The frame is the name of the game

Why is the Republican candidate leading in the electoral college vote?  Because he won four states in the Great Lakes region: Pennsylvania; Ohio;  Michigan; and Wisconsin, all of which voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  How did DJT win those states?  By better framing his messages.  In a previous post – – it was shown that voters without college degrees – regardless of income levels – supported Trump more than they had supported Romney – and that voters with college degrees – regardless of income levels – supported HRC more than they had supported Obama.  Why?

Trump’s messaging was clear, concise, and well framed (if disingenuous) : you have lost your good paying jobs to undocumented immigrants, people of color, women, and foreigners ( appealing to lower income voters); and your security is threatened by people of color and immigrants (appealing to those with higher incomes).  ” I will take charge and fix these issues”, he said.   While education level and knowledge don’t always correspond, they did here, in the majority: his appeal was effectively anti-elite.  That his frames were racist, misogynist,  and xenophobic makes them despicable, but not ineffective.

I am not clear what Clinton’s message was, except that she was Not DJT, and while she appealed to elites, she did not even get a majority of white women’s votes.  She failed in those states because she failed to frame her messages to appeal to voters who feel they have lost ground.

An earlier post is this blog tracks the decline of the middle class to the decline of labor unions – – and we must frame our messages moving forward that to rebuild the middle class, we must organize and rebuild on the strength of organized labor, and attract the voters HRC lost…

Messaging is a key to winning over voters, and framing is a key to effective messaging – see, for example, “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, by George Lakoff.

N.B.: one of the few positive results of this election has been the exposure of the weakness of the term “midwest”.  More than 30 years ago, I said to a young colleague that we lived in the Great Lakes region, not the ‘midwest’.  He thought and replied: “The midwest consists of the Great Lakes and the Great Plains.”  “And why would you group those two together?”, I replied.

Some pundits are now calling the Great Lakes  the industrial midwest…

The Rise and Fall of the American Working Class Exactly Parallels the Rise and Fall of Labor Unions

Source: RSN

Author: Robert Reich – his FaceBook Page

Emphasis Mine

The rise and fall of the American working class exactly parallels the rise and fall of American labor unions. Here are 5 reasons why Trump’s victory could be the death knell for labor unions, and therefore the end of the working class:

1. Since the 2010 elections, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin — all previously strong union states — have all effectively eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employees. Under Trump and Republican governors and legislatures, more states will follow.

2. These three states have also subjected private-sector unions to “right-to-work” laws that enable workers to benefit from union contracts and representation without having to pay their union any dues – a back-door way to kill off unions. With Trump as president, and Republicans in charge of more states, expect more such laws.

3. Trump will almost certainly repeal Obama’s Labor Department rules extending eligibility for overtime pay to millions of salaried employees making more than $22,000 a year, and compelling federal contractors to offer paid sick leave to their employees.

4. Ditto for National Labor Relations Board rulings that employers cannot indefinitely delay union representation elections once their employees have petitioned for a vote, and that university graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants are employees who can elect to unionize, will probably be undone.

5. Once a Trump-appointed conservative wins confirmation to the Supreme Court, the Court is likely to do what it was poised to do before Antonin Scalia’s death — ruling that public employee unions no longer have the right to collect partial dues payments from the nonmembers they represent in disputes with employers and for whom they bargain contracts. This will help destroy public employee unions.

Trump campaigned as the savior of the American working class. He will be its final undoing.

What do you think?


And just which chord was struck, Maestro?

Donald, Donald, he’s our man! If he can’t do it, the Ku Klux Klan!

Donald, Donald, he’s our man!  If he can’t do it, the Ku Klux Klan!

Multiple time Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum – appearing on Realtime with Bill Maher on August 5th – rather superciliously noted that Donald Trump has ‘struck a cord with voters’.  True that, but the questions to be asked are: which ‘chord’, and what voters?

Santorum – as have many Trump apologists – echoed the GOP wishful thinking that the voters to whom Trump appeals are lower income working class (traditionally Democrat voters),  that the chord which was struck was economic populism, and that Trump recognizes their plight and will address their concerns if elected.

In fact Trump supporters have a higher median income than the national average –  see  – which means his supporters are not lower income.  Which ‘chord’?

The ‘chord’ which has been struck is in fact not economic populism but rather racism, and its bedfellows misogyny and xenophobia: the deportment of his supporters at rallies confirm that these are their primary concerns.

“At the end of the day”, elections are won with voter turnout, and to defeat him, then,  we must register and turnout people of color, women, and those citizens who were born in ( and whose parents were born in) another country.  Despite his nodding toward working Americans, he has a historically anti-labor record, and labor must get out the vote as well.

N.B.: Trump read an economic speech in Detroit on August 8, and in summary: “I don’t know if Trump has tiny hands or not. But when it comes to the economy, he definitely has tiny plans. We were promised a bold new vision. What we got instead was, with one or two notable exceptions, a warmed-over version of the House Republicans’ standard-issue voodoo economics.”   Richard Eskow –

N.B.:The first Presidential election in which I voted was 1964, and an unpopular person at the top of the GOP ticket  helped facilitate a Democratic landside: let’s do that again!  That candidate was Barry Goldwater: he carried his home state of Arizona, and the five states of the original Confederacy.

Donald, Donald, he’s our man!  If he can’t do it, the Ku Klux Klan!

(In 1964 it was Barry, Barry…)



How We Must Face the Rise of the Radical Right

The rise of the authoritarian right in democratic societies is due to the capturing of politics by economic elites. This election will not be won or lost on TV—it will be won or lost in the kitchens and the break rooms and the front porches of America’s working people.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Damon Silvers/Campaign for the American Future

Emphasis Mine

Throughout the developed world, extreme right wing politics have surfaced in ways not seen since the Second World War. In Europe, parties of the far right have levels of public support that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. In the United States, Donald Trump is the “presumptive nominee” of one of our two major political parties. His platform tries to mix the traditional hatreds of the racist right with the economic anxieties of America’s beleaguered middle class.

A couple of days ago, Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, said of Donald Trump, “his unfitness starts with basic issues of temperament. It encompasses the race-baiting, the conspiracy theorizing, the flirtations with violence, and the pathological lying that have been his campaign-trail stock in trade. But above all it is Trump’s authoritarianism that makes him unfit for the presidency.”

Why is this happening?

The roots of the rise of the authoritarian right in democratic societies are complex. But the key issue here in both Europe and America is the capture of politics, and in particular the politics of economic policy, by economic elites.

Unleashing a Monster

Starting around 1980 in the United States and the United Kingdom, and in the 1990s in the larger European Union, the idea that governments should not act to help people in economic pain, or to right imbalances in economic power, became gospel, not just among the right, but among parties that identified themselves as the center-left. The idea was that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we were going to have a market-based Utopia, where the problems that had plagued market societies in the 20th century were no longer going to exist. So the institutions and politics that had come into being to address the injustices and instabilities of market societies could be dismantled without fear of what would happen next. This fantasy, fueled by the political contributions of the financial sector, went by many names—Neoliberalism, Third Way Politics, the Washington Consensus, and so forth.

But instead of ushering in a market-based era of growth and good feeling, neoliberalism brought back the economic pathologies of the pre-New Deal era—runaway inequality and financial boom and bust cycles on an epic scale. And politically, the neoliberal consensus opened the door to a monster that many had thought had been driven permanently into the outer darkness of democratic politics—the racist, authoritarian right.

In hindsight, this threat has been growing since the 1990s, along with wage stagnation, economic insecurity and economic inequality. But it really got momentum from the financial and economic crisis that began in 2008 and the combination of bank bailouts and austerity politics that followed it—leaving in their wake pervasive economic insecurity and the collapse of confidence in government.

