2013

2012

You are a white man aged 30 without a college degree. Your grandfather returned from World War II, got a cheap mortgage courtesy of the GI bill, married his sweetheart and went to work in a factory job that paid him something like $50,000 in today’s money plus health benefits and pension. Your father started at that same factory in 1972. He was laid off in 1981, and has never had anything like as good a job ever since. He’s working now at a big-box store, making $40,000 a year, and waiting for his Medicare to kick in. Now look at you. Yes, unemployment is high right now. But if you keep pounding the pavements, you’ll eventually find a job that pays $28,000 a year. That’s not poverty! Yet you seem to waste a lot of time playing video games, watching porn, and sleeping in. You aren’t married, and you don’t go to church. I blame Frances Fox Piven. How you can tell a story about the moral decay of the working class with the “work” part left out is hard to fathom.

2011

I suppose I agree with Will Wilkinson about the importance of “an ethos of initiative, hard work, and individual responsibility” though I have no real idea why he thinks most progressives are against such an ethos. It strikes me that cultivating such an ethos is sort of integral to making a progressive agenda work. I think back sometimes to the time when I stumbled into a Stockholm Metro station and got the person working the booth to explain what I needed to do to use the city’s bikeshare system. This wasn’t really her job, and the conversation wasn’t in her native language, and obviously no practical harm would have come to her if she’d blown me off but I take it that she took pride in working for Stockholm Metro and had a self-conception as someone who’s a helpful public servant. Any effective public agency from the United States Marine Corps on down is built in pretty profound ways on an ethos of duty and hard work in an even more profound way than things in the for-profit business sector. People who believe in public sector work and public services must believe in the idea of a strong work-ethic.

the way to understand the “Barney Frank did it” school of thought about the crisis is that it’s an attempt to turn a huge defeat for conservative ideas into a win. The reality of the financial crisis was that deregulation - which was part of a broader rightward shift in policies that played a large role in creating rapid growth in income inequality - led to an economic catastrophe of the kind that just didn’t happen during the 50 years or so when we had effective bank regulation. So the right’s answer is to claim not just that the government did it, but that it caused the crisis by its attempts to reduce inequality! It’s kind of a masterstroke, in an evil way.

On average, contractors may be billing the government approximately 1.83 times what the government pays federal employees to perform similar work. When the average annual contractor billing rates were compared with the average annual full compensation paid to private sector employees in the open market, POGO found that in all occupational classifications studied, the contractor billing rates were, on average, more than twice the costs incurred by private sector employers for the same services.

The great delusion of the age is that society must be endlessly grateful to the wealthy. They owe nothing to society. Rather, society owes everything to them as “wealth generators” because society contributes nothing to their success. The mores and values that inform the rest of human interaction - reciprocity, proportional distribution of pain and reward, trust and social obligation - must be suspended for them. If we want to enjoy the benefits of a dynamic capitalism we must recognise that the rich are different - and not self-defeatingly tax them. American neo-conservatives and their Republican outriders have worked tirelessly for 50 years to promote this hocus pocus, which offends not only the first principles of humanity, but of what we know about capitalism.

Not long ago, a political party seeking to change U.S. policy would try to achieve that goal by building popular support for its ideas, then implementing those ideas through legislation. That, after all, is how our political system was designed to work. But today’s G.O.P. has decided to bypass all that and go for a quicker route. Never mind getting enough votes to pass legislation; it gets what it wants by threatening to hurt America if its demands aren’t met. That’s what happened with the debt-ceiling fight, and now it’s what’s happening over disaster aid. In effect, Mr. Cantor and his allies are threatening to take hurricane victims hostage, using their suffering as a bargaining chip.

The National Flood Insurance Program Reextension Act of 2010 was sponsored by a bipartisan group, it passed the filibuster-ridden Senate by unanimous consent on September 21, it passed the House of Representatives on a voice vote on September 23, and was signed into law by President Obama a week later. The lead sponsor of the current Flood Insurance Reauthorization is Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. Amidst fierce ideological debate about the size and scope of the federal government, in other words, there’s no serious budget-cutting move to stop subsidizing people from living in dangerous flood zones.

A very large share of the public has no income that hasn’t already been reported to the IRS by the payer and doesn’t itemize deductions. Under the circumstances, the sensible thing would be for the IRS to send everyone a sheet of paper that says “based on the income that’s been reported to us and your family status from last year, your taxes owed (or refund owed to you) is $X with standard deductions. If something’s changed, or if that income number is wrong, or if you want to itemize deductions, you should fill out forms blah blah blah. Otherwise, just send a check.” A lot of us would still need to wrestle with the forms and nobody likes to give up money, but this would be much more convenient for millions of people. We don’t do it because H&R Block and TurboTax don’t want to lose customers and, crucially, because the conservative movement wants taxes for ordinary people to be as annoying as possible. Rich people don’t care about this kind of simplification because they itemize their deductions and hire accountants. But they benefit from middle class people resenting the tax process because it helps them build the case for low tax rates.

2010