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Category Archives: Issue 5

The Middle Class Argument Map

Trying to have a political discussion about Issue Five, the showdown in Wisconsin, or the general  idea that the wealthy ought to carry the tax burden as we’re making our way through this historic economic crisis – well, it’s like playing Whack-A-Mole.

It happens in sound bites – on both sides really. It’s a complicated issue and so people approach it from a point-scoring perspective.  Two people argue, and whoever zings the other one the most wins. 

But this isn’t about sound bites, it’s a real issue and the whole argument can be laid out flat where we can all look at it, and until you do that, it’s really not very easy to claim that you know what you’re talking about.

I mean, that’s how you prove it, right?  You say, here’s what I think, here’s why I think it, and here’s my response to every objection I’ve heard since I started thinking it.

Short Attention Span Politics.  I’ve been examining this topic from all sides lately – to the point of beating a dead horse, some would say – but that’s how it must be done.  To achieve clarity on an issue, we have to shine a light in every corner of it.

And of course our current methods of gathering political information are completely counterproductive to those ends.  We tend to get our information from whomever already agrees with us, in convenient Talking Point Form, so we can toss out glib sound bites, bully and insult each other, and generally do everything BUT lay out exactly why we think what we think.

So here’s my map, my point-by-point stroll through this issue, and it seems to me that if I’m wrong on something here, someone ought to be able to point to where that is.

There Is Plenty Of Money.  The first thing that struck me was, we extended a tax cut for the wealthy, and then we shrugged and told middle class teachers and firefighters and cops that there was “no more money.” 

So my point is, if there’s “no more money” then the rich aren’t paying enough in taxes.  You can call that socialism if you want, but that’s a weird thing to think, since from the 40’s through the 80’s, millionaires were paying 50-60% in taxes as compared to 32.6% now.  So we must have been socialist as hell back then.

Either way, my first point was, I don’t care what you call taxing the rich – it needs to happen. (How About A Nice Tall Glass Of Socialism). 

Oh, So You Want Me To Pay For It.  And then predictably, the most common response is The I’m-Rich-And-You’re-Not Argument, which isn’t really an argument at all, but more of a strategy to get middle class people to shut up.  Basically, the amount you personally pay in taxes is irrelevant to a political discussion, here in this free country of ours where the Golden Voice guy gets the same vote as Bill Gates.

The Tax-Cuts-Encourage-Growth Argument.  Then there is the standard theory that raising taxes on the wealthy will cause them to invest their money elsewhere, and while I understand that in general, I can’t help but notice that the tax cuts have been in place for ten years.  If they’re supposed to be so good for our country, then why aren’t they working?  (Think Of It As Mandatory Corporate Patriotism)

That link also deals with the notion that middle class people who have a problem with the current set-up should love it or leave it.  Not quite true of corporations, though, is it?  They get to slap patriotic acoustic guitar montages of the American midwest all over their commercials and sing songs about America and their products, but sure, raise their taxes and that’s just capitalism – off they go, and we’re fine with it.  Why?

The Lazy-Union-Workers-Ruin-Everything Argument. Sometimes the nastier conservative elements in this political discussion begin accusing union workers and teachers in particular of being lazy.  Presumably they are also talking about cops and firefighters, but you rarely hear them use such language against those two occupations, though they certainly are going after their rights to organize as well.

That notion is dealt with here in Teachers Do Not Engage In Marketing.  Basically, the more economically dynamic your occupation is, the less you see the need for labor unions, because your pay is based on sales.  But we’re not a nation of salesmen – we have to protect the people who have consciously chosen a route which sinks their roots firmly in the middle class.

The I-Don’t-Trust-The-Government Argument.  A more understandable and benevolent response is that we can’t trust the government to use the money it would bring in from taxation, because the government is incompetent and unreliable.  But the alternative is trusting the rich or trusting the corporations to do the same thing – and so far I’m not too impressed with their efforts. 

I think it’s clear that The Government Is Us, The Corporations Are Not.  We can change the government.  We can fire people in the government.  We can appoint people to the government.  If we can’t trust the government, then we either change it or give up, plain and simple. 

