The Big Tent, Or Half-Tent-Plus-One

Big Tent Or Half-Tent-Plus-One

There are two basic views of how a society should be organized that can be the basis of a political system. They are: We’re all in this together; or Us against them.

This leads to two basic political identities. They are: I’m a caring American/Christian/person; or I’m a taxpayer.

Based on these views of how a society should be organized, and how people in this society see themselves, we get two approaches to governance: Generating harmony (the big tent); or Divide and rule (the half-tent plus one).

Today’s leading national proponent of the Us against them, I’m a taxpayer ID, divide and rule approach is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No one has had more success with this approach. By not making things better for anyone but a tiny few people on the top, he has nonetheless managed to squeak out election victories in his home state with a theme that might be summed up this way: People just a little better off than you must be brought down to your level.

Similar successes with this approach are also on view in many other places around the country. In Kansas, for example, a new law prevents folks receiving public assistance from using any of this aid to pay for a movie or go to a swimming pool — deriving relief from the Kansas summer sun in an air conditioned movie theater or swimming pool considered just a sop to “Them” paid for by abused taxpayers.

America seems to be getting smaller every day. The way we’re going, we may soon disappear as a civilized country altogether. Too bad. We once did better.

[This author’s newest book, Gorilla Warfare Against The Bureaucratic State — Confessions of a Lefty Libertarians, is now available from Amazon]



Gorilla Warfare

My new book just became available. It’s a real hoot.

A most unusual political memoir: Gorilla Warfare Against The Bureaucratic State (Confessions of a Lefty Libertarian).

This book’s definition of “gorilla” — An individual who takes on hopeless but worthwhile causes; who disrupts (at least for awhile) the machinations of deeply entrenched interests; or who causes a change (at least to some extent) in ossified thinking; and who does these things while wearing gorilla slippers.

The book describes the gorilla’s painful (and often painfully funny) dealings with the solar energy, poetry, environmental, and parking ticket establishments.

About the Author: Michael Silverstein is a former senior editor with Bloomberg News. Over the years his writing has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Constitution, Christian Science Monitor, etc. He’s also been a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Boston Phoenix, and a regular commentator on National Public Radio.

The Work To Be Poor Poem

The Work To Be Poor Poem

Work, work, work, work,
Work, work, work, work.

There’s more of us a’working now,
The numbers all are provin’,
Official tallies’ hopeful tale,
A workplace that improvin’;
You need a job, they’re out there friend,
So why ain’t you more jolly,
Is it because new jobs just let
You live like a Bengali?

The folks who rule us from DC
To our plight are oblivious,
They seem to think all work’s the same
And our work groans are frivolous;
We can’t convince them otherwise,
These leaders of the nation,
In fact most days they’re out of sight,
They’re somewhere on vacation.

I’d vote to save the middle class,
I’d vote for folks who care,
It would be nice to have that choice,
Alas…that choice ain’t there.

The Democratic Party—Brain Dead And Craven

The Democratic Party— Brain Dead And Craven

The lead story in the November 11 New York Times was about a Democratic Party whine. The party has been losing the support of working people because these people’s incomes have not been rising fast enough in recent years to allow them to live more comfortably or more securely. And the solutions offered to ameliorate this situation by Democratic Party thinkers — ideas like better education and infrastructure investment—while good in themselves, offer no direct or near-term potential to make big and meaningful improvements in wages for most workers.

Alas, runs the whine of the Democratic Party’s best and brightest, it’s not their fault because there is no silver bullet here. No quick way to close the growing income inequality gap.

Well of course there is a silver bullet. Here it is: Raise the top income tax rate on both earned and unearned incomes from its present 39.6 percent to 45 percent and use all the revenue generated, ALL OF IT, to reduce the bottom income tax rate from 10 percent to 5 percent.

That’s it. The silver bullet. And here’s what it would (and would not) do:

–It would NOT be a tax increase because no additional money goes into government coffers. It would just be a tax shift that would tax more the presently under-taxed rich, and tax less all other presently over- taxed working Americans.

