David L. Martin

in praise of science and technology

Archive for the month “July, 2017”

This post contains some profanity

Respect is a topic that deserves its own separate post.  But for now, I just wanted to put this out there as a kind of time capsule from the year 2017 in America.  The following words were spoken, on the record, to a reporter from The New Yorker, by the COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR for the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, in late July of 2017.

Regarding the President’s Chief of Staff:  “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”

Regarding the President’s Chief Strategist.  “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”

And again regarding the President’s Chief of Staff:  “Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.”

If you are reading this at some time in the distant future, I should explain that many people in both private businesses and government service lose their jobs over PRIVATE communications that are disrespectful or contain profanity.  This was an on-the-record statement to a reporter, by the person who is the Communications Director for the most powerful human being on planet earth.

The Geography of Crime in America

In a previous post, I discussed the big difference between Americans’ perception of crime and the reality of it.  Overall, crime is down, way down, in America from where it was 25 years ago.

crimescene

However, crime rates vary tremendously from place to place.  And it’s instructive, I think, to note the places that have high crime rates – and perhaps even more instructive to note the places that don’t.

I suspect that few people think of Stockton, California, when they think of crime.  But in fact it has a very high violent crime rate, much higher than that of New York city or Chicago.  How about Kansas City, Missouri?  Again, very high crime rate, much higher than New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles.  Los Angeles, in fact, ranks pretty low  – much lower than say, Buffalo, New York, or Oklahoma City.

Here is a list of American cities with more than 500,000 people, and their violent crime rates, according to FBI statistics.  The numbers are violent crimes per year per 100,000 people.

Detroit, MI                                          1759.6                   1

Memphis, TN                                     1740.1                   2

Milwaukee, WI                                  1596.1                   3

Baltimore, MD                                   1535.9                   4

Indianapolis, IN                                1288.0                   5

Washington, DC                                1202.6                   6

Nashville metropolitan                   1101.0                   7

Philadelphia, PA                               1029.0                   8

Miami, FL                                           1021.3                   9

Houston, TX                                       966.7                     10

Albuquerque, NM                             965.8                     11

Las Vegas, NV                                     920.7                     12

Chicago, IL                                          903.8                     13

San Francisco, CA                              776.8                     14

Oklahoma City, OK                            765.6                     15

Boston, MA                                         706.8                     16

Dallas, TX                                            694.2                     17

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC            677.6                     18

Denver, CO                                         673.9                     19

Tucson, AZ                                         655.5                     20

Jacksonville, FL                                648.3                     21

Los Angeles, CA                                634.8                     22

Louisville Metro, KY                        631.8                     23

Seattle, WA                                        598.7                     24

Phoenix, AZ                                       593.8                     25

San Antonio, TX                               587.2                     26

New York, NY                                   585.8                     27

Fresno, CA                                        551.2                     28

Columbus, OH                                 546.3                     29

Fort Worth, TX                                525.4                     30

Portland, OR                                    472.8                     31

San Diego, CA                                  398.6                     32

Austin, TX                                        372.5                     33

El Paso, TX                                       366.6                     34

San Jose, CA                                     329.6                     35

Honolulu, HI                                   243.9                     36

Cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York are undoubtedly associated with crime in the public mind.  Yet Nashville?  Nashville’s violent crime rate is 22% higher than that of Chicago, and almost double that of New York.  How about Oklahoma City?  Its violent crime rate is 21% higher than that of Los Angeles, and 31% higher than that of New York.

If you had to guess, how would you rate violent crime in these cities?

Laredo, Texas

Orlando, Florida

Raleigh, North Carolina

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Wichita, Kansas

How did you do?  Here are the answers.  Laredo and Raleigh have relatively low violent crime rates.  Laredo –  379.3; Raleigh – 392.3.  Orlando, Tulsa, and Wichita have high rates.  Orlando – 940.6; Tulsa – 903.6; Wichita – 984.8.  For some reason, Americans have the notion that the midsection of the country is relatively crime free.  In fact, cities like Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Kansas City have high violent crime rates, much higher than those of New York or Los Angeles.

Even more surprising is the relationship between city size and violent crime rate – or I should say, the lack of relationship.  This would seem to be a no-brainer – when you pack more people together, there is more opportunity for crime.  Yet when we plot city size versus violent crime rate for 83 large American cities, we get this:

CITYSIZEVERSUSVIOLENTCRIME

There is virtually no relationship!  New York City, with a population of more than 8 million, has a modest violent crime rate.  Stockton, California, with a population less than 5 PERCENT that of New York, has well over DOUBLE its violent crime rate.

