THE EVIDENCE IS CLEAR—AND THE CONSEQUENCES CATASTROPHIC
WE HAVE A RIGGED ECONOMY—OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE AMERICAN BUSINESS MODEL
AND EDUCATION—WHILE WORTH IMPROVING—IS NOT THE ANSWER
THE CORE PROBLEMS ARE POLITICAL
THE EVIDENCE IS CLEAR—AND THE CONSEQUENCES CATASTROPHIC
WE HAVE A RIGGED ECONOMY—OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE AMERICAN BUSINESS MODEL
AND EDUCATION—WHILE WORTH IMPROVING—IS NOT THE ANSWER
THE CORE PROBLEMS ARE POLITICAL
FOR ALL PRACTICAL PURPOSES, NOTHING IS BEING DONE ABOUT THE DISTRUBING STATE OF THE U.S. ECONOMY (and its associated misery)—EVEN THOUGH WE ARE HEADING INTO A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION YEAR.
WE ARE BACK TO BREAD & CIRCUSES—MOSTLY WITHOUT THE BREAD
DON’T BE FOOLED BY THE HEALTHY STATE OF THE STOCK MARKET. THAT HAS BECOME A CASINO FOR THE RICH
MEASURES OF RECOVERY FOLLOWING THE GREAT RECESSION. YES, IT IS TAKING LONGER AND LONGER AND LONGER
EMPLOYMENT IN ROUTINE JOBS. YES, THEY ARE VANISHING
IN ONE IN FIVE FAMILIES IN THE U.S., NO ONE WORKS
WHAT DOES THAT INDICATE?
April 27, 2015 - 11:20 AM
By Ali Meyer
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(CNSNews.com) — In 19.9 percent of American families in 2014, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), no one in the family worked.
A family, as defined by the BLS, is a “group of two or more persons residing together who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption. In 2014, there were 80,889,000 families in the United States, and in 16,057,000 of those families, or 19.9 percent, no one had a job.
The BLS designates a person as “employed” if “during the survey reference week” they “(a) did any work at all as paid employees; (b) worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm; (c) or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family.”
Members of the 16,057,000 families in which no one held jobs could have been either unemployed or not in the labor force. The BLS designates a person as unemployed if they did not have a job but were actively seeking one. The BLS designates someone as not in the labor force, if they did not have a job and were not actively seeking one.
The BLS has been tracking data on employment in families since 1995. That year, the percent of families in which no one had a job was 18.8 percent. The percentage hit an all-time high of 20.2 percent in 2011. It held steady at 20 percent in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, it declined to 19.9 percent.
THE CURRENT AMERICAN BUSINESS MODEL CAUSES MISERY ON AN EPIC SCALE
AND ALMOST CERTAINLY ISN’T EVEN GOOD BUSINESS. IF PEOPLE DON’’T HAVE BUYING POWER—THEY CAN’T BUY
IT CANNOT MAKE SENSE FOR 30% OF THE U.S. POPULATION TO EARN NO MORE THAN $14,000 A YEAR—FAR LESS THAN THEY NEED TO LIVE ON
From an April 23 2015 CNN piece. I find this kind of thing deeply and fundamentally upsetting—and just plain wrong. Why do we tolerate it—or does the answer define the problem?
Low-income Americans are spending far more than they earn, forcing many to dip into savings, lean on family, or go into debt.
Those in the bottom 30% of the income scale make an average of $14,000 a year, including the value of many government benefits like food stamps or disability payments. But they spend more than $25,000,or 182%, of their annual income mostly on basic needs like housing, food and transportation, according to a CNN Money analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Worth noting is that this group includes senior citizens, who supplement their income from Social Security with savings, and students, who turn to mom and dad for help. Also, research shows that some underestimate how much aid they receive from the government.
But the data also includes many low-income families and individuals whojust don’t make enough to get by. Often, they have to decide what bills to pay or they turn to payday lenders or credit cards.
“People are either making impossible choices or turning to high-cost credit or going into debt to meet basic needs,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the left leaning Center for American Progress.
The middle class isn’t doing great, either. While their annual income just barely tops $54,000, on average, they spend more than $48,000, or 89% of their earnings, a year.
Meanwhile, the rich earn $166,000, on average, but spend only $101,000. This leaves them a nice cushion that they can sock away for emergencies or the future.
Here are some of the biggest financial stressors for each income group, particularly for the poor:
The poor spend nearly three-quarters of their annual income on housing alone.
Keeping a roof over one’s head is the biggest expense for everyone, but it eats up 72% of the poor’s income.
Affordable housing has long been a problem, particularly in large cities, such as New York and San Francisco. But it’s also next to impossible for a full-time, minimum wage worker to find a market-rate, two-bedroom apartment that’s affordable anywhere in the country, Boteach said. (In this case, affordability is defined as costing less than 30% of income.)
Only one-in-four eligible families receive housing assistance, she said. It’s one of the federal safety net’s most underfunded programs.
Spending on cars and public transportation can eat up nearly 30% of a poor person’s annual income.
Transportation is also a major expense for poor families, and there are no federal subsidies for it, Boteach said.
It’s often hard for low-income folks to get to their jobs, or even to grocery stores or day care centers. Some must take two or three buses — that is,if public transportation is even available. And a car can be costly to buy and maintain.
Even when accounting for government benefits, like food stamps, food is still a major expense for the poor.
Many poor families can’t afford to put food on the table every day. They spend 28% of their income on food, with meat, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables proving particularly pricey.
Food stamps don’t last the entire month, especially after benefits were cut last November, Boteach said. This has forced more families to rely on food banks.
More than 17% of Americans said in 2014 that they lacked money at times to buy food over the previous year, according to a survey by the Food Research and Action Center released earlier this month.
CNN Money · by Tami Luhby
PROPAGANDA VERSUS FACT—IN THE U.S. WE HAVE A TENDENCY TO PREFER THE PROPAGANDA. SCARCELY A SURPRISE—WE ARE SATURATED IN IT
TAX BREAKS FOR THE WEALTHY MOSTLY DON’T TRICKLE DOWN
The following piece is by that excellent economist, Ha-Joon Chang.
Tax breaks for the wealthy were meant to trickle through society to benefit all. It didn’t work and inequality just got worse, says an economist
ADVOCATES of trickle-down economics argue that, when the rich get extra income, they invest it and create more jobs – and a higher income – for others. Those people, in turn, spend their extra money. Eventually the effect trickles down the whole system, making everyone better off, in absolute terms.
