MSNBC w/ Cenk: Reich – Middle Class & Wages

This video reminded me of why it doesn’t help the economy to give tax cuts to the rich and generally increase the wealth of rich while leaving behind everyone who isn’t part of the ruling elite. From just an economic perspective, there are three problems:

1) Increasing the wealth of the wealthy doesn’t necessarily increase investment. At some point, a person becomes so wealthy that further wealth becomes meaningless. This leads the super rich to gamble with their excess wealth which was one of the contributing factors to our recent economic crash. Financial gambling doesn’t make for a stable economy nor does it have any social value. So, if the government genuinely wants an economy that grows with stability rather than constantly crashing, they should create regulation and taxation that helps decrease wealth disparity so that excess wealth isn’t concentrated at the very top.

2) Most new jobs are created by small businesses, but the tax cuts for the rich mostly only help big businesses. Also, the bailouts help Wall Street while leaving Main Street to suffer. Why help the rich who helped break the economy while sacrificing the working and middle classes which are simply trying to get by? A lot of the working and middle class was in debt for the reason that wages were stagnating even as the rich were getting richer. So, if the government genuinely wants to stimulate job growth, they should ensure that wages grow as the economy grows and they should give bailouts to small businesses while breaking up corporations that are too big to fail.

3) Even ignoring all that, giving more wealth to the wealthy doesn’t stimulate the economy for some simple reasons. Assuming they don’t gamble it, the other choice the rich could do with excess wealth is simply to put it into savings. The middle and working classes, however, will spend any extra money they have which invests back into the economy. For good or ill, the US economy is based on consumerism and consumerism is based on working and middle classes that have money to spend. Let me explain why. A rich person spends several hundred or even several thousand on a pair of shoes. For the same amount of money, hundreds of working and middle class people could buy shoes. The purchase of hundreds of shoes stimulates the economy more than buying one pair of shoes even if it’s the same amount of money. So, if government genuinely wants to stimulate the economy, they should give tax cuts to the working and middle classes.

All of this assumes that those in power actually care about the economy as a whole and actually care about the average American. I suspect that this is a false assumption. It’s hard for me to believe that after all these decades intelligent people (including Democrats like Obama apparently) think that trickle down economics actually works. I think these people know that it just makes the rich richer. That is why they do what they do. Politicians are of the rich and have campaigns funded by the rich. Why would they help the lower classes? So, what if the economy collapses? The rich will always maintain their wealth. If the country gets bad enough, they’ll just move to a pleasant tropical island and take their wealth with them.

Here is another video that relates, but it’s from more of a libertarian perspective:

The author interviewed, Thomas E. Woods Jr, is criticizing the US military-industrial complex. Besides the moral argument, he mentions that military is not a very good investment. When we invest in military that is less that can be invested in other things such as education or infrastructure. Also, funding goes to defense research which uses up public tax money and wastes the most brilliant minds on discovering more efficient ways to kill people. Those same dollars and those same brilliant minds could be used for research to cure cancer or research into alternative energy.

Once again, the only people who benefit from the military-industrial complex are the defense contractors and the wealthy investors in these companies. Certainly, the average American who pays for these wars and dies in these wars aren’t benefiting. The only reason we have any interest in the Middle East in the first place is because of the oil that is there and those most interested in that oil is of course the big oil companies seeking profit from a dwindling resurce.

There were some comments below that last video which gave me some hope. Here is one from a user going by the name capitalist4life:

“I am a recovering neocon. I was converted through Dr. Paul’s gentle suggestion that our foreign entanglements may cause some foreigners to want to kill us. I found that reasonable and I became more anti-war as I saw Hannity and Limbaugh vicously attack that reasonable idea. The one thing that didn’t convince me was strong anti-war rhetoric. I had to be eased into it. Just keep that in mind. Don’t be aggressive and extreme. Gently ease our “conservative” friends into the anti-war way of thinking.”

But let me end with a different quote. One of the last truly moral Republican leaders was Dwight D. Eisenhower who, of course, is famous for warning about the military-industrial complex. He was far from being a pacifist liberal and for that reason his words are all that more important. He seemed to genuinely believe that politicians should serve all Americans and not just the wealthy. Here is what he said in a 1953 speech:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

MSNBC w/ Cenk: Fiery Debate On Social Security

This is the best interview I’ve seen in a long time. I really dislike yelling, but sadly politicians like this will always lie unless the truth is forced out of them. Cenk Uygur is one of the few people in the mainstream media who will ask the hard questions and demand real answers.

And Cenk’s further thoughts on social security:

Toward A Truly Free Market w/ Author John Medaille

How can rightwingers (whether libertarians, objectivists, or social conservatives) defend local small businesses like mom & pop stores while simultaneously defending transnational big businesses like Wal-Mart?

It’s interesting that Medaille describes the internal functioning of a monopolistic corporation as being like a socialist state in that they decrease competition & having very controlled planning. Many rightwingers love both big businesses and the military which combined as the military-industrial complex form the largest manifestation of socialism in the US and possibly in the world.

