Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Take On Wealth Distribution, From An Independant Congressional Candidate.

Last week, I published a post that dealt with wealth distribution. In it, I referenced an op-ed by Senator Bernie Sanders. His piece was published over at Politico, and included this stunning revelation:

"Today, the top 1 percent of wage earners earn more income than the bottom 50 percent; and the top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. "

Those figures disturbed me. I didn't know quite what to make of them, so I decided to solicit responses from a collection of political activists. Of the 8 organizations I approached for perspectives, 4 of them have graciously took the time to respond. The first three responses are compiled in this post.

The most recent response to my question comes from Bob Clark, an Independent Candidate for Congress. He is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Massachusetts. You can check out his campaign website here.

The Snare General: "Do you have an official position on wealth distribution (or the income gap)?"

Bob Clark: "I wouldn't consider myself an expert on "wealth distribution", but I usually have an opinion about things. I'll assume you're referring to distribution of wealth by government, and so I'll base my response on that.

The taking of wealth from one group of people, and distributing it to others, is a characteristic of a socialist form of government. Liberalism is a euphemism for "socialism, but to a lesser degree". The opposite ideology would probably be capitalism, where people who earn money keep it, and the less fortunate fend for themselves. The way Bernie Sanders states it, and perhaps the way I described capitalism, just "doesn't seem fair". The questions are: can governments effectively impose fairness, and will people, in general, benefit from it?

Examples of systems that are capitalist - although I would argue that "crony capitalist" is much more prevalent - would be USA, England, and Japan. Good examples of socialism would be Cuba, North Korea, and Libya. You can choose your own examples, but in general, capitalist countries enjoy a higher standard of living. I'll explain why that is in a bit, but first..

Let's look at why governments choose to be socialist, as opposed to being capitalist. This can occur even if the country is not democratic. IE: dictatorships, monarchies, etc. Do they choose to be socialist because they are a bunch of really nice guys, and they want to be fair to the less fortunate? Of course not. When more of the nation's money must be turned over to the government, even if the stated cause is "social programs", two things happen: 1) government officials gain more power and influence by deciding where the money gets spent, and 2) some of the money always gets "lost" as it passes through government hands. Government officials - or their cronies - are usually the beneficiaries of that money.

Back in this country, the Democrats have a knee-jerk mantra: Tax the rich! This is often to fund those "social programs". But what happens when you tax the rich? Basically you're lessening the incentive to become rich. And when you use that money to subsidize the poor, let's face it(!), you discourage the poor from working to become richer. So the Robin Hood ideology produces a double dis-incentive!

Let's talk about the rich. How about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Rich enough? Does their net worth consist of cash under their mattress? Not hardly. The vast majority of it is stock in the companies they started and/or grew. And when they do receive income, does it get spent on "rich person" parties? Some, perhaps. But most of it goes into savings and investments, which becomes capital that can be loaned out to other enterprises. Are rich people "bad" people? These two people have announced how they will give away most of their net worth to charities. Certainly, when compared to liberal government officials, I don't think the rich hold a candle to "badness".

Finally, a personal note. I've worked alongside a person who later became a billionaire. Do I believe we should have a system where the incentive to do that should be reduced? Definitely not. Along his journey, he created thousands of quality jobs. Mine was one of them. I am proud to live in a country of opportunity!"

Monday, August 9, 2010

Organizing Activists, Takeaway Lessons From HCR

Healthcare Reform (HCR) happened a while back. It took a forever, it got ugly, a lot of people made asses of themselves, but it happened.

What eventually passed was a deep disappointment to many progressives, who would've preferred to see a single payer option. Or enforced transparency. Or anything that looked, smelled, or felt like reform. It was devastating to many on the right, who were O.K. with the way things where going, or couldn't afford to let a Democrat controlled government do its job, or who actually believed in the mystical invisible hand. It was a disappointment to me because of the individual mandate.

No matter your political stance, you agree that the HCR bill was a big fucking deal. It didn't look all that likely to pass in the end, with a stalling and politically vulnerable cadre of Blue Dog Democrats rallying behind someone named... Stupack, was it? In the months leading up to the final vote, public support for HCR quickly dwindled. A huge number of Americans started to believed in Death Panels, forgot what the word "Socialism" meant, and decided that a black man couldn't really be American.

How did even meager reform get passed in this bizarre environment? The Nation is running an article titled "What Progressives Did Right to Win Healthcare," by Richard Kirsch. I'm still not sure who really won with HCR, but fortunately activist strategies are the focus of the article. No matter your politics, these sort of discussions can be enormously informative. Activists of all stripes can find some tried and tempered advice in this piece. Things like:

"Early in-depth public opinion research." This translates into: "Start polling early."

"
A detailed campaign plan." This is a biggie, generally the left is not well organized. This time they had a plan of attack, embodied in a massive strategic document that helped create a unified front. Badass, I want a copy of it.

"Organizing Congressional champions." Exactly what it sounds like.

If you have your own political advocacy tips and tricks, leave them in the comments.




Saturday, August 7, 2010

Perspectives On Wealth Distribution, Including Takes By Green-Rainbow, Libertarian, And Socialist Organizers.

Last Thursday, I published a post that dealt with wealth distribution. In it, I referenced an op-ed by Senator Bernie Sanders. His piece was published over at Politico, and included this stunning revelation:

"Today, the top 1 percent of wage earners earn more income than the bottom 50 percent; and the top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. "

Those figures disturbed me. I didn't know quite what to make of them, so I decided to solicit responses from a collection of political activists. Of the 8 organizations I approached for perspectives, 3 of them graciously took the time to respond. A big thank you to all of them. I've posted them in the order they were received.