Fundamentally, we should have learned from the 1930s that if the public is offered two choices—democracy and austerity, or authoritarianism and jobs—a lot of people will choose authoritarianism. We can condemn those who make that choice from the comfort of our own circumstances, but what we really should understand is that the first responsibility of anyone who seeks to lead a democracy should be to make sure that democratic governance provides economic justice and economic security—that the public is never forced to choose between having an open, democratic society and having economic dignity.

This is why labor movements are so important to stable democracies. In the workplace and in the political system, labor movements demand that democratic politics be wedded to economic justice. We guard the door behind which waits the imprisoned monster of the right-wing authoritarian response to the injustices of market societies.

What We Must Demand

So, how should the global labor movement respond to the rising strength of Donald Trump, or the French Front National, or UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party?

There is a temptation to look for common ground, to bite our tongues and join in the neoliberal consensus in the hopes of gaining powerful allies against right-wing authoritarianism from among the 1 percent.

But this approach will only feed the authoritarian right by proving the argument they make to working people that “the politicians don’t care about you.”

Rather, we must insist that the candidates and political parties we support back an ambitious program for broad-based economic growth driven by rising wages.

The labor movement must demand that politicians we support offer, in place of neoliberalism and austerity, a global New Deal—a plan to get us out of global economic stagnation driven by downward pressures on wages—and into a virtuous cycle of rising wages driving investment that drives productivity.

What are the elements of such a program? Public investment in physical capital and human capital—in infrastructure and education. Strengthened minimum wage and hours rules. Protecting workers’ right to organize and bargain throughout the global economy. And most of all, a commitment to full employment and economic security for all who work.

We must also insist the politicians we support stand clearly against the racism and sexism of the authoritarian right. There can be no triangulation, no compromise on this point. If we are going to guard the door, we must guard the door.

But at the same time, as trade unionists we have to engage in conversations with those among us who are thinking about supporting the authoritarian right out of frustration with a political system that seems to have no interest in their economic pain. And engage and engage. This is the program the AFL-CIO, our community affiliate Working America, and our affiliate unions are committed to. This election will not be won or lost on TV—it will be won or lost in the kitchens and the break rooms and the front porches of America’s working people.

The authoritarian right can be defeated and defeated soundly—but it will require combining ambitious public policies that offer a clear vision of a better life, together with a commitment to the one-on-one organizing that is how we built the labor movement in the first place.

What are the stakes? How serious is the threat to democracy, to open societies, posed by the Front National, or by Donald Trump? We’ll only know if one of them get real power. And that probably tells us all we need to know about what we need to do.


Today Is Our Day

This May Day, we should celebrate the historic triumphs of the labor movement and the struggles to come.


Author:Jonah Walters, Jacobin

Emphasis Mine

The first May Day was celebrated in 1886, with a general strike of three hundred thousand workers at thirteen thousand businesses across the United States. It was a tremendous show of force for the American labor movement, which was among the most militant in the world.

Many of the striking workers — who numbered forty thousand in Chicago alone — rallied under the banners of anarchist and socialist organizations. Trade unionists from a variety of ethnic backgrounds — many of them recent immigrants — marched shoulder-to-shoulder, making a unified demand for the eight-hour day.

The movement to limit the workday posed a significant threat to American industrialists, who were accustomed to demanding much longer hours from their workers.

In the late nineteenth century, successive waves of immigration brought millions of immigrants to the United States, many of whom sought work in factories. Because unemployment was so high, employers could easily replace any worker who demanded better conditions or sufficient wages — so long as that worker acted alone. As individuals, workers were in no position to oppose the dehumanizing work their bosses expected of them.

But when workers acted together, they could exercise tremendous power over their employers and over society as a whole. Working-class radicals understood the unique power of collective action, fighting to ensure that the aggression of employers was often met by a groundswell of workers’ resistance.

For the last decades of the nineteenth century, industrial titans like Andrew Carnegie and George Pullman could get no peace. Periodic explosions of working-class activity provided a check on their power and prestige. But industrialists and their allies in government often responded with brutal force, quelling waves of worker militancy that demanded a fundamentally different kind of American prosperity, one in which the poor and downtrodden were included.

The movement for the eight-hour day was one such mass struggle. On May 1, 1886, workers all over the country took to the streets to demand a better life and a more just economy. The demonstrations lasted for days. 

But this surge of working-class resistance ended in tragedy. In Chicago’s Haymarket Square, a police massacre claimed the lives of several workers after someone — likely a provocateur working for one of the city’s industrial barons — tossed a homemade bomb into the crowd. The Chicago authorities took the bombing as an opportunity to arrest and execute four of the movement’s most prominent leaders — including the anarchist and trade unionist August Spies.

It was a severe setback to the workers’ movement. But the repression wasn’t enough to douse the struggle for good. As August Spies said during his trial:

[I]f you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement — the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery, the wage slaves, expect salvation — if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there and behind you, and in front of you, and everywhere the flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.

These words would prove prophetic. The next May Day, and every May Day since, workers across the world took to the streets to contest the terms of capitalist prosperity and gesture towards a fundamentally different world — a world in which production is motivated not by profit, but by human need.

Today, the power of the American labor movement is at a low. Many of its most important gains — including the right to the eight-hour day — have been dismantled by the anti-labor neoliberal consensus. But May Day still looms as a lasting legacy of the international movement for working-class liberation.

Obviously, a great deal has changed since those explosive decades at the end of the nineteenth century. The defeats suffered by the American workers’ movement may seem so profound that it can be tempting to regard the militancy that once rattled tycoons and presidents alike as a nothing more than a piece of history.

But we don’t have to gaze so far into the past for inspiring examples of struggle. Far more recent May Days provide glimpses at the transformative potential of worker movements.

Just ten years ago, in 2006, immigrant workers across the country stood up to restrictive immigration laws and abusive labor practices, organizing a massive movement of undocumented laborers that culminated in the so-called Great American Boycott (El Gran Paro Estadounidense). On May Day of that year, immigrant organizations and some labor unions came together to organize a one-day withdrawal of immigrant labor — dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants” — to demonstrate the essential role of immigrant workers in American industry.

Protests began in March and continued for eight weeks. The numbers are staggering — 100,000 marchers in Chicago kicked off the wave of demonstrations, followed by half a million marchers in Los Angeles a few weeks later, and then a coordinated day of action on April 10, which saw demonstrations in 102 cities across the country, including a march of between 350,000 and 500,000 protesters in Dallas.

By May Day, the movement had gained momentum, winning popular support all over the United States and around the world. On May 1 of that year, more than a million took to the streets in Los Angeles, joined by 700,000 marchers in Chicago, 200,000 in New York, 70,000 in Milwaukee, and thousands more in cities across the country. In solidarity with Latin American immigrants in the United States, labor unions around the world celebrated “Nothing Gringo Day,” a one day boycott of all American products.

Ever since, May Day has been recognized as a day of solidarity with undocumented immigrants — a fitting reminder of May Day’s origins in a movement that saw native-born and immigrant workers standing together to defend their common interests.

And this year, May Day presents us with more opportunities to mobilize support around an American labor movement showing signs of revitalization — this May Day, workers and activists across the country will stand in solidarity with the almost forty thousand striking Verizon workers, whose  intransigent managers have thus far refused to bargain with the union in good faith.

This May Day we follow in the footsteps of generations of labor radicals. These radicals saw in capitalism the horrors of an unjust economy, but dared to dream of something different — a reimagined economy in which the fruits of prosperity could be shared equally, among all people, in a just and democratic society.

Despite the setbacks of the labor movement — at home and worldwide — that dream is still living. The struggle continues.

Happy May Day. Take to the streets.


No One Thought It Was Possible: 12 Ways the Sanders Revolution Has Transformed Politics

Sanders’ hugely successful campaign might just have a lasting impact.

