On Borrowed Time, Georgia On Our Minds⁠

From former National Security Adviser Susan Rice in The New York Times:

For now, our democracy has held. It’s dodged a bullet — or, more precisely, multiple concerted efforts by the president of the United States to torpedo its very foundations. . . 

Still, the lesson we must learn is not a reassuring one: A determined autocrat in the White House poses a grave threat to our democratic institutions and can severely undermine faith in our elections, particularly when backed by partisans in Congress.

Perhaps only when the stars are optimally aligned — when voters turn out in huge numbers, when the outcome is not close, when state and local officials and the courts adhere to the rule of law, when foreign interference is thwarted, when the media behaves responsibly and when people remain peaceful — can our democracy endure its greatest tests.

[This president] will leave office on Jan. 20, whether he acknowledges defeat or not. Yet, if his Republican enablers in Congress retain a Senate majority, they will not hesitate to reprise the politics of power at any cost, even by again subverting the democratic process.

So, bolstering our democracy depends in large part on the people of Georgia voting out their incumbent senators on Jan. 5. If the Senate flips to Democratic control, Congress will be able to apply the lessons of our democracy’s near-death experience.

It would enact the For the People Act to combat corruption, strengthen ethics rules and improve voter access as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the protections of the 1965 legislation. Congress would pass the Protecting Our Democracy Act to constrain the power of future presidents who deem themselves above the law and finally adopt long-stalled legislation to shore up our election infrastructure against adversaries, foreign or domestic.

Now is no time for self-congratulation or complacency. We must act with the unique urgency and courage of those who know they are living on borrowed time.

Outrageous

It’s a word that’s almost lost its meaning, given that everything from stand-up comedy to mattress sales are called “outrageous” these days. But consider the simple fact that a president of the United States downplayed the severity of a pandemic, while acknowledging it in private, to the point that millions of his followers think the disease is a hoax and wearing masks is a liberal plot. Then there’s the simple fact that Republican politicians, right-wing media types and most of his supporters have gone along with him every step of the way. 

Claiming he won the election except for all the fraudulent votes is outrageous enough. Using his position to make more of us die and suffer from COVID-19 is about as outrageous as anything a person or president could do.

It’s true that the death rate is down, but the virus causes suffering and can cause significant damage even when you survive it, and then there’s the effects it has on the rest of society. This chart shows new cases in New Jersey from March to November: 

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So Crazy, It Might Just Work

Two facts: Democrats need a more compelling message and New York Times editorials are boring. The subject of yesterday’s editorial, however, is interesting and would give the Democrats a more powerful message. It’s called “Let’s Talk About Higher Wages”:

One of the great successes of the Republican Party in recent decades is the relentless propagation of a simple formula for economic growth: tax cuts.

The formula doesn’t work, but that has not affected its popularity. In part, that’s because people like tax cuts. But it’s also because people like economic growth, and while the cult of tax cuts has attracted many critics, it lacks for obvious rivals.

Democratic politicians have tended to campaign on helping people left behind by economic growth, the difficulties caused by economic growth and the problems that cannot be addressed by economic growth. When Democrats do talk about encouraging economic growth, they often sound like Republicans with a few misgivings — the party of kinder, better tax cuts.

This is not just a political problem for Democrats; it is an economic problem for the United States. The nation needs a better story about the drivers of economic growth, to marshal support for better public policies. The painful lessons of recent decades, along with recent economic research, point to a promising candidate: higher wages.

Raising the wages of American workers ought to be the priority of economic policymakers and the measure of economic performance under the Biden administration. We’d all be better off paying less attention to . . . the nation’s gross domestic product and focusing instead on . . . workers’ paychecks.

Set aside, for the moment, the familiar arguments for higher wages: fairness, equality of opportunity, ensuring Americans can provide for their families. The argument here is that higher wages can stoke the sputtering engine of economic growth.

Perhaps the most famous illustration of the benefits is the story of Henry Ford’s decision in 1914 to pay $5 a day to workers on his Model T assembly lines. He did it to increase production — he was paying a premium to maintain a reliable work force. The unexpected benefit was that Ford’s factory workers became Ford customers, too.

The same logic still holds: Consumption drives the American economy, and workers who are paid more can spend more. The rich spend a smaller share of what they earn, and though they lend to the poor, the overall result is still less spending and consumption.

