koshersalaami

koshersalaami
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Male, Jewish, in my fifties, married with kids (well, at this point I guess that should be "kid"). Thanks to Lezlie for avatar artwork - sort of a translation of my screen name. "Salaam" is peace in Arabic, hence the peace sign. (No, my name doesn't mean "hunk of meat" and yes, the pun is intentional.)

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Salon.com
JANUARY 4, 2013 10:50PM

Absurd (previously posted on OurSalon)

Rate: 2 Flag

 

I watch the budget negotiations in Washington and wonder what planet these guys live on. It sure isn’t this one.

Before I proceed, it might help to point out that the big difference between wealthy nations and Third World nations is the size of their middle classes. Wealthy nations have big ones; Third World nations have a whole lot of poor people and a very few filthy rich people.

 

I have an unusual question for you.


To get at the question, we’re going to divide the American population into 20% chunks, which is to say fifths, in terms of wealth, top to bottom. So, Upper, Upper Middle, Middle, Lower Middle, and Lower.

Here’s the question itself:

What kind of wealth distribution would be so out there, so over the top, that for the sake of the economy's functioning, for the sake of preventing national unrest, and possibly even in the name of fairness, you’d be willing to say "Let's intervene, even if the government has to help redistribute wealth - this has gone too far" ? Who would have to have so much, who would have to have so little that we're beyond unfair and unworkable and into absurd?

There are some out there who would say: “No such thing. Intervention is wrong by definition.” Really? It would be OK for the top fifth to have 99% of America’s wealth while the other 4/5ths shared 1%? To believe that, you’d have to think of Free Enterprise as a religion and not, incidentally, a religion related to any mainstream Western religion I can think of. That certainly doesn’t reflect Jesus’ attitude toward wealth; quite the contrary. This is the guy who said “It would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Islam mandates a fixed percentage of everyone’s income be donated to charity specifically to avoid differences in wealth producing dire consequences. Charitable giving is a big part of Judaism, and all three major religions have laws about ethical business conduct, charitable giving, and the avoidance of blatant exploitation.

So, “no such thing” may sound good but there probably aren’t too many Americans who believe it literally. The question isn’t whether intervention is by definition inappropriate, the question is how bad things have to get before we say Enough and intervene.

So, back to the question:

What kind of wealth distribution would be unequal enough to warrant intervention?

Consider your answer,





and, after you do, let me tell you where we are now:

The bottom 60% of the population has, collectively, under 5% of the nation's wealth.

Wait, it gets worse. Way, way worse.

The bottom 40% of the population has approximately 0.3% of the nation's wealth.

That's right, 2/5 population = 3/1,000 $.

Now, let's talk about Entitlements. The thing about entitlements is that reductions in entitlements spreads the burden over the population, but not over the money. At this point in our history, the population has nothing to do with the money, and money is the problem. Congress is operating under the myth that population and money are still linked.

In terms of the numbers, the Democrats are too close to Republicans because whatever they suggest even without Republican opposition still wouldn't be enough, but at least it would be a marginal move in the right direction.

No one is looking at these numbers. The argument the Republicans are making is this:

We need to protect the money of the top 40% of the population because


1. They earned it (BULLSH*T - many inherited it and the Government subsidized a great deal of it, basically welfare for the wealthy, but welfare is only welfare when the poor benefit, even though welfare for the rich is more expensive) and

2. They create jobs with it. Also Bullsh*t. Bush gave them a tax cut and they pocketed it instead of creating jobs with it. That's what Jobless Recovery means.

Really. We need to protect over 95% of America's wealth from the threats posed by the greedy 4.3%. That's what the Republican Party has come to.

Forgetting the fairness of this, and keep in mind that the Republicans think this is unfair, BUT IN THE OTHER DIRECTION, as in that the holders of the 4.3% are moochers,

How the Hell can America's businesses stay open when 40% of the population doesn't have any money?

