Special Editorial: From Bain to Main
1:50 PM, Jan 10, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
…Mitt Romney’s claim throughout his campaign that his private sector experience almost uniquely qualifies him to be president is also silly. Does he really think that having done well in private equity, venture capital, and business consulting—or even in the private sector more broadly—is a self-evident qualification for public office? One assumes Mitt Romney would agree that Chris Christie is a better chief executive of New Jersey than Jon Corzine, and that Rudy Giuliani was a better mayor of New York than Mike Bloomberg. But Romney’s biography looks a lot more like Bloomberg’s or Corzine’s (leaving aside Corzine’s recent misadventures) than like that of Giuliani (pre-mayoralty) or Christie. Past business success does not guarantee performance in public office. Indeed, Romney sometimes seems to go so far as to suggest hat succeeding in the private sector is intrinsically more admirable than, e.g., serving as a teacher or a soldier or even in Congress. This is not a sensible proposition, or a defensible one. And the unqualified defense of the virtues of Bain Capital by some on the right is also silly. Criticism of any behavior by a private firm? Outrage! An Assault on Capitalism! Haven’t they read Schumpeter? Don’t they know the glories of Creative Destruction? And, of course, all such destruction must be assumed to be creative!
Republicans worship wealth; Democrats worship work
But the description of what Romney is in that passage is the realistic description of what corporatist, capitalist, Darwinian Republican ideology holds, and the article is absolutely true in regards to the fact that being a capitalist in the private sector that is entirely focused on profit (over people) and serving its corporate masters — capitalists, corporatists and profiteers — is in absolute contrast to a government servant that understands that government’s “customers” are the same as government’s “bosses” — the taxpayers and citizens of this country, and that the government is not supposed to operate on a profit with it’s CEO (the president) only focused on maximizing profit, regardless of whoit exploits or who it hurts.
The Tea Party Republicans are an anomaly in that the “movement” is comprised primarily of middle-class voters — even though it has its roots and primary financial backing from multi-billionaire elitist Koch Brothers foundations. These middle-class voters are voting against their own best interests when they support the policies that benefit the wealthy elite, not themselves, and it at first seems mystifying, but when you view it as a process of redefinition and rewriting history that has taken place over decades, you see how we got where we are now. JFK said it best:
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. — JFK”
And Democrats have failed to articulate and correct the mythology created around Reagan’s brand of conservatism and its embodiment in the Tea Party’s misconception of their true place in the socioeconomic world controlled by the wealthy corporatists. There is no question that the Tea Party is being exploited by corporatists and the likes of the Koch Brothers and all the conservative elite. How to address this misperception is the real challenge of the Democratic Party if they are to be able to create a political environment where real solutions to correctly identified and defined problems are to take place.
Income inequality in the U.S.
Map: U.S. Ranks Near Bottom on Income Inequality
By Max Fisher, Sep 19 2011, 1:06 PM ET
Viewed comparatively, U.S. income inequality is even worse than you might expect. Perfect comparisons across the world’s hundred-plus economies would be impossible — standards of living, the price of staples, social services, and other variables all mean that relative poverty feels very different from one country to another. But, in absolute terms, the gulf between rich and poor is still telling. Income inequality can be measured and compared using something called the Gini coefficient, a century-old formula that measures national economies on a scale from 0.00 to 0.50, with 0.50 being the most unequal. The Gini coefficient is reliable enough that the CIA world factbook uses it….
The U.S., … with a Gini coefficient of 0.450, ranks near the extreme end of the inequality scale. Looking for the other countries … gives you a quick sense of countries with comparable income inequality, and it’s an unflattering list: Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Ecuador. A number are currently embroiled in or just emerging from deeply destabilizing conflicts, some of them linked to income inequality: Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia.
Income inequality is more severe in the U.S. than it is in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. We’re on par with some of the world’s most troubled countries, and not far from the perpetual conflict zones of Latin American and Sub-Saharan Africa. Our income gap is also getting worse, having widened both in absolute and relative terms since the 1980s. It’s not a problem that the “Buffett rule” would solve on its own, but at least the U.S. political system is starting to acknowledge how serious things have become.