Source: AlterNet

Author:Steve Rosenfeld

Emphasis Mine

When Bernie Sanders launched his presidential campaign a year ago with a brazen call for an American revolution in politics, economics and social justice, no one, not even the candidate himself, could have imagined what the campaign would bring.

“The media likes to portray this as a fair fight on even footing,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver said last week. “They seem to forget that when we started our campaign on April 30, we barely registered in the polls. We didn’t have a political organization. We didn’t have millionaires waiting in the wings. Quite frankly, we didn’t have a whole lot. And then millions of people came together in a political revolution.”

Sanders hasn’t just climbed from a 55-point deficit in national polls to being just 1.4 percent behind Hillary Clinton (who, counting her husband’s, is waging her fourth presidential campaign); he has fundamentally changed the national political landscape for the better by reviving the very best progressive traditions and principles within the Democratic Party.

Here are 12 ways Sanders’ revolution has changed American politics.

1. Revived Democrats’ progressive wing. Starting in the 1990s, before Bill Clinton was elected president, the Democratic Party leadership made a concrete choice to trade Main Street for Wall Street. You saw it in its national fundraising apparatus. You saw it in the bills pushed through Congress, like the North American Free Trade Agreement, and backtracking on social justice issues, such as punitive welfare reform and criminal sentencing laws. Sanders has flipped that script, railing against American oligarchs and resurrecting the New Deal economic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Society safety net priorities of Lyndon Johnson. He’s sparked a wholesale revival of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and heritage.

2. Introduced a new generation to progressive politics. Sanders’ overwhelming support from people under 45 is not just remarkable, it’s been extraordinarily instructive. Sanders’ followers, who keep showing up at his rallies by the tens of thousands, have memorized his speeches, know his punchlines and recite them as if they are singing along at a concert. But these aren’t pop lyrics, they’re fundamental ideas, analyses and remedies for a more just political system and society. That’s unprecedented for any presidential candidate of either major party in recent memory.

3. Stopped socialist from being a dirty word. No one has to be reminded that being called a socialist by the mainstream media or defending socialism in the political system has, for years, been a kiss of death—even if recent polls find public attitudes changing. Sanders has rebranded the word in the American public’s mind, so it simply means greater democratic participation and sharing of economic rights and responsibilities. Among young people in college and in their 20s, polls last fall found majorities had a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.

4. Showed grassroots, small-donor campaigns are viable. Sanders’ small-donor fundraising has been nothing if not remarkable, raising $182 million in the last year, according to analyses of federal campaign finance reports—the same sum as Clinton, though she had a $30 million headstart. He wasn’t the first presidential candidate to tap the power of small donations—Howard Dean did it and so did Jerry Brown—but Sanders has inspired millions of people across America who are averging under $30 a pop. That’s come as the country has seen political campaigns dominated by a handful of superwealthy individuals or billionaires backing super PACs, which he doesn’t have though the Clinton campaign does. That contrast alone is significant, but there’s more to it. His campaign has disproved many of the political establishment’s longstanding precepts: that an engaged citizenry won’t support candidates; that candidates have to pander to the rich to fund their campaigns; and that small-donor public financing systems aren’t sufficient when it comes to the political big leagues.

5. Showed the public responds to principled politicans. Sanders has defied the cliché that good people who enter politics will eventually be corrupted and compromised because they have to sell out along the way to win. He’s proven that a candidate and officeholder who has been principled and consistent and is honest and treats the public with integrity can succeed. In months of polls, the public has consistently said that Sanders is more trustworthy than either Clinton or Donald Trump. The public knows when they are being lied to or played for fools, and nobody running in 2016 has been as forthright, straightforward or honest as Sanders.

6. Showed it’s possible to run without throwing much mud. Until last week’s heated New York primary, where his composure was tested and frayed, he has run an issue-oriented campaign almost entirely devoid of personal attacks. Clinton supporters will take exception to that, but it’s true—how does one compare and contrast one’s values and judgments with their opponents, if they are in it to win, without saying that they believe they are better qualified? The larger point is that the 2016 Democratic nominating contest has been waged as a war of ideas, accompishments and temperament. Politics isn’t for the meek, but it doesn’t have to be all mud all the time like the GOP’s nominating contest, and Sanders has shown that in state after state.

7. Shown Democrats what an engaged citizenry looks like. From rallies attended by thousands and thousands to the remarkably energetic efforts of legions of his grassroots supporters, the Sanders campaign has vividly reminded the Democratic Party what an engaged base and electorate looks like. Moreover, that outpouring of enthusiasm reveals a fervent desire to take more radical stances on issues and solutions than what the party’s Washington-based establishment wants to admit or embrace. It also sets the expectation that a Democratic presidency and recaptured Congress had better seriously try to deliver a bold new agenda, if that’s the outcome in November.

8. Brought America’s progressive organizers together. Sanders has given other progressive-minded Democrats running in 2008 room to take anti-corporate stances, such as candidates endorsed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, Working Families Party and others. He has also brought together the country’s progressive groups and the best organizers in the country, who have long worked on their issues in silos and are providing him with a fantastic campaign infrastructure. Democrats have typically relied on labor unions to provide needed volunteers. Labor is a big part of the Sanders campaign, but it’s part of a much wider coalition of like-minded people. That symbiosis is remarkable and raises the question of what will happen after the 2016 campaign concludes.

9. Pushed Hillary Clinton to the left. There is no doubt that Sanders has pushed the Democratic establishment’s heir apparent further to the left, making her take stronger and less ambiguous stances on many issues, such as promising not to roll back Social Security as part of any grand-bargain federal budget deal or new benefit-calculation formula. Should Clinton get the 2016 nomination, the open question is, how long will she stay to the left? He’s also made her a better candidate, forcing her to clarify and defend her positions, which she arguably might not do unless pressed by as vigorous a debater as Sanders.

10. Challenged everyone on free tuition. There are a number of issues where his agenda has put ideas and solutions before the country that mainstream political America hasn’t wanted to acknowledge or embrace. One is the need for public universities to be tuition-free, just as K-12 education is. As important, Sanders has proposed how to pay for that step, which is an increasing necessity in today’s global economy, by imposing a transaction tax on high-volume Wall Street traders. That kind of thinking, which would help millions of households, can no longer be called fringe.

11. Called out Wall Street’s purpose and business model. Everybody knows that Sanders is no friend of America’s largest corporations, which in field after field have near-monopoly control of goods, services and pricing. But he has especially gone after the financial sector, saying its business model is built on private greed and has a more than questionable public purpose. By identifying the culprits in decades-old wage stagnation and an undermining of the American middle and working classes, Sanders is reminding everyone that being in a democracy comes with rights and responsibilities, such as taking care of the vulnerable and pushing for racial and social justice.

12. Showed a Jew can call out Israel. For decades, American politicans, like a great many Jewish Americans, have faced great pressure never to criticize anything Israel does and reflexively to blame the Palestinians for the area’s ongoing violence. Sanders doesn’t make a big deal of his Jewish heritage—like many Jews, he is a living example of faith’s secular humanist tradition. Before the New York primary, he said that Israel’s military response to the last attacks from Gaza was unnecessary and disproportionate, prompting the ire of the Israel lobby. But his comments were cut from a larger foreign policy cloth that values restraint and prioritizes seeking political solutions.

A Revolution or New Normal?

Sanders supporters and political observers will surely cite more examples, but what stands out to progressives about many aspects of Sanders’ campaign and agenda is that what he is calling for isn’t revolutionary at all—it’s sane, and if anything, overdue. The passion and public purpose of his campaign has struck deep and wide notes precisely because of that. More than anything, Sanders has reminded vast swaths of the country that his democratic socialist agenda is exactly what they want America to be—a fairer and more dignified, tolerant, responsible and conscientious country. And he’s reminded the Democratic Party that its most engaged and visible base wants substantial change, even if those remedies seem radical to the Washington status quo.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).