We're looking at markets in China. The undeveloped market is here. What would Americans consume if the whole population were healthy?

Just so you know, I’ve written about these numbers before. The distribution across quintiles (fifths of the population, 20% blocks) is


Upper 84%

Upper Middle 11%

Middle 4%

Lower Middle 0.2%

Lower 0.1%


Numbers from:

Building a Better America - One Wealth Quintile at a Time
By Michael Norton and Dan Arieli.

http://pps.sagepub.com/content/6/1/9

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Your analysis kosher is exactly why I, and many of my brethren, are expecting a soon to be rapid evolution in Amerikan politics to some version of nativist National Socialism. As a late stage empire, like Rome in the 3rd century, the social/economic classes in today's Amerika have nothing in common anymore, no common binding loyalties or perspectives. The top decile and quintile will rapaciously try to take more and more. The bottom 60%, especially the top half of that 60%, have been docile thus far, expecting that the Amerikan Dream of a renewed middle class will finally kick in again. As the next few years go by and further pauperization continues, and that half of the US population that comprises the working class poor continues to expand, the growth medium, as in a biological petri dish, for a mean-spirited, angry, hateful polity will begin to emerge. But this time the demagogic politician of the near future, Amerika's 21st century Adolf Hitler, will not scapegoat the Jews. If, God willing, another Islamist inspired terrorist attack on the US homeland succeeds in these deteriorating economic conditions then a tipping, or inflection, or critical point will be reached where a genuine Amerikan populist/fascist movement can take deep roots in the soil of disappointed/disillusioned Amerikan society and maybe, hopefully, we will have concentration camps for Moslems, maybe even a high tech bombing decimation of Pakistan, homeland of the extremist Islamist movement, combined with heightened tensions and a cold war with Amerika's economic competitor and creditor, China. As a single man with no children I live for a dystopic, fascist Amerikan future, whose iconic image will be a boot smashing the face of the Third World Chinks and camel jockeys. I am working, in my small way, to actualize that future....wink. And may the prick God Yahweh bless Bibi and give him the spine to finally unleash that long awaited attack on Iran, and obliterate Hamas and the Gaza population. Pray for war, and millions of deaths....always. Read my latest post....wink and a half
But what's the solution - if there is one. Is change without radical polarization possible? And how do you turn it into a popular cause since there's got to be something in it for everyone.
Y-Y/JP,
I'm afraid you don't do comedy well. You've obviously got enough of a head for straight analysis.

Margaret,
There are two parts to your question. The "there has to be something in it for everyone" I can answer; in fact, what throws me is that it hasn't been part of the conversation yet, which speaks to the incredible stupidity of my fellow liberals. What businesses need more than anything else is paying customers. That's more important than access to capital, an easy regulatory climate, or a friendly tax climate. Customers is where the money ultimately comes from, customers is what drives expansion. The customer base is disappearing. Most businesses will prosper more if it becomes healthier, which in the long run means many rich will get richer. The same money in few hands doesn't behave the same way as money in many hands. Go to a commercial street on the outskirts of wherever you live and look at the businesses. Think about what they sell, then ask yourself: Would they do as well with one rich customer as they would with ten middle class customers? If they aren't selling yachts and maybe enormous trailers to shlep them to Lake Erie, the answer to that question is emphatically No. This economy would generate more wealth with less polarization. In the long run, this means far more winners than losers, even among the rich. Also understand that the poorer you are, the faster you have to spend money when you get it, and it is that spending that stimulates the economy and creates jobs, so the place to prime the pump is at the bottom, not the top. Trickle up works far more efficiently than trickle down.

What it takes to happen requires an understanding of how we got here. The short answer is two things: campaign finance reform and a Democratic party that's willing to talk about the advantages of liberalism to business. The second issue should be easier to address, though it astounds me, I mean really astounds me, why it hasn't been obvious for longer than this. The President doesn't get this and he's a pretty smart guy; I know he doesn't get it because he never once mentioned it in the enormous argument during which the US almost went into default.