For decades, mainstream economists insisted that it was impossible to order up a sustainable increase in wages because compensation levels reflected the unerring judgment of market forces. “People will get paid on how valuable they are to the enterprise,” [according to] the Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush.

The conventional wisdom held that productivity growth was the only route to higher wages. Through that lens, efforts to negotiate or require higher wages were counterproductive. Minimum-wage laws would raise unemployment because there was only so much money in the wage pool, and if some people got more, others would get none. Collective bargaining similarly was derided as a scheme by some workers to take money from others.

It was in the context of this worldview that it became popular to argue that tax cuts would drive prosperity. Rich people would invest, productivity would increase, wages would rise.

In the real world, things are more complicated. Wages are influenced by a tug of war between employers and workers, and employers have been winning. One clear piece of evidence is the yawning divergence between productivity growth and wage growth since roughly 1970. Productivity has more than doubled; wages have lagged far behind. . . .

The importance of rewriting our stories about the way the economy works is that they frame our policy debates. Our beliefs about economics determine what seems viable and worthwhile — and whether new ideas can muster support.

Preaching the value of higher wages is a necessary first step toward concrete changes in public policy that can begin to shift economic power. It can help to build support for increasing the federal minimum wage — a policy that already has proved popular at the state level, including in conservative states like Arkansas, Florida and Missouri, where voters in recent years have approved higher minimum wages in referendums.

A focus on higher wages is not a sufficient goal for economic policy. . . .

But a focus on wage growth would provide a useful organizing principle for public policy — and an antidote to the attractive simplicity of the belief in the magical power of tax cuts. . . .

That won’t be easy. The affluent live in growing isolation from other Americans, which makes it harder for them to imagine themselves as members of a broader community. Their companies derive a growing share of profits from other countries, which makes it easier to ignore the welfare of American consumers. The nation’s laws, social norms and patterns of daily life all have been revised in recent decades to facilitate the suppression of wage growth.

But we can begin by telling better stories about the way the economy works.

Unquote.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation it would be around $12 today, instead of $7.25  If it had kept up with productivity, it would be more than $24. So it makes sense that Democratic politicians want to raise the minimum wage. Although doing so would indirectly raise the wages of better-paid workers, Democrats rarely, if ever, emphasize that fact. 

There are other ways for national and local government to help wages rise, such as paying government workers more, requiring higher wages in government contracts, making government subsidies contingent on higher wages, reducing Social Security and Medicare taxes for lower-paid workers (while raising them for the very well-paid) and making it easier to form and sustain unions. The Times editorial is saying that Democrats should make higher wages — higher take-home pay — an overarching message. That would convince more of the working class to stop electing Republicans and vote in their economic interest.

Hoping for the Best & Getting the Worst

David Roberts is a writer for Vox who I don’t follow on Twitter anymore (he’s @drvox, but not a doctor). I don’t follow him because he’s so good at pointing out how bad things are. But somebody linked to what he posted today:

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Among the many reasons this is horseshit, this whole genre of liberal-scolding rests on the premise that the offended heartlanders are responding to what Democrats actually say — the intramural debates in which people like (NY Times columnist Maureen) Dowd are involved. They’re not! 

By & large, Txxxx’s base has no idea what Dems actually say or do. They are responding to a ludicrous caricature they see on (Right Wing) media & RW social media. They are responding to lies & conspiracy theories. Dems changing how they talk *won’t change any of that*. 

It’s very weird how America’s elite journalists/pundits/etc. wring their hands over “post-truth politics” & the problem of misinformation, but then turn around & treat the things voters do as a direct response to Dem “messaging.” Voters rarely HEAR Dem messaging. Because — stop me if you’ve heard me say this a trillion times — the RW has a giant propaganda machine that carries their messages directly to the ears (& id) of their voters. Dems lob messages out into the (Main Stream Media) & hope for the best.

Unquote.

He could have added “& often get the worst”.

Trying To Fill the Void This Thanksgiving

Since we don’t have a real president at this point, Joe Biden is trying to fill the void. I don’t think a president-elect has ever addressed the nation like this, two months before Inauguration Day. His remarks were covered live by all the TV networks. They’re worth hearing.

President-elect Joe Biden Thanksgiving Address – YouTube