.1% of America Now Controls 22% of Wealth: The Wealth Gap Has Killed the Middle Class

The stats are more damning than we thought.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Natalie Shure

Emphasis Mine

 A new working paper by London School of Economics professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman sheds some very unflattering light on the American wealth gap, which has reached levels unseen since the Roaring ‘20s. The wealth gap has been overtaking the income gap as a popular cultural topic since Thomas Piketty’s splashy Capital in the 21st Century, and Saez and Zucman’s work fills in some crucial blanks to flesh out Piketty’s contentions. Saez and Zucman conclude that the top .1% of America now controls 22% of the aggregate wealth – an especially troubling figure when examined in the context of America’s stubbornly conservative political landscape.

Piketty – who has worked alongside Saez in the past – sealed his rock star status this year with his argument that the megarich hold an increasing share of capital in the Western world. To combat the potentially frightening fallout, Piketty controversially recommends a worldwide progressive tax on wealth instead of income. How exactly this might work has been the topic of much squabbling, nicely boiled down by James Galbraith in Dissent:

In any case, as Piketty admits, this proposal is “utopian.” To begin with, in a world where only a few countries accurately measure high incomes, it would require an entirely new tax base, a worldwide Domesday Book recording an annual measure of everyone’s personal net worth. That is beyond the abilities of even the NSA. And if the proposal is utopian, which is a synonym for futile, then why make it?

That’s where Saez and Zucman come in. Their paper ambitiously takes up the challenge of measuring a century of American wealth, the existing data on which is notably scarce. To do this, the duo had to synthesize information from a variety of sources. They explain their methodology in a post for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth:

We try to measure wealth in another way.  We use comprehensive data on capital income—such as dividends, interest, rents, and business profits—that is reported on individual income tax returns since 1913. We then capitalize this income so that it matches the amount of wealth recorded in the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds, the national balance sheets that measure aggregate wealth of U.S. families. In this way we obtain annual estimates of U.S. wealth inequality stretching back a century.

They found that the level of wealth controlled by the top .1% of Americans has followed a “spectacular U-shape evolution.” That is, the hyper-elite held up to 25% of the country’s wealth on the eve of the Great Depression. These resources were then more democratically distributed for four decades – the .1% share was only 7% in 1977 – only to flip

The Return of the Roaring Twenties
Photo Credit:
Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman
Click to enlarge.

While the top .1% got richer, so too did the Bottom 90% get poorer. Saez and Zucman find that the portion of total wealth held by the bulk of America peaked in 1980 at 36%. Today, the bulk of America hangs onto a mere 23%, and the number seems poised to tumble further.

back to 1920’s numbers in the ‘80s and beyond.

The Rise and Fall of Middle Class Wealth.
Photo Credit:
Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman
Click to enlarge.

Unsurprisingly, the majority was also hit far harder by the economic crisis than their monied counterparts, for whom “the Great Recession looks only like a small bump along an upward trajectory.” The shrinking 90%, Saez and Zucman contend, is a result of rising debt, especially from mortgages and student loans.

Their work provides a persuasive counterpoint to the criticism that the soaring .1% owes itself more to the rise of cultural megastars in entertainment and tech than it does to structural trends. The .1% is surely just stocked with the likes of anomalies like Mark Zuckerburg and J.K. Rowling, dissenters allege. (According to Piketty’s own research , these unicorns account for only 30% of the top.) Zucman and Saez add weight to the viewpoint that elite wealth increasingly comes from preexisting wealth, not labor or accomplishments.

As evidence of the staggering American wealth gap mounts, the debate about it will likely shift from its allegedly dubious existence to whether or not it matters enough to be changed. The conservative side of this discussion is likely to be disingenuous – not to mention, depressingly rigged by the ever-strengthening correlation between American capital and political agency.

Take, for example, the Right’s tone-deaf response to Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. In an analysis of the conservative critique, Brian Beutler at the New Republic noted that “Conservatives don’t like Piketty’s policy remedy, and other far-reaching proposals to reduce or curb the growth of inequality. That’s in part because they don’t agree with his normative premise that massive wealth concentration is undemocratic.” Garrett Jones at Reason went so far as to argue that “the best way to defuse the situation is to teach tolerance for inequality” – which sounds pretty darn close to, ‘just get over it, poors!’

But to deny that the American wealth gap is undemocratic is to deny decades of policies that have colluded not only to concentrate wealth at the top, but to solidify it as the primary means of political influence. Saez and Zucman point out that the reasons for the exploding wealth gap are similar to the oft-documented causes of the more-scrutinized income gap – deregulation at the top, and degraded labor and debt at the bottom. If this weren’t enough to cast serious doubt on the meritocracy invoked by the debunked American Dream, capital is now more inexplicably tied to basic survival than ever before.

When considering the wealth gap, you must also consider political developments like the landmark decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, which famously ruled that political spending by corporations cannot be legally capped. This obviously ensures a serious entanglement of money and politics. And while the Court argued that this spending will be subject to the pressure of shareholders, it would be batty to posit that their interests aren’t aligned. After all, the 1980s ushered in an era of thought that maximizing shareholder value should come at any cost – one source of the very wealth discussed by Saez, Zucman and Piketty. In other words, not only does a Reagan-inspired ideology of deregulation and taxing boost corporations and the people who invest in them, it also gives them free reign over the American political system.

As the ultra-rich have been enriched and empowered, the middle class and poor have weathered an equal and opposite reaction. As globalization and anti-union sentiments push former middle-class positions overseas, higher education has become a practical requirement for basic livelihood, but accessing it comes with a price. Saez and Zucman find that student loans are one of the main sources of debt weighing down the bottom 90%. Perhaps the most clearcut example of poverty barring citizens from civic participation are the rise of voting restrictions that disproportionately affect the poor—often backed by the same Republicans who fight against basic protections of the middle class. All things considered, it’s no surprise that a recent Princeton study deemed the United States to be an oligarchy instead of a democracy. Their reasons had all to do with the toxic combination of the American wealth gap and pro-corporate politics : “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” wrote researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” (Indeed, monied interests seem to be getting their way regardless of the party in power – as noted by The Nation, the Obama-era rich are wealthier than ever.)

So where do we go from here to salvage democracy and avoid calamity? Saez and Zucman have a few ideas:

What should be done to avoid this dystopian future? We need policies that reduce the concentration of wealth, prevent the transformation of self-made wealth into inherited fortunes, and encourage savings among the middle class. First, current preferential tax rates on capital income compared to wage income are hard to defend in light of the rise of wealth inequality and the very high savings rate of the wealthy. Second, estate taxation is the most direct tool to prevent self-made fortunes from becoming inherited wealth—the least justifiable form of inequality in the American meritocratic ideal. Progressive estate and income taxation were the key tools that reduced the concentration of wealth after the Great Depression. The same proven tools are needed again today.

In short, as long as accrued capital continues to overshadow earned income as the determining factor of having and having not, let’s be honest about it and tax what really matters. Only then will Americans have any hope of getting by based on on what they do, rather than who they are.

Natalie Shure has written for the Atlantic, Gawker, Slate, Metro, New York Observer and the Awl.




Two Theories of Poverty

Source: Portside

Author: Matt Bruenig

Paul Ryan released his anti-poverty plan last week. In it, he proposes that a variety of federal means-tested welfare programs be turned into cash block grants to states, who would then be allowed to dole out the cash in exchange for recipients laying out a life contract for how they will increase their market incomes for a nosy case worker. As I explained on the day it came out, this is a bad idea, unnecessary, and seriously misunderstands the nature of American poverty.

In response to Ryan, many commentators pointed out that people do not need life contracts to go on to boost their market incomes because they already do that (myself, Weissman, Bouie). These writers point out that people move in and out of poverty a lot. Even though the poverty rate stays pretty steady year to year,poor people” are not the same people each year.

