Author Archive

January 11, 2012

Competition with China

Foxconn employees in China are threatening to commit mass suicide over low pay and inhumane conditions, which follows 14 other mass suicides. Foxconn provides products to companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Sony.

There are a couple of reasons why China will most likely outpace the growth of our economy: 1) they have three times as many people, and 2) they have almost no worker’s rights whatsoever and are able to push sweatshop employees to death.

Please keep this in mind when politicians speak about competing with China.

Read more at the Huffington Post

November 4, 2011

The Root of our Problems

A common misconception of the Occupy movement, one that has been repeated within the national media ad nauseam, is that they don’t have any specific demands. Well, anyone with a reasonable amount of knowledge about the movement knows that this assertion is patently false. A central message emerges from amongst the crowds and signs of Zuccotti Park: the elimination of the rampant corporate influence and corruption found within our political sphere. As well it should be.

If you think about it, nearly all of our woes as a country appear to be symptoms of this larger problem. Our massive amount of defense spending? Consider how much we spend on private contractors, like the now-defunct Blackwater. Our faulty health care industry? Consider the millions in political donations made by health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations. The financial crisis, of which Main Street has yet to emerge, and the subsequent watered-down attempt at reform known as Dodd-Frank? Consider the millions in political donations made by major financial institutions (of which some of that was our own money that we used to keep them from collapsing). Our increasing prison population and our persistence in maintaining a failed war on drugs? Consider privately-owned penal systems. Income inequality? Well, you get the idea.

And that’s not to mention the apparent revolving-door employment policy between lobbying organizations and public office.

These are just a few of the systemic issues plaguing us as citizens and the list goes on and on. So, what do we do about it?

A great idea, which has been circulating on the internet for some time, would be to pass a constitutional amendment banning corporate campaign contributions. Realistically, this is extremely difficult to do (there’s a reason why we only have 27 amendments) and it is rife with a few pragmatic concerns, although these could be easily addressed.

For example, limiting or banning corporate contributions would have no affect on lobbying practices. Lobbying, itself, is not a bad thing. In fact, there are many lobbying groups that address our concerns. The problem is that they have no where near as much money as corporate special interest groups. A solution to this, aside from eliminating lobbying all together, would be to regulate lobbying practices and spending.

Another concern would be that such an amendment would not prevent the super-rich from donating much more than your average American. We already have a annual caps on individual donations to campaigns ($2,500 for federal, $5,000 for local and state) as well as to parties and committees ($30,800 for federal, $10,000 for local and state), but they are woefully inefficient at democratizing our campaign process. Considering that the average American family makes around $50,000 a year, there is no way they could contribute anywhere near as much as a person that makes over a million a year. Thus a good argument could be made for the public financing of campaigns.

These are but a few possible solutions we should be considering as we move forward. These will be hard battles, considering how entrenched corruption is within our system, but they will be necessary battles. We are the David to their Goliath, and our sling is armed and ready.

October 18, 2011

When Education is a Privilege

The unemployment rate for people without college degrees is around 14.5%, and over 20% for the younger generations. This is largely the result of globalization and automation. So, people get college degrees to keep from falling behind. And as a nation, we want our citizens to be as educated as possible, as this increases our globally competitiveness and ultimately increases our GDP.

Thus, we want to promote education and make it as available as possible to capable people. Problem is, the average yearly tuition has been increasing 4x faster than real wages. So now we are at the untenable position where a single year’s tuition is, on average, around $14,000. Considering that the average american family makes slightly under $50,000 a year, most students will have to rely on loans. Loans that cannot be discharged due to hardship or through bankruptcy, mind you.

This leads us to the near-trillion dollar student loan debt and graduates entering the work force already saddled with a debt that is more and more frequently becoming larger than your average mortgage. Many people are required to pay over $1,000 a month, if they’re lucky enough to have a job. This results in people putting off buying a house, or starting a family, or starting a business, and renders them entirely dependent on the job(s) they’re lucky enough to get.

This is not to ignore the fact that many businesses have realized how much recent grads want work in their field, resulting in extended unpaid or underpaid internships and externships. This practice is actually not far off from full-fledged indentured servitude.

All in all, our current system is set up so that an intelligent and capable American, who happen to be poor, cannot be properly educated to lead our nation in technology, science and innovation.


October 10, 2011

Alan Grayson Schools PJ O’Rourke

The level of condescension on the panel is disgusting, but Grayson cuts through it and receives a standing ovation.

