Author Archives: Editor

Free To Plunder: The Case Against Gary Johnson And Libertarianism

By Tim Koechlin

A recent Quinnipiac poll reports that 19% of likely voters between the ages of 18 and 34 – “millennials” – plan to vote for Gary Johnson.   Many of these voters identify as “progressive.”  I find this confusing and troubling.

Gary Johnson is a libertarian. Like the Koch Brothers. Like Ayn Rand.

Libertarianism is not progressive; it is, to the contrary, profoundly and essentially reactionary.  And you don’t need to be a left-winger to recognize that it is a dangerous philosophy of governance.

I understand and share progressive voters’ ambivalence about Hillary Clinton (and their disdain for Donald Trump). More generally, I understand and share their disgust with an electoral system that is so responsive to the hopes and dreams of big donors and big capital.  I also believe that voting for a “third party” candidate can be a principled and wise choice.  (I’ve voted for Ralph Nader, twice, and many people I respect and admire will vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.) But if the goal is to “send a message” or to expand the range of “legitimate” political debate, why would a thoughtful person vote for a libertarian?

Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party oppose the minimum wage.  (Note: they do not only oppose raising the minimum wage, they oppose the existence of a minimum wage.) More generally, Libertarians argue that “agreements between private employers and employees are outside the scope of government.” Sexual harrassment on the job? Racist or sexist compensation practices? No worries! The sovereign individual is free to work it out with her employer – free from the burdens of intrusive government protections.

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The Hidden Healthcare Crisis

By Matson Boyd

 

This was a surprisingly good year for progressive candidates and policies, but in some ways it was a step back for single payer health care. For decades, single payer was a popular part of the Democratic Party platform, and had the support of even center-left Democrats like Barack Obama. And health experts have long backed single payer as the ideal model for a national health system. But this year, in the freak out over the Sanders insurgency, many of those backers, including major public voices like Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein, went from critiquing Sanders’ particular policy to outright opposition to single-payer. And earlier this summer, Clinton allies vetoed the inclusion of single payer in the Democratic platform.

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Vermont medical students rally

Why the shift against single-payer? There are a lot of good explanations for this. Some of them have to do with the institutional advantages that the Clinton campaign had (many of the full time health care experts worked for think tanks that were doing work for the Clinton campaign). And there was a common perception that single payer would get watered down and ruined by the same legislative kludge that gave us Obamacare, so it’s not worth the effort.

But much of the shift actually came about because of disagreements over the seemingly mundane matter of out-of-pocket costs. Sanders’ Medicare for All boldly proposed to eliminate out-of-pocket costs, which exposed a rift among health experts.

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Compensating the Precariat

By Matson Boyd

In her recent post, Devika Dutt asks what is to be done about globalization. The benefits of trade and globalization are real, so how do we balance them with the costs to marginalized workers? How do we assure the dislocated workers, many of whom are unfortunately gravitating to Donald Trump and nativist causes like Brexit, that their interests are being taken into account when globalization and trade agreements are signed? And how can we persuade them that the flows of immigrants are not going to damage their livelihoods? I have one suggestion.

clevelandfactory

Abandoned factory in Cleveland

Economists do purport to take into account the costs and the benefits of trade agreements – cost-benefit analysis, of course. Economists tally up the costs and the benefits, put it all in terms of money, and voice their support if the benefits outweigh the costs. One problem with this cost-benefit method is that a dollar to a rich person is obviously not as valuable as a dollar to a poor person, so how do we know whether we’re not just redistributing funds upward and making people unhappier? This is a very old observation, and it was part of an epistemological problem that plagued Economics until the 1940’s. The way out was a simple work-around, the Kaldor-Hicks compensation principle. The original formulations of the principle are more complex, but in practice it is invoked in a simple form: a proposal is good if the benefits and costs are such that the gainers can theoretically compensate the losers and still have benefits leftover.

 

Problem solved? Well, no. The compensation doesn’t actually happen, it’s entirely theoretical. The laid-off workers, the abandoned towns the fact that they could be compensated satisfies the principle*. And the old concern, that a rich man’s dollar is not as valuable as a poor man’s dollar, is entirely skirted around. So my suggestion, to answer the original question of this post, is that we make the compensation actually happen. Agreements are good if the benefits outweigh the costs and the gainers actually compensate the losers.

 

Dislocated workers are sort-of compensated now – often with retraining for lower paid jobs. But that’s peanuts compared to the costs to the workers and their communities. If an agreement is good then there are more than enough benefits to fully compensate dislocated workers.

