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by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
According to a headline at Alternet.com:
“Bernie Won All the Focus Groups & Online Polls, So Why Is the Media Saying Hillary Won the Debate?
Good Question! Let’s first see some of the more objective measures on how well Bernie Sanders did with ordinary people during the debate:
- In the Salon live debate poll Bernie won by 72% to Hillary’s 12%
- The Time Magazine poll had Bernie winning by 56% with Jim Webb coming in second at 31%. Hillary came in at 11% in their poll.
- A US News and World Report live blog poll conducted on Facebook had Bernie winning the debate by 85% to Hillary’s 12%
- A majority of CNN’s own focus group felt Bernie Sanders won the debate.
- On Fox News, the Frank Luntz focus group in Florida unanimously felt Bernie won the debate. Half the group of 28 Democrats supported Hillary at the start of the debate and less than half of those supporters continued to support her after the debate.
- On Facebook, Bernie Sanders was mentioned 107,000 times to Hillary’s 131,000 mentions
- On Twitter Bernie was mentioned 407,000 times, the most of any candidate. His name was mentioned in 12,000 tweets per minute compared to Hillary’s 8,300 tweets per minute.
- A content analysis of tweets for Bernie and Hillary showed that 69% of his tweets were positive compared to 56% positive for Hillary.
- During the debate people Googled Bernie Sanders twice as often as Hillary Clinton.
- On Facebook, Bernie attracted 24,000 new followers to Hillary’s 7,700 new followers.
- On Twitter Bernie attracted 42,730 new followers to Hillary’s 25,000 new followers.
So what were the corporate media newspaper headlines the day after the debate?
The New York Times: “Hillary Clinton Turns Up Heat on Bernie Sanders in a Sharp Debate”
The Washington Post: “Hillary Clinton won the debate”
The Boston Globe: “Hillary Clinton wins, with an assist from Bernie Sanders”
The Business Insider: “Everyone’s declaring Hillary Clinton the big winner of the debate”
The New Yorker: “Hillary Clinton Wins Big in Vegas”
The Guardian: “Hillary Clinton won the Democratic debate, simply by saying ‘no'”
The New Republic: “Hillary Clinton Nailed It in the Democratic Debate”
So what is going on here?
I believe that Hillary Clinton was pitch perfect in the debate. She gave the best performance of her life. This was very reassuring to her big donors and to those who are already among her ardent supporters. But despite her outstanding performance it is clear that she didn’t win the debate. Bernie Sanders performance was also very good. The match up of their good debate styles, however, only served to amplify Senator Sanders’ ideas, and his passion clearly caught the public’s attention. For the “establishment media” this was an incongruent moment. It isn’t what they expected, and it is now very clear it isn’t what they wanted either. I believe that the corporate (establishment) media has finally tipped its hand:
- It is not an independent and neutral party in American politics.
- It serves the for profit interests of its owners and its advertizing clients.
- It takes an active hand in shaping public opinion and framing our public debates.
- It is responsible for the rise in political polarization and the sharp divisions we have experienced in recent decades.
- It is responsible for the unhinging of the Republican Party and the entertaining, carnival like atmosphere that characterizes it today.
The Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision was a windfall for the main stream media. All that money pouring into political PAC’s from anonymous wealthy donors ends up in the media’s pocket. The have every incentive to grab as much of it as they can and very little incentive to remain faithful to their journalistic mission.
I talked about how Bernie Sanders represents a double threat to the establishment media and establishment politics in a recent post. In an article entitled “Covering Politics For Profit Has Warped Our Democracy” I said:
“Many of the issues Sanders holds, such as the need to break up big banks and tax billionaires to pay for free college tuition, hurt the financial interests of the mainstream media’s biggest corporate clients. This creates a conflict of interest for the corporate owned media. Covering the Sanders campaign on his terms forces them to report on issues that don’t serve the financial interests of their advertisers.
The Sanders campaign also poses another challenge to the corporate media’s business model. Much of the organizational work by his campaign is organized from the bottom up. It makes extensive and creative use of free or low cost social media platforms. This means the Sanders campaign is spending less money on media buys than any other candidate except for Donald Trump, who is getting his media attention for free. [snip]
Senator Sanders, on the other hand, attracts even more actual voter attention than Trump without the help of the mainstream media. Major news outlets are just starting to cover the Sanders campaign as news events in order to preserve their legitimacy as news organizations.”
