There Is No 99%

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106 Responses

  1. Avatar Roger says:

    Absent government coercion, they are not my master. I wish the rich well and wish there were more of them and that they were each a thousand times as rich as they are today.
    I just do not want them to coerce me. And I know what the tool of coercion is.Report

    • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Roger says:

      The problem is that you think there’s only one tool. Coercion isn’t limited to the law.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Mr. Blue says:

        Just to clarify, government can be used as a monopoly on just coercion. That is, that all coercion is prohibited, except the ability to use coercion as a last resort to prevent coercion.

        If there is coercion occurring by someone other than the government, or if coercion is used for something other than the prohibition of coercion, then we have a problem that needs to be corrected. The fist priority is to understand the proper institutions of coercion.

        In terms of game theory, the idea is to change the system dynamics so that coercive win lose interactions are converted to lose lose interactions, and thus rational players will avoid exploiting each other.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

          good luck.Report

        • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Roger says:

          Roger, do you think blackmail should be legal? It’s a voluntary transaction where you’re buying yourself a better life for someone’s silence. It’s also coercion. A lot of economic interactions fall into this category. You have a choice, but failing to agree on my terms means I will make your life worse off than it could be. The line between negotiation and coercion is thin when one party has enough leverage over the other.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mr. Blue says:

            better yet, when you’re being blackmailed for something you didn’t do, and you know it, but decline to tell the person who’s blackmailing you to kiss off, because they’re that dangerous.

            This is not an uncommon state of affairs among the intelligentsia.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Mr. Blue says:

            Blue,

            Of course I don’t think blackmail should be legal.

            Of course there are fine lines between voluntary actions and duress. That is what the court system is built for — to act as an impartial arbitrator in such matters.

            The key to reducing leverage imbalances between parties is competition and choice. The power imbalance between me and a fortune 500 corporation is immense. A voluntary interaction of employment between us would be a system where if the two of us were the only agents, that they could get me to accept the minimum possible positive sum deal. However, this is totally destroyed in a system of competition. Once other employers enter the stage, the deal we strike is going to be based upon my going rate. It is the employers who are forced to compete for me. With multiple potential employers, the power imbalance is negated.

            One other thing. The greater the power imbalance, the more the weaker party benefits from any voluntary interaction. This is actually implicit I your argument. The fact that a job could mean life or death to me and it means one tenth of one percent of profit to the employer means that I benefit in utility subjectively more than they do. It amazes me that so many progressives have never been able to see this.

            Voluntary interactions with competition is the goose that lays the golden eggs for the disadvantaged.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

              The fact that a job could mean life or death to me and it means one tenth of one percent of profit to the employer means that I benefit in utility subjectively more than they do.

              Lefties (I’m not a progressive on your understanding of the term) see this Roger. Of course they do. But they reject it as a normative ideal, and they reject it as a normative justification for the exchange precisely because it’s so close to coercive/involuntary.

              Also, subjective utility assessments can’t be measured on a relative basis, otherwise they aren’t subjective. 🙂 What you mean is that the objective utility of the exchange – viewed separately from it’s voluntariness – benefits the desperate worker more than the capitalist. But if that’s the case, then the capitalist is wrong to not pay the worker more, since doing so would increase total utility.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater,

                That is what I intended to say in the first part of my response. Sorry if it wasn’t clear. The same imbalance that makes them worry about duress implies the subjective utility gains are greater for the agent with less power. Competition thus solves the power imbalance problem and allows the low powered agent to capture the large subjective utility gains.

                Progressives….does this make sense to you, or are we speaking past you? If you disagree, why?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Roger,

                Competition thus solves the power imbalance problem and allows the low powered agent to capture the large subjective utility gains.

                Agreed. A less competitive labor market does wonders for subjective utility gains. People have more choices, usually at better pay. That’s probably the primary reason why lefties shout about offshoring our (US) jobs: as labor competition increases, workers utility gains decline. In neoliberal theory, the decrease in income (and other utility?) is supposed to be offset or even increased by cheaper prices per capita. (Offshoring is also claimed by some to create domestic jobs, but I don’t think the math adds up.) Of course, the per capita figures don’t mean a hillobeans to the plastics worker who’s now working at Kwikmart.

                So, the solution (if you can call it that) is to stimulate the labor market by increasing demand for jobs.

                How do we do that?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater,

                I really like the web site that surveys some of the top economists in the world on various questions. They usually just ask them how much they agree or disagree with a statement though.

                My take on the overwhelming consensus of economists is that technology and global trade are — as you state — suppressing wages, and that free trade is the best path long term for prosperity, both for the US and worldwide.

                On the other hand, it is easy to say this and not be the one that hands the pink slip to the laborer whose job is no longer needed because we hired a guy in Vietnam. Economic progress moves on through creative destruction, and the laborer’s family needs food too. The problem is that if we stop the creative progress because it hurts too much, it hurts us all more in the future. The guy in Vietnam counts too, at least to God’s perspective (to say nothing about the Vietnamese guy’s family).

