A Bold, New World View, Part 8- Combatting the Pro-Growth Economy’s Misery

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Read Part 7 here.

There are two words that should never have been applied to human beings- efficiency and productivity. The dehumanization of labor, the push for more for less, is literally killing us as a people. You get more education, you work around the clock, you give more and more for your job, and what do you get? Not pensions and health benefits, plenty of student debt, less vacation time, and less general satisfaction. We’re productivity vessels at this point, trained to produce efficiently and without much in guarantee for a return.

There are three essential problems in our economy right now. Two are very macro, one is a microeconomics issue that touches almost everyone. These problems exist even in a thirty-five year plus era of stock market growth, GDP growth, and relative prosperity. As I see them, the three biggest problems in our economy are:

  1. Too much of the wealth and rewards of our economy are flowing to the top of the economy, or as Marx would put it, capital over labor.
  2. Dishonesty and deregulation of our economy has eliminated the safety and certainty in our market for the middle and working class in America.
  3. American labor is being devalued, the relationship between workers and their employers is increasingly imbalanced, and the constant pressures of our labor is doing real harm to our happiness in our home life. The social contract that we would offer our labor in exchange for meeting our needs is increasingly not being honored.

It is important to understand these are not random things that just “happened,” but rather the result of policy changes, both public and private that put us here. The destruction of labor unions in America made it easier to exploit American workers. Companies dropping defined benefit pensions in favor of 401K’s helped make retirement less and less secure. Letting the payroll tax fall further and further behind in funding Social Security and Medicare was a policy choice. Letting the minimum wage lapse further and further behind, getting rid of windfall tax brackets, de-fanging the SEC and other regulatory agencies and boards, and using state and local governments to guarantee financing for the wealthy’s projects are all just some of the examples of policy choices made that guaranteed growth for the rich, but did nothing for the certainty of the rest of America. We got to the three main problems I cited above because of these policy choices.

If policy decisions are causing the problems, then obviously it will take different policies to change them. What would those policies look like? How would they be different than the status quo? Here’s my thoughts on what they should be-

  • Progressive income tax reform that adds brackets at the top, protects earned income at the bottom of earnings, discourages inequality, and prioritizes the needs of middle income earners. Imagine if the tax code protected your first $30,000 from taxation, rather than the new yacht you bought with your ten millionth? Imagine a multi-millionaire/windfall bracket? Imagine less loopholes, but more write-offs for middle income families? It could be done, and probably without even “soaking” the rich.
  • Corporate taxes that incentivize “good” behavior, instead of bad. What if the tax code didn’t reward out-sourcing? What if the tax code did reward companies for providing health benefits and pensions, allowing unionization, and paid sick leave? What if the tax code rewarded companies for being environmentally friendly? What if it penalized companies for paying below a livable wage? What the tax code incentivized or penalized is just a matter of the choices made by the people writing it.
  • Ending the risk of financial ruin because of health costs. There has been a lot of debate over the best way to achieve universal health care. It’s important that we remember the fundamental problem with American health care- people can’t afford the services. It’s not the quality of the care, or even the cost of the annual check up. It’s the catastrophic costs, the cost of pharmaceuticals, and the cost of chronic health issues. Expanding Medicare to cover all prescription drug coverage, while also giving the program the ability to negotiate costs down would dramatically lower the cost of pharma. Expanding Medicaid to cover catastrophic and long-term, chronic condition care for everyone would eliminate the fear of bankruptcy for middle-class and low-income Americans.
  • Raising the ceiling on payroll taxes to fund Medicare and Social Security. When Ronald Reagan signed the last major overhaul on the payroll tax, the tax covered 90% of all earnings. The current cap on payroll taxes is $128,400, or about a quarter of what 90% of earnings would be today. If we just went back to 90%, let alone raising the cap to $1 million, or eliminating the cap, any and all issues Medicare and Social Security currently have with sustainability. In fact, we could make Social Security a true retirement for all Americans and lower the Medicare eligibility age to cover almost all middle-aged Americans now.
  • Bring back the 40 hour work week, or should I say OVERTIME. Americans are working longer and harder than ever before, but making less and less real dollars for their increased productivity. “Living to work” is not a healthy condition for anyone. Your parents may tell you working harder is better, but the truth is that it’s not how you should live your life. Re-instituting to 40 hour work week means incentivizing vacation time for all workers and bringing back overtime for ALL workers. When you work beyond 40 hours, you should be paid at an increased rate for that extra worker. This should be as true for salary jobs as hourly. Americans shouldn’t be on a 24 hour clock at work, constantly check their work e-mails, without being compensated for such. Yes, we would lose some efficiency in our economy, and yes it might take more workers to match our productivity- but that’s the point. Human beings need off time. They also should earn more for work beyond the standard.
  • End the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and “the box.” Who gets hurt by the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration the most? Poor people. Not because they’re the worst people, but because they’re the “most policed” people, and can’t afford the best defense. So we arrest them, throw them in prison, make the taxpayers pay for them, and then what? When they get out of prison, we make it very difficult for them to find work and become productive. We create a condition of poverty that turns poor people towards black market crime, then incarcerate them, then make them check a box on job applications after prison that hurts their chances of getting work. Turning away from the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration to start would help ease this economic trap. “Banning the box” and other ways to ease re-entry to society is also needed.
  • Index the minimum wage to inflation. The federal minimum wage was last increased in 2007. Things don’t cost what they did then. The minimum wage should be a living wage. It should also be indexed to both the region or state you are in, and inflation. Take the politics out of it and insure people can make a living.
  • Make union organizing easier and simpler. There has been a fall in real dollar earnings for working class Americans that follows closely to the decline of organized labor in America. It’s time to end that. Stop allowing management to interfere with labor organizing, intimidate workers, and avoid unionization in any field of work. Institute card-check, so workers can easily and freely organize a union.