Several other relatively small cities are notable for their high violent crime rates.  Anchorage, Alaska.  Buffalo, New York.  Kansas City, Missouri.  Toledo, Ohio.  And some very large American cities are notable for their modest crime rates.  Austin, Texas.  El Paso, Texas.  Honolulu, Hawaii.  San Jose, California.

How about states?  Well, again, perception and reality are 2 different things.  New York ranks 19th in violent crime rate.  Illinois (where that notorious city called Chicago is) ranks 21st.  Number 1 on the list is Alaska, which sports a violent crime rate almost double that of New York.  Nevada is a close 2nd.  And Tennessee is 3rd.  At the bottom of the list is Vermont, which has a violent crime rate about ONE-SIXTH of Alaska’s.  Second from the bottom is Maine.  Of the top 10 states, 5 are in the South.  Of the bottom 10 states, 4 are in the Northeast.

What correlates with this state-by-state variation in violent crime?  Well, let’s try median household income:

MEDIANHOUSEHOLDINCOMEBYSTATEVERSUSVIOLENTCRIME

Surprisingly, there seems to be little correlation between median income and violent crime rates.  New Hampshire, with a very high median household income, has a low violent crime rate.  But Alaska also has a high median household income – yet it has a very high violent crime rate.

What about income inequality?  That might work better.  If some people are doing well, and others poorly, we might expect that this would lead to higher crime rates.  Let’s take a look:

INCOMEINEQUALITYBYSTATEVERSUSVIOLENTCRIME

There’s not much to work with here either.  There’s a suggestion of a relationship, but lots of spread, and some striking outliers.  Alaska has low income inequality yet high crime.  Connecticut has high income inequality yet low crime.

How about education?

EDUCATIONBYSTATEVERSUSVIOLENTCRIME

This is somewhat better.  There does seem to be a negative relationship between educational attainment by state and violent crime rate.  But there is still a lot of spread.

My point is that crime is complex.  Education is a factor, but multiple factors contribute.  Why does Tucson, Arizona have a higher violent crime rate than much larger Phoenix, right down the road?  Why does El Paso, Texas have a much lower crime rate than San Antonio or Fort Worth?  The answers are undoubtedly complex.

Why does so much media attention seem to focus on cities like Los Angeles and New York when it comes to crime?  I think a big part of the reason is simply that they focus on EVERYTHING in places like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.  What’s happening in Kansas City or Anchorage or Tucson just doesn’t get much of their attention, unless it’s an obvious hate crime or some other sensational tidbit.

bulletholdes

The media is about narratives, narratives that can be communicated in a straightforward way.  The complexities of crime do not lend themselves to straightforward narratives.  Understanding crime requires depth and time.  It’s much easier to create a simple narrative.  The crumbling inner city slum.  Gangs that are out of control.  The decline of the traditional family.  And the most popular narrative of all is “crime is out of control.”  It’s a lie.  But it sells.  If it bleeds, it leads.

Strength and Leadership

Most people think verbally, so it’s not surprising that the words we use have an enormous influence on our thinking.  When it comes to politics, words are even more important.  The connotations of words become as important, if not more so, than their definitions.  Take the word “strongman,” for example.  A strongman is an authoritarian who rules by force, a dictator.  But the very use of the word strongman, as opposed to dictator or totalitarian, creates a more palatable image in many minds.  “Strength” is a good quality, right?

philippinedictator

We could just as easily call a dictator a weak man, someone who is insecure, a narcissist who feels powerless and needs the adoration of others.  A little boy in a man’s body who has never matured into genuine self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-respect.  Many, if not most of them, are.  Yet the media frequently refers to them as “strongmen.”

From “strongman” to “strong leader” is a short journey in many people’s minds.  In fact, in a recent Pew Research Center international poll, 75% described Trump as arrogant, 66% as intolerant, and 62% as dangerous.  Only 26% said that he was well-qualified to be president.  Yet 55% described him as a strong leader!