                Here is what the economists say…
                http://www.igmchicago.org/igm-economic-experts-panel/poll-results?SurveyID=SV_0IAlhdDH2FoRDrm

                http://www.igmchicago.org/igm-economic-experts-panel/poll-results?SurveyID=SV_0dfr9yjnDcLh17mReport

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

                This lacuna in the symposium hit me too, Roger, the rising tide for the world’s poor. America’s “inequality” is a joke next to bringing up those living on a dollar a day.

                We could kill the rich and divvy up their stuff, then the poor would have $2 a day.

                This year. Not next, though. Perhaps we could put the rich to better use.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                Perhaps we could put the rich to better use.

                Now you’re thinking like a liberal!Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

                We could kill the rich and divvy up their stuff, then the poor would have $2 a day. This year. Not next, though. Perhaps we could put the rich to better use.

                14 Stillwater June 18, 2012 at 10:46 pm
                Perhaps we could put the rich to better use.

                Now you’re thinking like a liberal!

                Mr. Stillwater, you have just backed into Reaganomics. My sympathies, and congratulations.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                So, the solution (if you can call it that) is to stimulate the labor market by increasing demand for jobs.

                Being misanthropic, I think the best way to stimulate the labor market is to reduce the supply…with extreme prejudice if necessary.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                Who goes first, D or Rs?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                In blue states, Ds. In red states, Rs.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

      blackmail?
      Threats?

      there are people in this world whose lives have been ruined because of random whims/vendettas by the superrich.

      I know who not to cross in my city. I somehow doubt you do in yours.Report

    • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Roger says:

      Maybe there are two things here that are being discussed as if they were one. Money is power. But there are different sorts of power. I have no objection whatsoever to a rich person enjoying the purchasing power of their money to the max. Big, shiny, cool — buy it. I’m happy for you.

      But as an admirer of the “One Person, One Vote” idea, I do not like the idea of the power of money giving the rich extra political power. I realize that it is probably unavoidable, but I don’t like it much, and I would like to see that side of money’s power diminished in some way. Even if it is unavoidable, I don’t want a Rockefeller to have a bigger say in the functions of my society/government than I or anyone else does.

      Unattainable ideal? Certainly. But so are a great many other ideas I see discussed here. Increased purchasing power, si! Increased political power, no!

      How do we work toward that?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to rexknobus says:

        The powerful and the special interests will eventually take charge of the reins of government coercion. The solution is to minimize the scope and powers of government to the bare minimum. The more it does, the more it will be coopted.

        The other solution is to give people as much choice as possible so that they can use their choice to exit coercive situations.Report

        • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Roger says:

          “The powerful and the special interests will eventually take charge of the reins of government coercion.”

          Certainly. The analogy that works for me is medical: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The means by which the government (at least in this context) is subverted is the application of money, i.e., political power. Diminishing the untoward power of money to influence government sounds like a great place to start, rather than slashing at government after the fact.

          “The solution is to minimize the scope and powers of government to the bare minimum.”

          You won’t diminish the powers of government (in this context) without significantly diminishing the power of the money subverting it. And what is a “bare minimum?” To me, speed limits, social security, FDA regulations, building codes, and many other things I can think of are “bare minimums” that I want from my government — and all of them are, to some extent, coercive.

          And, concerning your final point about choice. We already has as much choice as possible (at least as defined by our current system). We can vote. And yet somehow the power inherent in money seems to affect that freedom quite a bit. Aren’t most elections won by the biggest spenders? (At least politicians are driven by that belief.)

          As I said, I like the “one person, one vote” thing, and I don’t want to change that. But if and when it seems as if money is swaying that dynamic, it should at least be examined closely. How does money affect elections, how much of that effect are we willing to absorb, and what should be done to counter what doesn’t serve us?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to rexknobus says:

            Good comment. I largely agree with you. This is one of the sticky, seemingly intractable disagreements between liberals and libertarians.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

              I agree that it’s one of the sticking points. Briefly, here is part of the reason why.

              Diminishing the untoward power of money to influence government sounds like a great place to start,

              That sounds good, but how do we do it? There’s an old saying that money in politics is like water–it will find a way to flow downhill. None of the campaign finance laws we’ve enacted over the past 4 decades has been an effective dam; they’ve all just shifted the spending. There seems to be an idea here that if we can just make a firm enough rule against the rich using their money to influence politics then we can actually prevent them from using their money to influence politics. It’s not my libertarianism or any sympathy with the wealthy that leads me to think that’s an unrealistic ideal–it’s my belief that the wealthy have the motive and the means to get around those rules one way or the other.

              You won’t diminish the powers of government (in this context) without significantly diminishing the power of the money subverting it.

              Libertarians tend to think this has cause and effect reversed, because it’s an issue of incentives. If you take away money in politics, you don’t take away the incentive for people to seek to control its power, and as long as the power is there rich people have an incentive to spend their money trying to control it. Dramatically limit government’s power (particularly its power to rig economic rules), and there’s less incentive to spend boatloads of money trying to control it.

