Making a Difference in People’s Lives

The transition to a new president and a new Congress is always a significant moment, but it’s especially significant this year, there being such a stark difference between the old and the new. Paul Krugman discusses the current state of our politics and a piece of legislation that would make an important difference in the lives of millions of Americans:

. . . Biden will take office in a political environment polluted by lies.

Most important, of course, is the Big Lie: the claim, based on nothing whatsoever, that the election was stolen. Has there been anything in U.S. history like the demand from leading Republicans that Biden pursue “unity” when they won’t even say publicly that he won fairly? And polls showing that a large majority of rank-and-file Republicans believe that there was major election fraud are deeply scary.

But not far behind in importance is what I think of as the Slightly Smaller Lie — the almost universal insistence on the right that the mildly center-left leaders of the incoming administration and Congress are, or at least are controlled by, radical socialists. This allegation was almost the entire substance of Republican campaigning during the Georgia Senate runoffs.

One response to this bizarre claim — and it’s not a bad response — would be a Bidenesque “C’mon, man. Get real!” But I’d like to do a somewhat deeper dive by focusing on one particular issue: Biden’s call, as part of his economic recovery plan, for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Republicans raising objections to Biden’s plan have singled out the minimum wage hike as a prime reason for their opposition, although we all know that they would have found some excuse for objecting no matter what he proposed. What’s striking about this fight — let’s not dignify it by calling it a debate, as if both sides were making real arguments — is that it shows us who the real radicals are.

For what counts as a radical economic proposal? One possible answer would be a proposal that flies in the face of public opinion.

By that criterion, however, Republican politicians are definitely the radicals here. Raising the minimum wage is immensely popular; it’s supported by around 70 percent of voters, including a substantial majority of self-identified Republicans. Or if you don’t believe polls, look at what happened in Florida back in November: even as Trump carried the state, a referendum on raising the minimum wage to $15 won in a landslide.

So the G.O.P. is very much out of step with the public on this issue — it’s espousing what is almost a fringe position. Oh, and it’s a position that is completely at odds with the claim by many Republicans that they’re the true party of the working class.

What if we define radicalism not by opposition to public opinion but by a refusal to accept the conclusions of mainstream economics? Here, too, Democrats are the moderates and Republicans the radicals.

It’s true that once upon a time there was a near-consensus among economists that minimum wages substantially reduced employment. But that was long ago. These days only a minority of economists think raising the minimum to $15 would have large employment costs, and a strong plurality believe that a significant rise — although maybe not all the way to $15 — would be a good idea.

Why did economists change their minds? No, the profession wasn’t infiltrated by antifa; it was moved by evidence, specifically the results of “natural experiments” that take place when an individual state raises its minimum wage while neighboring states don’t. The lesson from this evidence is that unless minimum wages are raised to levels higher than anything currently being proposed, hiking the minimum won’t have major negative effects on employment — but it will have significant benefits in terms of higher earnings and a reduction in poverty.

But evidence has a well-known liberal bias. Did I mention that on Friday, just days before their eviction, Trump officials released a report claiming that the 2017 tax cut paid for itself?

Voodoo economics may be the most thoroughly debunked doctrine in the history of economic thought, refuted by decades of experience — and voters consistently say that corporations and the wealthy pay too little, not too much, in taxes. Yet tax cuts for the already privileged are central to the Republican agenda, even under a supposedly populist president.

On economic policy, then, Democrats — even though they have moved somewhat to the left in recent years — are moderates by any standard, while Republicans are wild-eyed radicals. So why does the G.O.P. think that it can get away with claiming the opposite?

Part of the answer is the power of the right-wing disinformation machine, which relentlessly portrays anyone left of center as the second coming of Pol Pot. . . .

In any case, let’s be clear: There is indeed a radical party in America, one that, aside from hating democracy, has crazy ideas about how the world works and is at odds with the views of most voters. And it’s not the Democrats.

A Month of Unwritten Posts Condensed Into One

It’s not as if there’s a shortage of reading material on the Internet. Nevertheless, since I haven’t done my part lately:

You might hear of a new Quinnipiac University poll, according to which Fox News is the most trusted network news in America. The poll found that 29% of American voters trust the news on Fox more than any other network. However, the poll also found that 57% of American voters trust either CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC or MSNBC more than Fox. In other words, 29% of us trust the right-wing propaganda “news” delivered by Rupert Murdoch, and twice as many of us trust the other kind, the “mainstream media” news that Rupert doesn’t own. So it’s bad enough, but not as bad as it sounds.

Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center poll found that 53% of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, even though the ACA has resulted in more people getting health insurance than the Obama administration predicted, while contributing to slower growth in overall healthcare spending. A Bloomberg article helps explain this discrepancy. First, many people think they can do without the comprehensive health insurance the law mandates and resent paying for services they’ll never need (like maternity care) or don’t think they’ll ever need (like rehabilitation). Second, more than half of the big companies in America have told their employees that the ACA is forcing them to pay even more for health insurance.