If we made even some of these reforms, we would both improve quality of life, and happiness in our work force. We would insure people who work can live without fear of economic ruin. We would lower stress and anxiety levels in the public. We would see better outcomes across society. By the way, we’d still be a remarkably rich country. Consumption would rise, our economy would grow. Perhaps efficiency and productivity would take a hit, and economic benefit would be more spread out. What’s wrong with that though?


A Bold New World View, Part 7- How Business Works

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Benevolence isn’t in the vocabulary of a success corporation. Corporations only exist to make money- nothing more and nothing less. If you start a company, and want your values to underlie the operation, keep it profit- that’s totally your right. Even in a private company, you’re going to run the operation efficiently enough to make money, but you can make decisions to match your values at least.

Corporations have a job to do- increase the value of their shares on the stock market, turning a profit for shareholders. Whatever the market conditions allow them to do legally to do so, they should do. Many of their shareholders are almost invisible in the process, being held in pension and retirement funds, by silent partners, and by other non-individuals. With such detachment from the process, these entities only care about the stock prices and dividends getting bigger.

Corporations, and really any business, are going to run with this in mind. If a grocery store needs five check-out lanes open at 9pm on a Friday night, guess how many lanes will be open? Yes, policy can have an influence, but not to the extent we pretend. A tax cut might allow a cash-strapped company (to be read as failing) to hire people that they wanted to, but couldn’t afford. It also might give a company the money to invest in research and development, when they didn’t before. To be clear though, banks are primarily responsible for loans that help companies do these things. We should not, on the whole, cut taxes in an effort to get rich people and companies to hire- that will only work when their primary issue is having enough money to hire. More often, the chief concern of a company is increasing the size of the dividend for shareholders, or increasing stock prices- to all be read profits. If the chief priority is usually profits, a tax cut will usually go into increasing profits.

Democrats will usually get angry that companies behave this way, and call them greedy. Republicans will defend them, and tell us to trust corporations and the rich, because they’ll do the right thing in the end. Both are missing the point. This emotions are not things corporations have. It’s not part of how they run.

The obvious answer to corporate misdeeds and worse is simple- government. You write a tax code that encourages good behavior- environmentally friendly actions, accepting unions, manufacturing here, honest behavior, living wages, pensions, and health care- as opposed to now, where often times the tax code encourages the bad behavior we oppose. You regulate corporations to make sure they don’t do truly harmful things to our public. Finally, you prosecute fraud and actual crimes. This is the government jobs. Most companies will do as much as we allow them, as much as makes them money without any risk. We should actually hope they do too. Any of us who have a retirement fund of any kind are relying on corporations to make us as much money as possible to live off of in our old age. We should just also hope that our government does it’s job too, and makes sure they play by the rules.