So, what seems like a moral outrage – giving more to people who already have more – is in theory a socially benign action.
The trouble is it hasn't worked. In the past three decades, states with pro-rich policies have seen economic growth slow, except in countries like China and Vietnam that needed to jump-start socialist economies.
In the UK, upward income redistribution since 1980 has seen the share of the top 1 per cent rise from 5 per cent of national income to over 10 per cent. Yet the annual growth rate of income per person has fallen from 2.5 per cent between 1960 and 1980 to 1.8 per cent between 1980 and 2013.
One reason is that the rich have not kept their end of the bargain – they didn't invest more; and inequality, linked to poorer health and societal damage, worsened. Investment as a share of GDP used to be 18 to 22 per cent in the 1960s and 1970s but since then has been 14 to 18 per cent, except for a few years at the end of the 1980s.
Moreover, concentration of income at the top has boosted the political influence of the super-rich, allowing them to push for policies that benefit themselves but create harm in the long run. For example, the UK financial sector successfully lobbied for "light-touch regulation", which enabled it to earn a lot but led to the 2008 financial crisis.
It is well established that a less equal society has lower social mobility. When talented people from less privileged backgrounds cannot move up the social ladder, the economy's long-term dynamism suffers. An increasing number of studies show that, above a certain level, higher inequality harms growth. Some are by the International Monetary Fund and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which didn't use to be concerned about inequality.
Despite these failings, some politicians still back measures that benefit the wealthy, often citing trickle-down economics. In the UK, the Conservatives cut taxes for the top earners while in government. They want to slash inheritance tax for wealthier estates and cut the numbers paying higher-rate tax. The UK Independence Party has a similar stance on higher-rate tax and wants zero inheritance tax.
The 35-year experiment with trickle down economics has failed for most people. Unfortunately, there is too much money and power at stake for its true beneficiaries to accept this reality and end this approach.
I WAS ALWAYS TAUGHT THAT CONTENTMENT WAS ABOUT AS MUCH AS ONE COULD ACHIEVE IN THIS WORLD.
I AM NO LONGER SURE THAT IS TRUE.
AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED, WRITING IS HAPPINESS.
BY AND LARGE, I STEER CLEAR OF THE GUN ISSUE IN THE U.S. I WRITE THRILLERS—WHICH FEATURE GUNS AND VIOLENCE—SO WOULD FEEL SOMEWHAT OF A HYPOCRITE IF I WAS CRITICAL
YET THE STATEMENT THAT GUN VIOLENCE COSTS $229 BILLION PER YEAR--MORE THAN $700 PER AMERICAN—HAS MY ATTENTION.
HOW MUCH PAIN AND SUFFERING DOES THAT REPRESENT?
DO PEOPLE REALIZE JUST HOW BADLY THEY ARE SERVED BY THE FINANCIAL INUSTRY?
IF THEY DO, THEY SEEM REMARKABLY ACCEPTING OF THE MOST EGREGIOUS PATTERNS OF SUSTAINED EXTORTION
I have frequently recommended http://www.ritholtz.com/ The following is an example of why I do. Barry Ritholtz works within the financial industry, but seems to march to the beat of a very different drum. His daily newsletter is just plain admirable.
by Barry Ritholtz - April 20th, 2015, 12:00pm
In 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission published a study, mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act, which concluded that all financial advisers and stock brokers should be placed under “a uniform fiduciary standard.” Basically this meant that brokers and advisers would have an obligation to put the interests of clients first and must disclose any conflicts of interest that might compromise that duty.
Wall Street was none too happy about this. The industry spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to prevent this standard from becoming the law of the land. Indeed, of all the regulatory reforms that have come out of Dodd-Frank, nothing seems to displease the financial industry more than the proposed fiduciary rules.
Although other reforms may be inconvenient and clunky, the proposed rules probably would cut Wall Street’s fees, potentially by a lot. This is a radical change from the current rules, which allow a universe of products, costs and behaviors that history teaches us are contrary to the client’s best interest.
The jousting over standards comes amid the awful results that investors have had in their tax-deferred retirement accounts. As too many studies have confirmed (see this and this), the typical 401(k) or individual retirement account investor barely earns 2 percent a year on their savings. In the years since the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa) rules went into effect in the 1970s, the average portfolio with a 60-40 split of stocks and bonds should have returned almost four times that much.
Although poor investor decisions are part of the problem — chasing hot money managers, jumping in and out of funds, trying to time the market — high fees associated with conflicted advice have also been a persistent drag on returns.
‘High fees’—such a simple phrase, such devastating consequences.
A HEADLINE I AGREE WITH ABSOLUTELY
Business didn't always have so much power in Washington.
Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). It’s a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.
Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.
One has to go back to the Gilded Age to find business in such a dominant political position in American politics. While it is true that even in the more pluralist1950s and 1960s, political representation tilted towards the well-off, lobbying was almost balanced by today’s standards. Labor unions were much more important, and the public-interest groups of the 1960s were much more significant actors. And very few companies had their own Washington lobbyists prior to the 1970s. To the extent that businesses did lobby in the 1950s and 1960s (typically through associations), they were clumsy and ineffective. “When we look at the typical lobby,” concluded three leading political scientists in their 1963 study, American Business and Public Policy, “we find its opportunities to maneuver are sharply limited, its staff mediocre, and its typical problem not the influencing of Congressional votes but finding the clients and contributors to enable it to survive at all.”
Things are quite different today. The evolution of business lobbying from a sparse reactive force into a ubiquitous and increasingly proactive one is among the most important transformations in American politics over the last 40 years. Probing the history of this transformation reveals that there is no “normal” level of business lobbying in American democracy. Rather, business lobbying has built itself up over time, and the self-reinforcing quality of corporate lobbying has increasingly come to overwhelm every other potentially countervailing force. It has also fundamentally changed how corporations interact with government—rather than trying to keep government out of its business (as they did for a long time), companies are now increasingly bringing government in as a partner, looking to see what the country can do for them.
If we set our time machine back to 1971, we’d find a leading corporate lawyer earnestly writing that, “As every business executive knows, few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders. If one doubts this, let him undertake the role of ‘lobbyist’ for the business point of view before Congressional committees.”