Although these rebuttals have been fairly modest in scope, they actually lay bare a fundamental difference in the way right-wingers and left-wingers understand poverty.

Theory One: Poverty Is Individual

The right-wing view is that poverty is an individual phenomenon. On this view, people are in poverty because they are lazy, uneducated, ignorant, or otherwise inferior in some manner. If this theory were true, it would follow that impoverished people are basically the same people every year. And if that were true, we could whip poverty by helping that particular 15% of the population to figure things out and climb out of poverty. Thus, a program of heavy paternalistic life contracts to help this discrete underclass get things together might conceivably end or dramatically reduce poverty.

Theory Two: Poverty Is Structural

The left-wing view is that poverty is a structural phenomenon. On this view, people are in poverty because they find themselves in holes in the economic system that deliver them inadequate income. Because individual lives are dynamic, people don’t sit in those holes forever. One year they are in a low-income hole, but the next year they’ve found a job or gotten a promotion, and aren’t anymore. But that hole that they were in last year doesn’t go away. Others inevitably find themselves in that hole because it is a persistent defect in the economic structure. It follows from this that impoverished people are not the same people every year. It follows further that the only way to reduce poverty is to alter the economic structure so as to reduce the number of low-income holes in it.

Which is true? Structural Poverty

To figure out which theory is true, the easiest thing to do is answer the question: are impoverished people the same people every year or different ones? The individual theory predicts that they are the same people (and further that they need paternalist intervention to get their act together). The structural theory predicts that they are different people (and further that we need to alter the economic structure to make things better).

As all of the commentators linked above mentioned, longitudinal surveys show that impoverished people are not the same people every year. The last SIPP (three-year longitudinal survey done by the Census) had around one-third of Americans finding themselves in episodic poverty at some point in the three years, but just 3.5% finding themselves in episodic poverty for all three years. The PSID data show that around 4 in 10 adults experience an entire year of poverty between age 25 and 60. If you count kids, the number of people who experience at least one year of poverty rockets even higher of course.

Also, it deserves pointing out that nearly 45 percent of adults use a means-tested welfare program in their life (this, presumably, is the number of adults who would need to prostrate themselves before social workers at some point in their life to spell out some ridiculous life contract under Ryan’s plan).

Getting Specific About Structural Holes

The revolving door of poverty is a slam dunk indicator that the structural theory of poverty is correct, but we can get even more specific by identifying where the structural holes are. There are many places to focus, but one very easy and indisputable one is age.

First, consider child poverty. Children have much higher poverty rates than adults and younger children have higher poverty rates than older children.

Why is this? Two reasons. First, families with children in them have to get more income each year to stay above the poverty line than families without them. But, the market does not distribute families more money just because they have more children. Consequently, the mere act of adding a child to a family makes it more likely that the family will be in poverty. Second, adults have children when they are young workers, but young workers also make the least income. This too makes it more likely a child will be in poverty than an adult purely because of the way the economy is structured.

Why do young children have higher poverty rates than older children? Because young children have young parents and old children have old parents. Old parents make more money than young parents because they are deeper into their income life cycle. That is why the graph above looks the way it does.

Second, consider adult poverty by age:

It’s common to describe 25-65 as prime working-age adults. But look at how much poverty falls over those working years. Nearly 20% of 25-year-olds are in poverty while less than 10% of 64-year olds are. Why? Young workers make less money than old workers. Young workers are often taking care of children as well, while older workers generally aren’t. This is structural. This is one of the very blatant structural reasons why you are going to see people swapping in and out poverty over their life course just like the longitudinal data show.

I could go on, but the point is clear. Poverty replicates itself in very predictable structural ways. Since the problem is structural, the solution must be structural as well. This is not nearly as difficult a task as it may seem. For instance, in the case of structural poverty problems afflicting children and young families, it is very easily dealt with by using a Child Allowance program, which is commonly used throughout Europe.

Posted by Portside on July 31, 2014

Emphasis Mine


Why the Democrats Need to Take Sides

Straddling class divisions is so last century. There’s a new base in town, and it includes a lot of people who used to be middle-class but aren’t anymore.

Source: American Prospect

Author: Harold Meyerson

This spring, a prominent Democratic pollster sent a memo to party leaders and Democratic elected officials advising them to speak and think differently. The nation’s economy had deteriorated so drastically, he cautioned, that they needed to abandon their references to the “middle class,” substituting for those hallowed words the phrase “working people.” “In today’s harsh economic reality,” he wrote, “many voters no longer identify as middle class.”

How many voters? In 2008, a Pew poll asked Americans to identify themselves by class. Fifty-three percent said they were middle-class; 25 percent said lower-class. When Pew asked the same question this January, it found that the number who’d called themselves middle-class had shrunk to 44 percent, while those who said they were of the lower class had grown from 25 percent to 40 percent.

Americans’ assessment of their place in the nation’s new economic order is depressingly accurate. Though most of the jobs lost in the 2007–2009 recession were in middle-income industries, the lion’s share of the jobs created in the half-decade since have been in such low-paying sectors as retail and restaurants. Median household income has declined in every year of the recovery. The share of the nation’s income going to wages and salaries, which for decades held steady at two-thirds, has in recent years descended to 58 percent—the lowest level since the government began its measurements.

The waning of America’s middle class presents a huge challenge to the nation’s oldest political party. The Democrats’ ability to improve the economic lives of most Americans has been their primary calling card to the nation’s voters ever since Franklin Roosevelt became president. Since the 1940s, however, the Democrats’ preferred method of helping working- and middle-class Americans has tilted more toward spurring economic growth than aggressive redistribution. So long as the growth in the nation’s economy registered in the pocketbooks of most Americans, there was little need to adopt policies that put a high priority on, say, redirecting profits into wages.

And that was fine with the Democrats. When John F. Kennedy observed that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” he was not only accurately describing how the highly unionized and not-yet-globalized economy of the 1960s worked; he was also describing how the economy enabled the Democrats to establish a political framework in which they could seek and win support from both business and labor—from both Wall Street and Main Street.

But the kind of economy that once allowed the Democrats to be the world’s leading cross-class party has almost completely disappeared. American economic growth today goes to a relative handful of its wealthiest citizens—indeed, since the recovery began in 2009, 95 percent of the income growth has accrued to the wealthiest 1 percent, as University of California, Berkeley, economist Emmanuel Saez has shown. While the economy has grown by 20 percent since 2000, the median income for households headed by working-age Americans has shrunk by 12 percent. And as wages have sunk to a record-low share of the nation’s economy, the share going to profits has reached a record high.

The Democrats are hardly at death’s door. Abetted by the intransigence of a nativist, patriarchal, increasingly anti-science and fanatically anti-government Republican Party, they hold a commanding lead among the nation’s growing constituencies—Latinos, Asians, single mothers, millennials, and professionals. Demographics give the Democrats a clear edge in high-turnout elections, presidential elections most particularly. But demographics devoid of economics will sustain the party’s advantage for only so long—especially absent a serious plan for improving the prospects of today’s downwardly mobile. Bettering the economic lot of their constituents—particularly since those constituents are represented disproportionately among those Americans who now call themselves lower-class—will require the Democrats to do something they haven’t really contemplated, and have consistently avoided, since the 1930s: taking a side, with all that entails, in a class war.

Taking sides has never come naturally to the Democrats. Throughout its long history, the party has not merely contained multitudes but contradicted itself, frequently and ferociously. In 1860, confronted with the new Republican Party’s challenge to slavery, the Democratic Party split in two, nominating both a Northern and a Southern presidential candidate. In the early 20th century, its two centers of strength were the white, segregationist, nativist South and the urban political machines of such cities as New York and Boston, home to millions of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. The two groups clashed so irreconcilably on issues like Prohibition and the Ku Klux Klan (which reached its apogee in the 1920s by adding anti-Catholicism to its catalog of hatreds) that the party’s 1924 convention required two weeks and 103 ballots before it could settle on a presidential nominee—John W. Davis, an obscure Wall Street attorney—acceptable to both sides. It took the crisis of the Depression to compel the rival camps to call a truce and turn their attention to economic matters and to Franklin Roosevelt.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, as Labor Secretary Frances Perkins stands behind him.

