Tag Archives: 1%

Democracy and Plutocracy Don’t Mix

Today Bill Moyers speaks for me.

There is the case of disagreement – I think the government should function like A, you think the government should function like B. Then there is the setting: am I a subject in a King’s court or an equal at the table of collaborators? Two ideas might be “equal” in merit, but if one side has most of the resources and power, their idea will be the one carried out.

Biased media” is a meme in point. It doesn’t matter how liberal a reporter, anchor, or host is – their minders are not going to allow information to disseminate information that could hurt their bottom line. It’s not about Democratic or Republican, Left or Right, it is about adding money to the vast wealth of the corporate media giants, to the plutocracy.

I wanted to include a George Carlin clip here as well, the two clips are nice compliments to each other. Of course Carlin’s language is less than civilized – I think it is totally warranted in light of the uncivilized conditions being wrought upon American workers, but its got a few foul parts. So be warned NSFW. Here’s  George Carlin’s take on the American Dream in three minutes.

To illustrate Carlin’s point on education, here is an excerpt from a recent article by TPM:

The Republican Party of Texas’ recently adopted 2012 platform contains a plank that opposes the teaching of “critical thinking skills” in schools. The party says it was a mistake, but is now stuck with the plank until the next state convention in 2014.

The plank in question, on “Knowledge-Based Education,” reads as follows:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.Elsewhere in the document, the platform stipulates that “[e]very Republican is responsible for implementing this platform.”

Contacted by TPM on Thursday, Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Communications Director Chris Elam said the “critical thinking skills” language made it into the platform by mistake.

“[The chairman of the Education Subcommittee] indicated that it was an oversight of the committee, that the plank should not have included ‘critical thinking skills’ after ‘values clarification,’” Elam said. “And it was not the intent of the subcommittee to present a plank that would have indicated that the RPT in any way opposed the development of critical thinking skills.”

Knowledge really is power.

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A 1%er’s Opinion

The 1% – are they really that much different than the rest of us? Income disparity is obviously a huge issue in this country but at least one 1%er feels proud, justified, and like everyone else – especially art history majors – are doing it wrong. Edward Conrad -a Bain Capital retiree – is not just a 1%er but an .1%er, his wealth is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions and he is ready to evangelize his theory of economics in his soon-to-be-published new book, ““Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong”. He sat down with Adam Davidson at the New York Times to explain. From the article:

In a competitive market, all that’s left are the truly hard puzzles. And they require extraordinary resources. While we often hear about the greatest successes — penicillin, the iPhone — we rarely hear about the countless failures and the people and companies who financed them.

A central problem with the U.S. economy, he told me, is finding a way to get more people to look for solutions despite these terrible odds of success. Conard’s solution is simple. Society benefits if the successful risk takers get a lot of money.

Conrad sees tons of solution to problems and not enough investors willing to take risks like he did and does:

“It’s not like the current payoff is motivating everybody to take risks,” he said. “We need twice as many people. When I look around, I see a world of unrealized opportunities for improvements, an abundance of talented people able to take the risks necessary to make improvements but a shortage of people and investors willing to take those risks. That doesn’t indicate to me that risk takers, as a whole, are overpaid. Quite the opposite.” The wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large, he said. That way, the art-history majors would feel compelled to try to join them.

Conrad tries to give cover to 1%ers, claiming that they are benefactors for rest of us – measuring in dollars. He claims that for every $1 invested by a risk taker, the public reaps up to $20 in returns! He uses the example of the tapered in part of the soda can at the top and how it saves everyone so much money:

“It saves a fraction of a penny on every can,” he said. “There are a lot of soda cans in the world. That means the economy can produce more cans with the same amount of resources. It makes every American who buys a soda can a little bit richer because their paycheck buys more.”

It might be hard to get excited about milligrams of aluminum, but Conard says that we live longer, healthier and richer lives because of countless microimprovements like that one.