 

I don’t pretend that such a simple solution would be simple politically. Trade advocates will not like it. Perhaps the principle of actual compensation would be merely rhetorical, something unions and worker advocates can put forward to show that they’re not the enemies of progressive globalization. But it puts the burden where it should be. If trade advocates claim the benefits outweigh the costs, then they should have no trouble making the compensation happen.

 

Why the Taxpayer should fund Universities- the fight for dissent and JNU

By Devika Dutt

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In India, our universities are in ferment. A Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide after being targeted and systematically pushed out of the University by the administration and functionaries of the state government. The government is also considering policies to reduce public funding to universities. Because of this assault on educational institutions and because of the quashing of dissent, powerful protest demonstrations have been staged by student groups, especially by students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). This student campaign achieved a crescendo when some students held an event to mark the execution, under extremely controversial circumstances, of Afzal Guru, a convicted terrorist. Amnesty International also condemned the execution of Afzal Guru. In response, the government and allied institutions have tried to demonize the broader student movement and are prosecuting students for sedition. There have also been increasing calls to shut down the university for taking taxpayer money and then destabilizing the nation. This narrative is extremely problematic for several reasons.

We often think about progress in society on terms of how far we have come as the human race. We marvel at how innovations like the internet have changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. We can locate ourselves on this earth using a small device in the palm of our hand that can tell us how to get where we want to go. A disembodied voice from this device can probably tell you the answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and everything. The economist Marianna Mazzucato makes a compelling argument that the government, in this case the United States government, has played an important role in funding the people and institutions that have brought us this far. She argues that government has and should take risks, because no one else is likely to take risks and invest in the future of society because it does not pay immediate profitable dividends.

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How Kenneth Thorpe Led Paul Starr Astray: Thorpe’s Seemingly Clever Analysis Does Not Add Up

By Gerald Friedman

Jerry Friedman

Friedman speaking on Single-Payer in 2013

Paul Starr is wrong about the Sanders Improved Medicare-for-All and wrong about single payer health care because he relies on a flawed analysis by Kenneth Thorpe.[1] 

While Thorpe does not provide enough documentation to make an explicit comparison between his estimates and those provided in detail by the Sanders campaign, we can extract enough to conclude that his analysis relies on fundamentally flawed assumptions.  To conclude that the Sanders health plan will cost $1.1 trillion per year more than estimated, Thorpe is assuming that national health expenditures over the next decade will total $51 trillion (21% of GDP), which is nearly $4 trillion above current projections from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (20% of GDP), and $10 trillion more than projected by Sanders (or 17% of GDP).[2]  Compared with CMS, however, Thorpe’s projection includes at least two areas of savings: he anticipates a 4.7% reduction in spending from reduced administrative waste, and a reduction in provider prices to save a further 1.3% of spending.  With these savings, Thorpe must be assuming an increase in health care spending from increases in real medical services of $6.6 trillion, including $1.3 trillion from covering the uninsured and $5.3 trillion from increasing utilization by Americans freed of copayments and deductibles.  This is an increase of 11% in spending, including an increase of nearly a third for “discretionary” activities, such as doctor visits.[3] Read more

What Would Sanders Do? The Dynamic Effects Of His Economic Program

By Gerald Friedman

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is running for President on a platform that repudiates the neoliberal economic policies of the last 40 years. He favors an expansion of government spending on infrastructure and social services, progressive tax increases, and regulatory reform to favor working people. No one should be surprised by the popular support that his campaign has enjoyed. Nor should we be surprised that he has been attacked not only by the right but also by centrists and Wall-Street liberals.

Sanders’ proposals for infrastructure, early-childhood education, higher education, youth employment, family leave, private pensions, climate change, health care, and Social Security would total $14.5 trillion over 10 years (see Table 1). In addition to investments in infrastructure and education (birth through college), he would raise Social Security retirement and disability payments to lift all beneficiaries out of poverty, and he would create a national health insurance program to provide universal access to health care.

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Now Seeking Qualified Candidates

By Alex Mozell

White People

The market may be brutal, so goes the theory: thousands of people are laid off at a corporate whim, the price of HIV medication skyrockets, oil, arms, private prison, and tobacco companies bring global climate change, warfare, injustice, and lung cancer to the masses; colleagues backstab, bosses harass, and the CEO runs away with millions.  But, all this advances the greater good, continues the theory, for through the tumult, the market transforms selfish tendencies of humankind into productivity.  It seamlessly pursues output and growth.  What may appear on the surface to be cruel injustice is actually to be lauded, for suffering of a few is bounty for the rest.   This theory, informally termed, “Neoclassical Economics,” assumes market efficiency, where businesses cannot sin, for sin is inefficient, and inefficiency does not exist in the market.

