The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Michael Maiello's picture

    Stop Making Sense (Left and Right Edition)

    Funny day in Op-Ed land.  David Brooks veers hard right to try to explain why Republicans have veered hard right.  His line is, "This is the source of Republican extremism: the conviction that the governing model is obsolete. It needs replacing."

    Brooks argues in favor of a society that values "effort over comfort" and "risk over safety."  I would argue that this is the society we have.  But Brooks thinks that we live in a welfare state.  Only somebody who has never been on welfare could possibly believe that America coddles its poor.

    Says Brooks:

    "This is what this election is about: Is the 20th-century model obsolete, or does it just need rebalancing? Is Obama oblivious to this historical moment or are Republicans overly radical, risky and impractical?"

    Which brings me to Washington Post columnist Matt Miller, the Democrat in our tale.  Miller believes that people under 35 should band together and form some sort of union of the young who will demand cuts to current Social Security beneficiaries to fund college tuition grants.

    Now, I didn't believe it when I as 35 and I still don't believe it now that I'm 37, but we apparently don't stay young forever.  Miller basically wants these people to rob their own futures.  Or, maybe Miller believes that today's under-40 generation will never retire which, in a world without private sector pensions, is a distinct possibility.

    What we have, between Miller and Brooks is the left/right assault on what Brooks calls the welfare state but that looks to me like a less-than-generous safety net.  But, you've heard me go on and on about that before.  I'll spare you.

    Instead, I'll point you in a different direction.  Both Brooks and Miller identify some real problems with contemporary America.  First, Brooks with an amazing observation:

    "Wages have failed to keep up with productivity."

    True!  This is true!

    And now Miller:

    "The job market for young people is a disaster, the toll of a burst financial and housing bubble that both parties let fester. The crisis has reached the point where years of unpaid labor (in the form of internships) have become a way of life for millions of Americans in their 20s."

    Indeed!  Absolutely right!  But tell me, David Brooks: how will cutting Social Security, revamping Medicare as a "market solution," and backing off on business regulations while pushing more global trade, which seems to be what you want, address the issue of wages failing to keep up with productivity?  It seems to me that allowing laxly regulated corporations to exploit the cheapest labor it can find anywhere in the world, all while discouraging union membership, may well be one of the causes of the wage/productivity disparity.  It seems to me that the fruits of that productivity are going somewhere.  Perhaps to shareholders.  Perhaps to upper management.  Wouldn't the David Brooks world bring us more of this?

    Of course it would.

    Now, to Mr. Miller.  Please explain to me what in the heck unpaid internships, which are a function both of the industrial race towards lower wages and the existence of rich kids who can afford to work without pay, has to do with Social Security.  Also, explain to me how 20 and 30 something workers would be better off if their parents suddenly had their Social Security benefits cut, potentially becoming reliant on their struggling young ones?

    If you want to make a moral argument about why we should all not take Social Security checks and why businesses should be free to do whatever, that's fine by me.  We can have that argument.  We're always having that argument.  But, come on.  Loosely regulated markets do not drive wages up.  And, you know, if they turned Social Security off tomorrow and stopped taking those taxes out of your check and your employer's check, your wages would not shoot up by a corresponding amount.  Why on Earth would your employer just give all of that money to you?

    And, seriously... by the standards these two have set for causality in opinion writing, I might as well write my next column about how fried eggs for breakfast can make hydraulic fracturing for natural gas a safe and inexpensive process. 




    I would like to invite these two gentlemen into my home. I wouldn't hurt them or anything. Well, I might give them an Indian Death Stare or two, but that doesn't even sting. Much.

    Anyway, I would introduce them to Mr. flower who retired but still works because SS covers the basics but not any of that fancy stuff like food and heat.

    Then I would introduce them to my college educated children, one of which works as a $10/hr. cook while she pursues a masters, the other trying like hell to launch his own business. Neither of them have put aside a dime towards retirement except for the promise of future SS checks.

    Now, apparently, they might be expected to financially prop up Ma and Pa back on the farm while paying off student loans and saving for their own retirement.

    Yeah. Good thinkin' there, Miller.

    Awesome brainwork, Brooks.

    It's unlikely I would change either gentleman's opinion. They probably think they're freakin' geniuses or something and that my opinion of their opinion is just hot gas. Maybe it is. It probably is. But out in the real world, they'd be road kill, run over by real life. That's my opinion.

    Oh, and, I think the first black person elected President of the United State of America is profoundly aware of any historical moment that occurs.

    Awesome brainwork, Brooks


    I dunno, but at this hour I must render unto Flower the Dayly Line of the Day for this here Dagblog Site given to all of her from all of me.


    I mean:



    It's amazing that nobody writing about the economy these days will ever admit that sending manufacturing jobs overseas and hawking a "service economy" as a good thing was such a stupid idea there was no chance it was ever going to work.  It didn't work and now we're fast becoming that third world country we always felt sorry for.  Plus we're the laughing stock of the world. 

    But the pundits will go on trying to come up with fuzzy reasoning in order not to have to admit that they should have known all along but couldn't see what would happen when you take good paying jobs away from millions of people.  We can't sustain our economy by moving paper around.  We have to produce goods.  Really.

    Said and done.

    It is like religion to them. They cling to it in blind faith and talk all round it like there is not flaws.

    I do not really know why but I must hereby render unto Destor (shirt or no shirt, boa or no boa) the Dayly Line of the Day Award for this here Dagblog Site, given to all of him from all of me for this line:


    If you want to make a moral argument about why we should all not take Social Security checks and why businesses should be free to do whatever, that's fine by me.  We can have that argument.  We're always having that argument.  But, come on.