October 8, 2011

Occupy All the Things

The movement that has become known as Occupy Wall St. has spread like wildfire across the United States. Americans are finally drawing the line, and rediscovering the importance of being involved in their own governance. And with income and wealth inequality at an all time high, both compared with our own history and countries around the world, it is good that our voices are loud. We say, Occupy all the things!!

September 14, 2011

Elizabeth Warren for US Senate

Elizabeth Warren, everyone’s favorite champion for the middle class, has entered the Democratic primary in the fight to reclaim Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat!

August 11, 2011

Stephen Colbert’s First SuperPAC Ad for Rick Perry

In the past few months, Stephen Colbert has been setting up his own SuperPAC.  You know, those strange entities that, after the Citizens United v FEC decision, serve as funnels for unlimited corporate funding for campaigns?  Well yeah,  it appears he’s set on using it to  wreak absurd havoc in the Republican primaries.

August 10, 2011

Social Class and Social Behavior

Why, George… you’re worth more dead than alive.”

Mr. Potter’s famous line from It’s a Wonderful Life was indicative of him being a greedy, selfish man, although anyone who has seen the movie does not need to hear it to have formed that impression of him.  Mr. Potter wanted to foreclose on cash-strapped home-owners.  He stated that providing assistance to the less well-off would create “a discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class”.  He did what he could to profit and benefit from the people.  All were means to prop up his greed, an end that would not and could not be sated.  He became the perfect example of what Americans hate about the rich and what the socially-conscious rich have tried not to become.

Mr. Potter is also an extreme example of the cognition and behavior exhibited by the upper-class.  Well, at least that’s what has been posited by a recent study published in Current Directions in Psychological ScienceThe study, headed by Michael Kraus, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, argues that social class involves more than just the quality and quantity of material possessions.  Rather they argue an individual’s social class is a cultural identity that influences how one thinks, feels and behaves.  Although a loud, resounding ‘Duh’ is probably echoing in your head right now, the study does make surprising observations regarding the more subtle aspects of social behavior.

For example, there were observable differences in nonverbal social engagement.  Specifically, when two participants of different social class were videotaped while meeting each other for the first time the upper-class participant showed little non-verbal engagement (ie: playing with their phone, not maintaining eye contact) while the lower-class participant presented in the opposite fashion (ie: responsive head nods, laughter).

It was also observed that upper-class participants were less accurate in judging the emotions of others via facial cues and less likely to be charitable than lower-class participants, who tended to be very empathically accurate and helpful towards others.

What could be the source of these differences?  Well, the authors postulate that it has everything to do with available resources.  Specifically, upper-class individuals tend to have enough resources to ensure a comfortable existence and have thus turned their cognitive focus inward toward the self.  The opposite seems to be the case for lower-class individuals, who tend not to have the resources to ensure survival and thus have to rely on others.  This would also provide explanation as to why upper-class individuals tend to attribute another individual’s problem to their disposition (“those unemployed are just lazy parasites”) while lower-class individuals would attribute the problem to an external situation.

What implications could these have for public policy?  Given the context of this blog, I’m pretty sure you have a good idea of one.  Well, there’s no need for speculation!  Keltner lays is out pretty simply:

“One clear policy implication is, the idea of nobless oblige or trickle-down economics, certain versions of it, is bull.  Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back. The ‘thousand points of light’—this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society—is improbable, psychologically.”

There you have it folks.  Considering that the ideal of noblesse oblige has been the basis of our domestic economic policy for the past three decades, do we really need to ask how income distribution became so unequal?

July 25, 2011

Words of Wisdom

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” -Abraham Lincoln

July 25, 2011

Thom Hartmann and Josh Holland Expose the ‘Rich=Job Creator’ Lie

If the ‘rich are our job creators’ theory ascribed by conservatives were accurate, then we should be seeing the creation of millions of jobs.

Regulations and taxes are at historic lows and the top 1% earners are making more in comparison to the average family than they were before the beginning of the Great Depression.  Add this to the fact that corporations are also sitting on $2 trillion in wealth and one begins to wonder ‘Well, job creators now have a massive influx of capital, why am I not getting job interviews?’.   Well, the specifics can be complicated (like automation and globalization stripping us of our mid-skilled positions), but the answer really is not.  The reason why this massive influx of capital isn’t helping to grow jobs is because, quite simply, they don’t have the customers.  The primary cause and symptom of our rickety economy, depressed aggregate demand, has not been sufficiently addressed.  And now, with nearly every political entity buying into the “OMG!  WE MUST FIX THE DEBT NOW” narrative and agreeing that we need to cut domestic entitlement spending, aggregate demand appears set to get worse before it gets any better.

This is the topic of discussion between Thom Harmann and Josh Holland.

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