John Kenneth Galbraith, in his book, The Culture of Contentment, wryly quips that an entrepreneur, and he includes corporate executives in this category, may fail, but they can do no wrong.  Or can they?  To do right, by Neoclassical standards, is to use resources to their most efficient ends.  To do wrong is to misuse them.  Firms spend a lot of money on their people.  How well do managers make hiring, firing, and promotional decisions?  Is it based on productivity?  Or is it based on other factors?  The answer, to a disgraceful extent, is that it is based on other factors.  Some of these are listed below, and range from the egregious to the absurd.

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“Reasonable White Man” Confronts “Stupid Kids Wanting Free Shit”

By Matson Boyd

The right-wing side of the internet is ablaze right now with self-righteous condemnation of young radicals and their supposed inability to do math. Here, Fox Business Channel’s Neil Cavuto confronts Million Student March activist Keely Mullen. On closer inspection, it is Cavuto, a very responsible seeming man wearing a very nice suit, who has a serious math problem. My comments bolded:

MULLEN: The Million Student March is a movement for a more equitable and fair system of education as opposed to the really corporate model that we have right now. So the three core demands of the national day of action are free public college, a cancellation of student debt and a $15 an hour minimum wage for people who work on campus.

CAVUTO: How’s that going to be paid?

MULLEN: Great question. I’m not sure if you’re talking about on a national level or at particular schools, but I can touch on both —

CAVUTO: Well, you want all that stuff. Someone has to pick up the tab. Who would that be?

MULLEN: The one-percent of people in society that are hoarding the wealth and kind of causing the catastrophe students are facing…

CAVUTO: Alright, Keely, so if the one-percent just had their taxes raised a few years ago back to almost forty-percent, then to pay for the healthcare law had them raised another few percentage points, then they had their deductions raised another couple points depending on the state or locality — they’re pushing about fifty-percent in taxes — how much higher do you think, how much more do you think they should pay?

This is a great moment to point out that the 50% total tax rate that Cavuto mentions is still well below the tax rates the rich paid in the era of the highest U.S. growth, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Then the rich paid as much as 90% of their income in taxes. Cavuto makes it seem like 50% is communism, but we aren’t talking about communism here, we are talking about taking tax rates part way back to the Golden Era of U.S. growth.

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Economic Crisis, Self-Blame, & The Dangerous Underbelly Of The American Dream

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

The American Dream, by attributing success to personal attributes like hard work and trumpeting the idea of a ‘level playing field,’ also causes people to blame themselves when they experience economic difficulty. This occurs even when the hardship is clearly not caused by the actions of individuals, but from the structural failures of capitalism[i].  This misplaced blame has dangerous effects on our health, affects our ability to mount viable responses to the structural failures of capitalism, and worse, allows snake-oil salesmen to direct that blame outwards – on immigrants, the poor, and other marginalized groups.

The American Dream has such a hold on the American imagination, in part, because it’s our great equalizer. Though some of us are poor and a few of us are rich, we can all still work hard. And we live in a structure, so the Dream goes, where hard work can make you at least not poor. Never mind that the Dream is substantially untrue, or that whatever elements of truth it may have had are eroded by the day: substantial amounts of Americans still believe it! The hold on America’s collective imagination has been weakened by the Great Recession, but it’s still there – last year, according to the NY Times, 64% of American’s believed that hard work can make one rich, down from 72% at the beginning of the Great Recession. Another poll though, by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that only half of Americans believe in the American Dream[ii].

‘Despair,’ from Zoja Trofimiuk’s Raw Emotion Series, 2012.

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What’s Really Going On With The Trans-Pacific Partnership?

By Devika Dutt

On October 5, leaders from 12 countries- Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States- reached agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which had been in the works since 2008. The TPP, like other agreements for trade liberalization, seeks to lower tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade between countries. Reports suggest that the agreement includes the elimination of more than 18,000 taxes. Understandably, the agreement on the TPP has been welcomed in several quarters of the business press. Negotiations in trade deals can go on forever, indeed the Doha round of WTO trade negotiations that began in 2001 has still not been concluded! So it is no small feat that a deal has been passed that is expected to boost trade in goods and services between the signatory countries, which can provide an impetus to the anemic recovery from the financial crisis.

However, is there really much to celebrate? Due to several trade agreements in the first decade of the century, tariffs are already at an all-time low. A study by David Rosnick at the Center for Economic Policy Research showed that the impact on the US GDP as a result of the TPP is likely to be very small: 0.13 percent of the GDP by 2025.  Several other studies have shown that, at best, trade would increase by 0.4 percent of the GDP of the 12 countries over several years: hardly something to write home about.

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