Roosevelt commanded substantial business support during his 1932 campaign and in his first two years as president, though he kept Wall Street at arm’s length. When he was assembling his Treasury team prior to taking office, someone suggested he consider appointing Russell Leffingwell, a leading executive at the J.P. Morgan investment bank, which was headquartered at 23 Wall Street. Roosevelt thought about it for a moment and then shot down the idea. “No,” he said. “We can’t have anyone from 23.”

As Roosevelt moved left in 1935, signing into law the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act, and a substantially higher income tax for the wealthiest Americans, many of his former business backers, most prominently former Democratic National Chairman John J. Raskob, who’d been the financial vice president of both DuPont and General Motors, turned against him. They founded and funded the Liberty League, which throughout the 1936 presidential campaign relentlessly attacked Roosevelt as a socialist. On the election’s eve, secure in the knowledge that he was about to win an overwhelming victory, Roosevelt struck back. In an address, broadcast on national radio, to a screaming crowd at Madison Square Garden, FDR singled out “business and financial monopoly, speculation, [and] reckless banking” as enemies of social peace. “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob,” he continued. “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it theforces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master.”

Roosevelt’s speech remains the apogee of the Democrats’ taking up the cudgel of class war. No Democratic president or nominee has put it quite that way ever since. Nor, by the calculus of conventional politics, did Roosevelt’s successors need to. Economically, the New Deal reforms were a stunning success, setting in place the structures that ensured the 30-year boom that began with World War II would be felt across the economy. From 1947 through 1973, the nation’s productivity rose by 97 percent and its median compensation by 95 percent. Politically, the reforms fostered an era of Democratic dominance. An occasional Republican—Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon—would be elected president, but they did nothing to endanger the Democrats’ core economic programs. The Democrats’ hold on Congress during this period was almost unbroken.

The New Deal coalition broke up in the decades that followed, as many white Democrats rejected what they saw as the party’s targeting of tax dollars to help minorities. Pollster Stan Greenberg’s study of Macomb County, Michigan—a white working-class suburb of Detroit that had given John Kennedy 63 percent of the vote in his 1960 campaign against Richard Nixon and had given Ronald Reagan 66 percent in his 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter—demonstrated that Macomb’s Democrats believed their party was taxing them to support Detroit’s African Americans.

The movement of the white South and elements of the white working class into the Republican column—a journey that began during Nixon’s presidency and has continued to this day—initially spurred centrist Democrats to push their party rightward on such issues as lengthening prison sentences and curtailing welfare. Ultimately, however, the wholesale flight of the white South into Republican ranks had the effect of greatly diminishing the divisions on racial, gender, and cultural issues that had rent the Democrats for much of the 20th century. As a Southernized Republican Party moved right on those issues, it prompted a countermovement from socially liberal professionals, many of whom had previously identified as Rockefeller Republicans, into Democratic ranks. As John Judis and Ruy Teixeira reported in their 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, professionals—previously a solidly Republican constituency—backed the Democratic candidates in the elections of 1988 through 2000 by a margin of 52 percent to 40 percent. Henceforth, the issues that would divide the Democrats would be preponderantly economic.

During the 12 years in which Reagan and George H.W. Bush were president, centrist Democrats sought not only to win back the Reagan Democrats with more-conservative social and economic policies but also to cultivate more business donors for party candidates. Tony Coelho, a California congressman who spearheaded House Democrats’ fundraising efforts for much of the 1980s, shifted the balance of funds coming into the party’s coffers more toward Wall Street and other business interests. When political journalist Thomas Edsall, in his 1984 book The New Politics of Inequality, tallied the funds received by all congressional Democrats from business and conservative interests and compared the total to the funds they received from labor and liberal interests, he found that they evened out. The Democrats’ right-left funding ratio was 1 to 1. Republicans, by contrast, received $33 from business and conservative interests to every $1 they received from labor and liberal groups. Not surprisingly, on such fundamental economic questions as taxation, trade, and worker rights, Reagan-era Republicans had a clear sense of direction. Democrats were all over the map.

During Reagan’s presidency, and again during George W. Bush’s, centrist Democrats backed reductions in top tax rates that the Republican presidents had proposed. During the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, House Democrats passed bills amending labor law so that workers could join unions without fear of being fired, but centrist Democratic senators kept those bills from passing in the upper house, while Carter and Obama—and Bill Clinton as well—failed to make labor-law reform a legislative priority. The fiercest battles in the Democrats’ class war have come over trade. A majority of House Democrats, echoing labor’s argument that such deals only hastened offshoring and job loss, voted against both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 and establishing permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China in 2000. This year, three-quarters of party members have gone on record against fast-tracking the current proposed Trans-Pacific trade deal through Congress absent major modifications intended to preserve American jobs. Senate Democrats, who receive a higher percentage of their campaign funding from Wall Street (ever the most avid promoter of free trade) than House Democrats, backed NAFTA and PNTR.

It was Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, of course, who sent these trade deals to the Hill. Both had received major funding from the financial sector when they sought the presidency; both had selected as their chief financial advisers and policymakers a network of investment bankers and their protégés, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Timothy Geithner most prominent among them. While backing many of their president’s more progressive social policies, this network also avidly promoted the trade deals, financial deregulation, and post-recession recovery measures that benefited Wall Street at the expense of the great majority of Americans. FDR’s reluctance to entrust the Treasury Department to Wall Street bankers did not get passed down to his more recent Democratic successors.

To be sure, Republican opposition to workers’ concerns has been the biggest and most constant impediment to Democrats’ initiatives on working Americans’ behalf. Nor is this to gainsay the epochal advances in racial and gender equality and economic security that the post-Roosevelt Democratic Party has helped realize. Medicare and Obamacare affirmed the nation’s responsibility for the health care of its citizens. Medicaid and a raft of other programs targeted various forms of public assistance to the poor. But none of these programs—nor any of the party’s signature civil-rights legislation—specifically sought to advance workers’ interests against their employers’. That had been taken care of by the National Labor Relations Act and minimum-wage legislation. That was a fait accompli. The party had been there and done that.

Except, as American capitalism changed, what the Democrats had done had come undone. As corporations steadily weakened their workers’ bargaining power by shifting work abroad and breaking their unions at home, the link between productivity and workers’ income was severed. Since 1979, the nation’s productivity has risen by 65 percent and its workers’ compensation by just 8 percent. As well, businesses have changed the forms of employment they offer. Workers who formerly would have been full-time employees have been labeled as independent contractors or listed as working for temporary-employment agencies—changes that have stripped from them the right to unionize and the protections of wage-and-hour laws. The number of part-time employees has ballooned.

The Democrats haven’t been insensible to working Americans’ concerns during these years. When they had the votes, they raised the minimum wage, increased the funding for college grants and loans, and initiated public-works programs during recessions. At the same time, however, they largely failed to grasp the full extent of the erosion of middle-income jobs, the decline in worker bargaining power, and the stagnation of Americans’ incomes (offset, until 2008, by the corresponding increase in Americans’ debt). The idea that the nation’s middle-class majority wasn’t a permanent axiom of American life, that it might one day cease to exist, simply didn’t occur to most party leaders, as it didn’t occur to most members of the country’s political and economic elites.Democrats now find themselves in an unfamiliar world—not of their making, exactly, but one whose creation they didn’t do much to retard. It’s a world where they can no longer deliver job-based prosperity—at least, not without radically altering their politics. Rebuilding that middle-class majority requires Democrats to embrace ideas and find a voice as new to them as the cadences of the New Deal were to the Democrats of 1933.

