Photo of the day

Time to start seeing some year-end photo galleries.  Here’s Atlantic’s top 25 news photos of the year.  I decided to go with one of the happy images here:

French President Emmanuel Macron reacts during the World Cup Final between France and Croatia in Moscow, Russia, on July 15, 2018. France won the match 4-2. 

Alexei Nikolsky / Sputnik Photo Agency / Reuters


Re-thinking capitalism

Well, my recent quick hit on the matter drew a number of interesting comments, so I suspect many of you will enjoy this David Leonhardt column:

The October 1944 edition of Fortune magazine carried an article by a corporate executive that makes for amazing reading today. It was written by William B. Benton — a co-founder of the Benton & Bowles ad agency — and an editor’s note explained that Benton was speaking not just for himself but on behalf of a major corporate lobbying group. The article then laid out a vision for American prosperity after World War II.

At the time, almost nobody took postwar prosperity for granted. The world had just endured 15 years of depression and war. Many Americans were worried that the end of wartime production, combined with the return of job-seeking soldiers, would plunge the economy into a new slump.

“Today victory is our purpose,” Benton wrote. “Tomorrow our goal will be jobs, peacetime production, high living standards and opportunity.” That goal, he wrote, depended on American businesses accepting “necessary and appropriate government regulation,” as well as labor unions. It depended on companies not earning their profits “at the expense of the welfare of the community.” It depended on rising wages.

These leftist-sounding ideas weren’t based on altruism. The Great Depression and the rise of European fascism had scared American executives. Many had come to believe that unrestrained capitalism was dangerous — to everyone. The headline on Benton’s article was, “The Economics of a Free Society.”

In the years that followed, corporate America largely followed this prescription. Not every executive did, of course, and management and labor still had bitter disputes. But most executives behaved as if they cared about their workers and communities. C.E.O.s accepted pay packages that today look like a pittance. Middle-class incomes rose faster in the 1950s and 1960s than incomes at the top. Imagine that: declining income inequality.

And the economy — and American business — boomed during this period, just as Benton and his fellow chieftains had predicted.

Things began to change in the 1970s. Facing more global competition and higher energy prices, and with Great Depression memories fading, executives became more aggressive. They decided that their sole mission was maximizing shareholder value. They fought for deregulation, reduced taxes, union-free workplaces, lower wages and much, much higher pay for themselves. They justified it all with promises of a wonderful new economic boom. That boom never arrived.

Even when economic growth has been decent, as it is now, most of the bounty has flowed to the top. Median weekly earnings have grown a miserly 0.1 percent a year since 1979. The typical American family today has a lower net worth than the typical family did 20 years ago. Life expectancy, shockingly, has fallen this decade. [emphases mine]

Leonhardt then briefly describes an interesting plan from Elizabeth Warren to require the representation of worker and consumer interests on corporate boards.  It’s worked pretty damn well for Germany.

Is Warren’s plan the best way to rein in corporate greed? I’m not yet sure. I want to see politicians and experts hash out her idea and others — much as they hashed out health care policy in the 2008 campaign.

But I do know this: American capitalism isn’t working right now. If Benton and his fellow postwar executives returned with the same ideas today, they would be branded as socialists. In truth, they were the capitalists who cared enough about the system to save it. The same goes for the new reformers.

Exactly.  I’m a liberal who takes no shame at all in believing in capitalism.  The problem is that they way we are doing capitalism now sucks.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  And we need to change it.  Listening to Republicans telling us that forever decreasing the burdens on capitalism’s biggest winners is the way to the best way forward sure as hell isn’t it.

What democracy is really about

In crucial ways, it’s not just about having elections (see Vladimir Putin and Sadam Hussein among many others who have been elected), but what you do after those elections.  Steve Saideman on the latest Republican shenanigans:

The defining aspect of democracy is that elections matter–that the incumbent party, when losing an election, leaves power.  One of the things going around since George HW Bush died is the note he left Bill Clinton, saying that he was rooting for him.  At the same time, the Republican parties in first North Carolina and now Wisconsin  and Michigan are using their lame duck sessions to gut the powers of the offices the Democrats just won.

That is, the Republicans are not taking defeat gracefully and are shifting power to those institutions that they still hold.  This is, in a word, anti-democratic.  Not just anti-Democratic Party, but hostile to the institution of democracy in the United States.  We have had much speculation over the first two years about whether the Deep State is undermining Trump, and much less attention to the reality that the GOP is undermining democracy…

This is not just a Trump thing (whose campaign took illegal assistance from foreign powers, paid off women who might accuse Trump of cheating on this wife, etc), but a Republican thing.  And it is getting worse.  For a while, it was mostly just the North Carolina Republicans, but now we have Wisconsin, Michigan and probably others refusing to accept defeat…

For Democracy to work, we need at least two viable parties that accept the responsibilities that come not just with winning but with losing.  Right now, we only have one.

Of course, “refusing to accept defeat” and “limiting the incoming Democratic governor’s powers” are not exactly the same thing.  But, this is absolutely the time of behavior that undermines and weakens democracies.  Would be awesome if other Republicans would actually take a stand on this.  That, as much as the malfeasance of those Wisconsin and Michigan legislators in the problem.

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