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Economics & Civics 
29th-Sep-2009 03:38 pm
I have long said that a huge contingent of Americans are intensely stupid people, and of the stupid people contingent, the most dangerous elements are those who deny reality in favor of self delusion and ignorance. It was spelled out in a much clearer language for me after seeing a recent Real Time episode on the economy, featuring Michael Moore, economist Paul Krugman, and former New York governor Elliott Spitzer. This is all largely paraphrased from the points they each made and in a way I'm really just summarizing.

Documentary film maker Michael Moore has a new film called "Capitalism - A Love Story". In his no-nonsense style, he is calling out those who have successfully ruined our economic standing as a superpower. I know many of you conservatives absolutely despise him (and rightly so, he calls most of you on your bullshit) and write him off as a propagandist, but it is especially you who should see this film. He really puts his money where his mouth is in his films and this one is no exception. He says of this new film that he told his crew on the first day of shooting that he wanted to make a film that put everything they wanted into it, "...so much so that no studio will ever want to give me another dime again." You have to respect that kind of dedication and absolute willingness to lay his entire career and future on the line for a greater good. Don't want to pay for a ticket? Fine - buy a ticket for Pandorum and sneak into this one instead. Just see it for yourselves, research the points it makes for accuracy if need be, and make the effort to learn something.

He argues that capitalism is no longer the ideal and fundamental backbone of the American Dream. In fact, he considers what we now think is capitalism in this country is actually nothing more than a pyramid scheme which guarantees that the richest 1% of our population in the United States now owns more wealth than the remaining 99% of us combined. Let me repeat that so it will sink in better: the richest 1% of our population in the United States now owns more wealth than the remaining 99% of us combined. That 1% sits at the top of the pyramid hoarding their wealth and convincing the rest of us that with enough hard work and dedication, we to can be just like them. Not only will that never happen (come on - 1% is about as narrow a margin as it gets), they've rigged the game so that it cannot happen. This isn't hyperbole or exaggeration, it is fact. That is what passes for capitalism now, the ultra rich get richer and unless you're ultra rich, you're essentially poor by comparison. We can live comfortably without being ultra rich, but they're dictating how we get to do it through rampant cronyism and corporate welfare - currently capitalism is the new communism - and that is ultimately the beginnings of the problem.

Consider a few things. Greed is still greed. Those ultra rich are sitting at a table with a pie cut into 10 pieces. They give 1 slice to 9 possibly starving people to share and maybe fight over, and hoard the remaining 9 slices. Again, they repeat the myth that if you work hard enough, you TOO can be the guy hoarding more than is fair by fairness standards, and they'll believe him - and those greedy, starving bastards are just as greedy themselves for buying into that. The problem here is that a disproportionate amount of that pie wasn't bought with rich guy's money alone, although that's how he's gotten away with having it. Some of that pie is yours - a lot more than you think, actually. Not all rich guys are crooks by the way, but let's not be disingenuous here - 1%. Don't forget that figure, it's rather important.

Elliott Spitzer maintains that "what we have had over the last decade is not capitalism. That was a perversion of capitalism, that was crony capitalism, where you've had Republicans who didn't believe in government destroying the moral foundation of a system that does create wealth." It is critical to note that what he means by 'moral foundation' is the fact that it is not the richest 1% who has created this wealth, it is the middle class who has created it with nothing to show for it. There has been no system of distributing that wealth amongst those who have rightfully earned it - that's what years and years of deregulation have created. When you hear conservatives bitching about the 'redistribution of wealth', take note of this. What they're really saying is that greed rationalizes and legitimizes theft.

Consider that the top income tax rate was 90% under Eisenhower, and not many paid that. Even among the rich there were tons of loopholes in the code. It was 70% in the 1960's. It was 50% under Reagan. Assets have become phantoms on paper in the financial services sector that had no substantiated reality behind them, and it has not stopped, not even now under President Obama. Sure, we all hope he will deliver on his promises, but there is little evidence that he and this current congress is serious about fixing what is broken or at least stop the free bleeding at the majority's expense.

Consider that misallocation of real money on creating wealth unfairly for a select few, money burned on illegal occupations disguised as war, and ridiculous amounts of other unnecessary government spending in the past 6 years alone could have not only paid for universal health care for every American, but also the highest quality education for every American citizen up and to a 4 year college degree and STILL had a surplus. Nothing will change without fundamental policy changes within the system, and nothing will cause that change until more people in this country who claim to love it and fear for its well being start getting real and holding their elected officials' collective feet to the fire and DEMANDING accountability.

Consider that a full 1/6 of the economy in this country is based on people getting sick. That is an astonishingly high number when you get down to brass tacks. To call what we have in this country 'health care' would be laughable if it weren't so evil. A system that is based on profit and not wellness does not really have anything to do with care, it has everything to do with making money off of people being sick and dying. We are literally a sick society, and it is lucrative like you cannot even imagine. There is a bureaucratic army that creates jobs in this industry, currently the fastest growing job market we have, and it is mostly geared towards profiting on misery and illness - but not prevention or reasonable treatment. The grease for that machine is the insurance industry.

Consider this statistic: 30 years ago, the ratio of the average company CEO's salary to the average worker's salary used to 40 to 1. A CEO made 40 times more than the average worker. Now that number has exploded to 550 to 1. Now the average CEO makes 550 times more than the average company worker. Those average company workers, once factoring in the rates of inflation and costs of living over that period of 30 years haven't really had a lot to show for it, and are now facing tremendous sacrifices because they can barely afford to live within their means. Factor in their own greed and living well beyond their means, to say nothing of the sense of entitlement the coming generations have because today's parents encourage it, and it's no wonder people everywhere are freaking out. The average median household income in this country has held steady for the past 4 years, with no signs of progress.

So how do WE as regular citizens, just normal people, have a say in fixing this clusterfuck? We start by talking - really talking - after educating ourselves on the facts and not what some political pundit on a fake 'news' show tells you (because they're making millions with the fear mongering and dependence on you staying ignorant) and speaking logic and truth to power. You must see your equals as equals and stop using terms like 'real Americans', and 'true patriots', and first know that we are all your equals. We must learn to responsibly use the tools of reason, logic, clarity, dissent, civility, and debate. Those things are the basis of nonpartisan democracy and they are essential for the well being of our society. We have to get back to civics, which goes beyond Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal. We must teach these things to our children so that they may do better than we have. Serious, legitimate effort has to be put into teaching this to ourselves, each other, and coming generations or it will be lost to fundamentalists of any stripe and the stupidity they are sustained on.

Consider that sustained democracy in any form is only a couple of hundred years old. If you don't maintain it, you end up with monarchy and theocracy and totalitarianism. This is a great country made better by responsibility, and there is nothing responsible in pointing fingers and assigning blame upon those who deserve none.

Educate yourselves, share what you learn, and take responsibility.
29th-Sep-2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
If you ran for office, I would do a hellava lot more than just VOTE for you! Have you ever considered it?
29th-Sep-2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
I did in younger days, but there's no way now.
30th-Sep-2009 12:15 am (UTC)
You and me both. I still have a love of and instinct for politics, but there's too much dirty laundry AND I'm neither as well-spoken nor as able to carry a line of coherent thought through debate as I used to be able to do. It's really sad when you think about it: we ALL have skeletons in our closets, and there are so many good and well-skilled people who can't serve because the skeletons always get rattled about at the worst times....
30th-Sep-2009 02:58 am (UTC)
I think there are always going to be people who make a career out of exploiting those rather innocuous closet skeletons and turning them into living nightmare monsters in an effort to discredit other things of merit. Conversely there will always be people like myself who say to any and everyone who casts unfair aspersions "Yeah, AND? The fuck does this have to do with X, Y, or Z?"

I have a solid position stating that what I do with my own ass is my own business - what isn't my business is what other people think about me or what I do. I make no secret about my past drug use, my sexual identity and orientation, and my views on god and religion. I don't pander to a group to keep favor with them - it's a standard for a reason. I don't think I'd go very far in the political arena given all of these reasons, although I really would like to see someone more like me in the public sector thoughtfully - purposefully - kicking ass and being unapologetic about it.
29th-Sep-2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
Have read, will link ...
29th-Sep-2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
Mercy buckets!
29th-Sep-2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
I think most people are aware of these statistics on some level... they may not dwell on them, but we know them. And we tolerate it, maybe not happily, but we do because there are some major obstacles to achieving any real change.

The U.S. government consists of publicly elected representatives, who in large part are elected based on their ability to fundraise and thus advertise. The majority of funding for campaign for said representatives comes from corporations, who expect the candidate to represent their interests if they are elected. While some people do seem to slip through the cracks of government who genuinely seem interested in representing people rather than corporations, they're the exception to the rule and lack the numbers to truly change this.

Given that situation, I question the ability for any significant change to ever occur without a revolution. Which begs the question, is a revolution even remotely conceivable in an age with weaponry as advanced as the military is in possession of without the revolution being led by the military itself? (which is extremely loyal to the government and has shown no signs of doing this.)

Putting all of that aside and trying to get at the question of what is the solution rather than the obstacles to such a solution ever being implemented, there's a few things that come to mind as possibilities. The obvious one being substantially raising taxes (both income and property) on the top x% of people, where x is somewhere in the 1-5 range.

The thought of placing some sort of salary cap always struck me as a possibility, either in the form of a maximum yearly income anyone is allowed to earn or implementing some form of a maximum ratio between the highest paid employee and the lowest paid full time employee. The ratio would have to stay fairly high as there has to be some incentive for business owners to take the risk of opening a business in the first place, but there shouldn't be any billionaires if money is supposed to in any way, shape, or form be representative of work being done.

I don't have anything else to say off the top of my head, and will cease ranting/talking out of my ass now ;)
30th-Sep-2009 12:00 am (UTC)
But what is "work being done": how hard you sweat? Isn't it how much your efforts impact the pockets of your business's owners?
30th-Sep-2009 01:10 am (UTC)
I don't think it's an either/or thing. There has to be some balance between the two, and I'd argue that it's a bit too heavily skewed towards "business owners' pockets" currently.
30th-Sep-2009 02:29 am (UTC)
I agree, but the only way of achieving revolution is through the ballot box. We're not getting congressional term limits (which would be the most sound thing to do to spark that sort of revolution) but it is still possible to create the kind of sweeping change by starting with the team - and replacing the players.
29th-Sep-2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
Very well done! We have had another period of unbridled greed in our nation's past - the era of the robber-barons - Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, the Vanderbilts, etc. If I read my history correctly, the gulf between their "rich" and their contemporary "poor" was even greater and they had their money in the era before the income tax! Even more appalling was the almost total lack of support for the poor at that time.

It finally took enough people who were fed up and passed legislation forming the bulk of our anti-trust laws to put an end to their monopolies. I guess that can make us hopeful that there is a precedent for breaking these strangle holds on wealth.

And, yes, despite the complex issues around health care, as a doctor I think it's obscene for anyone to make a profit off of health care. I'm not talking about those that actually deliver care getting paid a fair wage, but these armies of mid-level bureaucrats who never see the patients and decide levels of care based on economics not medical necessity. No other profession that I know of would tolerate such interference in the day to day administration of their work.
30th-Sep-2009 02:32 am (UTC)
Good point on those baron figures in the past, they're the models for the current ones no doubt.

I agree completely on the issue of health care for profit at the corporate level - it's unnerving that people's lives have become disposable commodities for shareholder's coffers.
30th-Sep-2009 02:59 am (UTC)
Let me fix that a bit:

- it's unnerving that people's lives have become disposable commodities for shareholder's coffers coffins.
29th-Sep-2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
Nicely done.

A couple of nitpicks--

Now that number has exploded to 550 to 1. Now the average CEO makes 550% more than the average company worker

If Person A makes twice as much as Person B, A is making 200% of what B makes, or 100% percent more than what B makes.

So shouldn't the figure quoted be "55,000% of what the average company worker makes"?

the richest 1% of our population in the United States now owns more wealth than the remaining 95% of us combined

100% minus the richest 1% leaves 99% remaining.

It might be better to say "the 'bottom' 95% of us combined" because we're tossing those 4% in-between from the picture for purposes of comparison.

Correct me if I'm wrong. It's been a while since I took a math class, and that part of my brain might be a little rusty...

Edited at 2009-09-29 11:21 pm (UTC)
30th-Sep-2009 02:33 am (UTC)
DURR - noted and changes made for continuity. Many thanks!
30th-Sep-2009 01:39 am (UTC)
Well written. However I maintain that the 'foreign entanglements' that Jefferson warned us about is yet another chain that is holding us back. There are too many dual citizens in the current administration and the one before it for my liking. Hell, the goddamn chief of "homeland security" isn't even an American, he's an Israeli citizen! OMGWTF.

No man can serve two masters.
30th-Sep-2009 02:35 am (UTC)
I'm more concerned with the foreign entanglements of tax shelters and overseas banks that create more danger for us economically.
30th-Sep-2009 03:03 am (UTC)
I commend you for bringing this up in the context of political loyalty and not religion or ethnicity (i.e., pointing out "Israeli" instead of "Jewish"). I wish more people knew how to communicate this fine line - and that more listeners understood there is a difference.
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