This smudging together of leadership and autocracy is closely related to the smudging together of respect and fear.  A leader is respected.  A dictator is feared.  A leader inspires.  A dictator coerces.  A leader is strong.  A dictator puffs himself up because he isn’t strong.

hitlerandstalin

When Hitler rose to power, he took pains to eliminate many of the very people who had helped him get there.  Joseph Stalin did the same thing.  Why?  Because dictators are always in fear of their subordinates and their close associates, just as their people fear them.  Leadership isn’t built on fear.  Harry Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”  Businessman Arnold Glasow said, “A good leader takes a little more of his share of blame, and a little less of his share of credit.”  In many ways, strong leadership is the opposite of autocracy.

fargoquote

As with so many things, many people’s notions of leadership are caricatures, caricatures that poison our politics and give room for authoritarians who care only about their own status.  A strongman and a strong leader are 2 completely different things.  A strong leader is a person who puts OTHERS first, because he or she already feels strong.  A weak leader is a person who puts themselves first, because he or she feels insecure.  Sound familiar?

Just a Short List of Some Sectors That Employ More Americans Than Coal Mining

In a previous post, I discussed the curious preoccupation come people have with manufacturing and resource extraction, which together constitute only a small fraction of the jobs in our society.  Coal mining specifically seems to get lots of attention, so I thought it would be instructive to list 20 job sectors that support more jobs than coal mining.  Here goes:

Coal mining – 53,000 jobs

  1. Furniture and home furnishings retail – 558,000 jobs
  2. Electronics retail – 538,000 jobs
  3. Specialty food stores – 238,000 jobs
  4. Shoe stores – 163,000 jobs
  5. Musical instrument and supply stores – 55,000 jobs
  6. Book stores and news dealers – 103,000 jobs
  7. Florists retail – 85,000 jobs
  8. Electronic shopping – 328,000 jobs
  9. Bus service and urban transit – 515,000 jobs
  10. Newspaper publishers – 199,000 jobs
  11. Libraries and archives – 179,000 jobs
  12. Scientific research services – 597,000 jobs
  13. Colleges, universities, and professional schools – 3,851,000 jobs
  14. Optometrists’ offices – 133,000 jobs
  15. Home health care services – 1,495,000 jobs
  16. Vocational rehabilitation services – 138,000 jobs
  17. Museums, art galleries, historical sites, etc. – 364,000 jobs
  18. Electronic and precision equipment repair and maintenance – 322,000 jobs
  19. Beauty salons – 982,000 jobs
  20. Public administration – 6,827,000 jobs

Resource extraction (including mining, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, fisheries, and forestry) constitutes about 2.1% of all American jobs.  Manufacturing is another 10.2%.  Wholesale and retail trade are about 13.3%, education and health care about 22.6%.

The Incredible Not-shrinking Republican Antipathy Toward Education

In 2015, the Pew Research Center took a survey of American’s attitudes about the country’s institutions – the media, financial institutions, labor unions, and institutions of higher learning.  About 63% of those surveyed said they thought colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going.  A remarkable 28%, well over 1 out of 4, said that colleges and universities had a negative impact.

pewrepublicanshighered

What’s more, in the same survey, 37% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that colleges and universities had a negative impact on the way things were going.  Well over a THIRD of these Americans were saying that higher education had a negative impact!  That such a large percentage of Americans would view something like higher education negatively is – well, frankly, insane.

But this was nothing to what was coming.  This week, Pew released the results of a similar survey.  Overall, the percentage of Americans saying that colleges and universities have a positive impact did not change.  But stunningly, 58 PERCENT of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now consider colleges and universities to have a NEGATIVE impact on the country!  Only 36% say they have a positive impact.

hascollegebeengood

What’s more, even COLLEGE EDUCATED Republicans now say that higher education has a negative impact – only 33% say it has a positive impact.  I wonder how many of these Americans would argue that it has had a negative impact on THEIR lives – the average American with a Bachelor’s degree makes 67% more than the average American with only a high school diploma.  Think about that for a moment.  You have a college degree, which enables you to make 67% more, on average, than someone with only high school.  Yet you report that higher education has a negative impact on the country.