              I think liberals disagree with both of those analyses, but I honestly am not sure where they think the error is.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Mark Thompson says:

                We disagree about the point where libertarians throw the baby out with the bathwater.

                Dramatically limit government’s power (particularly its power to rig economic rules), and there’s less incentive to spend boatloads of money trying to control it.

                Dramatically limit government’s power over economic rules and it’s golden rule time: he who has the gold, makes the rules. Sure, you don’t have “government” making the rules, you just have Standard Oil and hired gun-toting mercenaries making the rules.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                M.A.,

                On the other thread, where you asked me a question, I noted that I’d be happy to have a discussion if you really wanted a discussion, but would decline if all you wanted was another excuse to just throw out insults. Well, this comment of yours isn’t an insult, but it is a strawman.

                I’m not talking about eliminating rules against fraud, prevention of externalities, and the like. Calm down, quit assuming I’m shilling for the corporate elite, and I’ll be happy to explain. But really, this perpetual assumption of extremist views is getting awfully boring, old chap.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                Start explaining, and you’ll be considerably less frustrating than when you just shout “no true scotsman, no true scotsman” again without explanation.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                MA, you lost a golden opportunity, brother. James isn’t what you think he is. In fact, he’s probably clearer on the arguments you’re making than you are, and yet!, he disagrees with them. There’s a reason.

                Maybe it’s not too late to engage!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                M.A., each time I (or Roger) have tried to explain our position you’ve just yelled FYIGM. It’s a bit late to blame anyone but yourself.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to M.A. says:

                Oh, hey, look! A critic of libertarianism who doesn’t have a clue what libertarianism is. This is a novelty indeed!Report

              • Avatar Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

                The error as I see it is I don’t see how you imagine you can limit government’s power any more than you can limit the government’s use of power.

                Put another way… if the wealthy find government coercion to be a useful tool, why do you imagine that they will let you take that tool away from them? Think of it as meta-public choice.

                So what’s your plan?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rod says:

                if the wealthy find government coercion to be a useful tool, why do you imagine that they will let you take that tool away from them?

                That’s a good point. The way I see it, government was created by the powerful to serve the interests of power, and the long slow slog of progress is defined by wrestling what was once unilateral power over policy away from them. (More or less.)Report

              • Avatar James Vonder Haar in reply to Rod says:

                Exactly. Public choice theory doesn’t end in a paean for limited government, but fatalism. Call it deregulatory capture. If the system is already compromised by moneyed interests, deregulation as surely as regulation will occur only when it is in the politically ascendent’s interest.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

                Public choice theory doesn’t end in a paean for limited government,

                I disagree. Public choice theory is about natural tendencies, not laws of nature. It does incline one toward pessimism, to be sure, but not absolute fatalism.

                One of the primary founders of public choice theory, James Buchanan, actually came away from his studies with a profound belief in the system of separation of powers, which pretty much is a paean for limited government.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

                The way out is choice and competition. The Public Choice gurus have not just diagnosed the problem, they have also provided insights in how to begin solving the issue.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Rod says:

                Rod,
                So what’s your plan?

                Constitutional amendments. It’s an imperfect method, but it seems to be the only method that’s ever had any chance of working. I don’t expect miracles or utopia if such amendments were passed, just some improvement from the status quo ante.

                Now, how do I plan to get there? That’s where the miracle comes in. 😉 More seriously, I think the only chance is to play divide and conquer–tell each discrete interest that it will constrain the other interests’ ability to fish around with the system. It’s a long shot, and I don’t expect it to actually happen. But if it did, it might actually have some effect.

                Or we can keep going after campaign finance reform, where we have a real chance at passing legislation, but only because it ultimately won’t have the desired effect. (It will have the effect of strengthening incumbency, of course, which is why elected officials don’t mind supporting it.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                There seems to be an idea here that if we can just make a firm enough rule against the rich using their money to influence politics then we can actually prevent them from using their money to influence politics

                I think that gets it backwards, actually. The liberal thinks that since money will always act to pursue their preferred outcomes, government is a useful tool to constrain that behavior. And it’s been tremendously successful in lots of areas. It seems to me libertarians like to point out the failures – the Gulf Oil Spill! – and generalize from a specific case to an indictment of the entire institutional structure.

                If you take away money in politics, you don’t take away the incentive for people to seek to control its power, and as long as the power is there rich people have an incentive to spend their money trying to control it.

                I’d say that the Gilded Age would count as a counterexample to what you wrote here. The federal gummint was, at that time, as small as it could be (no tax revenue!) and yet powerful interests coopted control of government which led to the creation of huge monopolies (with state intervention, no doubt, as libertarians like to remind us). So the point is that a small federal government can be captured just as easily as a larger state. Easier, I’d say, since there are fewer moving parts to capture.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Still,

                I think the standard account of the gilded age is deeply wrong, particularly as regards to monopolies. I think there were few to no real monopolies (Standard Oil, for example, was never a true monopoly and its market share began declining almost from the moment of its original consolidation). Rather, we had an unprecedented increase in size of firms that rocked the economic and social landscape, nothing that would be shocking to us today, but something so radical for its time that people could hardly comprehend it. And people tend to react very negatively to radical social change, of course. And among the things they legitimately were shocked by, working conditions, was made possible among other things by a vast labor surplus that was 100% the consequence of an immigration boom.