In this interview, Medaille pointed out that a corporate charter originally prohibited political involvement. He also pointed out (as did Thom Hartmann in another video) that the original Boston Tea Party was a protest against a corporation and against a government that was giving tax cuts to the rich. Medaille said something I had never heard before: “Jefferson and Madison both wanted an amendment as part of the bill of rights which prohibited the formation of corporations.” Why don’t we hear conservatives and constitutionalists mention this part of history? And why do most of the people supporting today’s Tea Party movement seem ignorant of the history of the Boston Tea Party? I don’t know if Tea Party supporters are more ignorant than the average American, but you’d think they’d at least be informed about the history of the Boston Tea Party which supposedly is the inspiration of their movement.

All of this reminds me of another issue of concern in the founding and development of American society. The founding fathers idealized a professional political class which would act as a disinterested aristocracy. They hoped that this political class would be disinterested in that they’d be independently wealthy enough so as to not be directly involved in business affairs. They thought it was dangerous for powerful people to be simultaneously involved in both politics and capitalism. They wanted a political class that didn’t favor any group but instead was able to dispassionately make decisions for the good of all.

Cost of War

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

 ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

1 Soldier or 20 Schools?
By Nicholas D. Kristof

In the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama promised to invest in a global education fund. Since then, he seems to have forgotten the idea — even though he is spending enough every five weeks in Afghanistan to ensure that practically every child on our planet gets a primary education.

We won our nation’s independence for $2.4 billion in today’s money, the Congressional Research Service report said. That was good value, considering that we now fritter the same amount every nine days in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama, isn’t it time to rebalance our priorities?

I’ve known these kinds of statistics for a long time, but the comparisons help to put the abstract numbers into practical terms. I always wonder why it is that conservatives see it as a patriotic duty to support the military at all costs even when the cost is high… in terms of money spent and in terms of loss of moral high ground and loss of global goodwill. Why is it that data like this tends to only make sense to liberals? Why shouldn’t conservatives care about making the world a better place, about actually helping the Afghanistan people rather than merely bombing them into oblivion?

(By the way, when I speak of liberals I’m not equating them to Democrats. Most Americans, including most Democrats, identify as conservatives. It’s liberals, whether Democrats or Independents, who were the most critical of Bush on his wanting to start wars and who are now the most critical of Obama for wanting to continue those wars.)

The cost of such wars wouldn’t be too high if the end result was worthy. I’d be more than happy if all my tax money was spent on building schools for poor people instead of bombing the homes of poor people. Even if you’re selfish and hate the idea of helping poor people in other countries, then why not bring our troops home and use the money to help the poor in our own country? Or even if you hate all poor people including those in the US, why not spend the money on building infrastructure or for loans to small business owners?

The worst part is that the cost isn’t just money. In our War against Terror, we’ve merely created more terrorists who will have to be fought in the future by the next generations. Also, US veterans come back with severe disabilities, brain trauma, PTSD, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, homelessness, and violent tendencies. To put it simply, war fucks people up. No one is a winner in war.

You want to know why wars go on? There is the wealth elite who makes massive profits off of war. Military contracts are probably the single largest industry in the entire US economy. This is what Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex. And guess what? The children of these wealthy elite aren’t the soldiers dying in foreign lands. It’s the children of the poor and the working class who are dying for the profits of the wealthy elite.

I understand that the wealthy elite want to maintain their power and increase their profits. That is normal human behavior. They are acting in their own self-interst. What I don’t understand is why do the American people (in particular, conservatives) continually believe the lies and propaganda? When will the American people wake up? Why does the average American want to pay into the wealthy elite’s profit-making so that the wealthy elite can send their children off to die killing the children of poor working class people in other countries?

Tell me that Bill Maher is wrong when he says Americans are stupid. I want to believe Americans aren’t stupid, I honestly must say that any American who believed the rationalizations Bush gave for going to war is a complete and utter retard. If you supported Bush in his warmongering, you are fucking worthless. It’s because people who simply do what they’re told and don’t question that the world is so fucked up.

I hope that one day Americans will know all the misery they’ve caused around the world by toppling democratically elected leaders and supporting oppressive governments, by bombing innocent people. I hope one day that Americans personally experience all of the horror they’ve inflicted on others. I can promise you that if Americans ever do experience the same amount of suffering that the US military and CIA has caused, the 9/11 terrorist attack will seem like child’s play.

There would be a lot less suffering in the world if people had to experience the same suffering they cause others. Just imagine if wealthy politicians and capitalists had to experience the suffering the poor parent feels when their child is brought home in a body bag. Just imagine if the soldier had to feel the suffering of all the people disabled from the bomb he dropped, had to feel the suffering of the child who lost her father. Just imagine if the American people had to feel all the suffering of the people living under oppressive regimes supported by their tax-funded government, had to feel the suffering of people living in war zones created by the US military.

