Wealth is Not A Sign of Merit

Trevor Burrus writing at the CATO institute blog:

Wealth is not a sign of merit, and poverty is not a sign of failure. As I’veargued before, we should champion the free market as a system where productivity allows people to be artists, record store clerks, or even bums. We can personally praise or chastise anyone for their life-choices and values, but we should not argue that the market is there to do it for us.


The Southern Strategy Nears Its End

The Obama campaign won the 2012 presidential election largely by furiously and successfully courting new voters, especially in swing states, and in the process introduced a potentially new and deadly (to the Republican Party) group of people into the equation of presidential elections: non-voters. The Romney campaign lost by relying on catcalls, coded language on “food stamps” and “welfare”, and the assumption that the same political strategy focused on mobilizing the white vote that got Nixon elected would work for Romney 45 years later. They were wrong, and their utter surprise and shock at how wrong they were shows how much the Republican party (after forty years of the Southern Strategy) just doesn’t understand the 21st century United States of America.

The Romney campaigns sharp focus on so-called independent voters, at the expense of serious new voter registration efforts, meant that even as they built up a lead among independents, the Obama campaign was cancelling those gains out by getting people to the polls who rarely vote or had never voted before. The Obama campaign targeted young people, minorities, and poor folks and others who while not active voters were people they suspected of being sympathetic to Democratic politics and they got to work. In addition to matching the Romney campaign’s advertisement war, they blew the Romney campaign out of the water with their grassroots ground game.

As the old saying goes, all politics is local, and the Obama campaign turned this presidential election into a local election by combining digital information technology and behavioral psychology with the the oldest tools in politics: canvassing and word of mouth. Romney instead relief on messaging, money, and the type of intellectual laziness that is now endemic across the entire conservative movement. New Ideas? What for? 

At this point, its tempting to say the Obama campaign won simply by being smarter than the Romney campaign, and that would make this three straight races where Barack Obama’s team has simply out-thought the opposition (the 2008 Democratic Primary, the 2008 General Election, and the 2012 General Election), but it also comes down to the fundamental gap between the Republican braintrust’s concept of politics on a theoretical level and the place the United States of America is in 2012.

Looking at the stunningly off-base predictions of right wing and Republican election prognosticators (some of whom I think are very sharp despite our disagreements) and considering the assumptions that the Romney campaign made throughout the election suggests that the same wistful nostalgia for a conservatism that never existed is slowly sapping the American conservatism of any relevancy it may have once had.

The same columnists whose gut feelings told them that the polls must be wrong and that Romney would win in a landslide are the great minds behind the modern conservative movement. Political mandarin Charles Krauthammer thinks that the only change the Republican Party needed to make was to court Latinos better since Latinos are evidently “socially conservative”. Never mind that this confuses Cuban grandparents with their 19 year old grandchildren and fails to acknowledge how evolving social values occur in all communities, but it also completely avoids the question how just why the Republican Party’s message of extreme fiscal conservatism, gutted social programs, and warmongering neocon foreign policy just doesn’t connect with a generation of people raised during a time when public schools budgets have been gutted, when their friends, brothers, sisters and parents have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq, and while mostly everyone they know is struggling to make ends meet.

Self-reliance sounds good when you’ve got a decent savings account, a house or two and and something resembling financial security, but at a time like this, it sounds like the vacuous sound byte it is. The abstract (and wrong) notion that deregulation and flat taxes will be the nation’s economic miracle cure and magically create more money and more jobs might sound good within Republican echo chambers but in the lives of many Americans its not something based in their reality.

As Rich Yeselson of the Washington Monthly points out:

In the US, any possibility of the GOP appealing to the economic interests of most white men, as opposed to massaging their beleaguered sense of identity, must be subsumed to the antithetical economic priorities of the GOP’s plutocratic donor class. In short, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brother are ardent rent seekers from the federal government, union haters and tax avoiders, while promoting the demolition of social insurance for the 99.9%. They do not share most of the same economic goals as the guy wearing the “Put The White Back in the White House” t-shirt at a Romney rally. Yet rage and paranoia paradoxically bind these billionaires and white male small business owners and contractors: see, for example the Adelson owned newspaper in Israel’s headline after Obama’s victory, “Socialism Comes To America.”

Comedian Dennis Miller, on the O’Reilly Factor after the election said, “I liked it the way it was […] from [when he was] 18-58”.  Miller also spoke of all the “unfair attacks” levied against Mitt Romney, “who is a good man”. The subtext here, of course, is that Romney’s opponent is not a good man and was wholly deserving of the slander for the past four years. Moreover, for those Americans who for obvious reasons don’t look too fondly back at the Mad Men era and its predecessors, Miller’s nostalgia is wholly alien and any political messaging that evokes it is likely to come up empty.