A Bold New World View, Part 6- The Detached Elites

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Something struck me from Julian Castro’s Presidential announcement speech-

Today we live in a world in which brainpower is the new currency of success.

There’s nothing at all wrong with what he said there. In fact, it’s been a boilerplate assumption of both sides in Washington for basically my entire life. It’s the backbone of globalization, and really of the post-industrial America. The idea that nurtured intellect is the key to modern success isn’t a revolutionary idea, or for that matter wrong. So don’t take any of this as a criticism of him.

Let’s have a real conversation though, about how a great country goes from great to Trump. The question I would pose to Castro and every other candidate for President in 2020 is simple- if intellectual capital is the key to success, what are we going to do with the 250 million people or so living in this country that are either unprepared or incapable of competing in that world? The “opiate of the masses” for these people in recent decades has been “more education funding” and “job training,” and that’s great and all, but it’s not radically altering outcomes. These people may be inconvenient for policy makers, but they’re not going away anytime- not just not soon. The country will always have low-skilled workers, mediocre people, and frankly, some people who are not very smart. They count as people, the same as the rest of us, they get the same vote, and you can’t just ignore them away. What they’re being offered hasn’t cut it so far.

Let’s be honest, neither political party has shown that it cares much about the folks we’re talking about. Democrats snicker about them, Republicans exploit them, and the political Press only really covers them as an insult. From within that void, a complete conman like Donald Trump can emerge. Sure, he promised them the ridiculous- a return to coal mines, protection for their world views, and even a return to prominence- but consider the alternative. I worked for Hillary Clinton, I love Hillary Clinton, but her campaign conceded a lot more of America to Trump than it should have, or needed to, just as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and all the Republican primary candidates did before them. She did not lose because she didn’t go to Wisconsin, but it is anecdotal of why she did lose- her campaign believed it could win without competing in places it didn’t want to compete.

The point of this piece isn’t to re-hash 2016 though, that’s been done a lot. The point of this piece is to highlight the degree to which American politics are detached from Americans, and how it impacts our system. Over 90% of America didn’t go to an Ivy League school. I’m guessing a large majority didn’t go to even a private college. Find the last American President without an Ivy League degree? You’re going back a ways. Remove the military academies and you can count the “commoner” Presidents of the last century on one hand. Find a Supreme Court nominee not from Harvard Law- let alone the Ivy League. You almost can’t be a U.S. Senator without being a millionaire first. Members of the U.S. House, “The People’s House,” are all living in a class well above the income of the average member of the public. Last year in Illinois, we actually saw a billionaire vs. billionaire Gubernatorial race. Here in Pennsylvania, both men were multi-millionaires many time over. New Jersey’s last two Democratic Governors we’re multi-millionaires, with a background at Goldman Sachs.

Don’t mistake me pointing this out as a call for us to go down to the local McDonald’s to pick our Congressman. What I’m stating is just a fact, and while it doesn’t make our government all bad, it clearly has impacted our decision making and values. Our response to the 2008 economic meltdown was to bail out the banks- arguably the right choice- but to limit the size of the Stimulus that was supposed to reach the general public. While military spending has grown exponentially since World War II, spending on infrastructure hasn’t grown at the same rate. States never lack money for economic development that benefits rich developers, but seem to struggle at funding public education without tax increases on the middle class. It’s not that they’re always, actually wrong, it’s that they seem to always err on the same side of judgment.

I’m not into Democratic socialism, or straight up class warfare, but it’s not a radical leap to say that rich people tend to value the things rich people know. Their perspective places the value on the work they do. It also tends to downplay the problems of the “other people,” people that most of them just don’t even know. There is a good reason they view ideas like guaranteed universal income, Medicare for All, guaranteed housing, increases in Social Security, and other safety measures as “radical,” and it’s not the merit of their ideas. They’re just not that important. There’s also a reason the payroll tax hasn’t kept up with inflation (which, by the way, is how we fund entitlements), and most of the big tax write-offs are for the wealthy, rather than everyone getting their first $30,000 tax free. There is a good reason we discuss drug-testing and work requirements for welfare and Medicaid, but not for farm subsidies and tax breaks, and it is neither the cost of the ideas, nor the merit. It is perspective, values, and priorities- and the value we place on what each group of people does.