Every single American president for the last 64 years, including the current one, has had a college degree.  A college education has been widely accepted as a positive in our society for at least the last 100 years.  Virtually all of the scientific innovation, and much of the technological innovation, in our society comes out of colleges and universities.  And until quite recently, college-educated Americans tended to vote Republican.  In the presidential election of 2012, 51% of voters with a Bachelor’s degree voted for Mitt Romney, the Republican, compared to 47% for Obama.  But in 2016, only 45% of voters with a Bachelor’s degree voted for Trump, the Republican.  49% voted for Clinton.  Conversely, 51% of voters with high school or less voted for Trump – only 45% for Clinton.

americandemography

These shifts gloss over something more fundamental.  The Republican party is only about 10% non-white.  The Democratic party is now 40 PERCENT non-white.  In the 2016 election, 58% of white voters voted for Trump.  Even among white voters with Bachelor’s degrees, he had a significant edge over Clinton.  Among NON-WHITE voters with Bachelor’s degrees, a whopping 71% voted for Clinton.  In other words, as the college-educated population has become increasingly non-white, it has voted increasingly Democratic.

From the mid 1990’s to 2005, white enrollment in American colleges increased about 10%.  But African-American enrollment increased 40%, Asian-American enrollment 45%, and Hispanic-American enrollment 70%!  In 1970, 90 PERCENT of American college students were white.  Today, 44% of college students are non-white (only about 36% of the population is non-white).

collegeenrollmentbyethnicity

In 2015, 18% of Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees were earned by African-Americans.  African-Americans are only about 13% of the American population.  20% were earned by Hispanic-Americans.  Hispanic-Americans are only about 16% of the population.  About 7% of the Bachelor’s degrees were earned by Asian-Americans.  Asian-American are only about 5% of the population.  And white Americans?  They earned only about 64% of the Bachelor’s degrees – despite representing about 72% of the population.

And American men lag far behind women in educational attainment.  In 1970, 58% of college students were men.  Today, that figure is down to 42%.  Only about 1 out of 4 American college students today is white and male (about 32% of the population is white and male).  Why are white American men not doing what every other demographic group is doing – going to college?

constructionjobs

Well, first of all, look at the jobs that are occupied by American men.  Construction – more than 10 million jobs, 89% male.  Manufacturing – more than 15 million jobs, 71% male.  Transportation and utilities – more than 8 million jobs, 75% male.  The vast majority of these jobs do not require college.  By contrast, look at the jobs that are occupied by women.  Education and health services together comprise more than 34 million jobs. 75 PERCENT are occupied by women.  Most of these jobs require some college, many of them a degree.

Now let’s look at things by ethnicity.  Coal mining – 94% white.  Sawmills and wood preservation – 78% white.  Pulp and paper mill jobs – 81% white.  Lawn and garden store jobs – 91% white.  The vast majority of these jobs require no college.  By contrast:  Computer and electronics manufacturing – 37% non-white.  Management, administration, and waste services – 47% non-white.  Executive offices and legislative bodies – 36% non-white.  Many of these jobs require college.

employmentbysector

In other words, white American males tend to occupy “old economy” jobs, particularly in resource extraction, manufacturing, and construction.  These jobs have slowly declined over time, due primarily to automation.  Meanwhile, health care and “new economy” jobs have steadily increased.

employmenthealthcare

A large portion of the white population, particularly the white male population, has failed to make the transition that these trends demand – particularly in the form of a strong emphasis on higher education.  What is so striking is that the propagandists of the right used to vilify minority Americans for supposedly being ignorant and unsophisticated.  If they only got themselves motivated and educated, they wouldn’t need to be parasites, so the story went.  Now we get the opposite message – It is the college crowd, full of non-white faces, that is vilified for being part of the “elite,” for being “arrogant,” and “condescending.”  The propaganda has clearly worked.

What is equally striking is that almost no one rejects the highly advanced TECHNOLOGY that springs from the new economy.  In fact, much of the right-wing propaganda is happily spread on social media platforms that didn’t exist 20 years ago.  But the SOURCE of this technology is vilified – the source is science and engineering, generated mostly by institutions of higher learning.

automation4

Of course, it’s a losing proposition.  The browning of America is happening and won’t be reversed.  Automation will continue to accelerate.  The notion that the future belongs to the poorly educated is just as stupid as it sounds.  And there are plenty of indications that Republican voters know it’s a losing proposition.  Meanwhile, though, they like hearing from someone who indulges their fantasies.

“We need our identity formations” – really?

Caricatures.  They’re everywhere.  And one of the most pervasive caricatures is this:  A given person is either good or evil.  They aren’t “kinda good” or “somewhat evil.”  There are heroes, and there are villains.  A good person doesn’t have bad ideas, and an evil person doesn’t do good things.  Expressed this way, this kind of thinking sounds very flawed, yet it is quite ubiquitous.

klink

Werner Klemperer played the Nazi Colonel Klink on the television show Hogan’s Heroes.  But in real life, he and his family fought the Nazis.  Even so, in 1967 he was rejected as Grand Marshal for a Thanksgiving Day parade in Portland following protests.  Time and again, grown human beings have shown that they have difficulty distinguishing between a character and the actor playing that character.