Conrad has a point that there are limitless potential “improvements” and investments, but he doesn’t measure anything except in terms of the market. He may be an admitted devotee to “The Market” as God/moral guidance as was described in Monday’s post, True Religion of the Free Market, his characterizations certainly fit into that pattern. He does not consider for a second that soda is not healthy and that consuming more creates more problems, or that creating more cans adds to the waste stream. In fact, these are the trickle down jobs he would likely point to in that scenario – more work for dentists! more work for nutritionists! more diet pills and programs can be sold! more psychologists will be hired to help people deal with obesity!, more XXL clothes to be made! more doctors will be needed for the host of issues that addiction to high fructose corn syrup can create.

Conrad acts self righteous about the fact that folks like he are willing to take risks that benefit society and society owes the 1%ers even more. He does not mention the costs to society for all of the industriousness of business. He doesn’t recognize that the rest of us have no choice but to assume the health, financial, environmental, and security risks that are created by industry.

Conrad even applied a market based formula to choosing his wife complete with evaluating demographic data, calculating probabilities in geography, calibrating the quality of women available, selecting and ending up with your best statistical probability.

The author notes that Conrad has a mean streak at times even during the interview. He disparages the table of twenty-something strangers that were socializing at a cafe at 2:30pm:

“What are they doing, sitting here, having a coffee at 2:30?” he asked. “I’m sure those guys are college-educated.” Conard, who occasionally flashed a mean streak during our talks, started calling the group “art-history majors,” his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life.

He is also irritated with Warren Buffet and sees his charitable contributions as arrogant and meddlesome in his view of proper economics:

During one conversation, he expressed anger over the praise that Warren Buffett has received for pledging billions of his fortune to charity. It was no sacrifice, Conard argued; Buffett still has plenty left over to lead his normal quality of life. By taking billions out of productive investment, he was depriving the middle class of the potential of its 20-to-1 benefits. If anyone was sacrificing, it was those people. “Quit taking a victory lap,” he said, referring to Buffett. “That money was for the middle class.”

Many more interesting tidbits like this sprinkle the article. It is assumed that he wants to help his former Bain Capital partner with his election campaign, but some of the statements are so outrageous that he may do just the opposite by affiliating himself. Take this gem:

“God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy,” he said. “It’s not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty.”

What Conrad does not figure into any of his equations is humanity. He seems to have very little empathy and obviously puts making money as a top priority. He doesn’t seem to understand that people are not obligated to create wealth for others – those “art history majors” have every right to do what they enjoy, and building community with a group of friends not only has value in the warm fuzzy category, but it could even be argued that it builds security – financial or otherwise. When you’re down and out, who will lend you a hand, come help you with car troubles, or give you a ride to work. Conrad doesn’t recognize the value of community at all. Perhaps because his community – Bain Capital – endorses a community of like minds that are focused on money over time with friends, family, serenity, beauty, love, caring, discovery, health or peace. Like other financial “conservatives” (what does that even mean anymore?) Conrad is supremely obedient to the value of authority and his authority is “The Market”.

In my personal opinion, I feel a bit sad for Conrad. I wonder if he’s seen joy in a child’s eyes after discovering something, or if he can enjoy a simple walk in the woods? Does he ever go dancing with his friends, offer a shoulder to cry on, or have one offered to him if he needed it? Making and modifying widgets will eventually fill this planet with garbage (if they’re not biodegradable), production is not always the answer to prosperity and value is not inherent simply because large dollar figures are being exchanged.  I’ll close with this quote from Adam Davidson, Conrad’s interviewer after spending some time with him:

This constant calculation — even of the incalculable — can be both fascinating and absurd. The world Conard describes too often feels grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the nonrenumerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible. And that, I realized, really is Conard’s world.

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Class Warfare and Social Justice

Recently I was asked to come up with a quick description of social justice. This morning I noticed two headlines, one that explains how the 99% are experiencing our economic recovery and another that quotes Ann Romney about being rich.  In this country we have division lines that have always been present – geographic groups, political groups, ethnic groups – it is just human nature to notice our differences and similarities and group them accordingly. It is a bit misleading though, the grouping that most often matters when determining the quality of life we will have has little to do with geography, politics, or ethnic. They are certainly related, but the real determining factor in quality of life is your economic class.