                And part of what made the new corporations so shocking was that they were interstate. Most state’s laws prevented corporations that were incorporated in other states. Hence a person would buy up or incorporate similar firms in multiple states, instead of simply expanding into them, and then operate them as one company. That’s where the “trusts” come from, but really they weren’t doing anything that a normal interstate business doesn’t do today.

                Still, the traditional accounts do suggest that the influence on governments was significant. A close study would look at what kind of government powers these corporations were seeking to control. If it was primarily the economic regulatory power of the state or federal government, I’m not sure how the experience would undermine my arguments.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, I’m a little disappointed in that response, actually. One of the standard libertarian responses to liberals who criticize the centralization of private wealth during the Gilded Age is to say that that wealth, and that centralization, couldn’t have occurred without government intervention (otherwise, how could a competitive market lead to such monopoly-like firms?).

                I don’t recall any conversations where you’ve rejected the liberal criticism on the grounds that there wasn’t any state intervention. In fact, I think I’ve heard you argue the other way: conceding that state intervention gave rise to those firms but rejecting the idea that they were true monopolies.

                In any event, it seems pretty clear to me that those firms only attained the levels of wealth that they did because of help from the state. I’d be willing to rethink it if there was compelling evidence to suggest otherwise, of course.

                So let me ask you this: if it were the case that those Gilded Age firms achieved the market share they did due to government intervention on their behalf, would that constitute a counterexample to your theory?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater,

                I don’t think I’ve said state intervention gave rise to firms in the gilded age. I’m pretty sure the increase in firm size was just a standard industrialization story; the same thing England went through a century earlier and SE Asian countries are going through now.

                I do think the firms co-0pted government to some extent, but primarily–or at least the standard story goes, although I recently read a contrary claim–by buying Senate seats and using the filibuster to prevent regulatory policies from passing. I’m not an expert on that, so please do take it with a lot of salt.

                I’m just not sure exactly what it is that government was supposed to have done to create these unprecedently large firms. I’m open to claims, because I think it’s possible. But in general, I think industrialization–growth of capital intensive business and away from labor intensive business–is by itself enough to explain the growth of firms.

                I do wonder, though, if the wide-open immigration policy was unconnected or if it was corporations’ way of ensuring a labor surplus, hence a ready pool of cheap labor.

                As to your question, it would really depend on what kind of government intervention. I don’t mean to be stubborn for the sake of being stubborn here, but if government could intervene in the economy in a way that helped these firms, doesn’t that suggest the government had the kind of power I don’t want it to have? If so, it seems like it would be more of an example than a counter-example.

                If we had a case of a government that couldn’t provide subsidies, create protective tariffs, set legal barriers to entry and the like, and they still helped businesses in ways that were unfair (to whom? consumers, I think would be the appropriate marker, although some would probably focus on labor), then that would probably constitute a counter-example.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                but if government could intervene in the economy in a way that helped these firms, doesn’t that suggest the government had the kind of power I don’t want it to have? If so, it seems like it would be more of an example than a counter-example.

                It’s a counter example to the claim that a smaller government presents less to capture, so there would be in effect less capture. The government during the Gilded Age was radically smaller than it is currently and supposing there is capture – the purchase of senate seats, etc. – yet it was captured in precisely the same ways you’re suggesting would be eliminated if government were smaller.

                If we had a case of a government that couldn’t provide subsidies, create protective tariffs, set legal barriers to entry and the like…then that would probably constitute a counter-example.

                So, the only counter-example is if the libertarian ideal of government was realized yet it acted in unlibertarian ways? But even that wouldn’t be a counter-example, would it?, since that government isn’t acting according to the libertarian ideal?

                I submit that the type of government you outline above is a logical impossibility. If a government has the power to set policy, then it has the power to provide subsidies, impose tarriffs, set up barriers…

                I’m beginning to think the theory is irrefutable. That’s not a good thing.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Sorry for the garbling in that comment. It doesn’t adversely effect whatever content is there. It might even help!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater,

                I think you’re misreading me. I didn’t say “smaller” government. Like many on this blog, I dislike that term because I don’t know exactly what it means. It’s too vague. A government that provided only the basic infrastructure, but each year randomly selected 3 persons to die by firing squad would be smaller than our current government in almost every way we might measure it, but that doesn’t mean I’d like it more.