Patrick Burke is The Membership Director of the Green-Rainbow Party.

The Snare General:
"Does the Green-Rainbow Party have an official position on wealth distribution (or the income gap)?"

Patrick Burke: "We do not have an official position on wealth distribution specifically. However, a quick look at the 10 Key Values ( http://www.greenrainbow.org/10key_values ) and some of our recent public issue statements makes clear that our party sees economic inequality as a major problem in our society unlike the Democratic and Republican parties.

Take our position on taxes: http://www.greenrainbow.org/issues-taxes. The regressive nature of the tax system in Massachusetts causes the lower income people to carry a greater burden than higher income people. It's a matter of fairness that during this time of economic hardship that those with those better able to bear it contribute at least an equal proportion of their income in taxes as those with lower incomes. Our candidate for governor Jill Stein lays out this case nicely on her website: http://www.jillstein.org/issues/economy/fairer-taxes.

A good place to get information on this subject for Massachusetts specifically is the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. And this study specifically shows how income inequality has increased in Massachusetts over the past 30 years:
http://www.donahue.umassp.edu/docs/income-inequality ."

George Phillies responds for the The Massachusetts Libertarian Party.

The Snare General: "Does the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts have an official position on wealth distribution (or the income gap)?"

George Phillies: "We support people being able to earn what they can through legitimate voluntary transactions. There is no party position on the exact issue you raise.

What is our preference for the poor? We'd like them to become rich, too, and advocate steps that move us in that direction. 60 years ago Harry Truman predicted that by the end of the century a typical American's income would have tripled. He was right or quite close. We'd like to see that keep happening. I think most libertarians would like to be in the situation where everyone who wanted to be wealthy -- some people happily take oaths of poverty -- had the resources they wanted, though we recognize that we will never really reach this objective."


Joshua Koritz responds for The Socialist Alternative.

The Snare General: "Does The Socialist Alternative have an official position on wealth distribution (or the income gap)?"

Joshua Koritz: "The statistics that describe the wealth gap in the USA and worldwide are certainly staggering. Every time I do research on this subject, I'm blown away. For example: 1/2 of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day, while Latin America has the capacity to feed the whole world. A UN report from 2000 estimated that it would cost $40 billion to wipe out poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and give every human access to safe drinking water. As far as I can see, the resources exist to provide every human being on earth a decent standard of living, but the choices aren't made to do this. The wealth gap is a symptom of the natural flow of capitalism, an economic system that puts profits before all else, and the firms and individuals who control this capital are that wealthy 1%.

Socialism, or the beginning of a description of it, would mean the democratization of the economy. Not from the top down, but from the bottom up, with workers working with community members in small areas, but also in harmony across the globe, could organize the economy so that no human ever goes without access to shelter, food, water, health care, and education. This struggle would have to be international, and as such, we are part of an international group called the Committee for a Workers International
www.socialistworld.net. In addition it could advance the process of moving towards "green" energy production and greatly reduce the harm done to the environment.

Socialist Alternative struggles to build working class power and democracy through the campaigns and coalitions we're involved in. For example, in Boston, we are working with others to build for an Oct 7 day of action to defend public education. This call came from California after the successful March 4 day of action. We are building this day among k-12 students, parents, and teachers, among higher education students, staff, and faculty and including anyone and everyone who may not fall into those categories.
"


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Charities Are In For A Windfall, The Rich Get Richer, And A Socialist Congressman Has Things To Say.

I just saw a short post over at Salon.com. The author, Robert Reich, talks about how great Warren Buffet and the Gates family both are. They've pledged vast sums of money to charity when they kick the bucket, and convinced a good chunk of other filthy rich people to do the same.

MSNBC reports that they've persuaded 40 billionaires to go in for this generous endeavor. That's very cool. But Reich is reminded just how bizarre it is to have people who are this wealthy:

"I’m also appalled at what this reveals about how much money is now concentrated in so few hands. It’s more evidence we’re back in the late 19th century when robber barons lorded over the economy and almost everyone else lost ground."

Read his post at Salon.com to see the numbers.
Didn't click? That's alright, here's the gist: The rich really are getting richer while everyone else is losing their shirts.

Most of that is probably old news to you. It might not even seem like a problem. But Bernie Sanders, our only self identifying Socialist senator, has a few neat factoids to add:

"Today, the top 1 percent of wage earners earn more income than the bottom 50 percent; and the top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. "

Read the op-ed that quote is from over at Politico. It's mind blowing, and sort of infuriating. That sort of wealth disparity would give Adam Smith pause. It's an even greater problem when you consider that the the cost of living is so high, the legal system is so unjust, and campaign finance laws are making anything like democracy impossible. So what do we do? We stop pretending mildly redistributive tax policies are a dangerous part of the long road to communism, for starters.



Welcome To The Snare General

Hello, and welcome to my new(est) blog.

This is the 4th time I' ve started a blog, and it's never worked out before. The last few times, I've tried to concentrate on one thing (usually gaming, but once politics, another was supposed to be a cold and objective look at... something.) But this time, this time I'm going to stick with it. I know it.

Because this time I'm going to have fun with it. I'm going to write about anything that "snares" my interest. Most of the time that's probably going to be politics, games, and cold objective stuff.

Thanks for reading, Travis