Our government is largely out of touch with the public, and we are living through the backlash now. While Trump ran as change, it’s important to note that he is handing subsidy money out to agribusiness conglomerates right now, rather than consumers buying milk- I’m saying he’s a fraud of course. Regardless of him though, it’s worth understanding that the sickness in the government isn’t confined to him. As long as campaigns cost as much as they do, the government will be full of rich people- and I don’t have the solution to that today. You will have populist grifters and thieves come along from time to time and promise the world, with no record or plan to get them done (I’m thinking of two 2016 candidates, and even a new, young Congresswoman here), but they are not the solution to the detachment of our elites from the public. Our government desperately needs a change in perspective, in values, and in priorities, one that the average Harvard MBA just doesn’t have.

Looking Ahead at the Eagles

And so it ends- the Eagles run as Super Bowl Champions is over. They played a reasonably good game in a 20-14 loss at New Orleans- especially the defense- but they came up a little short. The Eagles mistakes hurt a little more, their injuries exposed their lack of depth a little more, the bye and home field ultimately played up just a little more. Could the Eagles have won? Possibly. Would they have won in Philadelphia? Probably. This is why you play the season though. The Saints earned the advantages they had. The Eagles didn’t.

This team went 10-8, 9-7 in the regular season in the year after a Super Bowl win. They came up just short very often. There was the horrible collapses against Tennessee and Carolina, the bad start in Tampa, the letdown against Minnesota, the two near misses against Dallas, and of course both New Orleans losses. One can very easily revisit this season and see the Eagles being 13-3 in the regular season, and last year they would have been. Sure, they won some tight ones too- Indianapolis, the comeback against the Giants, and tough wins against the Rams and Texans late. They also easily could have lost in the Wild Card round and felt further away.

There’s a lot of reasons to be positive and hopeful about the Eagles. They should have been better than 9-7. They had really solid wins over the Rams, Colts, Texans, and Bears this year- all playoff teams. Carson Wentz will be 21 months removed from his major knee injury, and get a full off-season of practice time- two things he lacked in 2018. Ertz, Jeffery, Johnson, Cox, and Jernigan are just some of the key players who will almost certainly be back in 2019, and still be very good. Doug Pederson is still an elite coach. This team is a good draft and a few free agents from being back in the Super Bowl. No one in the NFC is that far ahead of them.

Of course, don’t get over confident. The Eagles offensive line is in shambles- Peters is probably done here, Brooks could miss next season now, and Kelce may retire. They need a real #2 wide receiver and a horse of a starting quarterback. The secondary was ravaged by injury, and has question marks moving forward. The linebackers need upgrades. Brandon Graham leaving and Chris Long maybe retiring would leave the defensive front light on depth. There are real questions for this off-season.

It’s been a lot of fun to watch though. The defending champs never quit, even at 4-6, even when the division was gone. They fought to the end.

Fly Eagles, fly.

A Bold New World View, Part 5- The Parties

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Steak or fish. A or B. Black or White. American politics is somewhat limiting and constrained. Our political system has been built for stability, not for passions of the moment. From our constitution to our election laws, the idea is to eventually get to something almost like a consensus. Having two parties to choose from increases the likelihood of that.

But really though, what are our political parties? Political parties, in the official sense, are the committee people who make them up. In most cases, you elect your county party committee at the precinct level, and your state committee people at a county level, or some other higher political division level. The DNC and RNC members are chosen by state party and elected leaders. In an official sense, both parties are people chosen directly and indirectly by the voters. In reality, parties are a lot more.

In the case of both parties, there are two other groups with very direct power and oversight in the parties- elected officials and major donors. Elected officials are elected directly by the public, get to set policies that usually end up as party policy, and most importantly get to hand out appointments and jobs- all the stuff the party faithful care about. Major donors have a ton of influence, because elections cost money. As long as TV, mail, internet ads, canvass programs, offices, and staff cost money, donors will exist. Candidates who can’t raise any money, and parties for that matter, can’t tell anyone why they’re great and deserve your votes. Both of these groups have a ton of sway over political parties, and how they’re going to operate.