That lawyer was soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., whose now-famous “Powell Memorandum” is a telling insight into the frustration that many business leaders felt by the early 1970s. Congress had gone on a regulatory binge in the 1960s—spurred on by a new wave of public-interest groups. Large corporations had largely sat by idly, unsure of what to do.
In 1972, against the backdrop of growing compliance costs, slowing economic growth and rising wages, a community of leading CEOs formed the Business Roundtable, an organization devoted explicitly to cultivating political influence. Alcoa CEO John Harper, one of the Roundtable’s founders, said at the time, “I think we all recognize that the time has come when we must stop talking about it, and get busy and do something about it.”
This sense of an existential threat motivated the leading corporations to engage in serious political activity. Many began by hiring their first lobbyists. And they started winning. They killed a major labor law reform, rolled back regulation,lowered their taxes, and helped to move public opinion in favor of less government intervention in the economy.
By the early 1980s, corporate leaders were “purring” (as a 1982 Harris Poll described it). Corporations could have declared victory and gone home, thus saving on the costs of political engagement. Instead, they stuck around and kept at it. Many deepened their commitments to politics. After all, they now had lobbyists to help them see all that was at stake in Washington, and all the ways in which staying politically active could help their businesses.
Those lobbyists would go on to spend the 1980s teaching companies about the importance of political engagement. But it would take time for them to become fully convinced. As one company lobbyist I interviewed for my new book, The Business of America Is Lobbying, told me, “When I started [in 1983], people didn’t really understand government affairs. They questioned why you would need a Washington office, what does a Washington office do? I think they saw it as a necessary evil. All of our competitors had Washington offices, so it was more, well we need to have a presence there and it’s just something we had to do.”
To make the sell, lobbyists had to go against the long-entrenched notion in corporate boardrooms that politics was a necessary evil to be avoided if possible. To get corporations to invest fully in politics, lobbyists had to convince companies that Washington could be a profit center. They had to convince them that lobbying was not just about keeping the government far away—it could also be about drawing government close.
As one lobbyist told me (in 2007), “Twenty-five years ago… it was ‘just keep the government out of our business, we want to do what we want to,’ and gradually that’s changed to ‘how can we make the government our partners?’ It’s gone from ‘leave us alone’ to ‘let’s work on this together.’” Another corporate lobbyist recalled,“When they started, [management] thought government relations did something else. They thought it was to manage public relations crises, hearing inquiries… My boss told me, you’ve taught us to do things we didn’t know could ever be done.”
As companies became more politically active and comfortable during the late 1980s and the 1990s, their lobbyists became more politically visionary. For example, pharmaceutical companies had long opposed the idea of government adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, on the theory that this would give government bargaining power through bulk purchasing, thereby reducing drug industry profits. But sometime around 2000, industry lobbyists dreamed up the bold idea of proposing and supporting what became Medicare Part D—a prescription drug benefit, but one which explicitly forbade bulk purchasing—an estimated $205 billion benefit to companies over a 10-year period.
What makes today so very different from the 1970s is that corporations now have the resources to play offense and defense simultaneously on almost any top-priority issue. When I surveyed corporate lobbyists on the reasons why their companies maintained a Washington office, the top reason was “to protect the company against changes in government policy.” On a one-to-seven scale, lobbyists ranked this reason at 6.2 (on average). But closely behind, at 5.7, was “Need to improve ability to compete by seeking favorable changes in government policy.”
While reversing history is obviously impossible, there is value in appreciating how much things have changed. And there are ways to bring back some balance:Investing more in the government, especially Congress, would give leading policymakers resources to hire and retain the most experienced and expert staff, and reduce their reliance on lobbyists. Also, organizations that advocate for less well-resourced positions could use more support. If history teaches anything, it’s that the world does not need to look as it does today.
This post appears courtesy of New America’s Weekly Wonk magazine.
The Atlantic · by Lee Drutman
THE FOLLOWING PIECE DESCRIBES A FAIRLY FEROCIOUS ATTACK ON CURRENT U.S. CORPORATE BEHAVIOR
I CAN BUT CHEER!
The following terrific and important piece was written by William A. Galston and Elaine Kamarck and published in Brookings.edu/blogs
When the head of the world’s largest investment fund raises fundamental questions about U.S. corporations, we should all pay attention.
In a letter earlier this week to the Fortune 500 CEOs, BlackRock Chairman Larry Fink criticized the short-term orientation that he believes shapes too much of today’s corporate behavior. “It concerns us,” he declared, that “in the wake of the financial crisis, many companies have shied away from investing in the future growth of their companies. Too many have cut capital expenditure and even increased debt to boost dividends and increase share buybacks.” And he concluded, “When done for the wrong reasons and at the expense of capital investment, [returning cash to shareholders] can jeopardize a company’s ability to generate sustainable long-term returns.”
Fink is correct on all counts. In a new Brookings paper out today, University of Massachusetts economist William Lazonick states that the 454 companies listed continuously in the S&P 500 index between 2004 and 2013 used 51 percent of their earnings to buy back their own stock, almost all through purchases on the open market. An additional 35 percent went to dividends. “Buybacks represent a withdrawal of internally controlled finance that could be used to support investment in the company’s productive capabilities,” he said.
This is bad for the economy in two ways. As the growth of the U.S. workforce slows dramatically, economic growth will depend increasingly on improved productivity, must of which comes from raising capital investment per worker. Failing to make productivity-enhancing capital investments will doom our economy to a new normal of slow growth.
Many business leaders say that they are reluctant to make long-term investments without reasonable expectations of growing demand for their products. That brings us to the second way in which corporate short-termism is bad for the economy. Most consumer demand comes from wages. If employers refuse to share gains with their employees, growth in demand is bound to be anemic.
Although he clearly cares about his country, Fink is also acting as the steward of $4.8 trillion in investments. In an article published by McKinzie earlier this month, he warns that although the return of cash to shareholders is juicing equity markets right now, investors “will pay for it later when the ability to generate revenue in the long term dries up because of the lack of investment in the future.”
Unlike most other corporate leaders who express concerns about these developments, Fink is unwilling to rely on moral suasion alone. Because current incentives are so perverse, he argued, “It is hard for even the most dedicated CEO to buck this trend.” The constant pressure to produce quarterly results forces executives to go along—or risk losing their jobs. That pressure comes from investors who are, in Fink’s words, “renters, not owners, who are going to trade your stock as soon as they can pocket a quick gain.”
