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Income Inequality

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‘Twas Austerity That Did It.

“Yes, the victorious campaign to leave the European Union won on the basis of xenophobia and the demonization of immigrants. For anyone of a cosmopolitan bent it’s a terrible outcome…But if you tell people you know what’s best for them for years and years while their prospects wither and their lives are immiserated, at some point you should expect some kind of reaction.”

In the Prospect, David Dayen explains how deficit-witch-hunting and hubris paved the way for Brexit. particularly David Cameron and the Tories’ “general belief in expansionary austerity, that you could cut your way to prosperity. For those that don’t recall, this led to the brink of a triple-dip recession, and terrible growth numbers for years and years…What Leave offers, a toxic stew of isolation and racism, isn’t any good either. But when elites spend this long doing nothing for large swathes of the population, they’re willing to listen to anyone with a different idea.”

Since the UK’s faceplant last week, there’s been some talk (and. for some, wishful thinking) that Brexit is the prelude to Trump, fact-free appeals and all, and lord knows we spent far too much time of late playing the austerity game also. But I’ll stand by my “nope, not gonna happen” prediction here: The UK electorate is 90% white, America’s is one-third non-white — That’s a big difference, and the same sorts of nativist appeals just aren’t going to play here anymore — which I am very thankful for.

Still, Brexit is another sterling example of how, when people are justifiably angry about being screwed over, many of them may not vote in their best interests. And it’s emblematic of one of the more insightful comments I’ve heard recently about 2016 (and unfortunately I can’t figure out where I first saw it): When you have Latin American levels of inequality, you’ll end up with Latin American politics.

Then the Rich Got Richer.

“Through midcentury, when times were good economically, most of the benefits trickled down to the bottom 90 percent of households. Then came the Reagan era and actual trickle-down economics. Suddenly, the benefits started sticking with the rich. Since 2001, the top 10 percent have enjoyed virtually all of the gains.”

As making the rounds of late, a devastating graph of rising income inequality in America, “post-trickle-down”. “This isn’t a totally new story. But it is a vivid and visceral illustration of what we’ve basically known to be true for a while.”

Along the same lines, Mother Jones is posting a new chart on income inequality every day this week. “In the past few years, we’ve heard a lot about overtaxed ‘job creators’ and freeloading ‘takers.’ But consider this: As the income rates for the wealthiest have plunged, their incomes have shot up.”

If it’s any consolation, presumptive 45th president Hillary Clinton has recently talked to friends and donors in business about how to tackle income inequality without alienating businesses or castigating the wealthy.” Er…sorry, that’s not going to get it done.

The Middle, Sinking.

“Nostalgia is just about the only thing the middle class can still afford. That’s because median wealth is about 20 percent lower today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was in 1984. Yes, that’s three lost decades.”

Wonkblog’s Matt O’Brien briefly surveys the downward pressure on our sinking middle class. “[I]t’s still a heckuva lot better than households in the bottom 25 percent, whose wealth never grew during the good times, and then plunged 60 percent during the bad ones. That’s because, for both the middle and working classes, real wages have been stagnant the past 30 years, and housing equity has taken a nosedive.”

Pope and Change.

“It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new…In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

In his recent major encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis calls out the obvious shenanigans that is trickle-down economics, and has some choice words for the financial sector:

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

I already sung the praises of this Pope a few months ago, but it can’t be said enough: this Holy Father is such a breath of fresh air. His recent courage in this regard even encouraged our President to make his own quite-good speech about income inequality last week: “So let me repeat: The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe.”

Unfortunately — like Obama’s Osowatomie speech in 2011 and his election night speech in 2012 — this seems to be just another example of Obama’s rhetorical tourism on the progressive front. He’s talked a good game — on the occasions when he’s not hippie-punching or parroting Third Way — for close to five years now. But where’s the action to back this rhetoric up? After years of his touting grand bargains and deficit hysteria and allowing sequestration, and looking at the emerging budget deal, I’m not holding my breath. Whatever happens the next three years, it’s already past clear that the tremendous, once-in-a-generation opportunity granted to Obama in 2008 to effect real and positive change has, unfortunately, been wasted.

Update: Pope Francis is TIME’s Person of the Year. A worthy choice, though I would’ve probably have gone with Edward Snowden.

Paging the Populists…and Howard Beale.

“As Congress and President Obama rush to balance solidarity with a new wave of populist anger alongside the need for smart policy during a crisis, they might reflect on how well previous politicians fared at the task. History does not repeat itself. But sometimes it does hum a familiar tune.” In the wake of the furor over the AIG bonuses, and borrowing heavily from Alan Brinkley‘s Voices of Protest as well as his own work, historian Michael Kazin gives a brief historical overview of populism in Newsweek. (See also Rick Perlstein in the same magazine, who thinks that recent cries of “populist rage” might be somewhat overstated: “What makes this rage ‘populist’? This is ordinary rage, rational and focused…You might more accurately call that common sense.“)

I must confess, I find the very-recent press fascination with its latest toy, “populism,” to be more than a little irritating. This is partly because, as with the “socialism!” craze of a few weeks ago, the discussion — above articles excluded — rarely goes any more than an inch deep, and is clearly fueled more by whatever dodgy sound-bites emanated from the Limbaugh-types that morning than any sort of grounded historical thinking. It’s also because, to my mind, the endless tirade of ignorant, self-satisfied, surface-skimming blather vomited forth by the establishment media these days is as much a cause for a populist uprising as the rapacious greed of the asshats at AIG.