The thing about all three of these groups though is that they combine to make up less than 1% of both our 320 million plus population, and our 135 million actually active voters. In other words, they can’t make our political system run on their own. In fact, they can’t even run the political parties on their own. They’re all indispensable, and yet entirely inadequate to drive our politics in 2019.

The great divergence of the two political parties occurs at this point- who the base, or activists are. For the Republicans, they are an alliance of groups- big businesses, military hawks, Christian conservatives, and other traditionalist groups (generally white and male)- who generally share an ideological view. For the Democrats, they are a coalition of groups who often don’t completely share ideological positions- African-Americans, leftists, feminists, labor, Latinos, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, the LGBT community, and many other change related groups. All members of the Republican alliance are conservatives, or part of the right, usually. Not every group in the Democratic coalition is part of “the left” though, at least in the eyes of the others. Member groups of the Republican alliance can move further right without fear of alienating the other partners, in part because they all agree generally in their world view, and in part because they all oppose the direction of Democrats, pretty much at their core. When some groups within the Democratic coalition move right or left, they draw the ire of other partners.

Obviously this doesn’t cover every voter in both parties, which speaks to the general dislike of politics that many people feel. Many voters end up picking the lesser of the two evils because they’re not very ideological themselves, or they don’t fit perfectly in any of these boxes, or they dislike one or two groups on their side. In normal elections, these voters end up as swing voters, up for grabs to the candidate willing to come get them. In recent elections, particularly 2016, these voters end up pressed into “their” corner- happy about it or not.

Our two party system leaves a lot to be desired in recent times, but it’s also the greatest tool for stability this country has seen. Ironically, displeasure for the increasingly polarized positions of the two parties may end up changing that in the near time. Even if the parties end up going the way of the Whigs though, we have a system that is built to accommodate two.

The Crisis at the Border? It’s Who’s There.

Evergreen Statement- Donald Trump is going to argue a false case tonight. There is absolutely no crisis at the Southern border. Illegal entry at the Southern border has been going down for the better part of a decade. There aren’t terrorists walking across the border. People applying for asylum is not a new thing. Most people in the United States with an illegal immigration status over stayed visas. Almost all the “terrorists” stopped at the “border” are people stopped at airports who have names that match someone on the no-fly list.

Donald Trump knows there is no crisis at the border. It’s why he let the first 22 months of his Presidency, with a fully Republican House and Senate, go by without pushing for his border wall. It’s why he turned down $20 billion for his border wall in exchange for DACA when Senate Dems Leader Chuck Schumer offered him it. It’s why he pulled back the troops he deployed to the border right before the election last year. Donald Trump knows there is no crisis at the Southern border. When his 2020 campaign kicks into high gear, I’d even venture a guess that he’ll praise himself for “less traffic at our Southern border.”

Let’s not kid ourselves into believing Trump thinks there is a real “crisis” at the border- the issue is that Trump’s base feels there is a “crisis” because of who is coming to that border and where they are from. If this was genuinely a debate about real fears at the border, Trump would take fencing and technology, and probably even more manpower at the border. He’s not though. This argument over a wall, which won’t work. It’s about deporting the DACA kids, because it’s cruel. It’s about putting children in cages and separating them from their family, because it does send the desired image and message to Central America.

Xenophobia has a history in America. The Irish and Italians were once treated as undesirable immigrants. When Eastern Europe, and worse yet Asians were coming here for work, Ellis Island was closed, and quotas were established. We turned away many Jewish asylum seekers both before and during Hitler’s Holocaust and World War II. So much of Trump’s base seem to have forgotten the plight of their ancestors. They now want to slam shut the doors to the “Land of Opportunity” in no small part because of who those seeking refuge here are. They don’t want kids from Honduras in this country, because they think they will change the nation’s identity- away from them. Their fear is that these immigrants coming here, seeking asylum, might not agree with their retro world view. This is all nothing more than white identity politics.

That’s the actual crisis here.

A Bold New World View, Part 4- Who Decides

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Yesterday the Democrats officially took the House. Before yesterday, there were 195 Democrats in the House, now there are 40 more. Where did these 40 new seats come from?

They were not seats won in the Democratic base- urban America- for the most part. They also were mostly not in rural America, where Republicans clean up on whiter votes. Most of these new members (not all) are coming from suburban and even a few exurban districts. They’re not coming from previously safe “blue” districts, but districts that have shown a tendency towards moderacy and swing-voting.