The Gini coefficient measures the inequality among values of a frequency distribution (for example levels of income). A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality where all values are the same (for example, where everyone has an exactly equal income). A Gini coefficient of one (100 on the percentile scale) expresses maximal inequality among values (for example where only one person has all the income).
In the article, the range is 0 to 50 rather than 0 to 100. The lower the Gini coefficient is for a country, the more the prosperity is shared or, if “share” sounds too socialist for you, the less grossly overpaid corporate executives are and the more fairly paid employees who work for wages (rather than just invest) and contribute their skills, knowledge and education to the company’s bottom line are.
When did valuing work become equated with socialism?
At some point along the way, Republicans seem to have redefined sharing in the prosperity as socialism, or people who (in their minds) didn’t deserve or earn it reaping the benefits of investor’s and owner’s rewards (profits). When did it become socialism to expect or ask for investors and business owners to be willing to pay a living wage (the minimum amount required to be self-sufficient — provide shelter, transportation, clothing, food, healthcare, education for yourself and your family). At some point along the way, Republicans decided that anyone who was not an investor or owner did not deserve to enjoy a portion of the profits or share in the prosperity. Part of it may trace back to GWB’s “ownership society” concept, but I am absolutely astounded at this attitude.
Does an engineer’s, doctor’s, nurse’s, teacher’s, secretary’s, manager’s, bank teller’s, shift foreman’s, day laborer’s, truck driver’s, etc., work and contribution to the success of the company no longer have any value? This is the attitude that Republicans and conservatives exude in their writings and media messages and talking-head shows. That is what I mean when I say our society seems to have devalued the concept of work as opposed to wealth. Is there no longer any honor in working for a living? Since when did a person’s bank account and net worth become the only measure of their value to society and their right to enjoy the benefits of their labor?
Blurring the definitions of capitalism and democracy
Our society and, particularly, the Republican Party communicate that they only value “wealth” and that “work” has no value. I disagree strongly. But it goes much further and much deeper into their fundamental philosophy regarding government. Republicans now think of and use interchangeably capitalism and democracy as if they meant the same thing, and they do not. First, capitalism is an economic system, not a political one. Second, America is not a democracy: we do not live in a democracy, we live in a republic. And this is the core difference between Republicans/Libertarians and Democrats in terms of their core constituency and policies. Never in my lifetime has the class division been so sharp. And it is due, in large part to the Republican redefinition of what government is and does and how it defines our country.
There are reasons why the Founders chose the republican (lowercase deliberately) form of government rather than a democracy. In a pure democracy, the majority always wins; the minority always loses. In a pure democracy, this would lead to a tyranny by the majority, who could easily “out-vote” the minority and deprive them of their rights. Our Forefathers came to America, in large part, to escape the tyranny of the majority who had deprived them of their right to worship freely or to claim opportunity beyond their economic class. This was very fresh in the minds of the Founders when they wrote the Constitution.
Because our Founders considered that man received his “rights” from his humanity and his Creator, protecting the rights of ALL humanity, especially of the minority, was an important ideal in designing a form of government. That is why the Founders “layered” government with a representative form of government — to protect the minority from the majority (preventing an inherent “ruling” class) and to prevent mob rule.
From democracy to corporatism
Further, Republicans not only have equated capitalism with democracy, but free-market, unfettered, unregulated capitalism at that. This Austrian School of ecoonomics that believes the market will “correct” itself, so leave it alone, does not take into consideration what damage can be wrought between the actual “mistake” that needs the market to correct and the actual “correction.” The market is usually a lagging indicator, and in the case of corruption or criminality, that lag time can provide unscrupulous, greedy men ample opportunity to victimize many innocent people and destroy evidence of it long before legal action has been filed. Further, the legal process has an evidentiary process (discovery) that requires documentation, the very existence of which can only be identified by the defendant, which can only be provided by the defendant, in many cases, so these criminals often go free due to lack of evidence (or even lack of proof that evidence exists).
Because, since particularly the 1970s and 1980s, corporatists have so dominated the political process with their ability to control the electoral process with their money, it is almost impossible for the “common” man — the middle class, working class and, especially, the poor — to have a voice in government. Or, at least, to have a voice in government that is loud enough to drown own the voice of the “ruling” class of corporatists and capitalists, which is amplified by their control of the political process through their control of the money.