This logic leads BlackRock’s chairman to propose changing the tax code by lengthening to three years the the period needed to qualify for capital gains treatment while taxing trading gains at an even higher rate than ordinary income for investment held less than six months. To encourage truly patient capital, the capital gains rate would be stepped down to zero over a period of ten years.
We can argue the merits of this idea, and we should. But the main point should be beyond argument. We need more builders and fewer traders, more Warren Buffetts and fewer Carl Icahns. And to get them, we’re going to have to change the laws governing corporate and investor behavior. Fink has opened up a crucial debate, and it’s time for Congress and presidential aspirants to join it.
VOR words c.20
IF SOLDIERS ARE BADLY LED, OR DON’T DO INTERESTING THINGS, THEY BECOME BORED AND UNHAPPY
THAT SHOULDN’T BE A SURPRISE—NEITHER SHOULD THE ARMY’S HABIT OF FIDDLING ITS FIGURES TO ACHIEVE A MORE POSITIVE OUTCOME
The U.S. has a serious management problem based upon the notion that authoritarianism is what works best—and that if you have the authority, you don’t have to treat those under you very well. After all, you have the authority.
One way or another, you can force them to do stuff. Power is just that.
In the civilian world, it is accentuated by low pay, job insecurity, anti-social scheduling, inadequate hours, wage theft, excessive CEO pay—and much else besides. And so you get a Wal-Mart—magnificent in some ways—an insult to human decency in others.
It appeals to its customers (Who doesn’t like low prices?) but it treats its people abominably—and has for years.
It breaks my heart to say so—because I have a great weakness for that institution—but the Army is little different. And its people lie because they think defending the Army regardless is the way to get promoted.
It almost certainly is. That is the current culture. Therein lies the tragedy.
More than half of some 770,000 soldiers are pessimistic about their future in the military and nearly as many are unhappy in their jobs, despite a six-year, $287 million campaign to make troops more optimistic and resilient, findings obtained by USA TODAY show.
Twelve months of data through early 2015 show that 403,564 soldiers, or 52%, scored badly in the area of optimism, agreeing with statements such as "I rarely count on good things happening to me." Forty-eight percent have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs.
The results stem from resiliency assessments that soldiers are required to take every year. In 2014, for the first time, the Army pulled data from those assessments to help commanders gauge the psychological and physical health of their troops.
The effort produced startlingly negative results. In addition to low optimism and job satisfaction, more than half reported poor nutrition and sleep, and only 14% said they are eating right and getting enough rest.
The Army began a program of positive psychology in 2009 in the midst of two wars and as suicide and mental illness were on the rise. To measure resiliency the Army created a confidential, online questionnaire that all soldiers, including the National Guard and Reserve, must fill out once a year.
Last year, Army scientists applied formulas to gauge service-wide morale based on the assessments. The results demonstrate that positive psychology "has not had much impact in terms of overall health," says David Rudd, president of the University of Memphis who served on a scientific panel critical of the resiliency program.
The Army offered contradictory responses to the findings obtained by USA TODAY. Sharyn Saunders, chief of the Army Resiliency Directorate that produced the data, initially disavowed the results. "I've sat and looked at your numbers for quite some time and our team can't figure out how your numbers came about," she said in an interview in March.
However, when USA TODAY provided her the supporting Army documents this week, her office acknowledged the data but said the formulas used to produce them were obsolete. "We stand by our previous responses," it said in a statement.
Subsequent to USA TODAY's inquiry, the Army calculated new findings but lowered the threshold for a score to be a positive result. As a consequence, for example, only 9% of 704,000 score poorly in optimism.
Such blatant institutional intellectual dishonesty (as reflected in the last four paragraphs) defies reasonableness—and is enough to make those who fundamentally support the organization weep.
Who do these idiots think they are kidding—and why is such corrupt behavior tolerated?
But it is—because it is cultural—and so we stagger from one ineffective, tragic, bloody war to another.
Some—a privileged few—get ever richer. Most others suffer, bleed, and die.
American democracy sits idly by.
THE THEME EXPRESSED IN THE FOLLOWING---BASED UPON OTHER STATEMENTS—WOULD SEEM TO APPLY TO ALL THE SERVICES.
IS IT ACCURATE?
I SUSPECT IT IS.
The officer quoted below is Anna Granville.
I love the Navy, it has been an honor to serve, but I want this incredible organization to be better.
Officer promotions are not, at least for the foreseeable part of a junior officer’s career, based on performance, but rather on “hitting the wickets,” meaning that you are judged by how closely you followed a highly-scripted career path, not necessarily how you performed at those jobs.
As long as you don’t get fired, don’t fail a physical fitness test, don’t get a DUI, nor get caught fraternizing, you can probably get promoted to at least lieutenant commander. Furthermore, how you are ranked against your peers at a particular command — of the paramount importance to promotion — is based more on seniority than performance.
This model is widely accepted as the norm in the Navy. This means that if you are a brand new lieutenant and outperform all the lieutenants at your command, you will really be ranked against the lieutenants with the same level of seniority as you; a lieutenant who is eligible to board for lieutenant commander will always be ranked ahead, even if that officer is incompetent.
There is a wide reluctance to give lackluster officers poor performance reviews, and instead it’s much easier to wait for mediocre officers to transfer out of the command and become someone else’s problem. There is a reason people joke that anyone who “fogs a mirror” can make lieutenant commander.
This encourages mediocrity and almost guarantees that the best, most energetic junior officers to leave active duty. I’ve worked for some absolutely incredible leaders and mentors, but I’ve worked for or with three times as many bad or mediocre leaders. It’s certainly a leadership lesson, but it’s incredibly demotivating to know that your peers who are putting in half the effort at a less challenging assignment will likely get promoted at the same rate as you. This begs many to ask, What’s the point?
While it may be true that those who outperform their peers are promoted first for commander or captain, does it really make sense to tell junior officers, “Don’t worry, your efforts will be rewarded in about 15 to 20 years?” when their efforts can result in more responsibility at a much younger age, whether or in the public or private sector?