American elections are generally decided in semi-affluent, higher educated areas. Suburban counties around Philadelphia, Cleveland, Miami, Raleigh, Washington, Des Moines, and Detroit tend to decide Presidential elections. Many of the districts that flipped in Congress and state legislatures in 2018 were in those same areas. These voters decide most of our elections.

This is not to say that a Presidential candidate should not seek to stoke their base voters to increase turnout, and/or seek to cut margins in the opposition’s strong turf. It’s to say that Presidents who win that way are not building a governing coalition. Winning with your base isn’t strengthening your party’s fortunes in the swing districts that decide partisan control in the legislatures. Without strong legislative majorities, you cannot pass laws and make changes.

Who are these voters? They’re college educated. They don’t live higher taxes, but do like good public services. They’re not very fond of the blatant racism, sexism, and bigotry of Trump. They tend to believe in science. They tend to not support “big government” or socialism. While not as diverse as the big cities, they’re not as lily white as “the sticks.”

These are the places that handed Donald Trump a beating in 2018, but Hillary didn’t spend enough time on in 2016. They’re the small cities of Pennsylvania, like Allentown, Reading, Bethlehem, or Scranton. They’re the suburban areas in Milwaukee County. They’re the suburban areas around Charlotte in Mecklenburg County, and the suburban counties around Raleigh, and even in Wake County. They’re obviously the areas outside of Detroit, within that metro market.

I’m not suggesting it’s an “or” choice. Should a Democratic nominee in 2020 campaign in Charlotte or Matthews? Philadelphia or Allentown? Milwaukee or Janesville? My answer is both. My answer is talk about the things that are applicable, and go to both. Campaign to your base, but also talk to and about things that matter to the voters who are up for grabs.

There are those that disagree, either because of perceived practical problems with it, or an ideological bias towards a particular base of voters. My suggestion is that they are incorrect in their view of the electorate, and in the pathway forward. Many of the areas that flipped or went more Democratic from 2016 to 2018 got an increase of campaign action and attention this time. Issues of importance to them- like health care- were now front and center. It’s not that they like or dislike either party’s base, but mostly that they have different issues.

Finally, there is a belief by some that demographics will simply change American politics in due time. It’s true- by 2045, the nation will be majority-minority, though it will remain plurality white for some time after that. Even as that happens, at least 37 states will remain majority white, and even more will be plurality white. Half the country will live in eight states. The voting population is likely to be even whiter than this. By the time the voters of America are a more diverse majority, many of us are likely to be very old, or even dead. Diversity will move the nation, but not as fast and dramatically as some believe.

Elections are not decided where either major party would generally like. They’re not decided among the activists. They’re decided among voters who are less ideological. Winning them over takes a more complex, higher political messaging. This makes a lot of political people uncomfortable.

A Bold New World View, Part 3- the Revolutionaries are Idiots

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

It’s not usually that hard to see what’s wrong. That’s usually in front of your eyes. Diagnosing the problems within our political system, from money in our campaigns to hyper partisanship, isn’t hard. Seeing a problem is not solving a problem though. When it comes to solutions, that usually is far more complicated than calling them out in the first place.

We all know that money in politics is a bad thing. We all hate it. Why not just ban it? Well, the Supreme Court is one blockade. Even if you went the route of a constitutional amendment to ban money, you still don’t solve the major problem of campaign money- campaigns are expensive. If you take the money out of politics, how does anyone but self-funding candidates get themselves known? You run into these roadblocks on issues all over the political spectrum. How do you actually finance a “Medicare for All” plan that requires as much additional funding as the entire current Federal budget? We know we need to get away from fossil fuels, but how do we survive in the short term if we do that? Big problems require big solutions, and that’s hard. It doesn’t mean solutions are impossible. It means you should be skeptical of anyone with simple solutions and talking points as their solution.

Unfortunately, our current political climate isn’t short on unserious people. Some of them think we can simply spend money forever, without any thoughts of deficits or taxes. Some think that cutting taxes on rich people and corporations will both create jobs and not blow a hole in the deficit. Rather than coming up with serious solutions, they cling to fairy tales and nonsense.