And then, when it was clear to viewers that Bernie Sanders has something important to say that doesn’t fit the establishments narrative, main stream media outlets simply pivot and declare their preferred candidate the winner.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
The first time I saw a version of the graph below, depicting how worker compensation suddenly diverged from national wealth, I was horrified. My statistical training caused me to see right away that something took place in the mid-1970’s to stifle the rise of worker compensation. And the gap between wages and wealth keeps growing every years. I have written several articles about it since, but the implications have still not penetrated our public awareness.
The most recent appearance of this graph was from a report by the Economic Policy Institute confirming some earlier findings of the huge disconnect between worker productivity and worker compensation. I wrote an article summarizing their findings and received a lengthy comment that read, in part:
“Although I agree that the average wage is trending lower than productivity growth, I do not attribute it all to the greed at the top… The question I have is that how much of the deviation from the past are due to changes in society, where the average person has less room to negotiate a better price?”
The commentator went on to suggest the following reasons to explain the growing wage-to-wealth gap:
1. The trend of the two paycheck family led to a weakness in the labor force’s ability or need to demand higher compensation.
2. Expanded social service programs and income eligibility caps aid to the working poor created incentives for workers to keep their compensation low so they qualify for government assistance.
3. Employer fixed benefit packages reduced competition for the affordable healthcare, driving up insurance costs since individuals were not “shopping around” for competitive bargains.
Let’s begin with the last point; fixed healthcare benefits. If these were anti-competitive purchases by employers, the rise in employer costs for these programs would correspondingly raise, not lower, hourly worker benefits. The more an employer pays for employee health insurance, the higher the wage compensation is per worker.
Healthcare costs have risen faster than inflation. The reasons for this are many, but the topic is too broad to address here except to say that higher insurance costs led many employers to drop healthcare coverage for their employees. This is a factor contributing to the lower growth in wage compensation. Note, however, that the flood of individuals entering the private health insurance market corresponds with the period of high rising premiums, not lower rates. The collective bargaining leverage of large corporations for competitive health insurance bids was actually a constraining factor on policy costs.
1. The trend of the two paycheck family led to a weakness in the labor force’s ability or need to demand higher compensation.
To the main point, the impact of two paycheck families on wage compensation: Is there evidence that the gradual transition to two paycheck families contributed to lower hourly wage compensation? I believe the graph above provides the answer.
First, the wage/wealth graph above represents actual, verifiable economic data collected over a span of seven decades. It is not a trend graph, but you can easily imagine superimposed trend lines on it. The first would be a linear line rising steadily upward and to the right representing hourly Gross National Product (GDP). This is a measure of our nations’ wealth and it has been steadily growing.
The second trend line, representing hourly wage compensation, would rise perfectly in step with GDP from 1947 to 1973 (which is also the period of rapid expansion of the American middle class). Then it bends sharply (if somewhat erratically) over a seven year period before settling back into to a straight, but much shallower trend line.
Superimposing a trend line on worker compensation data reveals that there was a brief transition period from 1973 to 1980 during which the growth rate of worker compensation radically changed. The gap between new wealth and wage compensation has grows wider every year since.
What does this mean? It means the social forces that altered wage compensation began abruptly and remained active over a brief period of seven to eight years. The social forces created a persistent structural change in America’s hourly wage compensation that remains in effect today. It means that long term social trends don’t account for this structural change because they don’t fit the data.
Long-term trends present as long slow arches rather than sudden bends in a trend line. This means that the social actions that permanently altered the wage and productivity balance happened quickly and none of the major social trends happening before or since the transition period have had much impact on wage compensation.
The hypothesis that this change was the result of the rise of two paycheck families doesn’t fit this pattern. Woman entering the workforce would have had to started abruptly in 1973 and end by 1981. Of course we know that woman were entering the workforce much earlier and the trend wasn’t complete by 1981. It is also difficult to imagine how this phenomenon would actually cause a persistent structural change in worker compensation over the decades.
The relatively brief transition, represented in this graph, also rules out other long term trends that are often cited by economists as reasons for lower wage compensation. For example, it’s often said that globalization of our economy accounts for the wage/GDP disparity. It is true that globalization affects employment rates and puts downward pressure on American worker incomes, but the trend itself is also a longer, slower process that doesn’t fit the pattern. Even the process of shipping business operations overseas took place over a longer period of time. None of the explanations offered by most economists seem to fit the narrow window in which hourly GDP and hourly wage compensation diverged.