                I mean specifically, as I said above, a government that “couldn’t provide subsidies, create protective tariffs, set legal barriers to entry and the like.” That’s not necessarily smaller, and I’m not sure the relevant government(s) couldn’t do that during the gilded age. The difficulty in responding to your claim is that it’s completely unspecified–you say the state helped the firms attain their size, but you don’t say how. How can I possibly know whether it’s an actual counter-example unless I really know just what those governments actually did?

                As to your particularly snarky question, yes, if a government was prohibited by constitutional amendment from passing policies that favored rent-seeking and yet it was co-opted by the corporate elite and they managed to cadge policies that benefited them in non-market ways, it would be a deadly blow to the theory that we could constrain corporatism that way. (Somewhere on this blog I have a comment proposing an anti-rent-seeking amendment, but damned if my search skills are unearthing it.)

                Your penultimate paragraph is exactly as true as saying that a government that has power to set policy has power to regulate religion, speech, and the color of your bathroom. If the constitutional design prohibits those types of policies (and said constitution is actually effective), then the government does not have those powers. If the Constitution said, “Congress shall make no law providing a subsidy, direct or indirect, to any corporation(s),” I think that would be a pretty clear prohibition for the great majority of subsidies that now exist. Or one that said, “Congress shall make no law establishing prices to be paid for goods or services.” That’s at least as clear as “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                James, I’m not being snarky (or not trying to be). You’re solutions to problems emerging from power and politics are so idealistic, so divorced from political realities, so oblivious to the power struggles which determine policy, that I can’t even get my mind around them. So I’m puzzled as to what could possibly constitute an empirical counterexample to the views you put forward. And there aren’t any! I find that incredibly surprising. Shocking really.

                And the issue here isn’t that I’m opposed to libertarianism. I find the empirical claims of libertarians in specific cases to be compelling, and sometimes balls on. I find the a priori claims which entail empirical content, however, to be less than useful.

                I mean, we’ve been down this road before. We don’t really need to go down it again.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                So I’m puzzled as to what could possibly constitute an empirical counterexample to the views you put forward. And there aren’t any! I find that incredibly surprising. Shocking really.

                You find it shocking that there hasn’t yet been a government that didn’t lack the power to regulate the economy? I don’t. I think you’re demanding an empirical example of something that is a new proposal, that hasn’t yet existed.

                Think of it this way. Anti-Marxists often claim that Marxism inevitably will fail because it’s contrary to human nature. But Marx argued that human “nature” is actually determined by the material basis of society, so that when we became communist, our behavioral tendencies would change appropriately. Now I think he was wrong, but if I were to challenge a Marxist with, “show me a case where this happened; what, you can’t, that’s shocking,” I would be in the wrong, because the actual experiment has never yet been tried.

                That said, the closest example we have may in fact be the U.S. in its first century or so. Not perfectly, since it could and did use tariffs in a rent-offering way, but much less regulatory than today.

                Which leaves open the question about the gilded age. Did government help the businesses become so large? Or was it really a predominantly free-market process that was just a natural product of industrialization? After all, capital intensive businesses normally tend to be larger than labor intensive ones, because capital has economies of scale that labor does not.

                I think industrialization would be a sufficient explanation for growth in firm size, but that doesn’t mean government didn’t have a hand in it. I don’t really know the answer. But if government did, what policies did it use to do so? If in fact it used economic regulatory policies, then I don’t see how the example would refute the hypothesis.

                I don’t really know the answer to the question, but I know the answer lies in looking at exactly what government(s) did. And neither of us seems to actually know, so we’re not really in a position to answer the question.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater says:

                ” if I were to challenge a Marxist with, “show me a case where this happened; what, you can’t, that’s shocking,” I would be in the wrong, because the actual experiment has never yet been tried.”

                Which is a sentiment similar to a G.K. Chesterton quote about the Christian ideal, which is that it has not been tried and found wanting, but been found difficult and left untried.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Stillwater says:

                That said, the closest example we have may in fact be the U.S. in its first century or so. Not perfectly, since it could and did use tariffs in a rent-offering way, but much less regulatory than today.

                There was another way that the U.S. government in its first century interfered with the free flow of labor and capital. Some people consider it even more significant than tariffs.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Which is a sentiment similar to a G.K. Chesterton quote about the Christian ideal, which is that it has not been tried and found wanting, but been found difficult and left untried.

                Libertarianism cannot fail. It can only be failed.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

                Engels observed no ideal makes it off the page and into practice. Though the Idealist can tolerate the inherent contradictions within his Idealism, they become intolerable in practice, leading the Idealist either to the soapbox or back to the drawing board.Report

              • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to James Hanley says:

                James –

                As a liberal, I don’t necessarily disagree with either of these analyses, but I think you’ve got a real Catch-22 situation here.

                As I see it, from where we are today, there are only two routes to dramatically limiting government’s power. The most effective route, though also the most devastatingly painful one, would be a full societal collapse with a limited government built from the ashes. I’m not inclined to want to go this route.

                The other route would entail government limiting itself. You need to elect legislators who would enact the laws that limit government in such a way as to remove the incentives for those people who seek to control government’s power.