Unfortunately, in the era of Trump this is made even worse by our divisions. People of little substance, peddling fairy tales that meet the desires of the foaming mouthed masses emerge and build massive followings. Whether they are “deplorables” or “resisters,” there are hucksters, grifters, and con-artists infiltrating our politics and poisoning the public. They do so by baiting our biases, by telling us what they want to hear.

If someone offers “perfect,” or “simple” solutions to complex problems, you shouldn’t believe them. If someone tells you they can solve the problems of our political system by force of personality, or through “political revolution,” run away. If they tell you all the opponents are “corrupt,” question them. If they tell you that we “just need to try harder,” know they are wrong. If they tell you the “establishment” or “mainstream” oppose any solution, question them.

There has not been a problem worth solving yet in our history that was solved perfectly, all at once. Solutions require imperfection, because they require compromises. Anyone who says you can have it all has no plan at all. When someone seems to have all the right ideas, you’ll probably see a person who lacks legislative achievements or life successes, or someone who has bankrupt a casino.

A Bold New World View, Part 2- How the Elites Squandered American Power

Read Part 1 here.

What makes a successful nation? What makes a failed society? Can a nation be both at once? Aren’t we now? America is an enigma. We are a nation of unprecedented wealth, might, and achievement. Yet, we have millions living paycheck to paycheck, without health care, with substandard education. How can we be both successful and fail so many?

After World War II and the Great Depression, America found itself in a brief recession. Our economy had grown incredibly during the war, in part because we had an abundance of starving workers going back to work to help with the war effort, and in part because of massive government spending to win that war. With the war over, millions of GI’s were returning to an economy not prepared for them. Fortunately for American policy makers, the Korean War was going to give them a brief respite from those problems, and the American dollar was now the fiat currency sitting in the vaults of most foreign capitols. This gave them options.

In the early years after the Korean War, policy making made sense. Eisenhower invested in the interstate highway system, he and his successors invested in home ownership and expanding America into the suburbs, and heavy investment in science (mostly through NASA and the Pentagon, but I digress) marked those years. JFK cut taxes for the middle class and LBJ invested heavily fighting poverty. No one elected nationally from the 1950’s until 1980 dared muse about tearing down the “safety-net” for workers in our economy. Unionization was widely accepted, Social Security and Medicaid were viewed as sacred, Medicare was created, and protecting our quality of life (Nixon creating the EPA) was considered a government job. Pensions weren’t some odd anomaly, but a normal part of worker compensation. CEO’s did well, but the separation between them and their workers wasn’t insane. The American economy wasn’t ever perfect or ideal, but fairness was a part of the deal- because an active government made it so. A successful nation understood that it had to try and not leave people behind.

Then something happened- the social contract broke. Reaganism took hold. Union power was crushed. Taxes for the rich were sliced by more than half. “Serious” Washington took aim at “entitlement spending.” Military contractors made windfalls as defense spending skyrocketed. Regulations on industry were eliminated, putting profits over consumer protections and quality of life. Greed was good. Corporate profits were good. Getting more capital in the hands of entrepreneurs was the key to our economy, so they told us.

And for a while, they did pretty well. The 1980’s were good. Reigned in just a bit in the 1990’s, the economy exploded, a boom we never saw before. The richest nation in the history of the planet saw its market skyrocket. To be clear, this isn’t at all, “all bad” for working class people (your retirement funds, if you have them, benefitted a lot). It’s also worth noting though, the only people really getting “rich” from this were Wall Street brokers. We didn’t all see the same benefits from the successes of the 1980’s and 1990’s. That’s because the social contract that used to bind us all together was broken.

The real failure of the past 75 years of American power boils down to this: America achieved unparalleled wealth and power, and most of it went to the wealthy, and very little of it went to the people. Most of the riches of America went to the super rich, while the basic necessities of life- health, housing, food, education- were denied to too many. Most of America’s middle class is living paycheck to paycheck. Millions of people with jobs have no retirement or savings. Millions lack health insurance. Our college graduates are leaving school with more debt than earning potential. While I like Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t deserve more money than he could ever spend, while his consumers aren’t living with any level of safety for their labor. The money that middle class Americans pay in taxes isn’t coming back to help them often enough- not as our budgets spend hundreds of billions on defense, and even more on debt services. We’ve squandered so much of our power on too few, rather than re-investing in our population.