Campaign finance reform is the big one. This mainly happened because campaigning got expensive. That meant that how much more efficient it was to seek a lot of money from a few people rather than a little money from a lot of people started to really matter. The trouble is that when you take a lot of money from anyone, they gain influence, and the influence they gain is used to support policies that protect and increase their wealth. In this respect it's a great investment for them because the gains they get in changes in tax law and regulations far more than pay for their campaign contributions. Where we are now is basically a result of that phenomenon snowballing. One main issue is that it's become a bipartisan problem, so that even politicians who are philosophically opposed to policies leading to income polarization have no choice because of what it takes to get elected.

So, really, fixing this would take two things:
1. Real campaign finance reform, and
2. A serious campaign selling and explaining the financial benefits of liberalism. There are actually tons of them but, given the rhetoric out there, you'd think that conservativism was more fiscally responsible. I'm not sure I can think of a single respect in which conservativism makes more long-term money sense than liberalism does, but it's not an argument you ever see addressed. Income polarization is just one example. I've written post after post about other ones such as Affirmative Action and environmentalism.
I have some additional questions for you.

Do you think there's that much difference between liberals and conservatives? Do you think things may be broken beyond fixing? Is it possible that our attitudes about wealth and what it means to be wealthy are warped and wrong?

One of the biggest problems to me is relentless advertising that most conscious people can hardly avoid; it pervades our lives from cradle to grave. It's conditioned us to think we have to have more more more to be happy. Bigger houses, bigger cars, more stuff and not just stuff: more money, college savings, stock portfolios, retirement funds etc. How much is enough; and how many people can actually do all this? Can an economy based on manufacturing and expansion and sustained by consumerism continue to grow? It's not just the US either; India and China and their enormous populations plus their growing economic muscle come to mind. More of them want the same things we do. What happens when other emerging economies follow? Resources are finite. We can't continue like this indefinitely.

Also, this kind of thinking and economic system breeds greed and corruption, from the top down.

I agree with most everything you say including the fact that trickle up, like a growing plant, works more efficiently than trickle down which never made sense to me. But I think wealth redistribution and starting at the bottom are ultimately only band aids.

Unfortunately I don't have answers but I do think change is possible with the right leadership. Which can 't happen with our divisive, unresponsive political system where good people with good ideas get labeled, shot down and crushed before anything meaningful can get done. Fixing things and not just patching them I think, is really going to have to start with a shock to the system.
Margaret,
I wish I knew what kind of shock.

I don't think the issue is consumerism, though I suppose consumerism defines the baseline. I don't think I'm driven by advertising; at this point I wouldn't call myself acquisitive. I'd just love some financial stability.

I don't think the question is what it means to be wealthy. I think the question may be what it means to be solvent, and who it's important to that most Americans be solvent. Among guys like Romney I see a lack of consciousness, a complete lack of sense as to how Americans really live. They see a roof, they see three meals a day, they see a gassed up car in the garage, and it all looks fine. But it's not fine. A while ago I wrote a post when I heard a quiz posed on a rock station on the radio. The question was: What does the average American have three of? The answer: Overdue Bills. The average American's life is a life of worry. Will a utility be shut off? Will I have enough this month? Do I have to dodge a creditor, and do I have to feel like a slime because I'm dodging a creditor? Will my car be repossessed?

It isn't OK for the wealthy in America to compete for money with a general population living like this. It isn't that everyone is profligate. It's that the arrangements have changed, and it's that those in positions of power no longer reliably have the public's back. They have their donors' backs.