In order to get to this place, our society underwent a long bout of media corruption and redefinition and rewriting of history. It started in the 1960s, when, as JFK put it, “It’s not who you are that’s important; it’s who the voters think you are,” or perception/image trumps reality. Particularly in the 1980s, we saw the superficial definitions of patriotism (Republicans wrap themselves in the flag contrasted with Democrats wrap themselves in the Constitution), where appearance and image became more important than real character and substance, and where 30-second soundbites had to encapsulate simplistic solutions. But the reality required thoughtgful analysis of complicated problems that required sophisticated solutions. Immediate gratifcation ruled — and still rules — the day. And, most important, any attempt to reform the electoral process to prevent corruption was thwarted by the very corporatists who benefit from the current system where money buys access.
Money moves from Wall Street through “K” Street and Madison Avenue and back again
The “ruling” class of capitalist corporatists is fait accompli. Everyone complains about the system — even politicians, who spend most of their waking hours trying to raise campaign contributions — but the “ruling” class with the loudest voice money can buy can drown the rest of us out. And this all culminated in a conservative Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) ruling in Citizens United regarding corporate personhood — that corporations were not just “persons” for legal purposes of conducting business and signing contracts, but actually the same as live human beings and were entitled to the same rights as live human beings, including and especially the ability to participate in the electoral process through campaign contributions. The next step is to grant corporations the vote, I suppose, and although it may seem preposterous right this minute, I fear it’s not too far off.
I have an earlier blog on corporate personhood, so I will not re-argue the point here. But let it suffice to say that this decision was possible as a result of how the corporate-owned and controlled media has effectively redefined in the minds of many Americans the idea that capitalism and democracy are equivalent. Once this redefinition took place, it was easy to slip many of the pro-corporatist legislation and court rulings that shifted not only the power from the middle-class to the upper-class, but the wealth as well.
There has been a great transfer of wealth from the lower class to the upper class, particularly in the past decade. In a time when the working class is under attack by rising cost of living and rising prices almost in every area, there is a boldness with which corporatists are attacking organized labor and collective bargaininig rights all over the country. How the wealthy corporatists have managed to convince the middle class that they are suffering low wages and lost benefits because of unions is mystifying, but it has its roots in the redefinition of democracy and the propaganda that has convinced “Joe the Plumber” that he is or could become a part of the upper 1% and is prevented from doing so because of government programs that actually help people in his real economic class.
How the middle-class misidentifies with the wealthy elite
Republican core constituency is the elite 1% capitalist ruling class that wants smaller government (when you are rich, you don’t need government services), deregulation, completely free markets and lower taxes. There is a growing number of middle- and working-class Republicans that identify themselves with the wealthy. They have bought the propaganda that they will benefit from policies that help corporations and the wealthy simply based on their misidentification with the wealthy.
Corporatist propaganda has convinced them that if they only support policies that demand smaller government, lower taxes and deregulation, they can achieve great wealth. This is flawed and proven so by the statistical odds that most will not achieve great wealthy without (a) a great education, or (b) a brilliant, inventive mind whose research is funded by capital, or (c) extraordinary luck of winning the lottery at 13M to 1 odds. Allow me to be the pessimist here: don’t build your financial plan on the assumption that you will win the lottery. Don’t plan on sheer brilliance alone to make you rich. Unless you are brilliant to the point where you exceed the odds of the lottery, you aren’t going to invent some incredible product that makes you a millionaire, no matter how hard you work, without investment capital that you won’t have in the first place. It is even less likely if you don’t have a good education, which is becoming increasingly elusive to anyone in the middle or lower classes, you are not likely to ave the knowledge to compete for the jobs that will make you rich.
Corporatists want to be able to operate without any boundaries in the marketplace and exploit whomever they choose to maximize profits. Merely being profitable is not enough, they must MAXIMIZE profits without any inhibitions such as not being able to poison air, water and ground, not being able to sell shoddy or dangerous products to customers. “Buyer beware” is supposed to be enough warning for the American public — even though many inherent dangers require expertise that the average reasonable American should not be expected to know or understand.