Seven years is a short period of time to bring about such a persistent structural change of this magnitude. Something big must have been happening at the time. What was it?
Consider what was happening in the 1970’s. This was a hyperactive period for Nixon era conservatives which gave rise to the new conservative movement, also known as the Neo Con’s. They laid the groundwork that swept Ronald Reagan into office in the 1980.
This was a time of rapid formation of organized business associations and industry trade groups. This was unprecedented in our history. It was the business answer to the growing influence of organized labor. These associations and trade groups pooled the considerable resources of big business to create the powerful business lobby we have today. They embarked on a massive anti-union marketing blitz to demonize unions and turn public sentiment against them. In 1973 the organized muscle of the newly formed corporate lobbyists got congress to pass legislation creating political action committees (PACs) which gave big business a means to funnel large sums of money into candidates political campaigns.
At the same time, the coordinated collision of big business, with a nod from business funded politicians, weakened the effectiveness of collective bargaining. Businesses everywhere were emboldened to end the practice of sharing their profits (wealth) with their employees.
In a span of less than a decade nearly all productivity raises ended for most Americans. All the new wealth (profits) generated since then have gone to top executives and wealthy business investors. The “raises” most employees received since this structural changes were merely cost of living adjustments.
Adjusted for inflation, most American families are making today what their parents family made decades ago, yet the nation’s wealth has more than doubled. The median income of a family of four today is around $51,000 per year. It would be over $100,000 per year if wage compensation had continued to rise proportionally with the wealth we produce.
2. Expanded social service programs and income eligibility caps aid to the working poor created incentives for workers to keep their compensation low so they qualify for government assistance.
Regarding the second point about (#2), expanded social services and income eligibility caps creating a disincentive to work: I have addressed this topic in previous articles. This disparaging of social supports for the economically disadvantaged echoes a frequent conservative talking point. It goes by many names, such as the “welfare state” or the “nanny state. ” It promotes the idea that there is a giant dependency on social welfare programs.
But this attack on working families distracts from the fact that a growing number of people require government aid to the working poor to maintain basic stability. Their plight is a direct result of lower worker compensation caused by premeditated structural changes in the 1970’s. It hides the fact that subsidized assistance to working families allows corporations to have lower labor costs and higher profits. (A government supported labor force is a hidden corporate subsidy.) It dismisses the power of higher wages as a motivation for people to work hard and inspire hope for a better life. It obscures the fact that many companies have found ways to exploit the poor to profit off taxpayer subsidies. Most disturbingly, it blames this suppressed wage compensation on its economic victims.
For a fuller explanation of lower wages on social services, please read “Making the Case for a Living Wage.” http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2012/07/making-case-for-living-wage.html
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country… By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” (1933, Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act – Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
Question: In looking at the Living Wage calculator, I see that $10.83 for a single adult in Morris County, New Jersey where I live. This seems fair to me for a single person, but when you add one child to that scenario the rate jumps to $22.12 per hour. This raises a serious question. Does the Living Wage Movement suggest that wages should be adjusted according to need? [ http://livingwage.mit.edu/ ]
Answer: That’s a great question. I am not a spokesman for, or advocate of, the living wage movement as an organization. I do believe that living wages should be the minimum wage in this country. Minimum living wages should be what we pay summer college help or student interns, not full-time employees. It might also be appropriate for part-time seasonal help. It shouldn’t be what we pay permanently hired employees.
To answer your question, I researched what a living wage is in the 130 cities that have living wage laws. It turns out that their wage base is for a single employee, not including any dependents. A living wage in Manchester CT equals $15.54/hour (the highest) while it is $8.50 in Orlando FL (the lowest). It would appear that the Living Wage Movement is looking to index a minimum living wage minimum to local economies based on one adult with no dependents.
That said, the minimum wage in 1986 was $10.86/hour as opposed to its current level of $7.25/hour. If it had been indexed to inflation in 1986 the current minimum wage today would be $23.59/hour today. That clearly was intended to provide for a worker with a family. The current median family size is 2.54 persons per household. That inflation adjusted wage equals about $47,000 per year while the current median family wage is a little over $51,000 per year (and still declining, I might add).
Here’s the thing, we have only been talking about wage adjustments to keep pace with inflation. We have not been talking about raising wages to reward workers for our growing productivity. We have not been talking about sharing the wealth that workers help create so everyone keeps pace with America’s growing economy. Cost of living adjustment are important, but they shouldn’t be confused with a productivity, or merit raise.