These talking points and policies are made all the more obscene by the knowledge that the Republican coalition of geriatrics and white men has benefited more than any other population from systematic and widespread sinecure and the inherited wealth and privilege of a system was for years picked the winners and losers based on the color of their skin and the country of their parents birth. That Republicans reject that narrative of American history doesn’t make it any less true.

In the past year I’ve been told time and time again that its unconstitutional for my taxes to pay for my own health care by people whose healthcare is being paid for by my taxes. The fundamental hypocrisy necessitated by the Right Wing’s ideological and electoral imperatives reek of the self-serving rent seeking antithetical to groups of people who are in the ascendancy: women, immigrants, young people and the working poor whose consumer dollars truly drive the economy (just ask Walmart).  To win elections the Republican Party must protect demographics of incumbency (their electoral coalition) by preserving their entitlements (carried interest, capital gains, low taxes on inherited wealth) while those very same voters want to cut the red haired stepchildren out of the inheritance (social programs) because, essentially, they don’t like them very much.

The Republican Party has convinced itself that its current brand of “conservative” is not only correct but is what the country needs in ever stronger doses. Any deviation from that orthodoxy of God and Markets means you are either a heathen, a socialist, or both, and you are most certainly bound for hell. Even as neoliberalism has become the economic gospel of the left and the right, Republicans scream socialism, while Democrats move further from their social-democratic and populist impulses, while capitalist excess is even more unrestrained and regulated. ! As the Democratic party’s leftist impulses die out, the Right Wing screams communism and tyranny. There is something perverse about the level of disinformation and willful ignorance.

If Barry Goldwater laid the first brick in the intellectual foundation of the modern Conservative movement and Ronald Reagan installed the roof and the air conditioning, the movement has been constructed in a way that necessitates the coalition of big business and disillusioned white Americans that has  been the Republican Party’s base since the 1960s. Nixon’s Southern Strategy has been the unspoken, unacknowledged rule of the Republican Party for decades but its cynical effectiveness is fundamentally incompatible with the the new United States of America. It was always going to have an expiration date but Republicans began to believe that a strategically viable strategy was also ideologically and politically sound, and not in fact a political and social cancer rotting out the state of modern conservatism. It’s amazing that the Southern strategy has lasted for this long until you consider how effective it has been, but we’ve reached the moment where the Republican Party will have to reinvent itself or perish. To reinvent itself it was must disavow the very beliefs that they hold dearest and will have now to recruit people who at this point are almost allergic to their particular concoction of reactionary bullshit.

Standing athwart history yelling,  “Stop!” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Republican voters will continue to die off and the female, poor, foreign or otherwise different people who have permanently altered the face of the American politics aren’t going anywhere. Not now, not ever.

EB White on the Moon in the New Yorker

The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men. One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaiety. The moon, on the other hand, is a poor place for flags. Ours looked stiff and awkward, trying to float on the breeze that does not blow. (There must be a lesson here somewhere.) It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men, and should have been equipped accordingly. Like every great river and every great sea, the moon belongs to none and belongs to all. It still holds the key to madness, still controls the tides that lap on shores everywhere, still guards the lovers who kiss in every land under no banner but the sky. What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all: a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1969/07/26/1969_07_26_025_TNY_CARDS_000295131#ixzz24ko5JbAJ

Polygamists and the Presidency (Buzzfeed)

Buzzfeed has a real whopper of an article here about Polygamists and the family histories of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. One of the strangest parts, when a polygamist talks about what they have in common with the gay rights movement:


“We’re about faith, family, and getting the government out of our lives,” Darger said. “It’s a quintessential conservative argument.”

Which is why it was so jarring when, about 20 minutes into the discussion he started dropping terms that were borrowed from another community that hasn’t always gotten along with religious right: The gay rights movement.

“We made the decision as a family to come out,” he said, at one point.

“All we want is our equal rights,” he said, at another.

When finally asked whether he saw parallels between the gay marriage cause and his own, Darger didn’t hesitate: “Definitely.”

Gay rights advocates want nothing to do with the polygamists, having spent years batting down the right’s argument that the freedom to marry could extend in unexpected directions. But to get polygamy decriminalized, Darger said he is modeling his strategy after the successes of that movement (which he supports on Constitutional principle). As part of the effort, he and his family are waging a public awareness campaign to demystify their lifestyle.

