Thursday, September 23, 2010

Americans Want to Be More Like Sweden

A just-published study by economics and business professors from Duke and Harvard shows that Americans have little to no idea how unevenly wealth is distributed in this country. Moreover, Americans across ideological and economic spectrums, *want* there to be a more equitable distribution of wealth. When given a blind taste test using pie charts representing various divisions of wealth, more than 9 out of 10 Americans said they’d rather live in a country with a distribution of wealth like Sweden’s than live in one like the United States. Sweden: tastes great, less exploitation!

No doubt, some will claim this study is trying to foment “class warfare.” I always get a kick when I hear wealthy conservatives cry about “class warfare” anytime someone mentions that a more equitable and rational fiscal policy might be appropriate. It’s sort of like Hitler blaming Britain and France for starting World War II because they declared war on Germany, when all Germany did was merely invade Poland. Creating a system in which the wealthiest Americans are given every advantage above and beyond what their mere accumulation of resources provides is just fine and dandy, but having the temerity to point this out is “class warfare.” Priceless.

One way of creating a society more in line with what the majority of Americans across the political and economic spectrum would like would be a much more progressive tax system (something more like we had in the 1990s, or even more so in the 1950s, both times of incredible prosperity). Unfortunately, the powers that be have created a system in which a hedge fund manager pays the same functional tax rate as the sanitation worker or school teacher.

But isn’t that fair? Wouldn’t that be the answer? Have everyone taxed at the same rate? After all, that would mean that the wealthiest people *would* pay more in terms of raw dollars. It’s so equitable, so elegant, so . . . much b.s.

If the fact that the biggest proponent of instituting a flat tax rate is Steve “Moneybags” Forbes doesn’t cause you to be suspicious, consider the following points:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Uber-Wealthy Divide and Conquer

A few trenchant observations from one of Robert Reich's latest columns:

"Wall Street and top corporate executives have grown even richer than they were before the Great Recession, even though most Americans are getting poorer or losing their jobs and homes and savings, and more Americans are in poverty."

"The super-rich say the nation can't afford any of this because of budget deficits. Yet at the same time their platoons of lobbyists are fighting off efforts to treat their income as taxable earnings rather than capital gains. So last year the 400 richest families in America, with an average income of $300 million each, were taxed at an average rate of only 17 percent. That's the same tax rate paid by a family earning $30,000."

"Wealth and power in this country are so distorted that the top 25 hedge-fund managers each earned an average of $1 billion last year. $1 billion would support 20,000 classroom teachers. Yet who contributes more to this country — a hedge-fund manager or a teacher?"

This comes in the context of bemoaning why President Obama wasn't more forceful about calling out the uber-wealthy and their minions in his recent town hall meeting about the economy. Instead, Obama asked the Tea Party crowd to come up with specific ideas for reducing the deficit.

File that one under "be careful what you wish for" (e.g., ending Social Security, stopping jobless benefits, gutting Medicaid, etc.).

Reich's got a point. The more I think about this issue of conflict and how it's framed rhetorically, the more I come to the conclusion that a great many of the apparent conflicts we see aren't really between the supposedly obvious antagonists at all, but between two other entities with hazier identities. My favorite example is that it seems the real divide in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is not between Israelis and Palestinians, or between Jew and Arab, but between those who sincerely want to find a mutual peace and those who prefer conflict (or who at least only see victory/defeat) as the possible outcomes. It's not a divide that's easily marked along geographic, ethnic, or religious lines; it's one that you see only in the heart and, to a lesser extent, in actions.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Public opinion and the war in Afghanistan

Interesting article by Glenn Greenwald on the lack of public support for the continued occupation of Afghanistan, which brings up the question (and it's not necessarily a simple one): when is it okay for a democracy to continue military actions when the majority of its populace doesn't want it to?

Public opinion and the war in Afghanistan

Monday, September 6, 2010

An Open Letter to Glenn Beck on Why He Hates Academics So Darn Much

This is a not-so-peaceful entry, but one that I felt compelled to write after hearing Glenn Beck last week talk about the need for the American people to “steel” themselves against the evils of what he calls “reeducation camps:” colleges and universities, and the people who work there. According to Monsieur Beck, higher education is chockablock full of radical communists who want nothing more than to brainwash the youth of America into Mao-quoting automatons.

Funny—in all my time on college campuses, I’ve yet to see a course devoted to the study of communism. Not that such a course might not exist somewhere, but I’ve never seen it in any college catalog. On the other hand, every college or university I’ve been to has had an entire school or department of business and also economics, two whole academic fields devoted to advocating for the free market system. But I digress.

After hearing Beck, I felt like I needed to vent a bit. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around academics my whole life. Maybe it’s because I just got done putting together my application for tenure, a process that involved a lot of reflection on what it is that I do for a living and why I’ve chosen to do it. And maybe it’s because this weekend marked the 11th anniversary of my Dad’s passing, a man who embodied what being an intellectual could and should be.

Whatever the reason, I felt the need to respond in the form of an open letter to Mr. Beck, which takes the form of a Keith Olbermann-esque “Special Comment.”