I’ll keep building this map as I go, and I think it will be handy for people who are looking for a real overview of the discussion.  Too often, a single, irrational sound bite ends a productive political discussion, and not because of any logical or rhetorical merit, but merely because people don’t know what to say or how to articulate it.

Also, I’d welcome any new responses, any point on either side that I’m missing.  So far a few open points that I’ll be dealing with in the next week or so are:

The Merit-Based Pay System

And the notion that The Old System Isn’t Going To Work Anymore.

Those topics will be linked and summarized when I get the posts up. 

Comments?  Questions?  Threats?  Accusations?  I’m all ears.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Issue 5, News/Commentary

 

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Teachers Do Not Engage In Marketing

Think about the wealthiest people you know, and how they got that way.

I’m thinking of business owners, real estate agents, insurance salesmen, bankers, financial planners, attorneys, and doctors.  Surely I’ve missed some obvious ones, but do you see the pattern there?

They’re all jobs in which you market yourself and expand your customer base.  You have good months and bad months and deep down you know that your income is to a large degree up to you.  So you network and you advertise and you drop off doughnuts and take people out to lunch.  You shmooze.

And if you do it right, it pays off.  You can sell zero houses, or you can sell a house for a hundred thousand dollars, or you can sell ten of them for a half million apiece. 

The more customers you bring in and close, the more money you get.  As it should be – that’s sales.  That’s capitalism.  You’re in control of your own destiny.

People go into lines of work like that for exactly that reason – you can get yourself organized and set goals and the sky’s the limit.  How much do you want to make?

And it’s usually a pretty pervasive attitude.  You can’t go around thinking to yourself that your income is anybody’s problem but your own.  You take responsibility for it, and I admire you.  I really do.

But not all jobs are like that.  Some of them have set incomes that rise gradually – five percent a year if you’re lucky?  Three?  Ten?

Like teachers.  You don’t take a teaching job thinking to yourself, man, I’m going to work this job day and night until I’m making two hundred grand a year and driving a Corvette.  You take a teaching job and what you’re in fact saying is the opposite of that – I’m going to work this job even though it very clearly means that I’m always going to be middle class, that I’m never going to be rich.

In other words, teachers do not have the same control over their income that sales guys do – that’s why they need a union.

It’s not lazy.  It’s a sacrifice. When I hear sales guys cluck their tongues and sneer at teachers and their sweet benefits and mandatory pay raises, that’s where I think they must be confused:  They can’t imagine a job with limits on the income.  They can’t imagine working their whole lives inside a finite financial box.

You don’t see firefighters going around passing out their cards at network groups because they need to be right there at the fire station, ready to jump on the truck and risk their lives if they’re needed.  You don’t see cops pacing around in front of a sales board, thinking, man, I’ve got to pull in three more decent accounts so we can buy that boat.

Cops and teachers and firefighters take their jobs knowing there’s a ceiling to what they’re going to be making, and a rate at which their incomes will climb.

Both types of jobs can represent a sacrifice – the really serious sales guys don’t stop working, ever, and that’s really why they make the big bucks.  But see, they get compensated with those big, big bucks – and it seems kind of stupid to have to point that out.

Meanwhile teachers for example sacrifice any aspirations to real wealth.  You can debate all you want about whether or not they get paid enough, but you have to admit that you’re not at all likely to get rich teaching high school.  Not even close.

They sacrifice the financial aspirations which the other kind of worker values – worships, even.

You might even say that they willfully refrain from taking full advantage of the capitalist system they live in, all so they can provide a service which is socialist in nature.  Yes, socialist systems like public schools, public police departments, public fire departments.

You don’t want to go straight capitalism on that stuff, do you?  You want to write a check to the cops if they respond to your 911 call? 

What if that cop gets shot and killed?  What do you figure that’ll run you?  You think there’s a surcharge for that, or is that on the house, Johnny Sales Guy?

The reason that public employees have been given solid benefits that the average insurance salesman doesn’t have is that they do not have the time or opportunity to beat the streets and drum up more business, a higher paycheck, or more customers.  They are on the production end of our capitalist society, as opposed to the money spigot on the other side.