Democrat core constituency is all of We, the People, but especially the “commoners of the capitalist society” — the 99% of Americans who are the small business community, which is primarily middle class, professionals (who, though usually well-paid, still have to perform work for a living) and working class (skilled and unskilled labor). Democrats know that the 99% need caring representation and access to government that their modest money cannot buy them individually as can that of the 1%. These people need government to do what government does best: operate in a non-profit way to create a structure which ensures equal opportunity and equal protection under the law; regulates how businesses and markets perform to prevent exploitation, victimization of innocents and corruption; protect the environment; and provide for health, safety, education and welfare that offers a temporary “hand up,” not merely a hand-out, when the economy has one of its unavoidable and intrinsic low points. Democrats see the nation’s children as a group that should be nurtured for our future (and theirs). Another JFK quote encapsulates Democratic theory about socioeconomic justice and the poor:
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” — JFK
Republican/Libertarian policy is effectively Darwinian — “the strong survive; the weak perish.” Which is ironic, since most Republicans do not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Their view of government is to allow individuals to help themselves and their own kids through their own individual effort, preaching that individual effort is the only “fair” answer to all society’s ills and the definition of good government. But what if society’s “rules” do not allow for equal oportunity or equal protection? They have no answer for that other than “let the free market work its magic.” This rhetoric uses “magical” words and thinkins and cannot manifest itself or translate to meaningful solutions to real problems in the form of good law or good policy.
Democrats see the poor and the homeless in a humanist/Christian way (ironically, social conservatives would bristle that both humanists and real Christians are taught the same values regarding how to treat people) — as a group that is in need of and that can benefit by good government programs that will teach them to help themselves.
It is this very real difference in how the two parties view the role of government that is at stake, but they do not deal with this difference in real and meaningful rhetoric. Republicans, as I stated before, are more Darwinian; they see the homeless and poor as the underbelly of society that are weak, lazy parasites on the capitalist class in need of “elimination,” or at least punishment. Republicans see social programs much the way a father who doesn’t want another mouth to feed sees an abandoned cat that his kids want to feed: if you feed it, it will never go away. In the “capitalist” father’s mind, better the kitten starve to death than drain him of even a fraction of his money. Consequently, Republicans see government as creating the poor rather than “helping” the poor become rich. Republicans think, as Reagan said, that government is the problem, not the solution.
Education is the great equalizer
Republicans neglect to say how you effectively change the odds for the poor so that they can become successful, given that the rules are stacked again them. Nor do they explain how they are to get an education when they can’t feed themselves or their children because there are no jobs that pay a living wage available for non-college graduates. For that matter, there aren’t even enough jobs for the current crop of college graduates these days that pay a living wage. Democrats believe that offering children social assistance for housing, nutrition healthcare and education is far preferable to incarcerating them permanently as adults. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” JFK so eloquently stated,
“A child miseducated is a child lost.” — JFK
“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” — JFK
And that is why Democrats believe that funding and providing a national structure for public education should begin at the federal level, where equal opportunity and equal protection can be monitored and enforced without regard to local pressures, where majority rule cannot outweigh minority rights and long-term community interests. Republicans, on the other hand, want to localize and privatize education, and, further, would dissolve the U.S. Department of Education, which would create great inequities in the quality of education for minorities and the lack of standardization nationally would make it difficult to measure academic performance outside an individual school system.
If you can’t measure it; you can’t manage it. And, more importantly, if we can’t manage it, we can’t improve it.
We know from existing data and research that education is the singlemost effective weapon to combat crime through prevention. When we fail to educate a child, the child suffers lost opportunities due to lack of preparation. Lost opportunities lead to children with a cynical, defeatist view of the world, and that leads to kids that drop out of school and out of society. And that’s where crime consumes poor communities. Republican corporatists see prisoners as a pool of free forced labor to be exploited, which is why they support harsher, longer penalties for non-violent crimes and “three strikes” laws and privatizing the penal system. It is necessary to keep those prisoners in jail and increase the inmate population so that privatized prisons can keep the profits coming and the labor pool high.
The contrast in policy between Republican “elimination” vs. Democratic “illumination” is stark and real. And these beliefs are the foundation for each party’s core ideology. For Republicans, government is only good if it “gets out of the way” and helps the rich make more money and protects their property. For Democrats, government is only good if it protects those who cannot protect themselves and provides opportunity to achieve and succeed for everyone. And this core ideology is the basis for each party’s policies.
