Blog Archive

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Poverty and Myth

I was shocked this week to be confronted with someone who insisted that some giant majority of welfare recipients are deliberately having babies in order to “get a bigger check”.
She could provide no evidence for this assertion, other than unverifiable anecdotal “friend of a friend told me so”.
Another pervasive Myth has also reared it's head this week, that “poor=lazy”.
And yet another, that Poverty is the result of low morals and single-parenthood.
None of the people making these assertions could provide hard evidence to support them....nor could they prove the Causal Relationships contained in such assertions.
And none of them made any mention of the 35 year experiment in Wage Stagnation, other than to deny it's relevance and even it's existence.
Race is sublimated into these discussions, frequently...often unconsciously.
A job is a job is a job...and the Myth persists that if one would merely get off the porch, get a job(any job) and work hard, everything would be fine.
As I've been hammering away at for years, the water we swim in is never considered.
The Fish are to be blamed for their poor health....water quality be damned.
It doesn't seem to matter when giant piles of data are brought to bear against this system of Myth.
One hears about the “Dignifying Power of Work” if working, itself is it's own reward, no matter that you're working for peanuts, in a job with a horrible boss who thinks that a 10 cent raise is cause for rejoice.
One also hears that the various Welfare Programs are , somehow, a “Disincentive” to get out there and get a job.
This last is particularly relies on the Assumption that Welfare is, somehow, living High on the Hog....that relying on Foodstamps to supplement one's meager wages in order to be able to “put food on your family” means lobster and caviar.
In my life, to throw anecdotes of my own, I have indeed met a vanishingly small minority of folks who “Game the System”....but it never lasts for long. There are checks that are quite effective in weeding those people out.
And at any rate, such perfidy is very hard to do.
The System is so concerned that someone may get something that they do not deserve, that it errs on the side of dysfunction. A great number of folks who are perfectly entitled and deserving of such help, do not get it...because of the time consuming and byzantine gauntlet one must run in order to qualify.
Many are left out because of the pervasive stigma, itself....that Mythology that paints a big red L on anyone who uses an EBT card.(L is for “Lazy”, but there are other words that are flung at Poor Folks who deign to seek a helping hand)
A little anecdotal digression: all but one of the folks I have known who willfully attempt to “Game the System” were White and Hard Core Republican.
And all but two of them ended up either in jail, or on probation.

Another variety of dissent and denial that there is a problem, are those Free Market Fundamentalists who see a Living Wage as a travesty.
Who think that Minimum Wage actually causes Poverty, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
“The Market will take care of it, if we would just kill government and let the Market work.”
I have even less patience for these folks,lol.
Where do you even begin, when the very Foundations of their argument are so very flawed?
Having been low wage(food service) for my adult life, I know perfectly well that if any of my bosses had been allowed to pay their cooks less, they would have been quick to do so.
The Free Marketers then say, “well...go look for another job”...forgetting the relative scarcity of jobs out there, as well as the problem that all those other hypothetical jobs pay just as little, and are operating under the same assumptions...and overlooking the hard fact that when jobs are scarce, the prospective employee has no bargaining power.
There is a Food Bank on the corner. It's run by a collection of local churches, with a little shaky support from various government programs...that often come with some rather crazy strings attached, again...rooted in the Unexamined Assumptions.
I support this Food Bank, when I can. We give them our surplus eggs(which is illegal, it turns out...just more systemic roadblocks, based on assumptions, that prevent us from actually tackling the problems)
But I take issue with some of the methods employed there.
Desperately poor people, who often work like the dickens, but still cannot adequately feed themselves, are given a sermon before they are given access to the donated food.
It is an opportunity to evangelise. One must run a sort of gauntlet of well meaning lay preachers who will tell you that if you would only accept Jesus into your heart, everything would be fine.
If you, dear reader, are an Evangelical Christian, you likely do not see the problem, there....which is, in itself, a large part of the overall Problem:
failure to put yourself into the shoes of those you are trying to help.
This is probably the biggest problem of all, in getting to the Roots of Poverty.
The Free Marketer, the Unconscious Racist, the well meaning Christian...all of them share a reliance on Unexamined Assumptions about the Causes of,and Remedies for, Poverty...and they all reliably fail to even attempt to put themselves into the shoes of the Poor.
It is so much easier to say ”lack of morals”,”Lazy”,and all the rest, than to dig into the roots...because then you might have to change your opinion, not only about Poverty, but about economics, politics, and all the social and cultural things that we often take for granted, when we, ourselves, are not Poor.
It's easy for the well off to say,”get a job” and wash their hands of the issue.
Their Assumptions....and the world view that is based on them...are made safe that way.
It is hard to look at those Assumptions, and then abandon those that do not comport with Objective Reality....let alone Reality as Perceived by someone standing in a very different life-space from you.