Time and again, celebrities are placed on pedestals, then knocked off when they reveal themselves to be imperfect human beings.  Because someone is a great singer, or can run fast carrying a football, somehow that means they are incapable of doing wrong?

inheritthewind2

In the classic movie Inherit the Wind, based on the infamous Scopes “monkey trial,” young teacher Rachel Brown feels that Matthew Harrison Brady (based on William Jennings Bryan) has betrayed her, forcing her to say things in court that she told him in confidence.  His wife Sara Brady tells her, “You betrayed yourself!  You see my husband as a saint, and so he must be right in everything he says and does.  And then you see him as a devil, and everything he says and does must be wrong.  Well my husband’s neither a saint nor a devil.  He’s just a human being, and he makes mistakes.”

In September of 2001, commentator Bill Maher made the mistake of saying that the terrorists who flew planes into American buildings had “balls.”  He was promptly fired.  Terrorists don’t have balls.  They are evil people, period, and evil people don’t have any good qualities.  Right?

jefferson1

Similarly, good people have no bad qualities.  Recently, New York Daily News commentator Shaun King posted an editorial entitled “Thomas Jefferson was a horrible man who owned 600 human beings, raped them, and literally worked them to death.”  King calls Jefferson a “monster,” and says, “He should not have statues, or be on money, or even have a monument celebrating his positive contributions.”  It’s not hard to imagine the response in some quarters.  And it brings up the question, why is anyone celebrated on money, or monuments?

Human beings are imperfect.  So-called “good” people sometimes do bad things.  Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.  Franklin Roosevelt approved the internment of innocent American citizens.  Martin Luther King was an adulterer.  So-called “bad” people sometimes have good ideas.  The ideas and actions are what count.  But we tend to focus on the people.  In politics, there are constant efforts to tarnish the leaders of the opposition, by any means.

lincolnmemorial

Why do we have statues of historical figures?  Why do we name streets and airports after famous people?  Because a person is very tangible.  It’s easy to attach yourself to them.  Every single major world religion is focused on a person or group of personalities.  At this moment, fierce debates are occurring on college campuses over historical figures like Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.  There are those who are determined to knock them down, and those who are equally determined to defend them.  Is this different from high school pranksters vandalizing each others mascots?  I don’t think so.

Every culture, like every person, has positive and negative aspects.  But caricatures say otherwise.  Caricatures demand that a culture is either good or bad.  Then we bring tribalism, which is itself built on caricatures, into the pot and stir.  The result is identity politics.  “My” culture is good.  Therefore every aspect of it is beyond criticism.  “Your” culture is bad.  Therefore every aspect of it must be discarded.

westernciv

Which brings me to “Western” civilization and its defenders.  This has always been a big part of American conservative ideology.  Western civilization is to be defended.  Why?  Recently, in an interview, conservative David Brooks said that Western civilization was “an identity formation.  And we need our identity formations.”  We do?  Are we to believe that people can’t actually attach themselves to good ideas, only to cultures?

A common conservative complaint is that internationalism is “fuzzy.”  How is nationalism sharp while internationalism is fuzzy?  The history of humanity has been one of ever-larger group identities.  In prehistoric times there were small bands of people.  Eventually cities developed.  City-states.  And finally countries.

civilwar

When the United States was created, people referred to it in the plural.  They didn’t say, “the United States is.”  They said, “the United States are.”  The Civil War changed that.  It made America a single country.  Today national identity feels very natural.  But only because we all grew up with it. Like so many things, conservative ideologues treat it like it was handed down on stone tablets from time immemorial.  It can’t be changed.  It’s “hard” while internationalism is “soft.”

Suppose I say, “The values of justice, equality, and tolerance must be defended.”  Is that a weaker statement than “We must defend Western civilization”?  Japan is a democracy.  South Korea is a democracy.  India is a democracy.

universaldeclaration

In 1948, America became a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”  Is this a weak, fuzzy statement?