That is why I am a Democrat. And I find it both sad and humorous that Republicans are having to run from their own ideology (and the results it causes) in order to gain traction with the public these days. Redefining words, rewriting history, twisted descriptions and tortured logic are the result of the corporate-controlled media and how it has cynically used propaganda to appeal to the worst attributes in humanity: immediate gratification, greed and intellectual laziness.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day”
Promoting the idea or thinking Obama can fix in less than four years what GWB screwed up in 8 is the reasoning of an impatient, simplistic mind hell-bent on immediate gratification and subject to exploitation by shallow men with simplistic solutions. JFK said:
“When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we’d been saying they were.” — JFK
Sadly, in Obama’s case, things were much worse than anyone outside the GWB administration realized. Consequently, the stimulus plan that the Obama administration proposed and got passed was too small to effect the change needed, although it did “put a floor” on the recession. And an impatient electorate is judging him harshly for it rather than taking the time to frankly and openly analyze the problem and discuss what will really work and be truly effective.
Change takes time
The other problem is that not only is the “pain” of the bad economy not going to go away simply because we refuse to face the reality of what it will take to “fix” the economy; it is also not being shared equally, because the wealthy has enjoyed a greater profit margin than ever while the middle- and working-classes wages have remained stagnant. We listen to simplistic soundbites from our poliicians and repeat them like a mantra instead of having the intellectual discipline to stop and think about what it will really take to effect change. If failing to make sound, effective arguments in 30 seconds or less rather than taking ideas and discussing them in detail — and everyone knows the devil is always in the details — is what gets politicians elected — and, consequently, what voters are voting for — then you can’t blame the politicians alone for the mess we’re in.
Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. — JFK
Americans have the government they have voted for; if we aren’t willing to invest the time to be good citizens and demand solid information, vetted sources, etc., from our media and truth in advertising from our politicians, it’s collectively our fault. The media sells air time based on ratings. Divisiveness and conflict create drama and interest; melodrama sells. Political theatre with 30-second soundbites and mud-slinging and talking heads screaming over each other and media-generated polls are cheaper to produce than live reporters “on the beat.” It is easier to focus on the “process” rather than the substance of both the issues and the elections.
Andm, consequently, superficial is what we get. We are the buyers so if we continue to tune in to crazies that tell us with all the feigned passion that fake outrage can muster “the sky is falling,” and we react based on this misinformation and disinformation without thinking or researching, we deserve what we get. And we are suffering from our own intellectual laziness and bad citizenship right now.
There are many good men and women who would be good leaders that won’t even consider running for office because of the corruption, the intrusion into family life and the toll it takes to deal with the fractionalism, divisiveness and political theatre in Washington. We have boxed our leaders into intractable positions where they must hold their opinions as moral absolutists — even in the face of new or better information — or be accused of “flip-flopping.” Now, to cooperate and compromise is a bad thing. This leads to one-dimensional leaders, one-dimensional solutions and, ultimately, bad policy. As JFK put it,
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
We have created an untenable situation for our leaders, and we can’t blame them for not wanting to enter the political fray under these conditions. We obsess over what Michelle is wearing instead of what Obama is saying. And, worst, we tune in to media that don’t even allow us to listen to what Obama is actually saying instead, they think for us, talking over Obama’s speech and substituting his words with their own interpretation. “Infotainment” is about couching a kernel of “marketable” news in a grain elevator full of meaningless polls, talking heads and superficial political theatre.
When you reward bad behavior, you guarantee it will continue
And until we stop rewarding bad behavior and change our subscriptions and TV habits by supporting good hard news reporting rather than political talking heads that give opinions rather than facts, we will continue to get more of the same. Politicians respond to what works.
If we demand better government, we will eventually get it. We can act in concert to demand campaign finance reform and media reform that requires hard news programs from all broadcasters that is accountable to fact-checking. Opinions and editorials have no place in hard news programs. Plastic politicians managed by political handlers acting like puppeteers will continue to be the rule until we demand better. Politicians that are intent on redefining reality and rewriting history to validate their political ideology will not give us the meaningful solutions our country needs right now. We do not live in a virtual world where we can redefine reality. We must deal with it in truth. And the sooner, the better for all of us.