America is $1.7 trillion richer today than it was in 1976. Our economy has doubled, yet the share of all that new wealth created by American workers in this same period of time is insignificant.
In the 1960’s my father was an appliance repairman at Sears. His salary was enough that my mother could stay home to raise my sister and me. Her role as mother to the next generation of citizens was valued. Today, a typical family of four making about $51,000 does so because both parents work. And they are only able to make ends meet because of easy access to credit to shift their financial burdens onto their future earnings.
When I speak about a living wage I am thinking about getting back to a point where one breadwinner can hold one full-time job and still raise a small family without needing government assistance to do it. That’s what we had, and that should be our goal as a country.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
The defeat of Eric Cantor in his primary, and the article below, is instructive because it illuminates the growing populist enmity towards politicians who serve business interests over voter interests. This is at the heart of the growing rift in the Republican party. The GOP establishment serves the interests of Big business over all else and almost mockingly manipulate ordinary voter segments and the small business owners they claim as their base.
The beltway seems baffled by this, but the trend has been clear for some time. Putting people first in politics will be key to winning over the real voter base of both parties going forward. And peeling off small business owners by promoting specific policies that support them and level their playing field against corporate abuses is an essential element for Democrats. Democrats should be the champions of small community business leaders and ordinary citizens. They should be resist the growing corporate influence over government and our lives (without being overtly hostile).
Campaign funding should also be as populist and grass roots as possible, or at least have that as a prominent feature. People should be able to contribute small donations to their candidate’s campaign on line using their pay pal accounts, or they should be able to text a contribution on their smart phone. This not only sets the right tone, it takes action against the influence of big money in politics even if particular campaign must still rely on big donors.. But note that in this race Eric Cantor outspent Brat by a 40 to 1 ratio. The strength of Brats message overcame this huge spending advantage.
As I tweeted earlier today in reference to Cantor: In drawing democrat-proof districts the GOP created congressional district that are toxic to traditional conservative Republicans as well. And traditional conservative Republicans are virtually all big business Republicans. So there is a clear message here for all Democratic candidates. Stop cozening up with corporations and start representing real people.
If Democrats messaging can thread this needle they may be able to pick up disaffected moderate Republican votes while making it harder for radical right-wing Republican’s to vote for GOP supporter of ever more crony capitalism.
Here is a snip of the Nation’s article by John Nicols:
from The Nation
Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.
John Nichols on June 11, 2014 – 12:21 AM ET
The DC-insider storyline about this being a great year for the Republican establishment is undergoing a rapid rewrite. For the first time since the post was formally established in 1899, a House majority leader has been defeated in a bid for renomination. And as political prognosticators, Republican stalwarts and savvy Democrats search for explanations, they are being forced to consider complexities they had not previously entertained — including the prospect of conservatives who are ready and willing to criticize big business.
Eric Cantor, the face of the GOP establishment, one of the party’s most prodigious fundraisers and the odds-on favorite to become the next speaker of the House, lost his Virginia Republican primary Tuesday to a challenger who promised, “I will fight to end crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful.”
Dave Brat, who defeated the number-two Republican in the House by a 56-44 margin, tore into big business almost as frequently as he did the incumbent. “I am running against Cantor because he does not represent the citizens of the 7th District, but rather large corporations seeking insider deals, crony bailouts and a constant supply of low-wage workers,” declared the challenger.
Image credit: www.businessinsider.com
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Decades of frozen wages relative to our expanding wealth is the root cause of many economic problems. More people falling into poverty, a shrinking middle class, declining retirement savings, increased welfare spending, higher unemployment, more aid to working families, declining government tax revenues, diminished funding for Social Security and Medicare, a sluggish economy (despite a record high stock market), slow job growth and heighten social tensions along the traditional fault lines of race, ethnicity and gender are among the many issues influenced by decades of wage stagnation.
Beginning in the late1970’s most American workers received only cost of living adjustments in their paychecks while their real earnings gradually diminished each year. Employers increased hourly wages to keep pace with inflation, but they suddenly stopped raising wages to reward workers for their productivity. Earned income has declined for most Americans as a percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP) This amounts to a dramatic and intentional redistribution of new wealth over the last 40 years. Nearly all this new wealth has gone to the rich and powerful.