In 1963, President Kennedy said, “”What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”  Is this a weak, fuzzy statement, something that needs to be brushed aside in favor of “identity formations”?

nativeamericanassimilation

American history is full of examples of attempts to assimilate immigrants and Native Americans into white Protestant culture.  Conservative ideologues refuse to see the trajectory of American history – increasing inclusion, increasing tolerance, increasing cultural diversity.  Conversely, liberal ideologues refuse to distinguish between the good aspects of Western culture and its dark side.  They want to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Leaving what?  What is your alternative?  Are you merely against something, and not for anything?

Identity politics will always fail.  Any attempt to create an “us” distinct from a “them” will fail.  There is no them.  The very notion of “them” is nothing more than a caricature.  The distinction that matters is the distinction between IDEAS.  There are good ideas and bad ideas.  Democracy.  Justice.  Equality.  Tolerance.  Those are good ideas.  When immigrants come to America, the only “assimilation” they need to accomplish is a commitment to respect the rights of others.

earthfrommoon1

We live on a planet, a tiny island in an enormous, hostile sea.  If that’s not “sharp,” I don’t know what is.  A small child may think his house is big.  A mature human being understands that the world is small.

 

The unsustainable imbalance of power

The brilliance of our political system, and the only reason it has survived as long as it has, is not “majority rules,” or one person, one vote, as important as those things are.  It is checks and balances.  The power of the majority is balanced by the Bill of Rights.  The power of the President is balanced by that of Congress and the courts.  The power of government is balanced by the power of the press.

billofrights

The reason communism has failed is the same reason that uncontrolled capitalism would fail, and the same reason fascism failed.  There is no balance of power.  Even if the Nazis had won World War II, the regime would have fallen from internal resistance.  People will only tolerate so much exploitation and brutalization.  Any single, centralized power is doomed.

The problem is that we have an economic system in America that is out of balance.  Business owners are very powerful.  Some corporations are very large and wield enormous political influence.  On top of this, business owners have powerful national organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce.  It stands to reason that such power needs to be balanced by opposing power.  And the opposing power in America is – what?

Some would say government, which certainly provides checks on business.  But government, local, state, or federal, does not actually negotiate with private business over such things as wages and benefits.  And when government actually TAKES SIDES in this power struggle, it is no longer a check on the power of business owners.

stateoftheunion

There’s a scene in the 1948 Frank Capra movie State of the Union that very much reflects the times it was made in.  The movie is about a Republican businessman who is persuaded to run for president.  He gives a speech to organized labor that upsets his campaign manager greatly.  He defends himself vigorously saying, “For goodness sake, Jim, I’m for labor!”  His manager replies, “Of course you’re ‘for labor.’  That’s like saying you’re against sin!  But the labor leaders don’t think you’re for them!”

To reiterate, this was a REPUBLICAN candidate.  In the mid 20th century, organized labor was very powerful in America.  Any presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, had to be “for labor.”  Today, labor unions are routinely bashed in America – teacher’s unions and state employee unions particularly.  In Europe, political parties that are explicitly labor-oriented are everywhere.  In America, we have 2 factions of the business party, Republicans and Democrats.

incomeinequalityhistorical

For 37 years, America has been under the shadow of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics.  Income inequality has soared, and the wages of working people have stagnated.  Unchecked power is unstable.  The imbalance of power in favor of business owners can’t be sustained.  Even conservatives, thoughtful conservatives, acknowledge this.

David Brooks, conservative columnist for the NY Times, recently authored an editorial entitled “The G.O.P. Rejects Conservatism.”  “There is a structural flaw in modern capitalism. Tremendous income gains are going to those in the top 20 percent, but prospects are diminishing for those in the middle and working classes,” he tells us.  “Conservative intellectuals were slow to understanding the seriousness of this structural problem, but over the past few years they have begun to grapple with the consequences. Basically, many conservative intellectuals have come to terms with income redistribution.”

davidbrooks2

“Over the past several years many plans have emerged from the various right-leaning thinking tanks that imagine consumer-driven health care that also has universal or near universal coverage,” Brooks continues.  The problem, he says, is that the “current Republican Party has iron, dogmatic rules about the role of government, but no vision about America…. Because Republicans have no national vision, they seem largely uninterested in the actual effects their legislation would have on the country at large.”

youngamericanssocialism

How much longer will ideology manage to avoid reality?  Not much longer I suspect.  The demographic and political trends are unmistakable.  Young America is losing its patience with conservative ideology, both social and economic.  It looks around the world and asks, “Why can’t we have that?”  The balance of power will inevitably reassert itself.

Post Navigation