                But this route to limited government poses a conundrum, doesn’t it.
                If it is not in the interest of the wealthy to relinquish the advantages they’ve rigged into the system AND it is not possible to create any rules for campaign finance that would mitigate the incredible influence these same wealthy have over the political process, how can you possibly expect to elect legislators who would enact your prescribed policies?

                Instead, I think you tend to get the worst possible outcome, at least from the perspective of this liberal – the election of politicians bought and paid for by moneyed interests who’s purported interest in limited government only applies to that deregulation that further cements the ways the system already tilts to their advantage.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Scott Fields says:

                Scott,

                You bring up good points but I would add that coercion is by no means limited to the wealthy. Zero sum, coercive redistribution and unfair limitations on competition are endemic in the system. That said, again, I think you make real good points.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Scott Fields says:

                Scott,

                I agree with everything you say. I don’t think there’s any easy solution. I just don’t think the liberal approach is actually an effective solution, either.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                Hah! I finally typed something faster than Hanley!

                I was just about ready to write a post on the inequality of typing speed. It is bad enough that his responses are always better than mine, the fact that they are better and that he types faster is sometimes simply too much to bear. I was going to lobby for government intervention.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

                It is bad enough that his responses are always better than mine,

                How much have you had to drink tonight?Report

              • Avatar Scott Fields in reply to James Hanley says:

                I don’t know what THE liberal approach is, but for me there are two angles that are critical and which appear in line with what other liberals here have been arguing.

                First, discourage, to the greatest extent possible, the fusion between libertarians and conservatives. Where these two ideologies share common ground, the Libertarians have gained all they should expect from the collaboration and, to my mind, the only things to come from further cooperation are limits to government that are against libertarian interests.

                Second, reform campaign finance. Yes, it may be unrealistic to strive for one rule that is firm enough to thwart powerful money forever. Throw up barriers anyway. When they find away around one, throw up another one. At least slow them down. As you state above, Constitutional Amendments will be needed. One to overturn Citizens United needs to be the first step, if you ever hope to see more libertarian politicians elected.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Scott Fields says:

                Hmm, were I the paranoid type I might think your first proposal was just a clever liberal divide-and-conquer scheme. 😉

                I get your second proposal, I just don’t think it actually has much effect, distracts us into thinking we’re focusing on the fundamental problem when we’re not and would distract effort more productively employed. I could be wrong, of course, but it has me thinking of all those movies where the guy running away wastes lots of time stopping to put obstacles in the way of his pursuer, obstacles that seem to slow the pursuer down for less time than it takes the chase to put them there.

                As to an Amendment to overturn CU, I think CU was correctly decided, and I’m loathe to support any constitutional amendment that in any way limits the First Amendment–any clause of it for any purpose whatsoever.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Scott Fields says:

                As with art, the answer to speech you don’t like is more speech, not less.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to rexknobus says:

            Money is not the only way to influence politicians, and if we could eliminate its legitimate influence, you will just promote its illegitimate influence.

            We should of course debate what the proper role is, but a starting place might be that the role of government is to solve problems that cannot be solved well via private, voluntary actions. After all, if it can be solved privately with no coercion, why is it that we think a coercive solution would be better?

            I’ve seen detailed recommendations on how to privatize everything on your list. I am not sure I agree with all of them, and even if I did I would rather test them first before just shifting to a new paradigm based upon argumentation. The key is that we should start exploring these directions.

            I agree that elections are a great form of choice. But there are many, many other options. One is subsidiarity — that government action should be at the lowest effective branch. This allows choice in where we live. Another is options built into programs, such as whether I want to pay more for current SS benefits or the same for less benefits. When we are forced to pick one size to fit all, it is guaranteed to fit almost nobody well. Another form of choice is in which institution will deliver it. By allowing institutions or firms to compete for our choice, we can keep them more responsive and force them to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.

            Again I am not suggesting choice is appropriate for everything, nor that privatization is effective at everything. Just that we should explore these directions.Report

  2. Avatar M.A. says:

    Ironically, the rhetoric of 99% versus 1% was come up with by people trying to avoid the words “upper class” and “lower class.”

    It never works that way. The reality is that however you fudge the definitions, the higher class have been waging war on the lower classes for decades now. Admitting it is no more class warfare than it was the day before you admitted it.Report

    • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to M.A. says:

      The 99%/1% tries to get the 2-20% not to realize that they’re also the enemy of the 40-60%, who are no friends of the bottom quintile. It’s an attempt to single out one group when our conflicts run a lot deeper and wider than that.

      Neither the 1% nor the 99% has much unity. The difference is that the 1% can afford not to care.Report

      • Avatar Remo in reply to Mr. Blue says:

        Pretty much this.

        Trying to simplify it as 1% vs 99% is pretty naive. If you do take down that 1%, then what? You will suddenly realize that there are still plenty of people that are fairly well off, and plenty that can barely get by.

        Creating the 1/99 conflict is just a way to overly simplify the problem that we do have a inequality in distribution all over the the place. But its easier to polarize against the people that are further off.