–It would stop giving an unearned tax preference to people who do not work for their money at the expense of those who actually earn their livings by working for it.

–It would directly, immediately, and meaningfully reduce income inequality.

–It would immediately and directly put money into the hands of the 70 percent of Americans whose spending animates the economy. The working poor would feel the largest benefit, but because of the way the tax system is structured, everyone earning roughly $200,000 or less would immediately have more net income, income in their pockets, spending money. The economy would immediately boom in consequence.

–It would reduce government spending and in fact the size of government because fewer Americans would need government aid for things like food stamps because they would be keeping more of what they earn working.

–And this is critical: It would INCREASE real productive investment. This is because investment gravitates to where investors can make the most profit. These days, they can’t make it in investments in goods and services producing realms because most potential customers in these realms don’t have a lot of money to spend. So the investments go into bubble investments like derivatives and the stock market where profits tend overwhelming to benefit only the rich.

That’s the silver bullet. Simple, easy to understand by voters, obviously working to their own interests. So why haven’t the Democrats made this or something very like this their basic economic campaign issue?

Three reasons: The puffed up, over-priced academics and consultants who create their issues veer away from the obvious; party leaders these days fear introducing any such ideas that might offend their biggest campaign contributors; and perhaps most important, Democrats these days suffer from the political equivalent of beaten wife syndrome—a craven inability to directly challenge the conservative economic agenda. It’s a kind of thinking that does not begin with the notion that an idea is the best idea for the most people, but rather that all ideas put forward must be made within the context of what Republicans might deign to Republicans accept if shaped in ways that don’t go too strongly against Republicans’own preferences?

Within this craven and cowed context, would Republicans back the above proposal? Of course not! They would hate it. That’s the point!

That’s why it’s a campaign issue. Because it clearly sets one party’s views against the other party’s, giving voters something they don’t have today. A clear choice. This is supposed to be what elections are all about in this country. Something the present Democratic Party, Wall Street friendly and rich guys beard, has obviously forgotten.

So who need the Democratic Party? I don’t. The country doesn’t.

We need a new Middle Class Party. One that replaces the Democratic Party the way the Republicans replaced the Whigs all those years ago.

So where is this new party? Waiting. Waiting. Waiting….

Obama Prepares For His Last Great Sellout

President Obama Prepares For His Grand Sellout

Barack Obama, like the Clintons, is a creature of Wall Street. He’s a servant of this country’s currently dominant political force — the very rich and very richest, a group that styles itself the best and brightest.

His ability to totally sell out the interests of his party, the people that party purports to represent, and the country generally, however, has been restrained since he took office by a congress at least partially controlled by Democrats.

The Democrats lost control of the senate on Tuesday, and that restraint is now removed. Mr. Obama will now be free to do what he was put into office to do — completely sell out the poor and middle class to the lasting benefit of his rich and incredibly rich principals.

The mechanism by which he will do so was summed up in just a few words that appeared in a November 2 New York Times story: “Expecting a less friendly Congress after the election, President Obama’s aides are mapping out compromises with Republicans to expand trade and overhaul taxes.” Mitch McConnell, who wii soon head a Republican Senate, himself said he believed he and the President would at least be able “to work together on trade and taxes.”

You bet they will.

These compromises, no matter how packaged, will not only favor big corporate and financial interests to an extraordinary extent at the expense of everyone else, they will be so structured as to make serious future revisions extremely difficult.

Vast income inequality, an economic alpha-beta society, skewed maker and taker-based policy making, will be institutionalized. And because of Clinton-Obama domination of the Democratic Party apparatus, no real progressive populism will ever be allowed to take control of this once great vehicle of positive political and economic change.

It’s probably too late to stop the soon to appear Great Obama Sellout and its inevitable consequences. So then…

Let the slow, painful, challenged-at-every-turn creation of a new third party in this country begin in earnest.

A Progressive’s Call For Smaller Government

Conservatives are shredding the safety net. They say government spending here is getting out of control.

I agree. We have to reduce spending in this realm. And there’s only one sensible and sustainable way to do this: We have to reform the private sector of the economy.