In fact, frequently they get more customers without any additional compensation at all.  Maybe a little overtime if you’re a cop.  But if nothing burns down on your 24 hour fire station shift, don’t you get paid the same as if you spent all night dragging people out of burning buildings? 

When they keep packing more students into classrooms, does the teacher’s salary go up, the way it would if you sold more widgets?

This is one of the aspects of the current political climate which really disgusts me – when salesmen with open-ended, dynamic incomes act as though teachers want something for nothing, or special treatment.  It’s quite the opposite.

They’ve agreed to take less from the system than you – and someone has to do it.  They’ve decided that instead of going out into the wide, American system and banging together a giant chunk of money, they’re going to sit in a small room and educate children, one lesson at a time, one day at a time.

In exchange, until recently, they could at least expect financial stability, and I would think you’d want them to have that, so they can focus on the very important jobs they have.

This is a sliver of the argument going on right now, a single point that needs addressed.  Teachers and cops and firefighters have different benefits from you because they ARE different from you.  Because they sacrifice the possibilities which you take for granted, all so they can do what you never would or could.

Have a little respect for them please, while you’re driving your Audi to the bank, and try to remember that even if you are as truly and fundamentally awesome as you seem to think you are, that America still needs to support those who are just regular citizens, doing what needs done without a tit-for-tat commission structure.

You get paid more.  They get to worry less.  That’s always been the deal.  You see how you want to hang on to the first one and take the second one away?  And do you see why we’re not going to let you?

 
5 Comments

Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Issue 5, News/Commentary

 

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The Government Is Us, The Corporations Are Not

One of the more understandable responses I’ve received to my recent flurry of online soapboxing is that the redistribution of wealth from the elite – who currently hold all of it – to the workers who maintain the system even as it crumbles around them, is that the redistribution would be executed by the government, and the government can’t be trusted.

And I definitely understand it.  All of us across the political spectrum have been rather horrified and shocked by what we’re seeing, as the Digital Age brings the inner workings of our government to light.  We can see how very long these bills are, how votes are bought and paid for through pork barrel spending and back room meetings, how much it costs to treat our representatives like royalty, and what they do when they think no one’s looking. 

We’ve seen how callous and skewed toward the wealthy our system really is.  How the lobbyists speak and money rains down and suddenly the people we elected to represent us aren’t representing us at all.  Suddenly they’re telling us that there’s no more money at all – even as they adjourn to head home to mansions and yachts, granting tax cuts literally to themselves while state and local government tell teachers to tighten their belts.

But the great thing about America – at least as I always understood it – is that our government is one for the people, of the people, by the people.  We can change it – it’s our job to change it.

Because it’s our government.  It’s us.

We can get rid of people, we can replace them.  We can learn about bills and watch our representatives, see if they’re doing what we want them to or if we need to vote for someone else.  If we do it vigilantly, and constantly, then they’ll have to listen to us.

And very simply, if we don’t, then they won’t. 

When I say that in the short-term, we need to tax the living crap out of the rich, and you tell me that you don’t trust the government to redistribute the money – doesn’t that mean that you do trust the corporations to reinvest in America instead?

I mean, we both appear to agree that they’re the ones with the money necessary to get us out of this economic apocalypse.  But if we’re not going to tax them, then what?  We really hope they’ll look out for us on their own?

Or, more honestly, I think that we fear these corporate overlords – because they imply or directly threaten to invest elsewhere, if we tax them too much.  We’re afraid – in a nutshell – that they’ll screw us even worse than we’re already screwed.

The giant, elite corporations have shown us time and again that they are not interested in our well-being.  Their interests lie with their shareholders, and that’s it.

It’s even billed as a positive thing sometimes – business is business.  The market decides, and it’s never wrong. 

We’ve seen the stranglehold the corporations have on our elected officials.  I don’t know about you, but so far I’m not too impressed by the way the government currently deals with corporate America.  High-end brothels and man-eating plants come to mind.  We’re too big to fail, so feed me, Seymour.

But that really doesn’t change the fact that the only force on Earth that can stand up to these corporations is a solid government which values the health and happiness and education of its citizens.  No, I don’t think that’s a good description of our government, currently.

