cases that treat giving money as "speech" protected by the First Amendment and then applying that First Amendment speech to corporations.

As Justice Stephens noted his dissent, the law has for a very long time treated corporations and real persons differently, particularly in the political context, and for good reason:

"The basic premise underlying the Court's ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker's identity, including its "identity" as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law. ... The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court's disposition of this case.

"In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races."

He concluded: "At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

This decision is judicial activism at its worst. As Stephens noted, the court reached beyond what was properly before it, decided questions that did not have to be decided, and rejected a hundred year's worth of precedent to get the result it wanted. This decision is not as horrific has Bush v. Gore, but it's pretty close.