The visual evidence of wage stagnation relative to hourly GDP is apparent in one powerful graph (below). You may have this it before.
The effects of wage stagnation on our economy have been gradual and cumulative. Its impacts don’t raise red flags from one year to the next, but the cumulative effects are obvious. The trending rise in income inequality, for example, was missed entirely for 25 years, and then it still took another decade for it to catch the public’s attention.
According to USDA data on the real historical GDP and growth rates[i], the U.S. economy grew by $368 trillion between 1976 and 2013. That is a 109.4% rise in national wealth, more than a doubling of the national economy. Almost none of that wealth was shared with wage earners. If hourly wages continued to grow in proportion to hourly GDP, as it had for decades prior to the mid-70’s, the current median family income today would be close to $100,000 a year instead of the current $51,017 per year.[ii]
Think about that for a moment, and about all the implications for wage based taxes and payroll deductions. For simplicity sake, let’s say wages would have double if the workforce received productivity raises. That would significantly reduce the number of families currently eligible for taxpayer subsidies such as SNAP (food stamps), housing assistance, daycare and the like. At the same time the workforce would be generating much more income tax revenue.
Consider next the impact wage stagnation has had on payroll deductions. Social Security and Medicare premiums have not financially benefited from the growing economy. Double current wages and you double current revenues for these programs as well. Moreover, the economy has grown at an annual rate of 2.9% since 1976. If Social Security and Medicare had benefited from this new annual wealth, the effect on current revenue projections would be profound. We would not be looking at a projected shortfall any time in the future.
The impact of wage stagnation on consumer spending is perhaps the most insidious problem. While worker wages have stagnated, the production of goods and services has grown. How is that possible? Some of this production is sold in foreign markets, but domestic markets are still primary. And it is here where economic theories have done a disservice.
A generation of economists and business leaders have treated consumers and workers as if they were not one and the same. This has fractured how we look at the economy and given rise to the notion that labor is just another business commodity. It disguises the fact that labors wages fuel consumer spending. Wages help drive the whole economy while wage stagnation reduces consumption over time.
To overcome this effect we have seen the need for mother’s to enter the workforce in mass, and for banks to invent credit cards to bolster consumer spending. These and other creative measures can no longer forestall the decline in worker spending. So while the financial markets ride the tide of America’s growing wealth, the fortunes of those who have been cut off from that new wealth continue to slip beneath the waves.
As for social tensions among different racial, ethnic and gender groups, the effect of stagnant wages relative to the nation’s growing wealth creates a lifeboat mentality and zero sum thinking. For the first time in many generations parents are worried that their children will have less in life than they had. When the whole pie is shrinking a bigger slice by one person means a smaller piece for others. This thinking exists because for over 95% of wage earners the economic pie hasn’t grown in 40 years.
You may not be ready to accept chronic wage stagnation as “the syndrome” underlying our economic woes, but it’s also true from my experience that having solutions (or “treatment options”) at hand often makes it easier to identifying the problems they resolve. With that in mind, I want to offer some solutions to America’s low wage conundrum.
One direct approach to raising worker wages is the one currently being discussed in the public dialogue, raising the minimum wage. This benefits the lowest paid workers and also puts pressure on employers to increase pay for other lower wage earners. The current target of $10.10 per hour would still leave many families at or below the poverty line. Workers making the new minimum wage would still be eligible for some public assistance for the working poor. While passing a minimum wage law is at least possible, this option is not a systemic solution to wage stagnation. Even index the minimum wage to inflation would not compensate for declining wages relative to GDP growth.
Another direct approach to ending wage stagnation is to pass a living wage law. This would set the minimum wage at a level that would allow everyone working full-time to be financial independent from government assistance, including subsidized health care. A living wage law could be indexed to the local cost of living where a person is employed. This is idea because it takes into account local economic conditions which are determined by market forces rather than government edict. But passing a living wage law in the current political climate is unlikely.
There are other ways of encouraging wage growth that don’t involve direct wage regulation. One idea would require the federal government to recoup, through business income tax rebates, the cost of taxpayer supported aid to working families from profitable businesses that pay employees less than a living wage. Employee wages are easily identified through individual tax returns. Eligibility for taxpayer supported subsidies are relatively easy to estimate as well, so recouping public funding to support a company’s workforce is a practical possibility. A portion of the recovered money could be paid into Social Security and Medicare to make up for lost revenue due to substandard wages.