This is a good way to spend an hour and a half, if you're really interested in finding solutions to the problem of Poverty in the USA.(which, of course, is predicated on acknowledging that there IS a problem)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sweden, etc...the Free Market View

from wiki:
Note #4 "The surprising ingredients of Swedish success - free markets and social cohesion" (PDF). Institute of Economic Affairs. June 25, 2013. (this appears to be from a Free Market Think Tank, as it uses their phrasing(ie:”Big Government”) I have included it for balance)

Myopic. Cherry-Picking data and criteria in order to suit one's preconceived “results”...
Framing and Phrasing and numerous Unexamined Assumptions.

Repeatedly, in this...”Growth is always Good”...and “More Profit is always Good”....and Taxes are Bad...Government is not even a Necessary's just Evil.
I have little patience for such an extreme Orthodoxy.
Never do the Free Market Fundies acknowledge a Finite Planet.
Or Pollution...including all the plastic crap we buy, then throw away.
Similarly, never do they consider the concept of “Enough”.
That that 1 million dollars I made last year is plenty to live a good life with.
That I do not need, nor do I necessarily want, an additional million(s) in the bank.
These assumptions are derivative of the Value System based on Greed that is foundational to “capitalism” as we do it in the USA.
Such a statement by a CEO or Hedge Fund owner...that “nope...I got plenty”...would be almost unthinkable here. Indeed, there was one such CEO in the last week or so who did just that, and the Right threw up in their mouths a little.
The Nordic economies have reduced waste and pollution, and have settled on a societal Norm of “Enough”.
This Norm is acknowledged, obliquely, in this paper...all that stuff about Trust and Personal Responsibility and Community.(IEA wants to put responsibility for these things on Protestantism, in some of the least religious countries in history)
Those three things require a little consideration of the other folks one shares a country with, as well as the Commons...air, water and soil health...the health of one's neighbor...and so on.
It's not all about Me, over there.
There was a time in my lifetime...that unmitigated Greed, and infinite selfishness, was looked down upon.
Gordon Gecko has somehow become our patron saint.
That is not the case in Northern Europe, by all measures that I've seen.

Similarly, while lamenting the advent of socialism(small s) in the 30's...and the concurrent decline in “entrepreneurialism”...the author neglects to mention the poverty and want that came before....during the period that he treats as the golden age.
Everything I've seen would indicate the contrary....that vast swaths of folks were hurting, and that this hurt was the reason they agitated and revolted and took over the economy.
It was democratic, from the get-go.
After the rise of the Nordic Model, folks maybe didn't go into business because they didn't want to...and now they didn't have to.
This idea is an anathema to the hypercapitalists...not wanting to work is seen as lazy and impure.
But what did so many of those folks do instead?
They became artists and social workers, they volunteered at the day care..they went fishing a lot...just like Dick Cheney is able to do(no one ever says that he's lazy because he hunts and fishes so much...a curious omission)
There is also the common fallacies of “Bigger = Better”...and “bigger Market Cap” = “better company”.
This is a value judgment, and not conducive to what we're trying to get at.
Measure these companies(and countries) by their own value system...not that of Wall Street or the Chicago School.
In other words, we are seeing a confusion of tongues.
Over here, we don't measure “wellbeing” or “happiness”.
There's a reason for fact, “Business”(sic) have lobbied hard against the introduction of such measurements...over here.
There, they do measure Wellbeing and Happiness, as well as a host of other hard to measure “Quality of Life” criteria.
We measure things like “happiness” indirectly, at best.
Nominal GDP Growth “implies” happiness.
When it suits the Paradigm Defense Forces, we measure “Job Growth” one way....when that way doesn't suit them, we measure it in another. in the recent “Texas Miracle”...”a job is a job is a job”.
In Scandinavia...and Europe in general...they measure such things in a more rounded, comprehensive way that Neoliberals cannot abide.
“well, their largest companies are all over 70 years old” is hardly comparing apples to apples.(Bigger is not always Better)
If we take the criteria that is habitually...even religiously...used over here, and apply it to looks like a hellhole over there.

How is it then that the people are so happy?