The new base of the Democratic Party appears primed for such a change. The share of liberals in party ranks has swelled. In 2000, Gallup reports, 44 percent of Democrats identified as moderates, and 29 percent as liberals. Today, the share of moderates has dropped to 36 percent, while that of liberals has increased to 43 percent.  This leftward movement at least partly reflects the growing weight of Latinos and millennials within Democratic ranks. Like African Americans, Latinos differ sharply from white Americans in their level of support for government. Asked in a 2012 Pew survey whether they preferred a smaller government with fewer services or a bigger government with more services, Latinos backed the bigger-government option by a 75 percent to 19 percent margin, even as the general population supported the smaller-government alternative by 48 percent to 41 percent. Since California Latinos began voting in large numbers in the mid-1990s, they have proved the state’s strongest supporters—even more than African Americans—of ballot measures protecting workers’ rights and authorizing more spending on schools.

As with Latinos, so with millennials. A Pew survey of those young Americans from March of this year found them to be the only age group in which the number identifying as liberals (31 percent) exceeded the number calling themselves conservative (26 percent). Fifty-three percent of millennials preferred the bigger-government-with-more-services option, and just 38 percent the smaller.

One reason millennials lean left, of course, is that each successively younger cohort of Americans contains a larger share of Latinos (not to mention Asians and secularists). White millennials preferred the smaller government option by 52 percent to 39 percent, but millennials of color supported the bigger-government alternative by a hefty 71 percent to 21 percent margin.

But millennials’ left-leaning politics is also the result of their having borne the brunt of the economy’s dysfunctions. It’s disproportionately the young who have been saddled with a trillion dollars in student-loan debt. It’s millennials who have experienced the highest levels of unemployment. Nor is their employment anything to boast about: In 2012, 44 percent of young college graduates were employed in jobs that didn’t require a college degree.

Small wonder, then, that America’s young adults harbor the greatest skepticism toward the nation’s economic system. A 2009 Center for American Progress survey showed that their view toward unions was 9 percentage points more favorable than the overall population’s. And a 2011 Pew Poll revealed the somewhat astonishing fact that 49 percent of millennials had a positive view of socialism, while just 46 percent of them viewed capitalism positively. (Just 31 percent of all Americans viewed socialism positively; 50 percent of them felt that way about capitalism.) The rising number of left-leaning Latinos and millennials gives Democrats sound reason for believing that their future is bright—assuming elections can be reduced to demographics. With Republicans working overtime to estrange nearly every growing group in the political landscape, while Democrats have championed such policies as the legalization of undocumented immigrants and equal rights for gays and lesbians, the demographic tide is certainly running in the Democrats’ direction. Minorities and the liberal young have already pushed America’s cities decidedly leftward: 26 of the largest 30 now have Democratic mayors, the greatest partisan imbalance in history. They have turned such onetime Republican bastions as Florida and Virginia into proto-Democratic states. Georgia and North Carolina, and, within two or three presidential-election cycles, Texas and Arizona will likely fall prey to the same purpling. To be sure, the movement of young people and African Americans out of some longtime Democratic bastions in the industrial Midwest, and the understandable reluctance of immigrants to move into this economically embattled region, may turn such states as Michigan into Election Day toss-ups. Any Republican gains in the Midwest, however, could be more than offset by the Democrats’ pickups in the South and Southwest. As the South—the Republican Party’s chief electoral fortress—edges into the Democratic column, the Democrats may be able to contemplate a new era of political dominance. Provided they can figure out how to reinvent broadly shared prosperity.  For despite their new adherents’ liberal leanings, the Democrats are sure to pay a price if they can’t arrest the downward spiral of Americans’ economic lives. The price isn’t likely to take the form of increased millennial or minority support for Republicans. More likely, many in these groups will just disengage from politics and cease showing up at the polls. Despite their liberalism and preference for a government that smooths out the economy’s increasingly jagged edges, young Americans don’t invest a lot of hope in the political process. Just 31 percent of millennials say they see a great deal of difference between the two parties—the lowest level of any age group in the Pew survey. Similarly, 50 percent of millennials identify as independents, while 27 percent call themselves Democrats and 17 percent say they’re Republicans. If the Democrats are to establish the enduring majority that many of them see in the offing, they will have to shift the rewards of economic growth from profits, dividends, and rents to the wages and salaries on which the majority of Americans depend.

Even in regions where Democrats dominate, numerical majorities will not suffice. The left-leaning constituencies need to form durable alliances—almost invariably in opposition to the prevailing Democratic establishments—in order to secure pro-worker reforms.It’s in America’s cities, home to the largest influx of immigrants and millennials, where this strategy has had the most effect. In New York, Boston, Seattle, Pittsburgh, New Haven, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Santa Fe, and a host of other municipalities, voters have elected progressive mayors and city council members whose candidacies were backed, and in many cases incubated, by these new alliances. The key players in these coalitions tend to be service-sector unions (representing janitors, hotel and health-care workers, supermarket clerks), immigrant-rights groups, working-class neighborhood organizations active in African-American communities (many of them successors to ACORN), and affordable-housing and environmental-justice advocates. The ordinances enacted by these new governments run the gamut of causes important to the cities’ working classes: raising the minimum wage, setting living-wage standards for city contract workers, mandating paid sick days, requiring developers to construct affordable housing in return for their building permits, reining in discriminatory police practices, and curtailing the police’s cooperation with federal officials seeking to deport noncriminal undocumented immigrants.

Although America’s demographic changes reach well beyond city lines, it’s only in these urban areas that the new Democratic and largely working-class constituencies have organized themselves sufficiently to attain power. The politics of California provides a case in point. No other state has seen its population so thoroughly transformed in the past three decades, with Latino and Asian immigrants not only pushing Los Angeles and the Bay Area further left but also moving many historically Republican regions—San Diego, northern Orange County, the Inland Empire, and parts of the San Joaquin Valley—solidly into the Democratic column. By the early 2000s, it was clear that the California Legislature would be under Democratic control for the foreseeable future. At which point, the state’s business community—oil companies, banks, apartment owners’ associations, chambers of commerce—began to cultivate candidates of their own in Democratic primaries. Since then, those primary contests frequently pit business-backed candidates against candidates supported by unions, environmentalists, and other progressives.

In the Bay Area and Los Angeles, the progressive candidates usually prevail. In other parts of the state, business-backed Democrats frequently win. In 2012, Democrats won more than two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the legislature, but while the legislature has enacted some significant progressive statutes, others have fallen victim to a coalition of the business Democrats and 2012, Democrats won more than two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the legislature, but while the legislature has enacted some significant progressive statutes, others have fallen victim to a coalition of the business Democrats and the Republicans. The defeated bills included one that would have put a moratorium on fracking and another that would have allowed San Francisco to slow the flood of evictions in hopes of keeping developers from eliminating what remains of the city’s affordable housing stock.

In late May, the Senate approved a bill raising the state minimum wage to $13 an hour. Notwithstanding the Democrats’ supermajority, the bill narrowly squeaked through, with business-backed Democrats abstaining, despite representing such working-class cities as Fresno, Stockton, and Santa Ana, where wages are notoriously low. Those are cities, however, where the kind of labor-left alliances that have formed around San Francisco and Los Angeles are still too weak to prevail electorally. Nationally, New York’s Working Families Party is the most successful alliance to have achieved sufficient density across an entire state to affect state-level politics, but it is still far stronger in New York City—whose new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was one of the party’s founders—than it is upstate. In Minnesota, another such statewide alliance scored a surprising victory in 2012 when it persuaded voters to reject a ballot measure that would have required them to produce photo IDs at polling places, but like the Working Families Party, it is far stronger in its state’s urban center, the Twin Cities, than elsewhere.

