America runs on… poverty

Damn this was good from Ezra:

The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. [emphases mine] On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response.

Reports that low-wage employers were having trouble filling open jobs sent Republican policymakers into a tizzy and led at least 25 Republican governors — and one Democratic governor — to announce plans to cut off expanded unemployment benefits early. Chipotle said that it would increase prices by about 4 percent to cover the cost of higher wages, prompting the National Republican Congressional Committee to issue a blistering response: “Democrats’ socialist stimulus bill caused a labor shortage, and now burrito lovers everywhere are footing the bill.” The Trumpist outlet The Federalist complained, “Restaurants have had to bribe current and prospective workers with fatter paychecks to lure them off their backsides and back to work.”…

I suspect the real political problem for a guaranteed income isn’t the costs, but the benefits. A policy like this would give workers the power to make real choices. They could say no to a job they didn’t want, or quit one that exploited them. They could, and would, demand better wages, or take time off to attend school or simply to rest. When we spoke, Hamilton tried to sell it to me as a truer form of capitalism. “People can’t reap the returns of their effort without some baseline level of resources,” he said. “If you lack basic necessities with regards to economic well-being, you have no agency. You’re dictated to by others or live in a miserable state.”

But those in the economy with the power to do the dictating profit from the desperation of low-wage workers. One man’s misery is another man’s quick and affordable at-home lunch delivery. “It is a fact that when we pay workers less and don’t have social insurance programs that, say, cover Uber and Lyft drivers, we are able to consume goods and services at lower prices,” Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, where she also co-directs the Opportunity Lab, told me…

This is the conversation about poverty that we don’t like to have: We discuss the poor as a pity or a blight, but we rarely admit that America’s high rate of poverty is a policy choice, and there are reasons we choose it over and over again. We typically frame those reasons as questions of fairness (“Why should I have to pay for someone else’s laziness?”) or tough-minded paternalism (“Work is good for people, and if they can live on the dole, they would”). But there’s more to it than that.

Damn, that’s a powerful frame for thinking about this.  Or middle-class (and above) lifestyles of convenience operate off a policy regime that pushes other Americans into crappy jobs for low wages.  Personally, I’d definitely make the trade for some higher prices and less convenience in exchange for fellow Americans with better lives.  

Why no filibuster reform?

Sorry I’ve been bad at this lately.  Unusual amount of work for summer (in a good way– cool research) and vacationing will do that.  Anyway, did at least want to get in this Bernstein take on the filibuster, especially as it makes a point I’ve been arguing for a long time:

The biggest immediate question about policy in the U.S. continues to be the filibuster. As it is, a lot of the Democratic legislative agenda is pretty much dead in the Senate, even though some pieces of it could get passed through the budget-reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority. But it’s still possible we’ll see significant changes to Senate procedures, which could allow several major bills to pass.

The latest idea for a compromise is to reduce the votes needed for cloture (that is, the number of senators needed to defeat a filibuster) from 60 to 55. Greg Sargent made the case for it last week, and then Ross Douthat endorsed the idea in his Sunday column.

It’s a reasonable idea. But … there’s no shortage of reasonable ideas for a compromise. Norm Ornstein’s proposal to shift the burden of a filibuster from the majority to the minority, while also lowering the cloture number, is a reasonable idea. My idea of a Superbill that would allow anything, and not just budgetary items, to pass through a reconciliation-like bill? I think it’s reasonable. The idea that bills essential to democracy should be specifically exempted from any supermajority requirement is reasonable too.

But again: No one in the Senate is interested in compromise. Instead, what we have is a long-term stalemate, in which most majority-party senators want to get rid of the filibuster, pretty much all of the minority party maximizes its use, and a few marginal members of the majority hesitate — because, as Greg Koger explains, the status quo allows them to duck tough votes. When the parties switch places (assuming unified government; the filibuster is far less important during periods of divided government), their position on the filibuster switches as well. In the long run, that won’t be enough to save the filibuster, because at some point we’ll have a simple majority of senators who strongly support enough of the party agenda that they’ll impose change. But that isn’t the case at the moment.

Now, compromise ideas might not be entirely irrelevant. For one thing, it’s always possible that the 50th senator from the majority party may have sincere and idiosyncratic ideas about the filibuster. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter whether the compromise idea is reasonable or not; all that matters is finding something that gets that last vote, or perhaps the last few votes. In other words, if Senator Joe Manchin thinks that the best filibuster reform involves lawmakers standing on their heads and delivering their speeches in rhyme, and would support no other change? Yup — that immediately becomes a far better reform than the others.

But the much more likely scenario is that the swing senator is simply not on board with the entire party agenda. In that case, it’s the job of the majority to figure out exactly what that senator considers a must-pass, and to design a procedural reform that allows those bills through without subjecting that senator to too many tough votes. If there are no such high-priority bills that unify 50 or more senators, then filibuster reform isn’t going to happen. And probably shouldn’t.

I imagine other Democratic Senators would be willing to do whatever it takes– in terms of reforms that “preserve filibuster”, prevent tough votes, and still pass key priorities– to get Manchin and Sinema on board for a variety of things, but, in the end, I honestly don’t think either Manchin or Sinema have a lot of high priorities than just being a Senator.  

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