The Bloomberg article says that the coverage mandates aren’t making health insurance more expensive. The mandates are merely “pooling the cost of that coverage across more people”, which is why fewer people are having trouble paying for healthcare. Furthermore, employers are blaming an ACA provision (the so-called “Cadillac” tax) for immediate cuts in benefits and higher insurance payments, even though it’s unlikely that these employers will ever be subject to that provision.

But does it matter what the facts are? According to a very interesting article by Heather Cox Richardson, Professor of History at Boston College, America’s right-wing doesn’t accept the importance of empirical evidence or rational argument. She traces this amazing attitude back to William F. Buckley Jr.’s 1950s book God and Man at Yale. Richardson says that:

Buckley rejected the principles that had enabled social progress for centuries and laid out a mind-boggling premise: The Enlightenment, the intellectual basis of Western Civilization, was wrong.

Rational argument supported by facts did not lead to sound societal decisions, Buckley claimed; it led people astray. Christianity and an economy based on untrammeled individualism were truths that should not be questioned. Impartial debate based in empirical facts was dangerous because it led people toward secularism and collectivism—both bad by definition, according to Buckley. Instead of engaging in rational argument, Buckley insisted, thinkers must stand firm on what he called a new “value orthodoxy” that indoctrinated people to understand that Christianity and economic individualism were absolute truths.

If we accept the premise that Christianity and economic individualism (the idolatry of the “free market”) are absolute truths, it makes sense to reject any contradictory ideas, however well-founded those ideas are given the empirical evidence.

For example, the governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, inherited a $6 billion deficit from his predecessor, a self-styled “fiscal conservative” who wouldn’t raise taxes. Dayton convinced the legislature to raise taxes on the rich and increase the minimum wage. Republicans predicted, as always, that businesses would leave the state and unemployment would rise. What actually happened was that the deficit turned into a surplus, unemployment went down and Minnesota now has one of the best economies of any state. Forbes Magazine (a bastion of capitalism) recently ranked Minnesota as having the 7th best “economic climate” and the 2nd best “quality of life” in the nation.

But if you believe that higher taxes on the rich and a higher minimum wage are absolutely wrong, since they conflict with your “understanding” of morality and economics, it’s understandable that you’ll reject the evidence. Nothing that conflicts with absolute truth can possibly be true.

To end on a positive note, however, consider that Larry Summers, a leading economist and Wall Street-friendly Democrat, is now arguing for a relatively progressive set of policies. According to an encouraging article by Thomas Edsall of the New York Times, Summers has concluded that “free market capitalism, as now structured, is producing major distortions”:

In order to stem the disproportionate share of income flowing to corporate managers and owners of capital, and to address the declining share going to workers, the report calls for tax and regulatory policies to encourage employee ownership, the strengthening of collective bargaining rights, regulations requiring corporations to provide fringe benefits to employees working for subcontractors, a substantial increase in the minimum wage, sharper overtime pay enforcement, and a huge increase in infrastructure appropriations – for roads, bridges, ports, schools – to spur job creation and tighten the labor market…. Summers also calls for significant increases in the progressivity of the United States tax system.

Summers has advised both President Obama and Hillary Clinton on economic matters, so it’s a positive sign that he now advocates more worker-friendly policies.

Finally, with our harsh winter finally winding down, I want to express my sincere appreciation for everyone who has to work outside or travel to their jobs during terrible winter weather. Many such people aren’t able to take a day off or “work at home”, because you can’t drive a snowplow or staff your boss’s restaurant from your living room. I also want to express my profound appreciation for whoever devised the snow shovel with a bent handle. I’ve used one for years and there’s nothing better for shoveling snow while avoiding back pain!

backsaver-shovel2

Ebola, Obama, Republicans, the Usual Nonsense

From Evert Cilliers, writing at the very good Three Quarks Daily site:

What is it about Ebola and America? We have fewer cases than you can count on one hand of this horrible disease, among a nation of 300 million plus, and we’re freaking out as if ISIS has landed and beheaded everyone in Congress (not a bad idea, actually, they’d be doing us all a favor).

And now our President has gone and appointed an Ebola czar. What is this new Czar supposed to do? Go and comfort the families of the one dead from Ebola and the couple of others now in hospital? Big job. Jeez, why is our President acting like a scare-mongered wimp himself? He is supposed to be the grownup in the room. One would expect him to say something like this:

“My dear Americans,

Take a chill pill. Ebola is not a threat to our nation. The Republican Party is a bigger threat, the way they stand against raising the minimum wage for our folks who need to get food stamps even though they’re working all day. Why do Americans who actually work have to earn so little that they can’t even feed themselves? And why are we subsidizing Walmart and McDonalds who pay their employees so little they need food stamps? Walmart is costing you over $6 billion a year out of your taxes you pay in public assistance to their employees. Ebola is the last of our problems. Ignore it. I do. No need to act like a bunch of hysterical wimps. Let the GOP do that. They’re good at being wimps. It’s the other side of their coin. They act like wimps because they’re bullies. So why don’t you go out in November and vote against them? I need Congress back on my side so we can actually make some laws that will benefit the American people.”

Unless you’re a nurse with an Ebola patient, which you’re not.

More from Mr. Cilliers at Three Quarks Daily.