One impediment to the emergence and growth of these progressive alliances is the ability of centrist Democratic officials to pick off the support of these alliances’ constituent organizations by adopting policies that benefit those groups only. Even the strongest such alliance, New York’s Working Families Party, was pressured by many of the unions that have historically supported it to endorse Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election bid this spring without even winning Cuomo’s commitment to causes the unions supported. Cuomo had declined to campaign against continuing Republican control of the state Senate, which had bottled up legislation to create public funding of election campaigns and to let cities raise their minimum-wage standards. However, Cuomo had also helped many unions win particular campaigns, and those unions feared his support for their efforts would prove fleeting if the WFP didn’t endorse him forthwith. Only an extraordinary campaign by Working Families Party leaders, who threatened to run a candidate against him, compelled Cuomo to reverse his stance on the state senate and the minimum wage in order to win the party’s backing.

The appeal of transactional politics—in which a group supports a politician in return for his support for their cause, regardless of his positions on other issues—runs deep in America, where larger ideological or class concerns have never loomed as large for Democrats as they have for European social democrats. The appeal of transactional politics grows even stronger when organizations are so embattled they feel required to support anyone who will help them on a particular issue—a situation in which most unions have found themselves in recent decades.

But the leftward movement of the Democratic base has undermined at least some of the foundations of such transactional politics. The Working Families Party was able to pressure Cuomo to reverse field because polling showed that a generic WFP candidate on the November ballot would diminish Cuomo’s support from roughly 60 percent of the electorate to roughly 40 percent. New York’s unusual election laws, which permit third parties either to back major-party candidates or to run candidates of their own, gave the WFP more leverage than kindred alliances may have in other states and cities, but the entire episode (and the polling) demonstrated the depth of support from the Democrats’ new base for policies that advance working-class interests, and the disdain for Democratic pols unwilling to fight for them. Traditional pro-Democratic institutions that continue to play the transactional game may find themselves retarding the growth of a new Democratic electorate demanding the very policies that would most benefit working people’s organizations and prospects.

What might those policies be? While the new urban regimes are enacting a host of progressive ordinances, local governments lack the power to create the kind of economic transformations that the nation’s 99 percent need. Even at the state and federal level, raising the minimum wage, say, directly affects just a fraction of American workers. What else can government do to re-establish the link between economic growth and Americans’ incomes?The single most helpful reform would be to restore workers’ bargaining power. With the rate of unionization in the private sector falling beneath 7 percent, the ability of workers to bargain collectively for improvements in their pay, benefits, or hours is effectively nonexistent. Efforts to shore up their power by strengthening their capacity to form unions without fear of being fired, however, failed during each of the four most recent Democratic presidencies (Johnson’s, Carter’s, Clinton’s, and Obama’s). Progressives cannot abandon this fight, but it’s time to open other fronts as well—particularly since years of polling show stronger support for such labor-backed causes as greater tax equity, higher minimum wages, and restrictions on corporate offshoring than they do for unions themselves.One way to restore the link between the economy’s growth and most Americans’ incomes would be to enlist corporate tax reform in that battle. As WilliamGalston, the onetime leading light of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, has argued, lowering taxes on employers who give their workers a wage increase commensurate with the nation’s annual productivity growth, while raising taxes on employers who don’t, would go some of the way to reconnecting growth to income. The scope of such a reform would increase by requiring employers whom is classify their workers as independent contractors or “temps”—a wage-suppressing dodge that’s long been the norm in such industries as trucking, cab-driving, and warehousing and is now spreading to manufacturing as well—to cease such mislabeling and acknowledge that the workers are in fact their employees. The conventional viewpoint within the economics and business establishments is that workers’ declining incomes are the inevitable result of globalization and the automation of work. This viewpoint neglects to consider how the structure of corporate decision-making affects workers’ experience in the face of these trends. In Germany, laws that require corporations to split their boards between management and worker representatives have led to the preservation of the highest-skilled and-value-added jobs at home—a key reason that country has become an export giant and boasts a far more secure and prosperous working class than ours. A law greatly reducing taxes on corporations that adopt this worker-management balance on their boards, and increasing them on corporations that don’t, could have a profound effect on the way corporations look at such matters as offshoring and the proper division between profits and wages.These proposals would surely encounter massive opposition, but they have the virtue of appealing to Americans’ sense of equity and collegiality, as well as their skepticism about corporate managers, without raising the specter of big government.Democrats must also pursue policies with a more conventional pedigree: investing in public works both because we need to and because it’s impossible to foresee how we get close to full employment or environmental remediation without doing so; steeply raising the tax rates on the top income levels; raising taxes on capital gains and dividends (and perhaps devoting those revenues to a greatly increased Earned Income Tax Credit); regulating finance to the point that it can no longer dominate the economy; and diminishing the responsibility of students and their families for covering the costs of public higher education. But the emphasis on increasing worker power and pay should be central to the Democrats’ concerns, both politically and economically. If the American economy is indeed descending into what economist Larry Summers terms a state of secular stagnation, the low pay of American workers, which has depressed their purchasing power and reduced the profits of all but the highest-end retailers, is largely to blame. Like the other Democratic elected officials of her generation, Hillary Clinton came of age and (more than the others) thrived in an economic and political system in which Kennedy’s rising tide did lift all boats,cohabiting with both Wall Street and working people’s organizations was routine, and the pressure to take a side in a slowly emerging class war could barely be felt. Today, however, that pressure is palpable—and increasingly uncomfortable to a host of Democratic pols, Clinton most especially.  How this conflict affects the 2016 presidential race, the more-likely-than-not Hillary Clinton presidency, and the larger future of the Democratic Party remains to be seen. Despite its demographic advantages, the party cannot indefinitely retain its electoral edge if it fails to address the falling power and income of ordinary Americans—even if such policies cost the party the backing of financial elites at a time when elections are more driven by money than ever before. It’s time for Democrats to disenthrall themselves from their routine conciliation of interests that have become profoundly opposed. It’s time for them to welcome more hatred from the successors to Roosevelt’s forces of selfishness. Harder choices than those Clinton chronicles in her new book await them.

Emphasis Mine


Increasing Union Membership Would Boost Middle-Class Incomes: Study

From HuffPost, by Jillian Berman

“If the incomes of the union rank-and-file rose by just a tenthmiddle-class incomes would go up $1,479 per year — even for those who aren’t members, according to an analysis of Census data from the Center for American Progress.

The boost in income, while slightly lower than if college-attainment rates went up by 10 percent, is higher than if the unemployment rate dropped by four percentage points — a scenario that would increase middle class incomes by $772 per household, according to the study.

The share of income going to the middle class is below average, in the states with the lowest unionization rates, The Center for American Progress also found.

Union rights have come increasingly under fire as unemployment remains high and companies and municipal governments look to curb spending. In August, a Gallup poll found that approval of unions was just above its lowest-recorded level, dating back to the Great Depression, while union membership dropped to a 70-year low in 2010, according to The New York Times.

In a February poll by the Pew Research Center, though, the number of respondents saying unions have a negative impact on the availability of jobs was the same as those saying they have a positive effect. Opinions like these may be why union influence is dwindling in states including Wisconsin, where last week major state employee unions lost their official status, according to Reuters.

The waning influence of private-sector unions, such as the United Auto Workers, could have something to do with their dwindling numbers, according a Harvard University and University of Washington study. The researchers found that private-sector union membership dropped to 8 percent from 34 percent among men between 1973 and 2007 and to 6 percent from 16 percent for women during the same period.

The effect? A more than 40 percent increase in wage stratification, according to the study.

Here’s where a boost in unionization would most help middle-class incomes, according to the Center for American Progress:

Middle-class household incomes would rise $1,675 per year in New Hampshire, on average, if the unionizaton rate saw a 10 percent boost, according to the Center for American Progress.

Emphasis Mine