Yes, there's a difference between liberals and conservatives; what there isn't is a difference in their flexibility. The trouble is that the majority of the electorate in terms of positions and, in fact, the majority of elected representatives are liberal, but the majority of funding sources are conservative, and it's the money calling the shots, not the people. It's not money as in bribery; I don't think the issue is all these elected officials lining their pockets. It's money as in access to getting elected in the first place and getting reelected. Campaigning is so expensive that it's all fundraising, all the time. Citizens United made everything far worse because the fear now is that your opponent is going to spring 10 million dollars in hidden SuperPAC funding the last two weeks of the election and you won't have an answer, so you'll lose, which means you have to be ready for that, the result of which is that you essentially fundraise for a living. It's also being aggravated by wealthy influence affecting the FCC's laws such that we're now looking at previously illegal media consolidation, where one company owns loads of stations, newspapers, etc. in the same markets. One party's access is slowly being choked off, for one thing because both sides are not playing by the same rules. There is no liberal equivalent to Fox News. MSNBC doesn't have that kind of mainstream access and isn't even that kind of partisan.

I don't know how to break the current trends. Electing Obama certainly isn't doing it; he's not particularly liberal to begin with and he seems to think his job is to be above partisanship.

As to an economy based on manufacturing:
Maybe. On one hand, there's the issue of automation taking jobs. On the other, automation leads to the necessity for more skilled jobs. Germany is doing pretty well at keeping their manufacturing without going cheap.
I’ve asked this same question in many forms over the years…and still am astounded over some of the answers I’ve gotten (which will eventually lead me to respond to your question, Koch.)

Often I ask die hards for the extreme capitalistic side: “Would it actually be okay with you if free market dynamics eventually lead to 99% of the wealth being in the hands of 100 people?”

I’ve had people (after trying to wiggle out of the question by saying that would be impossible, which it is not) say: Yes, if that is where free market dynamics leads, it would be alright with me. Those same people apparently would agree with 99.9% the wealth being in the hands of 5 people!

And Koch…it is not DIFFICULT in the least to find people willing to go that far in defense of our system. They are all around you. I suspect they number way beyond your worst nightmares on the matter.

What I am saying with that is: If it were just “the Republicans” (meaning the few at the top) who see this distortion of capitalism and free enterprise as reasonable and fair…as your piece seems to suggest…perhaps there could be a peaceful way out of it. But that is not the case. There have always been peasants willing to die for the principle that the King and his Barons have a legitimate right to what they have…and that the peasants are obliged to honor those rights. So too, there were always slaves willing to fight for the right of the slave owners to own them and others…and to advocate that the slaves were honor bound to allow that to be.

That is where we are here in America right now. And if you were to ask me if I thought we were moving more toward sanity or insanity on the question…I would answer without hesitation that we are definitely moving towards insanity…and at an accelerating rate.

I’ve argued for years that the system has to be changed drastically…but by use of tweaking; small, incremental adjustments leading to overall change. I find myself now questioning whether it can be done that way…and perhaps another poster who suggests immediate wholesale change has a point in disputing me. But I also find myself wondering if the change can be done at all…piecemeal or by one violent revolution.

We are fucked…and conservative America is greasing the penis, so to speak.

Almost everyone sane will agree that something must be done…but the devil is in that “something.”

Good post, Kosh. But the question remaining is a variation on, “Who will put the bell on the cat?”
Frank,
I wish I knew. Over on OurSalon, I've watched some conversations with Alan Milner/Sagemerlin. He's been talking about the Second Amendment and his attitude is that we have to stay armed because we might eventually need to protect ourselves from our own government. I'd expect this attitude from someone on the right, but Alan's on the left.

I don't know. I don't see anyone as being in a position to stop this or willing to give it a shot. I thought Obama was that guy in 2008 but I was really wrong. Actually, John Edwards was, but he's politically useless these days.

Again, the only mechanism I see that might work is a galvanizing of the business community because current trends work against their long-term survival, even if that hasn't occurred to them yet. But I don't know how to reach them, and the Democrats in general and the President in particular don't seem to know what to say if they do reach them.

So, I don't know. But that's where I'd start. I oddly enough wouldn't start with the Greens because, as I said in a comment on the other site, it scares me to work with people who don't think that political competence is a moral imperative. If they were competent, we'd know who they were.