        IE: You are being used.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Remo says:

          “Creating the 1/99 conflict is just a way to overly simplify the problem…”

          It’s also an Argument From Authority. “There are a great many of us, and very few of you! Therefore our argument is superior and you should do what we say!”Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mr. Blue says:

        They 2-20%ers don’t hire their own cops.
        They don’t want to steal our national parks/forests.
        They ride first class, not private jet — so they do the TSA too.Report

        • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Kimmi says:

          The 2-20% have money that liberals are going to need to tackle the problems that liberals want to tackle.

          Steal our national parks/forests? If it wasn’t for the 1%, I’m not sure we’d even have these. It’s one of the things that pits the 1% against itself, but conservationism is a big hobby of the wealthy elite.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Oddly, the guy driving this is probably in the 99%. Good luck getting him to switch sides in the class war.Report

    • Avatar Remo in reply to James Hanley says:

      Exactly. The gap within the 99% is much wider than the preponents of the ‘1%/99% class war’ would like you to perceive.Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

      Oddly, the guy driving this is probably in the 99%.

      Now that gas is almost 5 bucks, anyway.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:

        I know where you live, Mike! Today gas in my town is $3.57. We haven’t topped $4 since before the recession hit.

        It’s made quite a difference. In the last year before the recession, we made a lot fewer trips to take the kids to see grandma, and got a lot more careful about planning our shopping so we could limit our number of trips. Now I’m all, “go to the store for the third time today? Sure, I really really need that ice cream tonight.”Report

    • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to James Hanley says:

      The economics of cars makes for a really interesting discussion. If I’d written a longer post, I would have used this as an example of how some people in the 99% are favored over others. Take Cash-for-Clunkers, for instance. It gave economic benefit to those who can afford a new car at the expense of taking serviceable old cars off the road and out of reach of the people who can’t afford new cars.

      We do this kind of thing all the time.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to Mr. Blue says:

        The entirety of the equation is still off, however.

        Those who can afford the up-front costs buy new or nearly-new and reap the rewards of low cost of ownership and low cost of surprise maintenance.

        Those who can’t afford the up-front costs wind up with a high cost of ownership and high costs in surprise maintenance, generally in a Murphy’s Law sort of way.

        We’re really doing no favors for the poor that way. The cars they can “afford” are white elephants, eating up resources while being difficult or impossible to divest of. The other option is leasing, but you’ve got to have a reasonably high credit score to qualify and be aware of the myriad pitfalls and gotcha clauses in the standard contracts. Most of the poor wouldn’t meet the credit requirements for leasing.Report

        • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to M.A. says:

          So because old cars are going to be a money-sponge, we should destroy them? You know what’s worse than having a car that’s expensive to maintain? Not having a car at all, or paying more for a car that’s expensive to maintain because there are fewer sellers out there.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mr. Blue says:

            speak for yourself. I’m doing pretty well with my $5000/yr “no car” budget.Report

            • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Kimmi says:

              I’m glad you have that option, Kimmi, but not everyone does.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mr. Blue says:

                Yes. Are you for eliminating bus routes for the blind and the deaf, like our beloved governor?

                I’ll campaign strongly to get us to the point where we can get everyone where they’re going with buses (or bikes). Or at least most. It’s downright criminal to burn oil. So many better uses for it.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mr. Blue says:

            I just want to point out, the “used cars are more expensive because of cash-for-clunkers” argument is flawed.Report

            • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Will Truman says:

              Yeah, I remember that series of posts. Good points. But even you admit that it might have had some marginal effect on the skyrocketing costs of used cars. Is there any denying that the economic benefit of the plan went primarily to those in a comfortable enough financial position to buy or get a loan for a new car?Report

          • Avatar M.A. in reply to Mr. Blue says:

            To a point, yes. To sell someone a car that they can’t afford to maintain is predatory, creating downward pressure to keep them poor.

            How about working to get affordably priced cars made new? I find it oddly humorous that a Smart Fortwo, despite much lower production cost, sticker prices more than most late-model used sedans.Report

            • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to M.A. says:

              Go ahead and work on the affordability of new cars. In the meantime, you’re saying that people are better off without a car than one that’s expensive to maintain. I disagree.

              I don’t see much upside in preventing the sale of used cars to people who can’t afford new cars, or calling these sales predatory. Back when I needed a car in ’03, I’m glad there was a Geo Prizm I could buy for $3,000. I wasn’t taken advantage of. I wouldn’t have been better off if you’d made a $13,000 car, $8,000 instead. That assumes more money than I had.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to M.A. says:

              How about working to get affordably priced cars made new?

              The Toyota Yaris starts at $12,800. Five year loan, it’s what?, $250/month? That seems pretty doggone affordable.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Mr. Blue says:

        C4C mainly hurt the used car dealerships and only then mostly the market for late-model used cars. If anything, people who couldn’t afford new cars were able to negotiate better deals for used cars for the life of that program. Which was a limited time deal anyway.Report

        • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Rod says:

          C4C a lot of good and working cars were taken off the road during that limited time. There are a lot of reasons for the shortage of used cars on the market, but that’s one of them.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mr. Blue says:

        It gave economic benefit to those who can afford a new car at the expense of taking serviceable old cars off the road and out of reach of the people who can’t afford new cars.