You should not read this as to say “everything is rotten” in America. I don’t believe that at all. So much of the world would kill for our public services. Most of us have paved roads, public safety insured by our cops and firefighters, clean, running water, food that is inspected and safe, public schools, air that is safe to breathe, and so many other things we take for granted every day. There’s a reason people will do anything to come to America, and why I won’t leave it. America is simply the greatest place to live. You can believe that, and still see our failings.

We’ve wasted decades now as the greatest super-power in the world, decades where we could have insured and invested in our people. Guaranteed living wages, health care for all, a clean environment, good public schools, modern infrastructure, and protected public lands are all doable in time, if we prioritize them and do them responsibly. This is not an embrace of the wackos and loons who promise everything can be done for free now, and to hell with the details. It’s to say the lead-infested water of Flint, Michigan should never happen in a country this powerful and wealthy. No kids should be in failing schools. We should have been better than this, our people should have been the priority.

Some of our failings are the result of greed. Some of our failings come from our failure to accept change. Most of it is a lack of vision and priorities though. America’s elite classes couldn’t see beyond themselves. The result of their failings is the bitter division and incompetency we’re living with now.

A Bold New World View, Part 1- There are no “Great Men”

One of the greatest myths in political history is that men actually shape it. As though some guy in a political office drives the great movements and moments, and without them it would all have not happened. To boil great movements and events like winning World Wars, American Civil Rights, women’s suffrage, or breaking demographic boundaries down to an individual and their unique talents is silly. Moments shape man, not the other way around.

This is not to dismiss individual talent. JFK was the right kind of candidate to break down the “Catholic barrier” to the Presidency, with his money, status, beautiful family, and war hero status- in the same way Al Smith wasn’t. He also ran at the right moment, in the dawn of the television age. Winston Churchill was as great of a leader as was needed for the United Kingdom and it’s allies to win World War II, but he is also the guy was never re-elected as Prime Minister. Bill Clinton’s policies and first budget played a huge role in the 1990’s economic boom, but it didn’t happen “because of him” alone. George H.W. Bush wasn’t really a great politician during his multiple failed Senate and Presidential runs, but he was the ideal person to lead America as communism fell. And yes, while I love Barack and Michelle Obama, and think their qualities helped them be the first African-American First Family, but do I think he would have won in just any time in our history? No, I don’t. In each of these examples, the talents and characteristics of those in question helped make their moments possible, but just as LBJ’s skills made Civil Rights legislation possible, so did his moment in time.

Political movements and moments are the products of social pressures, change within the citizenry, global forces and events, technological and scientific advances, and lots of other things. They’re also about luck and timing. The “booming 1990’s” were a product of a growing tech sector, tax and spending policies of two very different Presidents, Fed monetary policies, and timing. The Civil Rights movement needed an MLK to sell it to America, and an LBJ to push the laws, but it also needed the inaction of near immediate previous national leaders (FDR), and television to show America what was happening. You can go through almost every piece of our shared political history and see that our great leaders of yesterday were more reactive to reality than shaping it. Change is bigger than individuals.

Realizing this is hard, as it forces us to treat leaders as something less important to human history, as if they’re more accessories. They are in fact humans. It means accepting that leaders rarely deserve all of the credit for their successes, or all of the blame for their failures. Yes, their charisma, intellect, passion, and skill do matter. They can be perfect for the moment. The moment is still the most important thing though. There are no “great men” shaping history, just great men making history work.

This can be hard to accept. Perhaps if you don’t accept it though, consider the not great men and their places in history. There was almost certainly bound to be a backlash to the Obama era, and Donald Trump ended up being that response- even with little intellect or talent that he brought to the moment. George W. Bush will not be remembered as one of the great talents to lead the United States, but yet he was the man in the Oval Office leading the initial response to the 2008 economic meltdown, not to mention his leadership in the aftermath of 9/11. Many times, less talented and grand figures end up guiding the hand of history. Surely if greatness was required to “make history,” these folks couldn’t do it. And yet, change happens.

I know, it’s hard to give up hero worship. It’s hard to accept everyone is subject to their moment in time. This isn’t to dismiss talent and greatness though, it’s just to put it in it’s proper place. Great change is made by great societies.