    I think unpaid internships are criminal and you are correct, they are just for the upper class.  It is a way for businesses to get free work too, without violating labor laws.

    What I see clearly is we are moving towards our own caste system in America. It reminds me very much of the cultural system in SE Asia where the upper class clearly controls everything and the tiny middle class survives and the vast majority of people are poor, very very poor with very few opportunities to become upwardly mobile.

    When I first moved back to the US, I didn't see people on the streets begging at all. But as time moved on, a few short years of the Reagan years, more and more homeless people lived on the streets and were begging to live. But when I left this country in 1970, it wasn't like that, at all. And it was shocking to me upon my return, that I saw the things I'd seen in Manila. I hated the poverty in the PI, because there were people who not only didn't live in poverty, but people who clearly could do something to alleviate that poverty to some extent but did nothing. And didn't seem to care about doing anything about it.

    To Brooks and Miller, well they are the upper class, so they aren't affected by any of this. If Miller thinks using social security to pay for his tuition is a good thing, rather than addressing the underlying issue of SMR's and TEL's (Super Majority requirements and Tax and Expenditure Limitations, he is sorely mistaken. The type of legislation I mentioned above is all designed to limit taxes that can be raised and spent, and that affects the middle and lower classes. But the legislation I am talking about has spread unofficially to the federal government which now has a what seems to be a permanent SMR to pass any legislation. The House of course has picked up on the TEL movement and that seems to be a permanent, yet unwritten rule there. And this is the result, people are fighting to use ever shrinking coffers, not because we couldn't raise more money, but because we refuse to do so.  It is a 35 year tax revolt, and it is killing the country, little by little.

    That's too long isn't it. But I've been working on a piece for LGF that discusses exactly this subject, the Tax Revolt, and your piece fits so well with it.

    Seems right on to me, Tmac. Since the very wealthy don't think that they need a public pension plan or old age health care, they don't want to pay into the system.  And that's really that. Pete Peterson doesn't want to pick up the check for anybody else's lunch.

    Reading all this, I don't know whether to laugh or cry ... or go howl at the moon, so I guess I'll do a bit of all three.

    It seems to me, these mental gymnastics by Brooks and Miller are unavoidable.  Because neither side wants to look directly at the unvarnished truth; which is that the people who have no interest in a united society have succeeded in turning us into a nation of individuals who are interested only in our own self-enrichment.  They have convinced a majority of people that it is in their best interest to think only of themselves rather than pooling their efforts to create a just society for all, united for the common good of the country.  They have made the fight for wealth into the definition of 'winning', and turned people with less desire to claw their way to the top in order to achieve wealth into losers and slackers, rather than simply acknowledge that some people have a different vision of what Life and the pursuit of happiness could and should be. We have allowed the conflation of money and power to turn us into 308 million individuals, living in private bunkers, whose mantras are, "I've got mine, screw the rest of you."  That is why America will no longer build great things or make great strides.  We have become, as DD expressed in a recent blog, petty individuals, with no desire to contribute to anyone's benefit other than our own. And the cause of this is staring us right in the face, and yet, no-one will step up and point the finger in 'polite circles.'  No makes the painful connection that America's traitors, the destroyers of our democracy, are the ones who have spent the past 30+ years, ensuring our eventual demise by the under-taxation of wealthy Americans and corporations, which has left our society impoverished and our nation unable to provide a real safety net for those truly in need or even provide for our own common good, like fixing our infrastructure.  Instead of pointing the fingers of accusation, we allow these bastards to continue to operate their scheme, which now manifests as the Paul Ryan budget, their final assault on what used to be the middle class.  They set the trap and baited it with tax cuts, which seemed reasonable at the time, but have snowballed in significance into why we are now in such a horrible financial situation.  We trusted them, and they played us, and now they want us to turn the government back to them so they can 'fix' the very thing they broke.

    We continue to this insane march towards the Randian vision of a world where if you can't compete, you deserve to be enslaved by the "elites", and "winning" means you are great at making pots of money for yourself ... and keeping it.   Pity those 'stupid artistic' people whose pursuit of happiness doesn't include the desire to make large pots of money.  Sure, Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth, but that will be long after the rich have sucked the earth completely dry and sold off all the valuable parts, leaving the meek with a life-less rock of a planet on which they'll be taxed at the pre-assessed value.

    The gutting of our society in order to fund the further enrichment of the already over-entitled elites, is a shame so despicable and embarrassing that both sides don't have the stomach to face it head-on.  Republicans won't say anything because they actually support all the money flowing to the top, so all they want to do is divert our attention from the truth. The Democrats won't do much more than make lame protests,  because if they really took on this topic fully, and called the Republicans traitors for destroying America, then people would start asking, "Where the Hell were you when all this was happening?" "How complicit were you that you allowed things to get to this point?"  Besides, Democrats are scared to say too much that contradicts the Republican narrative now, because they know if they do, they'll be targeted and 'taken out' by the Right-Wing Scream Machine and end up being destroyed politically by a gerrymandered electorate that includes very few 'safe' Democratic' districts.  So, everyone, politicians and commentators alike, bend themselves into pretzels to find any other explanation to build into a rationalization of why we are where we are.  

    It all stinks.  The End.  And that's my rant for the day.

    The gutting of our society in order to fund the further enrichment of the already over-entitled elites, is a shame so despicable and embarrassing that both sides don't have the stomach to face it head-on.


    So well said, Mr. Smith.  It really should have been a blog post.  Thank you.

    I agree.  Mr Smith, if you're so inclined, please republish your excellent comment as its own blog.  It's the start of another huge discussion we need to have.



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