Conversely, when we take their criteria, and apply it to us...we look like a backwards feudalistic nightmare country.
It matters who does the measuring...and what criteria are used, and how those criteria are formulated and applied.
All of this entails Foundational Assumptions.
From where I'm standing, their criteria are superior and much more comprehensive; they include measurements of what it is like to be a Human Being, there. Our Economists and their cheer-leading analogs in media, may think that is unimportant...or superfluous...

I do not.
This has been my fundamental critique of the Neoliberal, Chicago School-Style Economics that are almost religiously advocated in the USA.
When one points to Europe, and says...”hey...look at how satisfied they appear to be...” is often met with adolescent sneers and snickers.

“Hippy Dippy Utopians...”

But as I've said so many times, Who are the Utopians in this debate?

The Neoliberal Theology would have every Human Being regarded as an “Economic Unit”...a “Rational Agent”, performing Cost-Benefit Analysis not only to every Economic Decision, but to all Human Interaction.
Homo Oeconomicus( with a very blind eye turned away from the “Real Citizenry” over here, the Paper Kind)

It seems that a Prima Facie case can be made rather simply that this is not all that we are...that Being Human entails much more than simply Marginal Utility and Net Worth.
So before we can have a real discussion about the validity, the veracity and...yes...the utility of the Nordic Model, we must first look at what is being measured.
To that's a bunch of links that I've just muscled through, regarding the measurement of satisfaction, happiness and quality of life.
(Remember, Wiki is a decent place to start, in my view...and usually has many links to source material.)

This last is, unsurprisingly, a rather mild example of the snickering one often finds from Free Marketeers when such measurements are undertaken.

Interestingly, to me, at least...there appears to be a correlation between religious belief(especially Evangelical/Fundamentalist(in the US)) and perceived Happiness and Well Being.
This is a can of worms, of course....but interesting, nonetheless.

Here are the two big Think Tanks in Texas that deal with Economics.

The former is currently the dominant intellectual group in the state, enjoying massive funding, and preferential status with the Texas GOP/Tea Party, which means that they are the preferred Think Tank of the Government of the State of Texas.
They never talk about Happiness, or any other subjective measures of Economic Performance. They therefore are a case in point of the Myopia I mentioned.
The latter, on the other hand, looks at economics from the standpoint of the Middle, and especially the Lower, Classes.

Things look rather less rosy from down here.

To be open and honest, I sometimes correspond with the CPPP, while the TPPF rarely(once) answers my emails or phone calls.
I made many calls to each during my hunt for evidence of the actual existence of the proverbial Welfare Queen driving a Cadillac...CPPP sent me much data indicating the mythological Quality of such widespread Fraud and Abuse; TPPF sent me on a circular phone journey, to numerous answering machines. I finally got a call back some weeks later from a guy(I forget his name or his claim to expertise...he sounded pretty young) who pretended to never have heard of the Welfare Queen Myth, peddled at least weekly by the folks who sign his checks.(this was the non-answer I received from every GOPtea Congressional staffer I called, as well)
I include these two groups as illustrative examples of the degrees of Myopia in Economics, today....and to show how what results you get, depends on what you measure, as well as what you do not.
I also include them, because the Paper in question, from the IEA, moves into Morality, next.