From the manifestly idiotic and off-topic lines of questioning of the White House press corps last night, to partisan hacks like AP’s Ron Fournier carrying water for the broken GOP by pushing dumb memes about teleprompters (see also Rick Santelli a few weeks ago), and from self-important blowhards like Howard Fineman conjuring up nonsense out of thin air about the purported dissatisfaction of his chummy club to the host of distractions and non-issues we are endlessly barraged with these days, the mainstream press is worse than failing us — it’s part of the problem.

This is nothing new, of course. From l’affaire Lewinsky to Judy Miller’s WMD to any number of other issues, the establishment media has been at best lazy, simpering, ratings-driven schlock and at worst dangerously ennabling of corrupt GOP behavior over the years. It’s aggravating at the best of times. But we really can’t afford this idiotic water-carrying for Republcans or the smug sense of entitlement that exudes from every pore of the establishment-media overclass, at the moment, as we try to extricate ourselves from the gimongous economic hole dug over the past eight years.

So, Lou Dobbs and your like, next time you endlessly prattle on about how angry the people are getting at Wall Street and/or Obama right now, just remember: Be careful what you wish for. If push comes to shove, there’s a good bet you’ll end up on the wrong end of the pitchfork as well. (AL link via Liam.)

Another False Clinton Mailer.

Another state, another patently false mailer. According to TPM‘s Greg Sargent, the Clinton campaign has now blanketed Nevada with the negative mailer above, one which (once again) falsely distorts Senator Obama’s record. It reads: “Nevada families need to keep more of their hard-earned dollars not less…we need a president that will help hard-working families keep more of what they earn.”

It then goes on to read: “Barack Obama. A plan with a trillion-dollar tax increase on America’s hard-working families. Lifting the cap on Social Security taxes to send more of Nevada families’ hard-earned dollars to Washington. Senator Obama said “I think that lifting the cap [on Social Security taxes] is probably going to be the best option.

So, what’s the problem here? Mainly this: Only somebody who hangs out with the monied likes of Robert Johnson all day could honestly think Senator Obama’s plan involves a tax increase for “hard-working families.” Let’s let Senator Obama explain it:

“Now there’s one more way of solving the problem. And that is raising the cap on the payroll tax. Now what that means is, currently, you only pay Social Security on the first $97,000 of income. Now it turns out that here in Nevada, 97% of the people in Nevada make $97,000 a year or less. So essentially, everybody except 3% — if this was a random sample of Nevada, there are only about 3% of you who make more than that, everybody else, you gotta pay payroll tax on 100% of your income.

Now, what I’ve said is that what we should do is we should adjust the cap, so that billionaires like Warren Buffett are paying more, because right now they’re paying a fraction of 1% of their income to payroll tax. And my answer is, that’s not fair. Why would we have the wealthiest Americans pay such a smaller percentage of the payroll tax when everyone else is
paying basically 100%?

So I propose raising the cap. We might exempt middle class folks for maybe $97,000 for up to $200,000; there might be some exemptions, but those people are making over $200, $250,000, they can afford to pay a little more on payroll tax. So this is what I propose, this is what Senator Clinton is calling a trillion-dollar tax cut on hard-working Americans.”

So, which is it, then? Does Senator Clinton think the top 3% of Nevadans represents the “hard-working families” of the middle-class, or is this another blatant attempt at misinformation disguised to confuse voters about Obama’s real record? If I had to guess, I’m thinking this is the latter, and it’s another disgusting, GOP-worthy lowball.

…and the Dems, Bought and Paid For.

The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans earn more than 21 percent of all income. That’s a postwar record. The bottom 50 percent of all Americans, when all their wages are combined, earn just 12.8 percent of the nation’s income…If the Democrats stand for anything, it’s a fair allocation of the responsibility for paying the costs of maintaining this nation. So far, neither the Democratic candidates for president nor the Senate Democrats have shown much eagerness to advocate this fundamental principle. It seems the rich have bought them out.” Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich laments the cooptation of the Democrats by the super-rich. “It turns out that Democrats are getting more campaign contributions these days from hedge-fund and private-equity partners than Republicans are getting. In the run-up to the 2006 election, donations from hedge-fund employees were running better than 2-to-1 Democratic. The party doesn’t want to bite the hands that feed.

The Republicans’ Wage War.

“[W]ages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s.” An examination of the economy by the NYT reveals the bitter fruit of Dubyanomics for 90% of the nation: “At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising…[but e]ven for workers at the 90th percentile of earners — making about $80,000 a year — inflation has outpaced their pay increases over the last three years, according to the Labor Department.

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