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, was elected to Congress at age 31. Yet, despite being a nationally elected leader, she remains only a captain (the Army equivalent of a Navy lieutenant) in the Hawaii National Guard. Here on Task & Purpose, there are daily stories of entrepreneurial and visionary veterans who have started successful businesses or nonprofits.
And for the junior officers who find themselves filling big shoes early on, where is there to go? Many of my peers, myself included, have found ourselves filling the shoes of a field-grade officer for months on end, with measured success and no extra pay. Others have been assigned to units with exciting, unconventional missions. It’s very difficult to go to a watch floor or staff job after that.
The U.S. is the most powerful nation militarily in the world—by far—yet we have a pretty miserable track record when it comes to actually winning our wars. In fact, our mediocre performance in this area goes as far back as the Korean War which started 65 years ago—and, technically, still isn’t over.
Why do we achieve such poor results? The military like to blame politicians for getting us into the wrong wars in the first place—and they certainly have a point—but the military, themselves, are far from blameless. They also have a habit of not learning from history—the military culture is, by and large, anti-intellectual—so tend to make the same mistakes again and again.
A core problem is that our officer corps is not nearly as good as it needs to be—and the above piece helps explain why. Since the officer corps is the source of all our generals, it is not hard to see why so many of our generals are mediocre too.
This is a known problem (see Tom Rick’s book The Generals—not to mention their track record) )which we are doing nothing to resolve. It helps to explain why we get into the military messes we do—and have an extraordinarily hard time getting out of them. We certainly do have some good generals—but they are the exception rather than the rule.
A few good generals are not good enough. The rank is so critical, we need exceptional generals—and fewer of them—with a great deal more moral courage than is generally evident today.
There is a worrying extra dimension to all this. The MICC (Military, Industrial, Congressional Complex) benefits greatly from our seeming inability to resolve conflicts—so likes things just the way they are.
Mediocrity in the military pays. Following the money explains most things in the U.S.
Money is a fine and useful thing but it works best when balanced out with values. By and large, we seem to have chosen to ignore that fact.
The consequences are apparent.
VOR words 243.
THE GENDER PAY GAP IS UNFAIR, UNJUST, ECONOMICALLY INEFFICIENT—AND SHOULD BE REGARDED AS INTOLERABLE—YET WOMEN TOLERATE IT.
NEITHER SEX SHOULD TOLERATE IT. FOR ALL KINDS OF OBVIOUS REASONS—IT HAS GOT TO GO.
TIME FOR A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
THE COSTS OF THIRD LEVEL HAVE ROCKETED WAY AHEAD OF INFLATION—TO THE POINT WHERE STUDENT DEBT HAS BECOME A NIGHTMARE FOR MANY
YET ONE OUT OF FOUR COLLEGE ADJUNCT FACULTY ARE GETTING PUBLIC ASSISTANCE
WHAT KIND OF AN ECONOMY ARE WE RUNNING? AND WHY DO WE TOLERATE SUCH EGREGIOUS DISTORTIONS?
College tuition and fees have gone up 1,120% since 1978—whereas the Consumer Price index has gone up by little more than 200%. Earnings for most of us, in real terms, have scarcely budged. As a consequence, student debt has soared to well over a trillion dollars.
This is yet another example of the havoc being wrought by the financialization of the U.S. economy. For the vast majority of Americans, it has become impossible to live without incurring major debt.
Debt now dominates the American Way of Life.
“(MarketWatch) Nearly 100,000 of these part-time faculty, generally known as adjuncts, benefit from the earned income tax credit and, to a lesser extent, Medicaid and the CHIP health-care program for children, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, according to the study.
“It’s shocking, but it’s the reality,” said Carol Zabin, research director at the Center for Labor Research and Education. “Universities are depending much more on part-time and adjunct faculty.”
“Indeed, the American Association of University Professors reported this week that well over half of the college academic labor force is part time. That includes both graduate teaching assistants, which account for 12.2%, and other part-timers, or adjuncts, which are 46.7% of the total.”
VOR words c.100
IF YOU ARE LEARNING TO WRITE, (AND THAT’S A LIFELONG ACTIVITY) NOT ONLY CAN YOU READ HOW OTHERS DO IT
BUT THERE ARE SOME EXCEPTIONAL BOOKS ON WRITING OUT THERE AS WELL.
The best way to learn how to write is to read a great deal—widely and well. If you do so, you will absorb much without conscious effort. That said, I have found books that focus on writing itself vastly helpful.
5 Books About Writing Every Freelancer Should Read
- April 13, 2015
- Spenser Davis
Whether you’re an experienced writer or just getting started, learning about your craft can be an essential ingredient to professional and personal growth. For those without any idea where to start, books can help you get a handle on the fundamentals; for experienced writers, the texts might offer help for a specific problem like writer’s block.
Thousands of books have been written about writing, largely because there’s such a demand for them. But most of that huge pile of books in your local bookstore’s “Writing/Reference” section is—to put it bluntly—garbage. Often, as is the case with a lot of self-help books, they recycle intuitive tips without discussing anything all that interesting.
But there are some gems in the rough every writer should read. We’ve compiled a list of five of the best books about writing. Not all are specifically about freelancing, but they all contain extremely valuable wisdom and practical advice for those who write for a living.
1. On Writing
Excerpt: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
The quintessential writing manual, Stephen King’s book is part memoir and part study about the art of fiction writing. King’s narrative is inspiring—his journey mirrors that of most freelance writers. He submitted a ton of stories from a young age, getting rejected hundreds of times before he became an international bestseller. The tips on writing might be focused on fiction, but the nuts and bolts that King describes are vital to any kind of writing, including pieces of advice like making sure research doesn’t overshadow a story and eliminating distractions when working.
Many writing instructors recommend and teach this book, and I refer back to it constantly for my own writing.
Excerpt: “Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number that don’t serve any purpose.”
Another classic, this book by brilliant nonfiction writer William Zinsser covers the basics of good journalism as well as some advanced tips for writers looking to carve out a specialty.
First published in 1976, On Writing Well has become an essential text in creative nonfiction and journalism courses in both high school and college, and manages to stay very relevant in a writing world that has changed a lot since the book was published.
Freelancers hoping to get a thorough education on writing clean, clear, and concise nonfiction should pick up this book and keep it handy.
3. Bird by Bird
Excerpt: “It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”
In addition to being the first book I ever read about writing, Bird by Bird has been a major influence on how I’ve approached my life as a writer. Anne Lamott’s book stands out above other writing manuals because the author doesn’t presume to have all of the answers—or that there is a single set of answers in the first place.