In fact, I don’t think it’s a good description of us, as a people.  But it’s possible that we could open our eyes and remember who we really are, and if we do, it will be reflected in the government we build. 

Our government is currently corrupt.  I think we’d do well to admit that and instead of shaking our fists at the sky, take responsibility for it.  These are the people we elected, right or wrong.  These are the walking, talking, living, breathing decisions that we made.

The system needs overhauled, and it’s not like an engine.  We can’t take it off-line and do that.  We have to overhaul it while it’s still moving.

Conversely, we cannot change corporations.  We can barely affect them.  Just look at BP – they turned the Gulf of Mexico into their own personal toilet, and that’s about as close as we’ve come to really having an impact on a giant corporation like that.  We temporarily dragged their stock prices down with our outrage, and of course, that’s mostly in the past.

Take a look at this article.  The first Gulf Coast deepwater drilling permit of the year has been issued, and if you look at the press release, it’s been granted to Noble Energy. 

Well, at least Noble Energy is the majority owner of the new well, and so you won’t find in that  press release that the owner of 46.5% of that same well is good old BP.  You’ll in fact find a lot of careful wording to avoid that, but there they are. 

We really rose up and took the power back, didn’t we?  Is this really okay with everybody?

Are we 100% certain we want to keep dropping wells like this at all?  Well we’re doing it, so that’s our oil on our hands over there.  It’s ours unless we’re screaming “Stop.”

Listen.  I don’t think the government’s doing a bang up job, either.  But we have far more control over the government than we do over Wall Street.   Why on Earth would we trust corporations to “reinvest in America” and then refuse to believe that our government – of the people, for the people, by the people – could ever do the job for them?

In the modern world, we can watch the watchmen like hawks.  Can, will, and should.   Ten years ago, how would you have ever found out that BP owned such a large chunk of that well?  We have a technological advantage that we didn’t have ten years ago.

Information flies faster than lies.  We can do this, and they don’t want us to. 

We can manage our own government.  Corporate spin machines want you to believe that the government is a hostile alien entity because the government is all that can regulate their avarice and greed.  They want us to hate and fear our government, because deep down they hate and fear the idea that we might ever gain control of it again.

We can see every vote our elected officials cast, every program they implement, every dollar they spend.  We need to manage our government like it’s our own business, our own hardware store, our own pizza shop.  Our own household.

Because it is.  It really is all of those things. 

Certainly I’m not saying, let’s blindly trust everything the government does.  We have to tell the government what we want it to do, elect officials to enact our instructions, and fire them unceremoniously if they fail to meet our expectations.  Relentlessly, belting out our own ideals like a blogger who won’t shut the hell up. 

If you don’t trust us as a nation to do that, and you don’t trust our system of government to respond to that appropriately, then I really don’t understand why you bother voting in the first place.

 

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How About A Nice Tall Glass Of Socialism?

People like to pretend socialism is like being a werewolf or a leper or something, as if just brushing up against the concept would mean that we’d plunge into some kind of Stalinist nightmare world and never come back.

Of course really, we have lots of socialist programs, and lots of socialist concepts at work here in our perfectly free country – Medicare, Social Security, etc – and yes, we’re still a capitalist society and we’re still a representative democracy. 

Socialism is one end of a political spectrum, and at the other end of the spectrum is fascism, and what we generally agree on in this country is we want to be neither of those things.  We want to be in the middle of them.

And so then a common thing for either political party to do is to note which direction any given program takes us and then declare is to be socialism/fascism, as is appropriate, and then that’s pretty much the end of it.

Bush is a fascist.  Obama is a socialist.  That kind of thing.

In fact, we need to realize that every single thing we do as a nation takes us one direction or the other, and so we’re always taking steps toward or away from fascism, toward or away from socialism.

In other words, if you were screaming “socialism!” at the Health Care Bill, then I hope you were screaming “fascism!” at the Patriot Act.  And yes, vice versa.

Swap out the operative words in that example for a moment, and replace them with “freezing point” and “boiling point.”  That’s another example of a spectrum, a much more easily quantifiable spectrum, too.