A welfare cost recovery plan could gain popular support given the growing public resentment towards taxpayer funded social programs. At least 40% of all full-time employees in America currently require some form of taxpayer assistance to financially survive. More importantly, this plan places the burden of supporting the workforce back on profitable businesses where the responsibility lies.
Another solution has been suggested by former US Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, and others. They support proposed legislation, SB 1372, that sets corporate taxes according to the ratio of CEO pay to the pay of the company’s typical worker. Corporations with low pay ratios get a tax break. Those with high ratios get a tax increase. This would effectively index worker wages to CEO compensation in a carrot and stick approach to corporate taxes. The details and merits of this approach is outlined elsewhere.[iii]
Do U.S. businesses have the financial capacity to offer higher wages to their workers? I would like to answer that question with another graph that you may also have seen before.
Credit: Blue Point Trading http://www.blue-point-trading.com/blue-point-trading-market-view-june-07-2012
There is a clock ticking somewhere in the background on this issue. There is a point somewhere in the future where it will be too late to fix wage stagnation through the normal democratic processes. History has proven this to be true. We are not at that point now, but we are past the point treating wage stagnation earnestly.
[ii] As of 2013 the median family income of $51,017 x GDP growth of 109.4% = $104,796 per year
by Brian T. Lynch
Martin Gilens of Princeton University, and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University , conducted a multivariate analysis of 1,779 policy issues in the United States, the results of which confirmed that the United States is no longer a Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.
In other words, we have lost majority rule. The United States has become an oligarchy. Business interests and the interests of the wealthy elite have overwhelming dominance in influencing United States policy and laws. You can read their conclusions below and read this newly published study in full at this URL:
According to the authors, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”
Of course, anyone paying attention to government policies versus the popular will of the electorate would already have drawn this conclusion. I recently posted a two part piece on this very subject a few months ago: http://j.mp/1bz7aO5
The Gilens and Page study opens by asking a critical question, who really rules? Are we, the people, the sovereigns of our nation, or have we become “largely powerless?” He begins to answer this by summarizing four different theoretical traditions recognized by scholars who study democratic governance.
The first of these theoretical traditions discussed is the Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, which is best “… encapsulated in Abraham Lincoln’s reference to government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This tradition holds that laws and policies should reflect the views of the average voter, and that the positions of politicians seeking election should converge towards the center of the normal range of voter opinion. It is this view of democracy most often presented by major media outlets when covering our politics. More importantly, this is these are the outcomes most of us expect from our democracy.
The second tradition is the Economic Elite Domination tradition in which US policy making is dominated by those with high levels of wealth or income. Some scholars also include social status or position as part of this tradition. The economic elites often exercise their influence through foundations, think-tanks and “opinion shaping apparatus,” as well as to the lobbyists and politicians they finance.
Majoritarian pluralism is the third theoretical tradition that Gilens and Page discusse. This tradition analyzes politics through the lens of competing interest groups within the population. These groups may include political parties, organized interest groups, business firms or industry sector organizations. All things being equal, the struggle between diverse factions within the population should also produce policy outcomes that are at least compatible with civil majority opinions. But all things are not necessarily equal, leading to the fourth, related tradition called Biased Pluralism.
Biased pluralism entails policy outcomes that result from contending, but unrepresentative organized interest groups. These unrepresentative interest groups are generally made up of upper-class citizens with the power and influence to tilt policy towards the wishes of corporations, businesses and professional associations.So, after statistically comparing almost 2,000 policy outcomes against these four models of political influence in our democracy, what did the researchers find? In their own words:
“By directly pitting the predictions of ideal-type theories against each other within a single statistical model … we have been able to produce some striking findings. One is the nearly total failure of “median voter” and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
“Nor do organized interest groups substitute for direct citizen influence [snip]… Over-all, net interest group alignments are not significantly related to the preferences of average citizens.” The net alignments of the most influential, business oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes.”
“Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites… have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.
What then has become of our democracy? It has been usurped by billionaires who directly fund candidates for public office, directly influence policy through lobbying and heavily fund public marketing campaigns to influence public opinion for their own advantage.
We have seen this before during the “Gilded Age” at the turn of the last Century. We found our voice a hundred years ago and we took back our democracy from the wealthy elite. Today they are smarter, richer and have more control over the media and government than they did back then, so the challenges we face to save civil democracy and regain majority rule won’t be easy. But history tells us that power is ultimately with the people. We must start by recognizing our situation and begin organizing ourselves to collectively act in our own best interest. We need to become, once again, a nation of citizens, not a nation of businesses and the rich.