Her advice starts small: Just write, and write honestly. Start from your earliest memories and work your way forward. New freelancers aren’t always sure where to start, and even if your goal isn’t to write personal essays, Lamott guides you through the inferno of the writing life.
From the chapter on so-called “shitty first drafts” (and the author’s memorable tips on quieting the voices in your head), to tips for dealing with jealousy, Bird by Bird can help writers find their footing on the page and in the world.
4. Good Prose
Excerpt: “Every story has to be discovered twice, first in the world and then in the author’s study. One discovers a story the second time by constructing it. In nonfiction the materials are factual, but the construction itself is something different from fact.”
The spiritual successor to Zinsser’s book, Good Prose is the product of a lifetime of work and collaboration between Tracy Kidder (the writer) and Richard Todd (the editor). The pair began their professional journey at The Atlantic, where Kidder was a freelance writer and Todd a staff editor.
This book mainly looks at three types of writing the authors dealt with in their career: writing about the world, writing about ideas, and writing about the self. Freelancers looking to dabble in writing and/or editing will get a ton out of this slim but helpful text.
Excerpt, from novelist Anne Rice: “I certainly have a routine, but the most important thing, when I look back over my career, has been the ability to change routines.”
A bit different than the rest of the list, this book by Mason Currey focuses on the daily rituals and habits of a long list of writers and artists from Flaubert to Murakami to Mozart. I’ve found that most beginner freelancers have difficulty with the actual routine of writing—this book could provide some much needed encouragement and inspiration.
Overall, the author makes it clear that there is no “wrong” creative routine; everyone is different and requires specific methods to achieve maximum productivity. Some routine actions work for a lot of people, like writing for a set amount of time every morning. But not every writer functions that way. French novelist Gustave Flaubert usually wrote at night since daytime noises seemed to distract him. A lot of freelancers (such as yours truly) will sympathize with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who found strict routines quite difficult to follow and often did his best work in random spurts regardless of the time.
If all of these books have a common thread, it’s that they offer paths to success that are clearly defined. Freelancers can glean great ideas about their own writing habits by learning about the extremely varied routines of famous artists and thinkers. And if I have any advice of my own, it’s to read the best books out there until you find an approach that works for you.
AN EXAMPLE OF THE AMERICAN BUSINESS MODEL IN ACTION—CORPORATE WELFARE
WE NEGLECT THE TRULY NEEDY BUT SUBSIDIZE CORPORATIONS TO THE TUNE OF $153 BILLION A YEAR—AND THAT IS ONLY THROUGH SUBSIDIZING INADEQUATE PAY.
CORPORATIONS ARE HELPED IN COUNTLESS OTHER WAYS. TAX HAVENS ALONE SAVE THEM ANOTHER $110 BILLION A YEAR—AND IT DOESN’T STOP THERE.
We talk about—and practically worship—the free enterprise system, but we don’t practice it. Again and again, if you look, you find that major corporations are subsidized in some way—frequently, a wide variety of ways. Tax breaks and waivers are only part of it.
The U.S. economic system is, indeed, rigged.
Congress—given that elections are increasingly funded by corporate interests—pays its donors back through cutting special deals. At the heart of it all lies the Federal Reserve which pumps vast sums of money into financial corporations.
The following extract is from a Huffington Post story.
Poverty wages cost U.S. taxpayers about $153 billion each year, according to a recent report from the University of California, Berkeley. That's because, when families depend on low-wage jobs to survive, they're forced to rely on government programs like Medicaid and food stamps to make ends meet.
The Berkeley report looks at how much states and the federal government are spending on programs like Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. The report found that the federal government spends about $127.8 billion per year, and states collectively spend about $25 billion per year, on public assistance programs for working families.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is stalled at a paltry $7.25 an hour. A parent working full-time at that rate over the course of the year won't bring in enough money to live above the poverty line for a family of two, which means leaning on government assistance.
So when a company like McDonald's, for instance, pays a worker the minimum wage, you, the taypayer, end up subsidizing her pay. A 2013analysis from the National Employment Law Project found that the 10 largest fast food companies cost taxpayers about $3.8 billion per year.
I THINK A GREAT DEAL ABOUT HOW TO WORK BETTER—AND I HAVE HAD EXCELLENT RESULTS
BUT I SUSPECT I WOULD ACHIEVE MORE IF I WORKED LESS
The following may well be the most important article I have read in a long time—and it is certainly going to result in my changing the way I work.
The problem with ultra-long hours and failing to take vacations (very much the American way) is that the quality of your thinking is affected—and you lose perspective.
I have been guilty of it. Time to change.
How Charles Darwin used rest to be more productive — and how you can, too
Brigid Schulte April 13 2015
In the United States, we work among the longest hours of any advanced economy, and we tend to most highly prize workers who log the most hours at the office. But what if we’re wrong? What if the most productive and creative work gets done when we also take what author, consultant and futurist Alex Pang calls “serious rest?” He explains:
Q: What is “serious rest,” and why do you argue that it’s critical for doing better work?
Pang: When I was writing The Distraction Addiction, I had a chapter about digital Sabbaths, restorative practices, the things people do as a way of recovering some balance in their lives with their digital existences. In the course of that, I was looking at the life of Charles Darwin, and his daily practice of taking long walks on what he called his “thinking path.”
This was a man who was arguably the most important scientist of the last 300 years. He published a dozen books. He’s still read by lots of active scientists. But when you look at his daily schedule, you see he worked – conducting experiments, doing things a university committee or project leader would recognize as labor – about four hours a day.
At first I thought, well Charles Darwin was a super genius. Of course he didn’t need to spend thousands of hours in a laboratory. This is a one off.
Then I got more curious. I started poking around at the lives of other writers, scientists, artists. And started to realize there were a lot of really creative people who followed a similar rhythm in their daily work: they spent four or five hours a day on their most intense work, the stuff that required the most focus and the most attention. That would be the centerpiece of their day.
They might spend, another 10 hours writing letters, applying for grants and other things. But their really critical work occupied only about four or five hours.
The other interesting thing I realized is that there were pretty consistent patterns in how they rested, or what they did with the rest of the day. An awful lot of them were more physically active than you might have imagined writers or scientists of being.