Now take a glass of water and place it roughly in the center, say 50 degrees Celsius.  That’s us, politically. 

Now reduce the temperature of that glass of water by three degrees, and you can see that although the temperature of the glass has moved toward the freezing point, it is not, in fact, frozen.  It’s not even close.

So if you staunchly object to frozen liquids, and the House passes a bill which reduces the temperature of the glass of water to 47 degrees Celsius, and you start screaming “That’s ice!  old-fashioned ice!”

Well, you can see how you’d be wrong, yes? 

Now put the words back.  The House passes a bill that moves the country toward socialism, as opposed to moving it toward fascism or refraining from moving it at all.  So if you then scream “That’s socialism!”

Then you can see how you’re wrong again, yes?  Since the exact same logical operation occurred?

Now perhaps your objection is something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t want my country moved toward socialism at all!”

And I mean, this part’s really important – I need you to get three points here:

  1. It doesn’t matter what you want, if more people want something else.  That’s the democracy you selectively value.  In action, yes sir – right there.  Democracy means you don’t always get your way. 
  2. If we never moved toward socialism, then we’d eventually be fascist – unless we didn’t move at all.  Anybody feeling like this is a stable political and ideological place we’re in right now?  Anybody else feeling we ought to stay just like this forever?   Anybody feeling like fascism would be groovy?
  3. We already have some socialist programs, so there’s no need to act like any of this is crazy.  You might want to get rid of them, but again, that’s what elections are for.  The fact that we already have them means it isn’t much of a change.  That’s why I used three degrees in our example, instead of 49.

The reason that I am outlining all of this is that it is incomprehensible to me, how we just extended tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and then shortly afterward said, holy crap we’re so broke we have to go ahead and give those selfish, entitled teachers a pay cut.  Because God knows the wealthy have suffered enough.

Well, they would have, if we hadn’t extended those tax cuts.

It seems to me that when we get to the point that we don’t have much of a middle class anymore, and we’re cutting benefits to our teachers, cops, and firefighters, that’s the point when we need to tap the wealthy and get them to pay up.  Yet so many people act like that’s crazy.

I don’t know how we turned into this sycophantic, wealth-worshiping society, but it’s terrifying and sad.  So many people trot around the feet of the richest in the nation, just absolutely blubbering about how awesome they are and how wrong it would be to tax the shit out of them.

It reminds me of the little cartoon dog that hangs out with the big cartoon dog in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

What are we going to do today, Spike?  We going to chase the cat, Spike?

And then Spike smacks the little dog to the ground, and that only makes him kiss Spike’s ass more.

I really wish that more wealthy people were like Les Wexner, who recently gave $100 million to OSU – but I’m afraid he’s not the rule.  He’s the exception.  No, by and large, when we want to take a chunk of wealth from the wealthy, and redistribute it – well, we have to take it from them.  It’s called “taxation,” not “socialism,” but you can call it whatever you like, as long as we get to it.  Now.

That’s how we do it here in America, that’s how we’ve done it before, that’s what our capitalist system allows for, and yet the people who represent us just told these billionaire CEOs, no, don’t worry it.  We’ll just get it from the teachers – they can stay out of the country clubs from now on, won’t kill ’em.

How do you feel about someone elected to represent the people, who votes in this manner?  Please, if you’re not ready to throw up, then please explain to me how your mind works.  I would be creeped out and fascinated at the same time, like if Jeffrey Dahmer were talking to me. 

I’d like a nice, heaping plateful of Wealth Redistribution, right about now, with a tall glass of socialism to wash it down, if that’s what you want to call it.  On down the road, you can bet that I’ll be looking to paddle on the other side of the boat, so we don’t keep spinning around in a circle.  But right now, all the money is in one place.  I vote we redistribute the hell out of it. 

You of course vote how you please – the next election is frighteningly far away.  All I can say is, please use the time you have until then, to watch what your politicians appear to value.  They’re talking loud and clear about that topic, right now.  And please pay attention to the people in the streets, the teachers, the cops, the firefighters, and whoever else is next.

Pay attention to them, because they’re talking to us, too.  

I wonder, how much it will take for us to listen?

 
 

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