Disturbing Study Highlights Racism

The Visible Hand:
Race and Online Market Outcomes
Jennifer L. Doleac and Luke C.D. Stein

http://www.stanford.edu/~lstein/visiblehand/

Abstract

Do prospective customers behave differently based on sellers’ perceptible race or signals about sellers’ socioeconomic class? Does the answer to this question depend on whether a customer lives in an area that is racially segregated or plagued by property crime? We investigate these questions in a year-long experiment in which we sold iPods through local online classified advertisements throughout the United States. Each ad features a photograph of the product being held by a hand that is dark-skinned (“black”), light-skinned (“white”), or light-skinned with a wrist tattoo (traditionally associated with lower social class). We find that black sellers do worse than white sellers on a variety of metrics: they receive 13% fewer responses to their advertisements and receive 17% fewer offers. These effects are similar in magnitude to those associated with the display of a wrist tattoo. Conditional on receiving at least one offer, black sellers receive offers that are lower by 2 to 4%, despite the self-selected — and presumably less biased — pool of buyers. In addition, buyers corresponding with a black seller behave in ways that suggest they trust the seller less: they are 17% less likely to include their name in e-mails, 44% less likely to accept delivery by mail, and 56% more likely to express concern about making a long-distance payment. We find that black sellers suffer particularly poor outcomes in thin markets; it appears that discrimination may not “survive” in the presence of significant competition among buyers. Furthermore, black sellers do worst in markets that are racially segregated and that have high property crime rates. The latter result suggests that at least part of the explanation is statistical discrimination — that is, buyers being concerned about the time and potential danger involved in the transaction, or that the iPod is stolen goods.

Shep Smith vs Bill O’Reilly

I have a hard time feeling outraged at or even caring about all the stupidity in politics in the media. The Sherrod incident is so predictable that it’s boring (and I’m as critical of the right-wing media as I am of the Obama administration). Still, there is one interesting thing to note. That interesting thing is Shep Smith. My respect for Shep Smith keeps growing and the video below shows why. As comparison, I’ll also post a video about Bill O’Reilly. Both videos are from The Young Turks and both involve the Sherrod incident.

Obviously, O’Reilly isn’t a journalist and admits he isn’t, but my respect for Shep Smith isn’t simply that he is a journalist. Cenk Uygur, who is the host commenting in these two videos, is also a commentator like O’Reilly. Even so, I have respect for Cenk Uygur for the same reason I have respect for Shep Smith. Neither Uygur nor Smith limits their criticism to ideological partisanship.

The comparison between Shep Smith and Bill O’Reilly is even stronger for the fact that O’Reilly might be the best commentator on Fox News. O’Reilly can, on rare occasions, surprise me in saying something honest and even principled. Compared to Beck, O’Reilly is an exemplar of moderation and sanity. But, compared to Shep Smith, it becomes clear how extremely partisan O’Reilly is.

Mean Bosses & Inequality

The following video shows one of the many dangers of wealth disparity.

I’ve posted about wealth disparity in the past and I was recently reading the book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (here is the official website: The Equality Trust). Here is a video by the authors:

The data shows the correlation between wealth disparity and a wide variety of health and social problems. Some have argued against this apparent correlation being causally related (or, to the extent there is a causal relation, that the results are necessarily negative… arguing, for example, that wealth disparity is inevitable for economic growth), but the research mentioned in the first video further strengthens this correlation (and the negative conditions that result) by putting it in context of the psychology of human behavior. As Cenk Uygur points out, we all have this predisposition to misuse power (whether we meritoriously gained that power or were merely given it), but this predisposition is just a potential that we can guard against.

As a liberal, I’d argue that if you remove the temptation by decreasing the wealth disparity, then you don’t have to worry about people struggling to resist the corrupting influence of too much power. Anyways, as the data shows, societies with high wealth disparities are bad even for the wealthy in that they too suffer greater problems than the wealthy in societies with low wealth disparities. So, it does no one any good… no matter what conservatives may claim about some hypothetical meritocracy.

Even if they were correct that the economy grows quicker with greater inequality, that is hardly a moral argument for inequality (What good is growth merely for the sake of growth?). As the US data shows, even though the economy is growing, this only directly benefits the upper class. This growing economy isn’t increasing the living wage or employment rates of the lower classes.

If you’re wondering about criticisms of the data and correlations from The Spirit Level, here are some relevant links:

http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/07/debunking-the-rights-attacks-on-the-spirit-level/

http://www.thersa.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/328517/Kate-Pickett-and-Richard-Wilkinson-Responses-to-All-Critics.pdf

http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/saunders-response

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/09/spirit-level-policy-exchange

The next video is a debate the authors of The Spirit Level had with one of their critics:

Here are some further videos:

Cenk Uygur on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Cenk Uygur has been slowly breaking into the mainstream for a while. He now has his own segment on Ratigan’s show.

It’s interesting that Cenk Uygur used to be a Republican. This makes obvious why he left the Republican party.

The question I wonder about is: What is the motivation for Republicans being for and Democrats being against tax cuts for the rich? Many like to argue that both parties are in the pocket of the wealthy elite. But if that were the case, Democrat politicians should support tax cuts for the rich as much as Republicans do.