Charles Dickens walked about 10 miles a day. Scientists I looked at turned out to be avid, sailors, hikers, skiers.
Q: And they worked four-hour work day? That seems impossible!
Pang: Right! I began to think about the lives of these wonderfully creative and productive people – and how they managed to be so fantastically productive while working what seems like an irresponsibly small number of hours per day.
We think if eight hours of work a day is good, ten must be better, 12 must be awesome and 16 even better. We live in an era in which overwork is rather literally like a drug. All the cool kids, the really successful people, all seem to be doing it. So there’s both some peer pressure and the sense that, in order to be successful, you’ve got to do it, too.
It feels good at first. You get a kind of high. But it starts to taper and wear off. You’ve got to do more and more to get that same initial buzz. And while it may seem to work for a little while, in the long run – and it’s not going to be that long – it’s probably going to kill you.
Q: So that’s where serious rest comes in?
Pang: I realized that there’s a second way to build a career and be creative. That involves a more measured, paced kind of way of working that takes rest really seriously. When you give rest space, it allows you to be really productive and really creative. But it lets you do so for your entire life.
The last thing that convinced me was reading (psychologist) Anders Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice, the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to be really great, like it’s this magic number. He looked at conservatory students and saw that future recording artists, future first chairs, practice more than other musicians, but they do so in a consistent, deliberate manner. And they sleep more –about an hour more a day than others, and usually a nap in the afternoon.
So just as they were engaging in deliberate practice, they were also engaging in what they called deliberate rest. And they were more thoughtful about what they did in their downtime, and why they did it. It seems to me, that rest turned out to be an important part of how they became who they are.
Q: If rest makes us more productive and creative, why don’t we do it? Or why don’t people believe it?
Pang: This is a battle we’ve been fighting for the last century, when Harvard philosopher and psychologist William James began talking about the American mania for overwork and how stupid it is.
James knew firsthand that overwork leads to all kinds of stresses in ourselves and our family lives: he worked himself into a breakdown as a student at Harvard and felt the effects of it more or less the rest of his entire life.
James was fighting a long American suspicion of people who lead leisurely lives. It goes back to the Puritans. The idea that work is virtuous and leisure is suspect, is kind of woven into the DNA of American culture. In business, it’s always easier to make the argument for working more rather than working less. There are always competitors, there’s always more stuff to be done. And our understanding of business and work is that – if you want to get more out of it, you put more into it.
This is an especially tricky thing today, as fewer of us are working in places that have very set schedules, like factories, and as more of us take on responsibility for scheduling ourselves. And as we have more kinds of work for which there is no immediate, tangible output, like a bunch of widgets we can point to that show how productive we were.
These performative dimensions of work become more and more important both as a way of showing how dedicated you are, how productive you are, and defensively, to keep from getting more work thrown at you. It is, in a way, in our best interests to look constantly overworked and overstressed.
Q: A lot of people work in cultures that expect and reward overwork. And if you aren’t in a position to change that culture, what do you suggest people do?
Pang: Take rest seriously. Recognize that it is an important part of your creative life, your productive life and just your life. In order to honor it, give it time to work its magic.
Pare down your life to just a few critical things. There is now an awful lot of stuff that I say no to – little projects, stuff at the kids’ schools, volunteer stuff. I often regret having to say no, but I make the calculation, in order to do the kind of work I need to do, I really need to focus on doing the work, and doing rest, and doing stuff with my family. And the dogs. That’s pretty much my life. But it turns out, that’s a full life.
Start with your evenings and weekends. It’s really difficult to change a workplace culture. It is easier to begin to change how you work or whether you work outside it. We really underestimate the value that disconnecting from the office, both psychologically and digitally can make for us. The better you are able to disconnect, when you’re away, the better a job you can do while you’re there.
Practice what (sociologist) Robert Stebbins calls serious leisure – one really absorbing, rewarding hobby. That’s one thing that a lot of really creative people do, especially if their regular jobs are very busy.
If you have the flexibility, play with your schedule to figure out the rhythm that works best for you. There’s lots of research on ultradian rhythms, our cycle of natural energy peaks and valleys about every two hours or so. So take 90 minutes of really focused time, and taking a break, doing something completely different, like going for a walk around the block. If you can incorporate this practice into your days, it makes it easier to say it’s not slacking, but life hacking.
Do what you can to cultivate focus for the first part of your working day. That means, to the extent possible, don’t schedule meetings and don’t keep your email open.
THE THREAT OF FOREIGN ENEMIES IS MUCH USED TO KEEP US FEARFUL--AND THUS EASY TO MANIPULATE
HOW NICE TO READ THE FOLLOWING HEADLINE FROM THE BOSTON GLOBE OF APRIL 12 2015
“The world of threats to the US is an illusion”
By Stephen Kinzer
WHEN AMERICANS look out at the world, we see a swarm of threats. China seems resurgent and ambitious. Russia is aggressive. Iran menaces our allies. Middle East nations we once relied on are collapsing in flames. Latin American leaders sound steadily more anti-Yankee. Terror groups capture territory and commit horrific atrocities. We fight Ebola with one hand while fending off Central American children with the other.
In fact, this world of threats is an illusion. The United States has no potent enemies. We are not only safe, but safer than any big power has been in all of modern history.
Geography is our greatest protector. Wide oceans separate us from potential aggressors. Our vast homeland is rich and productive. No other power on earth is blessed with this security.
Our other asset is the weakness of potential rivals. It will be generations before China is able to pose a serious challenge to the United States — and there is little evidence it wishes to do so. Russia is weak and in deep economic trouble — not always a friendly neighbor but no threat to the United States. Heart-rending violence in the Middle East has no serious implication for American security. As for domestic terrorism, the risk for Americans is modest: You have more chance of being struck by lightning on your birthday than of dying in a terror attack.
Promoting the image of a world full of enemies creates a “security psychosis” that misshapes our view of the world. It tempts us to interpret defensive steps taken by other countries as threatening. In extreme cases, it pushes us into wars aimed at preempting threats that do not actually exist.
Arms manufacturers profit from the security psychosis even more directly than militarists. Americans take our staggeringly large defense budget almost for granted, and lament continuously that other countries do not build as many exotic weapons systems as we do. Finding new threats is always good business for someone.