Isn’t that obvious? The main reason more and more people need government aid is because their economic needs aren’t being met by working in the private sector. If they made enough, they wouldn’t need food stamps. If they made enough, they wouldn’t need subsidies to help pay for their health insurance.

Raise the minimum wage, and safety net spending decreases. Rebalance the tax code so it doesn’t unduly favor capital over labor, investors over workers, and fewer working people would qualify for earned income credits that reduce government revenues.

The government safety net that covers the elderly, the disabled and the impoverished young should of course remain in tact. But the part of that safety net that today is growing so quickly because working people are being squeezed in a top-heavy marketplace, could be cut dramatically with reforms of the private sector.

Progressives — ditto the conservatives’ call for smaller government. Just combine the call with the most sensible and sustainable way to bring it about. Marketplace reform.

(Michael Silverstein’s recent books, all available from Amazon, include: The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street, and the comic novels’ Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, The Bellman’s Revenge, and Murder At Bernstein’s.)

What The Democrats Need: A Voice, Not An Echo

In the 1964 presidential race between Barry Goldwater and LBJ, Goldwater got creamed. His conservative principles-based campaign went down to a massive electoral defeat. His campaign slogan, “A voice, not an echo,” appeared to be something the Republican Party would be wise to forget.

Except Republicans didn’t forget that slogan. Instead, a harder edged conservatism took hold of the party and with the passage of time led to its present dominance setting the national agenda.

Today conservative Republicans are the voice. Democrats are the echo. So…

Maybe it’s time for Democrats to find their own voice. A harder edged progressive voice. One that favors labor over capital, workers over investors, students over their bank lenders.. One that doesn’t keep making the hard choices between the economy and the environment because it’s recognized that sound environmental policies create more prosperous economies. One that promotes live energy of solar, wind and geothermal rather than raiding burial grounds for coal and oil to burn.

There’s a powerful progressive voice on many issues such as these. Perhaps not for an immediate 2104 victory. But for real political power in the future.

Progressives—Make 2014 your voice, not a Clinton-Obama echo. There’s no future in being satisfied with the least worst choices.

Personhood For All Living And Non-Living Things

An article in today’s New York Times describes the work of some lawyers seeking to win personhood rights for animals. You know. Dogs, monkeys, rabbits, ferrets, persons like that.

And why the hell not? Charley the Chimp is every bit as much a person as IBM or Apple.

And when you get right down to it, why not open the doors of personhood to single-celled as well as multi-celled creatures. Heck, the bacteria in your gut is also as much a person as some Wall Street corporation.

It would probably take years for the important constitutional issues involving personhood for everyone and everything to reach the Masters Of Law in our Supreme Court. So we’d better get the balling rolling soon. Because to get this critical constitutional issue settled appropriately, we’ll need the court to decide before legal giants like Scalia and Thomas have passed on.

Michael Silverstein’s latest books: The Devil’s Dictionary of Wall Street, Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, The Bellman’s Revenge, and Murder at Bernstein’s — all available from Amazon.

1992: The Year The Battle For Earth Was Lost

It’s Earth Day again. Important People will don flannel shirts and be photographed against a natural wonder or at an alternative energy site. Kids will hear the usual calls to be green while picking up trash in local parks. Scientists will clearly describe how we are massively transforming our planet for the worst in their annual 15 minutes of allotted air time, after which their warnings will be roundly ignored by the Important People in flannel shirts who think they have to keep pandering to polluters to remain Important.

These days it’s often hard to remember that meaningful steps to protect the planet were almost undertaken by Important People. That happened in 1992.

That year the largest gathering of world leaders in history came together in Rio de Janeiro to discuss collective efforts that might be taken to keep planetary systems healthy. George Bush, our president at the time, almost joined this bevy of Important People but backed off at the last minute because of objection from his party’s polluters’ wing.

But Bush was up for reelection in 1992 and the Democratic ticket included not just a very bright guy from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, but Mr. Environment, Al Gore, as his running mate. It was generally thought in environmental circles that if Bill and Al won the White House in 1992, there would be real action, dramatic action, to save the environment, and the proposals that had come out of the Rio environmental confab would get a giant boost.