The Student Loan Racket; Too Sketchy for Wall Street

Moe Tkacik, who in general is my favorite unattached journalist, wrote this blockbuster about the student loan industry and the fact that they are the only debts not dischargeable through bankruptcy. Also, we Millennials are basically fucked:

Maybe the student loan shark scam was too fishy even for Wall Street, even in 2007, to want to get too close to the action. And if Lord has been spreading the no-risk wealth around Wall Street in the aftermath of the credit crisis it is not apparent from securitization volume, which has slowed to a trickle even as student borrowing keeps setting new records. In 2010 students borrowed $100 billion, but Student Loan Asset Backed Securities (SLABS) issuance was a meager $13.6 billion, down from a peak of $78.7 billion in 2006.

Perhaps this lack of Wall Street skin in the game is partially to credit for the fact that such reliable business lobby organs as Forbes have demonstrated refreshing equanimity to the cause of restoring students’ financial rights. The student loan shark bubble will, after all, ultimately prove far worse for business than the subprime mortgage bubble. But it also demonstrates that the shadowy ruling elite’s overwhelming contempt towards its citizenry runs deeper and dates back farther than full time chroniclers of American decline ever believed.
Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/08/moe-tkacik-student-debt-the-unconstitutional-40-year-war-on-students.html#yBtVA3qcBz7UAz96.99


Moe has also been doing some serious blogging over at her new site. Check it out: http://daskrap.com/

The Science of the Cheesecake Factory in The New Yorker

Atul Gawande in the New Yorker:

I spoke to David Gordon, the company’s chief operating officer. He told me that the Cheesecake Factory has worked out a staff-to-customer ratio that keeps everyone busy but not so busy that there’s no slack in the system in the event of a sudden surge of customers. More difficult is the problem of wasted food. Although the company buys in bulk from regional suppliers, groceries are the biggest expense after labor, and the most unpredictable. Everything—the chicken, the beef, the lettuce, the eggs, and all the rest—has a shelf life. If a restaurant were to stock too much, it could end up throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of food. If a restaurant stocks too little, it will have to tell customers that their favorite dish is not available, and they may never come back. Groceries, Gordon said, can kill a restaurant.

The company’s target last year was at least 97.5-per-cent efficiency: the managers aimed at throwing away no more than 2.5 per cent of the groceries they bought, without running out. This seemed to me an absurd target. Achieving it would require knowing in advance almost exactly how many customers would be coming in and what they were going to want, then insuring that the cooks didn’t spill or toss or waste anything. Yet this is precisely what the organization has learned to do. The chain-restaurant industry has produced a field of computer analytics known as “guest forecasting.”

“We have forecasting models based on historical data—the trend of the past six weeks and also the trend of the previous year,” Gordon told me. “The predictability of the business has become astounding.” The company has even learned how to make adjustments for the weather or for scheduled events like playoff games that keep people at home.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/08/13/120813fa_fact_gawande#ixzz22nBGxmuR

Post-Great Recession Black America: Up the Creek and Can’t Afford a Paddle

From an Economic Policy Institute briefing paper called, “The State of Working America’s Wealth” (h/t Matt Yglesias via Twitter):
The destruction of wealth that resulted from the Great Recession was widespread but not uniform. From 2007 to
2009, average annualized household declines in wealth were 16% for the richest fifth of Americans and 25% for the
remaining four-fifths.
•  The divvying up of the total wealth pie, even as the pie shrank, was made more uneven due to larger drops in wealth
for those at the bottom. The share of wealth held by the richest fifth of American households increased by 2.2
percentage points to 87.2%, while the remaining four-fifths gave up those 2.2 percentage points and held onto just
12.8% of all wealth.
•  The wealthiest 1% of U.S. households had net worth that was 225 times greater than the median or typical household’s net worth in 2009. This is the highest ratio on record.  
•  In 2009, approximately one in four U.S. households had zero or negative net worth, up from 18.6% in 2007. For
black households the figure was about 40%.
•  The median net worth of black households was $2,200 in 2009, the lowest ever recorded; the median among white 
households was $97,900.
•  Even at the 2007 economic peak, half of all U.S. households owned no stocks at all—either directly or indirectly
through mutual or retirement funds.
•  Homeownership rates fell from a peak of 69.0% in 2004 to 67.2% in 2009, and house prices fell 32% from 2006
through the first quarter of 2009. Prices have since rebounded slightly but were at mid-2003 levels in the third
quarter of 2010.
•  Because of the housing bust, home equity as a percent of home value fell from 59.5% in the first quarter of 2006 to
36.2% in the fourth quarter of 2009. For the first time on record, the percent of home value that homeowners own
outright dropped below 50%—meaning that banks now own more of the nation’s housing stock than people do.
So essentially the average black American household lives paycheck to paycheck. In total 1 in 4 American households has zero or negative net worth. This is in the wealthiest country in history. One that has had the largest GDP in the world for almost 135 consecutive years.