Occupy Wall Street has offered up another division line, the 99% vs. 1%. That one strikes at the heart of this post. Let’s check in with how we are doing in this “recovery”:

It’s pretty easy to see that the 99% isn’t experiencing recovery in the way that the 1% is experiencing it. Granted, they lost more financially during the recession, but the 1% did not lose basic standards of living the way the 99% did. For the 99% the losses included jobs, homes, and the freedom to use their leisure time for enrichment or leisure. The stresses put on the 99% during the recession caused us all to tighten our belts, make compromises, and downgrade our standard of living. The stresses on the 1% might have forced them to sell some stock they would have preferred not to, sell an extra house, or reconsider a major purchase (like a baseball team or yacht). In other words, the margins for the 99% cut into the quick of our lives, the margins for the 1% still only effected their pile of money.

With the right amounts of cash and cash influence you can expect to overcome any prejudice that previously existed against your skin color, birthplace, or political ideology. It is understood that you are in a class above the worker bees of the world, that your mere presence allows for further commerce, that is people throwing themselves at you and trying to gain favor. You can acquire such a pile of money that you are required to do nothing for it because you can employ a slew of money managers to make your money make money (via stock market tricks like speculating on oil or housing prices). Because money buys influence, missteps that you make may be totally forgiven – missteps that might have landed a poorer person up to their neck in crippling legal issues.

All of these inequities are what cause folks to cry, “class warfare!”. Indeed, a systematic widening of the income gap has happened, it’s no conspiracy theory, it’s in the history books. That system that keeps 1% of the folks living so much larger than the other 99% was created on purpose to serve a few. This might be called “the soft assault of gaming the system”.

In an economically just system, income plot points would be all over the map, but the cluster of points would be around an income that was roughly the midway point between the poorest and the richest. Our rich are so rich that this map could never be. We’ve set up our economic system to reward people obscene amounts of money for tasks that do very little to contribute to human kind. Many times those same money making ventures inflict irreversible damage on our natural human resource pool. Because every tier of our political system can legally be sold to the highest bidder, the poor have a very hard time winning a media battle for the hearts and minds. Those feeling the brunt of social injustices are often consumed with the task of surviving from day to day, it is hard to blend such a life with political campaigns.

What is social justice? Fighting for social justice means fighting to level the playing field. Just because you are poor does not mean that industry should get to dump toxins in your water, land and air. Living in polluted areas aggrevates health conditions which triggers the issue of affordable health care. Working conditions and therefore workers are easily manipulated by employers to make lives excellent or hellish. Social justice is about access to good quality local food. The phenomenon of food deserts are real; good nutrition is how healthy and productive people thrive. Access to education is also important; the links to education and improved standards of living are many. Social justice might involve movements around transportation, taxes, civil rights, religious (or atheist) rights – it’s anything that impacts groups of humans. When a rule is in place that seems to tip favorable results to the same group of people historically, social justice seeks to tip things back to get some kind of balance.

Ann Romney and her husband made 20.9 million dollars last year. She was recently quoted on Fox News saying, “I don’t even consider myself to be wealthy.”  That’s $57,260. per day – or more than $5000 over what the median household yearly income was for Americans (2006-2010). It’s insulting. What has either of these people done to actually benefit mankind that merits that sort of income? Social justice looks at these income inequities, measures them against the damage those profits may have been born from, and looks at the amount of work all parties contribute then demand some sort of equity. In the case of kids, the elderly, and infirm, social justice has a heart and recognizes that we are all connected to these physically weaker members of society, and that we have gained or may still gain from their contributions.

Ann and Mitt Romney’s jovial and flippant remarks around their excessive wealth in a time where so many are desperate for stability, remind me of Marie Antoinette (pictured above).  The quote may or may not be hers but she is attributed with, “let them eat cake” – something uttered after learning that the peasants had no bread. Obliviousness and dehumanization are the results of such lofty economic status’. Social justice aims to make humans all more capable of empowering themselves.


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