We now know that the universe is filled with dark matter. This strange substance cannot be seen, heard, felt or touched, and doesn’t interact in any way with ordinary matter. Even so, its presence can be felt by its gravitational influence. It is the enormous amount of dark matter that causes galaxies to form and to spin as rapidly as they do.
While dark matter may ultimately be beneficial to the cosmos, “dark pools” in the financial markets doesn’t seem like a good idea. When large investors buy large blocks of stocks outside of public view, they do so to obtain a tactical advantage. The market effect of dark trading is that the real value of openly traded stocks is less certain. This is another example of how the playing field is tilted away from mom and pop investors and towards the rich and powerful.
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. securities regulators are considering testing a proposed reform that could drive business to major…
In New Jersey, as in many other states with conservative Republican Governors, the state civil service pension systems are under attack. A friend of mine, who has followed Governor Chris Christie’s rhetoric in the newspapers, commented about how reasonable this sounded since the system seems to be going broke. But the story of the pension system in New Jersey is more complicated that the current political sound bites. Let me tell you a true story about how civil service pensions came to be a target for public ridicule.
But things were changing in 1979 when I began my civil service career, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Big business had begun organizing politically and started spending big bucks on lobbying government for laws and regulations more favorable to business. Industry organizations were created to raise money and coordinate anti-union marketing campaigns. Ronald Reagan came into power in 1980 and set the tone for union bashing by crushing the air traffic controllers union. Private sector wages, which up to that time always rose in to proportion to increases in hourly GDP, were frozen and have remained frozen ever since. A fear campaign and actual business tactics based on globalization made jobs less secure. Private company pension systems were intentionally dismantled by big corporations to quarterly boost profits. Profit sharing arrangements took their place initially so workers had to invest in their company for their hope of retirement income. Then Wall Street saw all this money and wanted some action. They got congress to pass the IRA laws and all that pension money went to them.
Instead of real raises, businesses only offered cost of living adjustments, which keeps up with inflation but doesn’t share the extra wealth that the growing hourly GDP created for their employers. That extra wealth went to CEO’s and wealthy stockholders, beginning the cycle of great income disparity we have today. At the same time, Reagan cut the top marginal tax rate from 70% to 28%, a windfall for the rich and a huge loss of tax revenue that the rest of us had to bear.
So while the raises, salaries and benefits I received were always sub-par compared with the private sector during the first half of my career, declining private sector wages and benefits, rather than civil service raises or improved benefits, is the reason civil service looks so good today. In fact, civil service benefits have been steadily eroding for the last 15 years but this decline is slower than the collapse of private sector benefits. Civil service salaries also have barely budged in years and actually declined when you factor in inflation. But the assault on private sector salaries and benefits makes civil service look great by comparison only.
Know this, if corporate business interests had not conspired to suppress wages in America over the last 40 years the median income for a family of four today would be over $100,000/year. Instead it is shrinking and down to $51,000/year.
My point is that people in this country who work in the private sector have to fight back to regain a fair bite of the wealth they create for their employers. Workers need to re-organize and demand their fair share of our GDP. Rather than tearing away at civil servant pensions, people should be working to recreate what has been taken from them and use civil service as the framework and model to rebuild private sector retirement security.
There are particulars about why the pension system in New Jersey is in so much financial trouble. It isn’t because it is too generous. It is in trouble because when New Jersey was flush with money during Governor Christie Whitman’s (R) term she stopped making payments. She said she did this because the stock market was booming at that time. She said the pension system was way over-funded and didn’t need more cash. By the time she finished bankrupting the state with massive tax cuts and increased credit spending, Governor James Florio (D) didn’t have the revenue to pay into the state pension system during his entire term in office. This default model became a habit with subsequent Governors. Nothing, or only fractional amounts, were paid into the retirement system for the last 20 years. Governor Chris Christie (R) refused to put money into the system a few year back, when he had the money to pay, saying he didn’t want to put money into a broken system. This is crazy talk since it was the Executive branch that broke the system in the first place by doing exactly what he was doing.