The general public would certainly have approved such a development. In 1992, every major poll showed that concern about the environment was second only to worries about the economy. And the belief (a sensible belief) that good environmental practices were not the enemy of economic development was widespread.

Clinton-Gore got elected. But alas, it seemed the environment was not the priority they claimed it would be while running for office. Indeed, Washington’s environmentalism quickly devolved into the flannel shirt on Earth Day variety. By the time the administration of these worthies ended, organized environmentalism as a political movement was totally de-balled. It has yet to recover.

As you watch Important People these days making that never ending phony choice between the environment and the economy — as if they were actually distinct priorities —spare a moment to remember 1992. The world almost got it right that year. But Important People ended up thinking they had more Important things to do than save the planet.

Michael Silverstein’s latest books: The Devil’s Dictionary of Wall Street, Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, The Bellman’s Revenge, and Murder at Bernstein’s — all available from Amazon.

Putting The Right Spin On The Income Inequality Argument

Growing income inequality between the top one percent and the rest of the population seems a wonderful political issue for progressives. This will only be true, however, if the issue is framed properly, which has not always been the case.

For starters, it’s important to appreciate that economically speaking, income inequality is both natural and appropriate. You work harder than me, you’re better educated, you’re more skilled, you simply care more about spending your time and energy making a lot of money than I do because I have other priorities, these are just a few of the good reasons why income inequality exists and should exist.

There’s also nothing inherently bad about very large and growing income inequality. You made 100 units of income last year and 200 units this year (a hundred percent income increase), while my own income just went from 10 units to 12 units (a twenty percent increase), so what? For most of us life isn’t a competition over who gets richer, faster before dying. As long as some of the economy’s extra income trickles down, as long as I get my taste, as long as I get a little richer, if you get a lot richer, God bless.

What makes income inequality such a bad thing these days in these United States is thus not that it exists, not even its extent and growth. And contrary to what apologists for this growing disparity claim, not that it is the inevitable and unavoidable consequence of macro economic forces such as technology trends and globalization. The present 99-to-1 divide is simply and obviously the result of an economy that has been engineered to favor of capital over labor, unearned income over earned income, investors and managers over workers.

Phrased another way, the top one percent have enjoyed great additional prosperity at the expense of the 99 percent. Their more is our less.

All kinds of stats and facts could used to illustrate this reality. Here’s a simple and obvious situation that gets the point across.

Imagine a company. The wages of its workers have been kept stagnant while the benefits enjoyed by these workers, once paid by the company, are now paid for in large measure by the workers themselves. The net compensation of these workers declines in consequence. This is the 99 percent story in this situation.

At this same company. Because profits go up when total worker compensation declines, top managers use this to pad their own compensation packages. Shareholders of the company [mostly one percenters because the top 1 percent own two-thirds of all financial securities such as stocks] also get a bump in the form of bigger dividends and capital gains. Such unearned income is taxed at favorable rates, rates much lower than the earned income rates paid by workers. This unearned income is also not subject to the Payroll (Society Security) Tax paid by workers on their earned income [and approximately two-thirds of workers pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes]. This is the 1 percent story in this situation.

The other side’s income inequality argument is well known and well honed. It portrays this growing disparity as a reflection of the success of the deserving, a reflection of the American Dream to achieve great personal wealth, a tribute to the joys of our opportunity society, and those angry over this growing spread as jealous and envious economic losers.

This, then, is the appropriate reply to this argument that doesn’t go against rewarding the successful or the American Dream myth: There’s nothing wrong with income inequality because some people deserve to earn more than others. There’s even nothing intrinsically wrong with great and growing income inequality, as long as everyone wins at least a little while a few are winning very big. But when this great and growing spread results from market and government policies deliberately warped in ways that favor the very few at the expense of the many it’s a very bad thing — bad for the health of our democracy as well as the health of our economy.

(Recent books from Michael Silverstein: The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street; Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan; The Bellman’s Revenge; and Murder At Bernstein’s — To contact him: