The word “socialist” was, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But it has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity since, oh, 2008 or so. The thing is, since we hadn’t had any real socialistm for awhile, our understanding of what the term means has gotten a little fuzzy.
So the question is, how socialist are you really? Maybe none at all, maybe a whole lot, and maybe somewhere in the middle. Let’s find out. Read more
There’s a new petition going around – maybe you’ve seen it on Facebook. It points up our growing rich-poor gap and asks Congress to cap CEO pay, which is obscene in many cases.
The ratio of CEO pay in the United States has ballooned to 380 times that of the average worker. Pass legislation to limit the salary of CEOs to 50 times as much as the average employee at their company.
The petition notes the recent viral video highlighting wealth inequality in the US, and argues that “a major driver of this inequality is pay disparity, with CEOs in Fortune 500 companies now making 380 times as much money as the average worker. This is a massive increase from 1980, when CEOs were making 42 times as much as the average worker.”
The proposed solution?
To help rectify this problem, Congress needs to pass legislation that caps the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay at 50 times. CEOs can still be very well compensated, but this will help to drive down the massive disparity we’re facing right now.
I don’t disagree with either the statement of the problem (although there’s more at work than CEO pay), nor do I have any moral or ethical problems with the solution, in concept. At some point the accumulation of material wealth becomes a pathology, and no society that hopes to thrive can allow itself to be held captive to the sickness of its elite minority.
But this petition is a waste of time. Two reasons.
The first is obvious. You can call on Congress all you like, but you won’t find ten votes for this bill in Washington. A good many of our Representatives and Senators are rich themselves and are unlikely to be interested in limiting their own future earning potential. As of two years ago 47% of Congresspeople were millionaires, and those who aren’t hyperwealthy themselves are in the pocket of the 1%. If you’re a fair-minded Rep and you vote for this bill, you may as well announce that you won’t be running for reelection while you’re at it. Dr. Denny has written about this dynamic a number of times, most recently here.
Of course, I suspect this petition is less about expecting actual reform and more about driving public awareness.
The second reason is important in understanding how corporations actually work. Even if this law were passed – even if you let CREDO, the petition’s sponsor, word the bill themselves – it wouldn’t make a scrap of difference. Faced with such measures, corporate boards would simply respond by boosting their outsourcing programs. They’d decide how much to pay the CEO and then they’d draw a red line just above the employees making 1/50th of his/her salary. They would hire a contract management firm and terminate all the employees below that line, who would then be hired by the contracting firm to keep doing the same jobs in the same ways they were before.
Given my experience a few years back as an employee of such a firm, my guess is the end result would actually be worse for the affected workers, as contracting firms lack the market heft when it comes to negotiating benefits with health care providers. So if you’re one of those outsourced employees, even if you make the same salary you probably lose ground on benefits.
This is just the start, of course. There are all kinds of accounting gymnastics that a corporation could engage in when building compensation packages, and the way Congress works these you start with loopholes and then weave the illusion of reform around them.
I appreciate what CREDO is trying to accomplish here, but I can’t imagine meaningful reform issuing from our congenitally corrupt system.
When we were putting S&R together in 2007 I hunted down Gavin Chait and begged him to join us. He’s one of the smartest guys I know, a relentless, good faith thinker and someone you can count on to hit you with a perspective you hadn’t thought about. He wrote our very first post and also penned at least one of our absolute very best posts.
We don’t always agree, though. (Which is good – how boring would it be if we did?) In a recent post, Gavin addressed the topic of the latest Discworld novel in a post entitled “Terry Pratchett and the redemption of the Orcs.” If you review the post and the comment thread you’ll see that I take Gavin to task for misrepresenting Pratchett. Gavin’s reply (@2) neatly gets to his overarching point: Read more
Some conservatives see all these fact-laden critiques of our various GOP manufactroversies (see Ryan, Paul) and wonder where are the Democratic plans to solve the financial crisis? (I have been asked this, quite vehemently, myself.)
The informed reply goes something like this:
The crisis isn’t real. It’s been fabricated by the neo-liberal politicians whose goal is to eliminate all taxes on rich people and bust structures like unions that afford the non-hyper-wealthy with some leverage in the American political economy. It. Isn’t. Real.
Ten years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Nostraslammy took a stab at predicting the 21st Century, with a promise to check back every ten years to see how the prognostications were turning out. Odds are good I won’t be able to do a review every ten years until 2100, but I figure I’m probably good through 2030, at least, barring some unforeseen calamity. And if you’re Nostraslammy, what’s this “unforeseen” thing, anyway?
Let’s see how our 22 articles of foresight are holding up, one at a time.
1: Researchers will develop either a vaccine or a cure for AIDS by 2020. However, it will be expensive enough that the disease will plague the poor long after it has become a non-issue for the rich and middle classes (although this is one case where political leaders might fund free treatment programs). The end of AIDS will trigger a sexual revolution that will compare to or exceed that of the 1960s and 1970s (unless another deadly sexually-transmitted disease evolves, which is certainly a possibility). Read more
Pulitzer- and Emmy-winner William Henry‘s famous polemic, In Defense of Elitism (1994), argues that societies can be ranked along a spectrum with “egalitarianism” on one end and “elitism” on the other. He concludes that America, to its detriment, has slid too far in the direction of egalitarianism, and in the process that it has abandoned the elitist impulse that made it great (and that is necessary for any great culture). While Henry’s analysis is flawed in spots (and, thanks to the excesses of the Bush years, there are some other places that could use updating), he brilliantly succeeds in his ultimate goal: crank-starting a much-needed debate about the proper place of elitism in a “democratic” society.
Along the way he spends a good deal of time defining what he means by “egalitarianism” and “elitism.” Read more
Yesterday over at Future Majority, Kevin Bondelli responded to Jack Hough’s New York Post column “Don’t Get That College Degree!” Bondelli’s take led with one of the more terrifying titles I’ve seen lately: “Has College Become a Bad Investment?” Yow. When you dig the hole so deep that you can even use that kind of question as a rhetorical device, you know you’re in some deep, deep kim-chee. Seriously. That one ranks right up there with “Is breathing really a good idea?” and “What are the lasting benefits of a howitzer shot to the balls?”
Snark aside, Bondelli does a nice job of addressing Hough, who “argues that the increase in lifetime wages for graduates no longer makes up for the financial burden of university education and the ensuing student loan burden.” He also takes on one of the GOP’s most successful and devastating canards, explaining that Read more
A couple of weeks ago author and NYU media theory lecturer Douglas Rushkoff penned a provocative essay for Arthur Magazine. Entitled “Let It Die,” the essay explains why we should stop trying to save the economy.
In a perfect world, the stock market would decline another 70 or 80 percent along with the shuttering of about that fraction of our nation’s banks. Yes, unemployment would rise as hundreds of thousands of formerly well-paid brokers and bankers lost their jobs; but at least they would no longer be extracting wealth at our expense. They would need to be fed, but that would be a lot cheaper than keeping them in the luxurious conditions they’re enjoying now. Even Bernie Madoff costs us less in jail than he does on Park Avenue.
I know a man, a man of a conservative bent, who gets downright irate anytime you use some variation or another of “tax cuts for the rich” in conversation. He can’t be taking it personally, I don’t suppose, since he isn’t rich and, as far as I can tell, he has no prospects for getting that way unless he happens to trip over a winning PowerBall ticket. So I guess you’d say he’s like Joe the Plumber and many millions more Americans who have very little, but want to make damned sure that they look after the interests of those who have everything.
People like this man are the reason I always giggle when I encounter political and economic theories that hinge on things like “rationality” and “informed self-interest.” Read more
If you missed it, Stephen Colbert’s special guest last night was conservative pundit George Will. I almost typed “addle-headed pathological liar George Will,” but didn’t because I think a cursory look at what he actually said will make that clear enough.
Show, don’t tell, as I always instruct my writing students.
So let’s start by watching the segment.
WARNING: people with above-average intelligence who have eaten a greasy meal in the last couple of hours should grab a barf bag before clicking play. Read more
Thomas Jefferson’s legacy is much admired in the US and beyond, and for good reason. Without his contributions it’s hard to imagine how the American system of “democracy” would have evolved.
I’ve always admired him a great deal, too, although for somewhat different reasons than most. Yes, he was critical to the development of democracy, but what was so brilliant about this is that democracy is arguably the cleverest tool for the oppression of the masses ever devised.
This assertion no doubt comes as something of a shock to The Average American, who tends to get all sniffly about the majesty of his “freedoms” every 4th of July as he sits in his local park watching pretty explosions in the sky and listening to the facile, self-deluded patriotism of Lee Greenwood yowling from the PA. Read more
In America, the Republicans are seen as the party of money and wealth. This perception is certainly accurate in one sense – the GOP is the favored party of the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any. But they continue to support the party for reasons that seem irrational to us. Why?
In a nutshell, I want to argue here that they do so because the GOP has, through a long-term and exceptionally effective messaging campaign, drawn around itself the ideology of hope. Forgive a brief over-generalization, but they’re the party that preaches wealth and that tells people they can join the club (never mind that the message is a lie, given our current economic policy structure). In the popular frame, the Republicans are often seen as being about getting and having money while the Democrats are about taking your hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. Read more