The New Jersey State Pension system is, to a lesser extent, also in trouble because it has been abused for years by politicians bumping up the salaries of their political cronies just before retirement so they get huge pensions that they didn’t deserve or contribute towards. Politician’s take advantage of the way pensions are calculated to reward their buddies.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Coal ash is what’s left after coal is burned. It’s a toxic stew containing heavy metals including arsenic, lead and mercury. For many years Duke Energy has mixed coal ash with water and pumped this cocktail from coal fired power plants into huge open pits. In February, one of the sludge pits located in North Carolina began releasing millions of gallons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River, a source of public drinking water for thousands of people.
Duke Energy spent millions over the years to keep government from properly regulating their waste products. For all those decades the stockholders and upper management of Duke energy have profited from this arrangement. Now that the inevitable has occurred, clean up effort will take years and cost a billion dollars. Millions more will have to be spent to correct the improper disposal problems that Duke Energy has practiced for decades.
Safely storing coal ash should have been a cost of doing business for Duke Energy all along, but they have deferred that cost to boost their profits. Now Duke Energy’s president and CEO, Lynn Good, thinks taxpayers should bear the cleanup costs. She said, “Ash pond closure has been a plan for very long time. And because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash pond disposal costs are ultimately a part of our cost structure.” She believes the burden of this clean up should be shared by everyone equally. (Corporate socialism? Again?)
Corporation are legally obligated to maximize profits for their shareholders. This would be fine if they were also legally obligated to paid the full cost of doing business without cutting corners. Cleaning up toxic spills is far more expensive than preventing themand regulations to enforce safe disposal are less expensive in the long run. But asking the victims of their environmental crimes to pay for cleaning up their mess and fixing their problem should not be an option.
(See also: http://www.politicususa.com/2014/03/14/republican-hypocrites-force-nc-taxpayers-pay-duke-energys-toxic-coal-ash-dumping.html )
Imagine owning a small manufacturing business with 25 happy employees. After paying overhead , suppliers, employees, benefits and your Potter’s Bank business loan you have just enough to get by.
One day your suppliers find they can’t get raw materials because of artifical shortages and price spikes caused by futures speculators that work at bank. The suppliers they need to borrow money to pay for higher priced raw materials, at least until they can adjust with worker layoff and cutbacks. Potter’s Bank charges them higher interest rates because now they’re “risky” borrowers.
Your suppliers must pass along their higher costs to you, so now its your turn to cut wages, benefits and hours. Your employees grumble and can’t keep up with the workload. Production stalls, but also sales start to drop because all the affected workers are also your customers.
One day you discover you can’t pay the bank loan, so you go to Potter’s Bank to renegotiate terms. Potter tells you what he has been telling everyone:
“You’re a credit risk! Your workers make too much and the cost of their benefits is rising. Cut benefits, cut wages, layoff some of those lazy workers and you will be more efficient. Only then will I loan you the money you need. Do as I ask or Ill raise your interest rates further or foreclose on your business.”
This is the austerity trap. Bankers use their leverage to play both ends against the middle forcing both businesses and governments to be more labor efficient. It squeezes more production out of fewer workers for lower wages and benefits. It also suppresses consumption because fewer consumers are employed and those who work have less income or job security. It doesn’t matter if austerity is imposed on businesses or the public sector, the effects are the same.
Imposing austerity is like digging a hole in the economy, the more you dig the deeper the hole. It is good for bankers but bad for workers. It increases corporate profits but reduces personal incomes (except for the very rich). It shrinks the size of government but reduces support to the poor and unemployed people it creates. What ever hurts workers hurts consumers which suppresses consumption and depresses the economy, which then hurts more workers in a literally vicious cycle.
Making debt reduction a priority during a recession, rather than creating jobs and putting money back into the hands of consumers, is austerity. As the article below points out with a graph, shutting down the government and causing the government sequester to lower government spending at this time has hurt recovery. It is the wrong prescription.
In a World Without Austerity…
By Adam Hersh | October 4, 2013
Thanks to the federal government shutdown, there is an absence of new U.S. job market data for September 2013. Let’s take a moment to imagine the kind of economy we might see in the United States today had we not just lived through three years of fiercely divisive politicking for fiscal austerity—sharp cuts to public services and investments, as well as cuts to taxes on America’s wealthiest people.
If federal and state governments had not adopted policies of fiscal austerity, today’s jobs report from the Department of Labor would likely be telling us, as shown in Figure 1:
- U.S. employers added more than 260,000 jobs in September.
- The unemployment rate for September fell below 6 percent.
- Since December 2010, the U.S. economy has added more than 8.2 million new jobs—or 2.4 million more than have actually been added.