        You say that as if that’s all the program did.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

          C4C was the ultimate broken windows/hurricane fallacy, trying to pump up the economy by destroying value. Sure, it helped someone, but only by redirecting money away from someone else.

          I’m a confirmed used car buyer myself. If I took the monthly amount I’d pay for a new car and put it in an envelope I’d have more than enough to cover the extra repairs of a used car. The important thing is to not be too reliant on a single used car. We’re a two car family (one percenter!), so if one doesn’t start, we just do lots of chauffeuring of each other until we get it fixed. That’s been pretty rare, though.Report

          • I figured he was talking about the environmental benefits of having taken a bunch of polluting, low-mileage cars off the road.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

              Could be. But I’d note that by 2008, even most of those older cars had much lower emissions than new cars of just a couple decades earlier. So we’d be talking about diminishing marginal gains, and we’d be dispersing the costs of those gains among people not really responsible for the costs of pollution.Report

  4. Avatar commonsense says:

    The debate has been going on since the beginning of recorded history. There is a ongoing struggle between the those who have and those who don’t have. It’s about the owners and workers, the Bourgeois and Proletarian classes, the 1% and the 99%, the rich and poor, Donald Trump and Ma and Pa Kettle.

    The 1% are assumed to be the “bad guys” and wear the black hats, and the 99% are the “good guys” and wear the white hats. The story has the rich using their wealth to influence politicians in an effort to keep or increase their wealth and power, and the poor being exploited.

    In virtually every Hollywood film that has ever been made, this good/bad dichotomy is made perfectly clear. It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t it? Thank you Jimmie Stewart and Donna Reed.

    The evil developers are always trying to buy up some sweet piece of land, and horror of horrors, build a luxury resort, or a housing development. And, in the end, they are usually stopped from doing their dastardly deed. Long live the Spotted Owl.

    And, as if to resurrect Shylock from the Merchant of Venice, the modern entrepreneur is usually portrayed as a villain.

    Does this really describe the true relationship between the classes or is something else going on?

    In Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad, Poor Dad we see this duality clearly described. The Rich Dad is a business man, a risk taker, and someone who eventually makes a lot of money. The Poor Dad is an educator, works for the state, and leads a comfortable, safe, and secure life.

    It appears to me that there are two distinct personality types at play here – the aggressive risk taker and the more passive security seeker. These two work in a symbiotic relationship with each other. They need each other. The economy can not and does not function without these two balancing forces.

    The entrepreneur, the capitalist, the business person, creates a business to produce a product or service, and in doing so also creates job opportunities for the worker.

    The job creator has to conceive of the business, fund it, run it (or hire people who will), and take on the financial risk of loss if the business fails or does poorly.

    On the other hand, the worker, assuming he/she does not own stock in the company, has no risk of loss whatsoever. The worker comes to work, and is paid a salary and benefits while on the job, and may receive retirement benefits at some later point in life. But the worker can’t lose one cent by going to work. It’s either a paycheck and benefits, or no paycheck – but almost all of the financial risk is carried by the owner(s) of the company.

    If the company is successful, the owner(s) and or stockholders make money. And what did they do to deserve this? They provided jobs and security to their workers and a product or service to the public.

    And what did the workers do? They provided the labor required for the business to succeed. This is a wonderful relationship and has created the modern world.

    There is a direct and positive and strong correlation between wealth and jobs. In other words, rich people got rich and are rich by creating and maintaining jobs.

    Both worker and owner have a responsibility to each other to make this relationship work. We see squabbles on the margin over wages, benefits and working conditions, but the bottom line is that both employee and employer need each other. It is a positive symbiosis, an economic dance, a partnership, a relationship.

    And, there are countless examples of the 1% rapidly falling into a lower category as that group assumes the risk of the ebb and flow of the business cycle. Look at what has happened to the price of the stock of Research in Motion, Netflix, Nokia, Best Buy, or First Solar in the past year.

    All businesses are in a life and death competition to survive. And, many do NOT survive. It’s no wonder that the CEOs of various companies get so much money – the survival of the entire enterprise and the salaries of the workers depends on each and every decision at the top – not a small responsibility.

    A perfect example of a company that roared, then nearly died, then roared again is Apple Computer. And how much of that success had to do with one man – Steve Jobs?

    And, now that Steve is gone, is it any wonder that Apple is having trouble rising above $600 per share? And, how is Dell stock doing lately?

    We live in a tough and competitive world and the forces of production and management need each other. We can dispute the ideal balance that ought to exist in a perfect world between the classes, but the 1% and 99%, or whatever the real percentages might be, are locked into a relationship that is the basis of the world we live in.Report

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