Talk about Work Ethic, and Personal Responsibility may sound a little familiar to Americans. “Dependence” is mentioned in the same coded way it is used over here. They refrain from using the phrase “Welfare Queen”, but one can almost hear that phrase in the background.
Sweden, as the Paper notes after sufficient usage of such code-words, has recently installed “Gate Keepers” for access to things like Sick Pay, and Disability.
I don't reckon anyone would deny that this is necessary, so long as it's Fair.(Curiously, Fairness is another word that rarely enters into the Free Marketeers' lexicon)
So it's a polite version of our usual,”oh, look at what the welfare state does: makes people lazy and hang from the government teat...”
It's difficult for me to keep my cool with this stuff...I admit.
I've heard such things for most of my life...Bootstraps!! Incentive to Work!!!
It is tiresome, since the purveyors of such things rarely want to visit those aspects of “work” that are actually Deterrents to being all balls to the wall.
Like the strange feature(that most Texans know about intuitively, even though they don't readily admit it, or vote accordingly) of working hard all the time, and not being able to go to the doctor, let alone have any leisure time.
Next, they go on to talk obliquely about Immigration and “Assimilation” and “Integration”.
We've heard all of this, before, too.
This perceived failure is another example of the difficulty of measurement of subjective, non-economic well as an assumption that Assimilation is the Preferred Goal of Immigration.
The Muslim Immigrants are the ones being talked about...
They are very different culturally, ethically and spiritually from the relatively Homogenous natives of Scandinavia. There is racism involved , here,as well.
I believe that this is a separate issue from the main's related, of course, but as the last 2 weeks in America has shown, Race is hardly a settled thing....the argument is filled with Attribution Errors and Assumptions regarding “Those People”, and is therefore unhelpful.
Widespread Islamic Immigration is also a relatively new thing in Scandinavia.
I want more data, ere we get into the effects of Immigration on the Nordic Model.
Next, we move into the issue of “Hidden Taxes”...hidden by that rascally government(in one of the most transparent system of government yet devised, no less), in order to shore up Employment Numbers.
This will need further, Objective, study.
I mean, we could talk about the same thing in US economic policy....Inflation, and the ten million taxing authorities and the related Opacity of Government in the US, but we've had those discussions, least I have, no real point.
Folks tend to believe what they want to believe.
Here's where measures of Satisfaction...which include perceived Corruption in Government....could be helpful.
Those measurements in Scandinavia consistently show a higher Satisfaction with Government, less Alienation, and far less Perceived Corruption.
Civic Participation is higher there, as well.
Folks pay attention to what their Government is doing...there are actual National Debates on these things...perhaps as a result of more leisure time, and less balls-to-the-wall, work yerself to death-ism.
The graphs are interesting, regarding hidden versus visible taxation.
I don't have internet out here, but a graph like that for the USA, and for Texas, would likely make for a fun comparison.

(I'm making a note to check, when I'm connected again...and will attempt to include such a graph, without comment, in this space when I get home)
{couldn't find a similar graph for USA, but there is this idea:( )}

As expected, they mention the Laffer Curve in response to those graphs.
We can talk about that, if you like....I have found it to be one of the most dishonest planks in the whole Neoliberal Revolution of the past 35 years.
Next we get to the inevitable citation of the Heritage Foundation.
The phrase “Economic Freedom” is used.
The USA is regarded as scoring relatively higher than Scandinavia in this metric, but I live in Texas, and cannot legally sell an egg to my local grocer(no matter what the customer wants or prefers) we can talk about that, too...if you like.
Assumptions that are required to stay Unexamined are not conducive to honest debate.
They also seem to like the Fraser Institute, whom I have never heard of.(I'll maybe get back to you to see if my as yet unexamined assumptions regarding that group are
It is probably pretty obvious by now that I remain unconvinced by this Paper.
I've heard all of these arguments and assertions and lamentations for most of my life, so I will take them, here, with a lot of salt.

The Economist has a more balanced view of all of the above.



It still relies overmuch on Free Market Mythology for my taste, but it is far less sneering and snickering.
Again, I think it's useful to compare things like Trust in Government, Satisfaction with Government, and overall Trust in Other People...with those same metrics here, in the USA.
By those measures, we are a backwards and hostile country, filled with selfish ignoramuses and sneaky politicians.

From that last Economist article:
The main lesson to learn from the Nordics is not ideological but practical. The state is popular not because it is big but because it works. A Swede pays tax more willingly than a Californian because he gets decent schools and free health care. The Nordics have pushed far-reaching reforms past unions and business lobbies. The proof is there. You can inject market mechanisms into the welfare state to sharpen its performance. You can put entitlement programmes on sound foundations to avoid beggaring future generations. But you need to be willing to root out corruption and vested interests. And you must be ready to abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and right and forage for good ideas across the political spectrum. The world will be studying the Nordic model for years to come.

One would think that the Free Marketeers, with their high minded pontifications on Competition would be willing to apply that Ideal to the field of Ideas, as well.
That remains to be seen, of course...but what I've observed since Bernie Sanders announced last week doesn't exactly inspire hope for a reasoned, dispassionate debate on the merits and failures of the Nordic Model.
This is a shame.
Reckon we might learn something.
(and...just for clarity,...these are the folks who produced the Paper I've been firing missiles at:

for the third installment of this little series, I'll dive into what the Nordic Countries say about themselves.
The Research Frenzy continues, apace.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Nap. Exhaustion due to insomnia.
I awake in a cold sweat with a start...Everlast and Sinead playing in my head simultaneously.
The profound disappointment of discovering, circa 1993, that the MTV “Revolution” wasn't “out there...somewhere...” after all.
I had doubted, of course...but by now I had found proof.
That doubt had been a defense mechanism...MTV was everywhere once I moved to Walters, Texas...snippets of Gil Scott Heron...just part of some nefarious marketing scheme.
I had secretly hoped that it was real...Live Aid...Bono...
all the rest...and that I was missing out due to the place I was stuck in.
Surely everywhere wasn't already submerged...
Surely the Wasteland had an edge...that one could get over...into some other realm where my generation's revolution...contribution....would have corporeal form....
But I went East.
East for thousands of circuitous miles...and all I found was the same bland despair...the same banal suburban “success”, interspersed with many pockets of deep poverty full of those who had already given up on all of that.
That Faulknerian Darkness I'm always referring to, like a patina of hypocrisy, coating us all the further east one went.
It was during this period that My Revolution became a Revolution of One.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Research Frenzy: Nordic Model and Social Democracy

Now that Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat into the ring for President, perhaps it would be prudent to explore where he's coming from, regarding Economics/Social Policy....rather than scream “Socialism!!!” and throw things.
To that end, I've decided to take a sabbatical from Facebook and other Social Media, in order to study and think.
Regarding the current unrest in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, I find that I am too emotionally drained to continue that discussion. I'll leave that for others, at this time(Ben, Kevin,Pam), but will leave the term “Intersectionality” laying on the table as a somewhat decent word for where I'm at on all of that.(Solidansk!)
I'm also attempting to build our Funky Cabin in the Woods, and figure that between these two endeavors, engagement is just an added stressor that I can do without, at the moment.
With that in mind, I'm leaving a list of my (initial) sources.

For the adventurous, this book gives a detailed history of “Neoliberalism”, and where and how it diverged fro “Ordoliberalism” and the Nordic Model.
It is technical, but in a philosophical way, not a math way.

This Neoliberalism is where we, in America, are it or not...

next is the long list of articles and wiki pages and all manner of stuff I have collected that looks like may give a good overview of Social Democracy.
If you would like to engage cogently, sans hyperbole, on this subject, please take a look.
While I'm not particularly interested in what ...say...the Heritage Foundation has to say about Social Democracy, the Paul Harvey-esque “rest of the story” is important. Thus, the Economist is included(not generally regarded as a Pinko publication).

a couple of PDF's from the first of the list, which I do not know how to link to:

Note # 15 Torben M. Andersen, Bengt Holmström, Seppo Honkapohja, Sixten Korkman, Hans Tson Söderström, Juhana Vartiainen. The Nordic Model - Embracing globalization and sharing risks

Note #4 "The surprising ingredients of Swedish success - free markets and social cohesion" (PDF). Institute of Economic Affairs. June 25, 2013. (this appears to be from a Free Market Think Tank, as it uses their phrasing(ie:”Big Government”) I have included it for balance)

All of that is where I'm making a start.
I expect that over the next year and a half we'll be hearing a lot about this, due to Bernie and Liz Warren having a bully pulpit.
I also expect a large incoherent roar from the various camps of Free Market Fundamentalism, which will largely be Fact Free...but, we have plenty of Recent Experiments in Randian Dog Eat Dog Piss on my Head “capitalism” to look at...Kansas comes to mind, of course...but now we can add Michigan, Wisconsin(which can be compared to Minnesota, which is helpfully right next door).
We also have Texas, of course, and now we can add Louisiana under Jindal, and Florida under that skeletor penis-head guy...
The point is, we've run the experiments in Piss on My Head, “Corporations are People, my friend” Economics.
If that Model is to be used to counter the above list in any future discussion/debate, we must be willing to look at the Frelling Results of all that experimentation....honestly...and sans hyperbole and hysteria.
We have had, in the USA, a Cartoon of Capitalism, set against a Cartoon of (variously) Socialism/Communism/Marxism.
Things are more complex that all of that, and it is high time that We, the People, eschew the Cartoon Mythology and attempt to get at the roots of all of this, with facts and objectivity. The Right in this country tend to throw a bunch of mud, innuendo and ad hominem at this debate....because they (I allege) cannot compete on the field of ideas, without such subterfuge.
I am weary of giving in to their nonsensical ideas and bullying approach to “debate”.
So I guess I'm throwing a glove at everybody I know on-line,lol.
I'm off to build my cabin, and immerse myself in research.
I'll not limit myself to only those listed sources...they are a starting point...but I'll attempt to link/list whatever else emerges.
So if you want to talk about this rather large topic, get thee to a quiet spot....marshal your sources, and gird for battle(of wits).
I'll be back in a month....maybe two..., armed with Knowledge, and dangerous with Insight.