The lottery of American wealth

I’m slowly making my way through all the great John Oliver bits I’ve missed.  This one on wealth inequality really hits the nail on the head with a lottery analogy starting just after 12 minutes, but watch the whole thing.

America’s most urgent health care problem

No, it’s not Ebola, but this from Gallup is too close for comfort.

Trend: What would you say is the most urgent health problem facing this country at the present time?

On the bright side, I’d say the nearly 40% consistently recognizing our actual problems is pretty encouraging (especially compared to the clueless “government interference” crowd).

But, Ebola more of a problem than obesity and cancer?!  Of course, I suspect the single word “urgent” helps pump up the Ebola numbers.  But still.  Get over it already America.  And if you are so damn worried about Ebola, give to MSF instead of banning Rwandan kids from schools.

Both sides!

There’s a short piece today from Post Editorial writer Stephen Stromberg on the good news that SD Republican Senator John Thune admits that humans play a role in climate change.

Asked about the overwhelming agreement among experts on the cause and trajectory of global warming, Thune began with a familiar GOP climate-change dodge: “Climate change is occurring, it’s always occurring.” But then he said this: “There are a number of factors that contribute to that, including human activity. The question is, what are we going to do about it and at what cost?”

In three sentences, the number-three Republican in the Senate admitted that human activity is affecting the climate and that this concern demands a policy response…

But once you get to “yes” on the first two, as Thune apparently has, the answer to the last question should be relatively simple for honest conservatives: The efficient, market-friendly approach to cutting dependence on greenhouse gases is pricing carbon dioxide emissions and allowing market forces to adapt the economy.

Hooray!  And how utterly sad that this is big news.  But I just couldn’t let this go:

The country can do better than the GOP’s do-little-or-nothing attitude, and it can do better than President Obama’s regulatory approach to cutting emissions. But only if more Republicans ask the right question — instead of continuing to dignify those who demand that their leaders dismiss and disdain scientists’ warnings.

Seriously??!!  Obama’s regulatory approach?!  I seem to recall there is one political party that has actually embraced the price on carbon that Stromberg sees as the obvious solution.  Obama and the Democratic party.  The whole reason the president is relying on a regulatory approach is because that’s his only choice to do anything about the problem with Republicans completely demagoguing the obvious solution of pricing carbon.  But, oh boy does Stromberg have this “both sides” thing down.  Pathetic.  And just a reminder, he writes for the editorial page of the “liberal” Washington Post.

Extreme inequality is a choice

Really nice column in the Times today from Steven Rattner about the policy choices involved in America’s high degree of income inequality.  Despite all the coverage of the issue, I had never seen a dual chart like this that makes the political choices so stark:


Wow– that’s really telling.  So, what’s going on?

Before the impact of tax and spending policies is taken into account, income inequality in the United States is no worse than in most developed countries and is even a bit below levels in Britain and, by some measures, Germany.

However, once the effect of government programs is included in the calculations, the United States emerges on top of the inequality heap.

That’s because our taxes, while progressive, are low by international standards and our social welfare programs — ranging from unemployment benefits to disability insurance to retirement payments — are consequently less generous.

Conservatives may bemoan the size of our government; in reality, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, total tax revenues in the United States this year will be smaller on a relative basis than those of any other member country…

And income taxes for the highest-earning Americans have fallen sharply, contributing meaningfully to the income inequality problem. In 1995, the 400 taxpayers with the biggest incomes paid an average of 30 percent in taxes; by 2009, the tax rate of those Americans had dropped to 20 percent…

Lower taxes means less for government to spend on programs to help those near the bottom. Social Security typically provides a retiree with about half of his working income; European countries often replace two-thirds of earnings.

Similarly, we spend less on early childhood education and care. And another big difference, of course, is the presence of national health insurance in most European countries.

All told, social spending in the United States is below the average of that of the wealthiest countries. And other governments help their less fortunate citizens to a greater extent than we do in ways that are not captured in the income statistics. The United States, which is the only developed country without a national paid parental leave policy, also has no mandated paid holidays or annual vacation; in Europe, workers are guaranteed at least 20 days and as many as 35 days of paid leave…

Critics from the right argue that doing more to level the income pyramid would hurt growth. In a recent paper, the International Monetary Fund dismissed that concern and suggested that a more equal distribution of income could instead raise the growth rate because of the added access to education, health care and other opportunities.

Of course we are going to have inequality in capitalism, but it absolutely does not have to be this extreme.  And yes, inequality is increasing across most Western nations, but more so in the US.  In short, it does not have to be this way.  A few less feet on the yacht of a typical billionaire and all of society can benefit through better education, pre-K, infrastructure, etc.  We are making a choice about inequality in the US and we are making the wrong one.

Photo of the day

Via twitter, the photo is pretty cool, but the caption makes it:

Yet more on the Democrats and working class whites

First, I’ll highlight the recent comments here from John F.

True universal reform would have started with the premise that old people, young people, uniformed people or people that once wore a uniform, as well as really poor people don’t deserve health care, everyone does. But by lobbing away the “deserving” from the working people, liberals have created systemic and recurring resentments by the people who perceive of themselves paying for everyone else in the “deserving” category. There’s simply no logical or moral arguments to be made for why anyone in these constituent parts of America deserve health care (and other government services) more than those the Democrats/libruls/Nancy Pelosi/the Kenyan Muslim socialist, have given our tax dollars away to….except veterans because they fought for this country, and service members because they currently are, and children because they can’t fend for themselves, and the old because they earned it… Our government policies should be informed more than an emotional stirring over patriotism, obligation, or deservedness. We either all have a right to access health care or none of us do. The resentments we create and exacerbate will continue to smolder as long as we continue to make decisions about how to use other people’s money to help an artificially established deserving group of people, to the exclusion of others. Instead of looking for the solution to what ails a limited set of people we should align ourselves to collective solutions which seek to help everyone, in ways that are focused on their problems. Universal health care would solve the need for the vet, service member, child, and the poor, but it would also take a tremendous load off the backs of all working people, and we need to fight for them not because it’s morally right but because it’s fair.

Not all that different from Jamelle Bouie’s latest for Slate:

Put another way, for a new rhetoric of populism to work—or at least, attract the winnable whites identified by Teixeira and Halpin—it needs to come with a commitment to universal policies that working-class whites like and support. (It’s no coincidence that the most liberal working-class whites belong to private and public sector unions.)

But the United States doesn’t have a political party to support that kind of social democracy. Instead, it has the Democratic Party, a collection of disparate interests which—at its best—is nervous about economic liberalism and hesitant to push anything outside the mainstream.

Hmmm, I think maybe we’re onto something here.  Of course, the most popular liberal policies are for defined, but in a sense “universal” groups as the vast majority of Americans will get old and collect Social Security and Medicare and they are not means-tested.  Of course, the problem is that the current Democratic party is nowhere near advocating big, universal policies as it is too cowed by defeat.  Or maybe it is just too damn hard with our non-parliamentary form of government with an absurd number of veto points favoring the rural party (i.e., the US Senate).

Regardless, it does increasingly strike me that the long-term solution is for the Democratic party to think bigger and bolder (but that this definitely will be long term) rather than simply relying on changing demographics and a Republican/Tea Party that seems ever closer to going off an ideological cliff.

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