The primary threat to the U.S. is internal and comes from the current American Business Model. Any system which makes only the few ever richer—and leaves most of the population suffering a decline in terms of real earning power—has to be deeply wrong.
But, it is much worse than that. Our political system has now been largely suborned by Big Money, our legal system has gone much the same way, our infrastructure has been neglected for decades—and entrepreneurship is in decline. I could add a laundry list of problems including our truly wretched and unnecessarily expensive healthcare system. I might be tempted to mention, in passing, that we lose out in relation to longevity. On average, we die three years sooner than the citizens of other developed nations. That is a pretty miserable performance for the richest nation in the world.
And we are not even trying hard to change things. We have turned our electoral system into a spectator sport.
Instead, we seem to have opted for a form of oligopolistic crony corporatism—with a bloated financial sector leading the pack.
Greed has become our one and only god. We worship it zealously.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
VOR words c.115.
I HAVE NEVER THOUGHT OF MY RESOLVE TO DEVOTE MY LIFE TO THINKING AND WRITING AS “FOLLOWING MY BLISS”—BUT THAT IS HOW JOSEPH CAMPBELL DESCRIBES IT.
THE MAN PUTS IT WELL.
MIND YOU, I DOUBT MANY WOULD DESCRIBE MY LIFE AS BLISSFUL—IT IS DIFFICULT IN THE EXTREME (AT TIMES)—BUT IT IS A GREAT AND WONDERFUL THING TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE DOING EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD BE DOING
‘BLISS’ MAY WELL BE THE RIGHT WORD
The following Joseph Campbell quotes are by way of Maria Popova and her consistently excellent website www.brainpickings.com
Popova understands creativity like few others do—and excels at explaining it.
But, do any—who are not creative themselves—understand? I sometimes wonder. Some do, of course, but my general feeling is that they are rare exceptions.
It is a great pity that we don’t rate creativity more highly. It is a force of astonishing power that almost always enhances the human condition —yet it is suppressed in almost every way from the moment we are born. Its great crime is that, virtually by definition, it questions the status quo—and a great many people are vested in just that, and fearful of change. Those in power—the true beneficiaries of the status quo—manipulate and exploit them accordingly. The fearful are disturbingly easy to manipulate—which is why the current U.S way of life always features a bogeyman and has been structured to be, as far as most of us are concerned, economically insecure.
Some of us fight on regardless—and discover that the game is worth the candle and how truly extraordinary and enriching the creative life can be.
Joseph Campbell explains it well. He did this, according to Popova, during a lengthy conversation with broadcaster, Bill Moyers which ended up as six one episodes for PBS. They were broadcast in 1988. Campbell actually died in 1987.
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
“Our life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you. Where is your bliss station? You have to try to find it.
“It’s characteristic of democracy that majority rule is understood as being effective not only in politics but also in thinking. In thinking, of course, the majority is always wrong.
“The majority’s function in relation to the spirit is to try to listen and to open up to someone who’s had an experience beyond that of food, shelter, progeny, and wealth.
“We are having experiences all the time which may on occasion render some sense of this, a little intuition of where your bliss is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.
“Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss. Most people are concerned with other things. They get themselves involved in economic and political activities, or get drafted into a war that isn’t the one they’re interested in, and it may be difficult to hold to this umbilical under those circumstances. That is a technique each one has to work out for himself somehow.
“But most people living in that realm of what might be called occasional concerns have the capacity that is waiting to be awakened to move to this other field. I know it, I have seen it happen in students.
“The religious people tell us we really won’t experience bliss until we die and go to heaven. But I believe in having as much as you can of this experience while you are still alive.
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
VOR words 229
THE DEEPLY CORRUPT, PREDATORY, AMERICAN BUSINESS MODEL—BASED UPON PAYING MOST EMPLOYEES BADLY—AND FOCUSING SOLELY ON THE INTERESTS OF SHAREHOLDERS--IS A DISASTER FOR MOST AMERICANS
DO WE REALLY UNDERSTAND QUITE HOW DISASTROUS? I SUSPECT NOT
PRODUCTIVITY UP BY 80.4% SINCE 1973. MEDIAN MALE COMPENSATION HAS SCARCELY MOVED—IN OVER 40 YEARS!
THAT IS A DISGRACE
There are some signs now that people are beginning to wake up to the scale and significance of both income and wealth inequality—but I still see no clear evidence of the kind of mass outrage that will be required to change things for the better. Also, the system is now so tilted at every level to favor power and money that it seems likely that it would take decades to rebalance things—assuming Congress wanted to carry out reforms in the first place (which it clearly doesn’t).
Currently, Islamic fundamentalism seem to be have replaced communism as our most serious perceived threat—and we always seem to have a bogeyman. In my opinion, the current American Business Model is a much more real and serious threat to the quality of life of most Americans. Beyond that, as the impact of the recent Great Recession showed, it has an unhealthy degree of global influence.
I find all of this both fascinating (given my interest in economics, current affairs, and history) and horrific. A pretty evil force is at work and it seems to be facing no serious opposition. In fact, a great many Americans still don’t seem to be aware of what is going on.
Given the sophistication of the propaganda that saturates us every waking day—combined with who owns the media and who funds our political system—I guess that situation should scarcely be a surprise.
So what does the future hold?
More of the same, I suspect.
The American tragedy continues.
Elizabeth Warren explains the real way corruption in Washington works
It's not primarily about quid pro quo cash for favors. It's about whose voices get heard and what issues end up on the agenda. "The wind only blows from one direction," Warren said. "It only blows from the direction of those who have money." Yes, campaign contributions matter. But big interests have "invested in other ways," too. They've invested in paying attention to what happens and to having their agents show up constantly and make noise. Consequently, the concerns of the rich and powerful are present in "every rule that's written, in every conversation, in every discussion."
Warren's perspective on this is supported by my favorite book about influence peddling —Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why.
The authors show two things. One is that it's not true that the richest interest group always wins. Better-financed groups lose to less-financed groups all the time in DC. One big reason for that is that the American system is simply set up to make change very difficult. What normally happens is that the status quo wins, not necessarily the richer side.
But money does matter. Money matters because you have absolutely no chance of winning unless you can get on the agenda, and you can't get on the agenda unless you have money to spend. An ultra-rich interest group can be defeated by a merely rich interest group, but unless you can show up on Capitol Hill with some kind of sack of cash you can't get your voice heard at all.