Hear the Hater Complaints

Donald Trump has done an excellent job of whipping up irrational hatreds, mostly of angry whites. He has taught them that hate is now acceptable, so they feel free to get in the faces of ordinary peaceful people and scream, their faces contorted with rage, that whatever person of color is currently in front of them has ruined everything and should go back where they came from. Some of them pull out a gun and shoot people dead, which of course Trump does not believe he is at all responsible for.

It’s really, really hard to see these people with anything but contempt, but I believe we must ignore the violence, the ignorance, the beliefs in conspiracy theories and all the rest, and ask, “Do these people have a real complaint, or is it all far right fringe irrational rage?” Certainly, their understanding of the economy is weak, and they would do well to learn how to evaluate reality.

We must realize we are not going to change these people into peaceful, tolerant folks. They have been bubbling with irrational hatreds all their lives. The only chance is with the next generation, or maybe the generation after that. Take college. Today’s haters are generally under-educated, and they may not care whether their kids learn anything, let alone go to college. They may feel that college is a waste of time and money—and for them that may be true. That belief may stem from the longstanding poverty and lack of opportunity that surrounds them. It’s a reality that college might not change.

Paul Theroux is a traveler and writer who studiously avoids the rich people in his extensive world travels, and spends all his time among the poor. In The Deep South he seeks out the many poor Americans, white and black, for whom centuries of deep poverty make life a daily struggle. These are the ones who often don’t make it into government statistics on unemployment. Some of them, black and white, are angry and racist. But they do have something to say, and they have an understanding about poverty and lack of opportunity that most of us don’t. In this book they point out several ways the government has failed them, some of them unnecessary failures.

The best thing that could happen at an angry Trump rally is a calm dialogue with some of the haters. By avoiding their prejudices and asking these persons about their lives, especially their economic history, we might learn some valuable things. We know little about them because we dismiss them after hearing their prejudices and hatreds, and because we believe they are hopeless.

There isn’t a chance in the world that a Trump presidency would be anything but a disaster for such people, because he would continue to give money to the very rich, following a roundly disproven belief that this will bring universal affluence. It does no such thing, as several Republican state governors have again proven when their state revenue crashed, making it necessary to drastically cut the budgets of crucial services such like schools. But that doesn’t deter Trumpsters, who hear only Trump’s anger and false accusations, and not the lack of rationality and the contradictions in what he says.

But Democratic presidencies also err in addressing poverty and unemployment. As I have remarked here previously, my belief is that we all fail to appreciate how much automation has taken over the work we used to do, a trend well documented by Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots. The English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted way back about 1935 that we would reach the level of automation we now have within a century. We fulfilled his prediction, but we have done almost nothing to adjust for it.

It is time for the work week to be shortened again, as it has been several times in the past. Thirty hours is about the maximum it could be; twenty would be better. The effect of a shorter week is higher employment, lower unemployment, less homelessness, more government revenue. It’s not magic. Those who have lost control of their lives will still have great difficulty recovering, and getting a job is by itself unlikely to create tolerance. But it helps.

Trump is the creature grown from the seeds of intolerance, racism, and scientific ignorance that Republicans have cultivated for decades, a monster they can no longer control. Conditions are so extreme that it is even possible that the Republican party could actually collapse and die, since it consists of too many people who are simply ignorant of how the real world works, and who are poisoned by hatreds and racism. This would be unfortunate because even Democrats need a worthy opposition party to check excesses.

Republicans need a wise philosopher to re-evaluate what conservatism should be this century, to guide them so they can come up with policies based on reality and practicality, virtually the opposite of what they now pursue.

Meantime, it would be fruitful for Dems to find out what Trump’s Republican haters can tell us about their lives, especially their work. Better understanding of their legitimate complaints might be valuable in establishing more effective policy for all of us.

What the World Needs Now

This election sounds like a prelude to civil war, or at least martial law. Politicians speak of taming the Mideast by bombing Muslims. Trump rants, courting the NRA, villainizing everyone who isn’t white, calling for violence of all sorts. Domestic abusers buy guns easily. Angry armed white people kill innocents…

We can’t continue this way, and Trump makes it worse by the day.

As for Trump, I’m frankly worried about his mental stability. He’s obviously a raving narcissist, which is a mental health finding itself, but almost every day he says something new and alarming that goes well beyond narcissism, and even alarms his staff. On several occasions he’s asked his staff what’s wrong with using nuclear weapons, and his conspiracy claims are endless. His raving hatreds have inspired a number of threats and even fatal attacks against innocents, and he is looking very much like a similar personality in the past.

We don’t dare trust that Hillary Clinton will win without a huge effort. Trump’s angry white followers pay no attention to what he actually says, just his attitude, his blaming of practically everybody, and there are a lot of Trumpsters. Trump provides them with plenty of people of color to blame.

But if Hillary does win, aside from the many repairs of state needed from four decades of harmful Republican policy, particularly the fantasy belief that tax breaks for the rich will bring prosperity, the more important need is to cultivate a climate of tolerance and peacefulness at every level. While ending the many privileges that the very rich have devised to funnel more money to themselves is supremely important, it is the “softer” needs that will be more difficult, and probably more important.

Democrats must do a better job of listening to the Trumpsters, because they do have some legitimate complaints. However, domestic economic needs have nothing to do with the rich, and Trump’s plans would make it much worse. It is the poor who have suffered most, moreso than the middle class. And the solutions lie with helping the poor, not the rich or even the middle class, and certainly not with blaming an ethnic group for our problems.

We have a much worse problem with racism than most of us whites knew about until the Obama years, a racism that has been fully embraced by Republicans for many decades. Racism manifests in many ways, but of course the most obvious of them currently is the endless unpunished murder of unarmed African-Americans by violent police. My belief is that we finally understand what blacks have been saying all along, and the barest beginnings of improvement are being seen—I hope. If so, it may be the beginning of an improved national attitude.

Making our public attitude more calm depends greatly on the purposeful cultivation of tolerance. We must come to understand that we don’t have to like everyone, only to accept that everyone deserves everything we deserve, regardless of their color, sexual orientation, religion, or anything else.

Most people are peace-loving and law abiding, but also have legitimate complaints, even if they express them hatefully. It is unfair to judge people harshly for objecting to conditions they did not create themselves. Most people who hate being poor aren’t that interested in being rich. They just want to be treated fairly, to not be harassed because they are poor, to be reasonably paid for work, to benefit from things like a balanced education and medical care that a just democracy should provide.

Acceptance and tolerance are hard when society cheats us. So a good part of an improved attitude depends on improved justice and opportunity for everyone. If we believe we ourselves benefit from fair treatment, from equality, we are more inclined to champion justice for all. If we believe we are being mistreated, we look for someone to blame.

Trump plays to the latter, ginning up many scapegoats by race, religion, and citizenship status, and telling people he is the cure for all the problems created by his scapegoats. But the problems he claims are mostly imaginary, and he has no cure for the real ones. The great business empire and wealth he claims consists of bankruptcies and failures, and he is clueless about nearly everything else, including the Constitution. He cultivates demagoguery and understands human rights poorly.

Here are a few things we as a nation must come to understand: Refugees escaping from dangerous political situations are very rarely criminals of any sort. They must be welcomed and assisted. They have lost everything. Immigrants do not “take American jobs”. Rather, they create new jobs, pay important taxes, and improve the economy. Immigrants have always literally made the US.

It is important that Democrats adopt a persistent attitude of tolerance. We don’t have to like people in order to tolerate them. We might even dislike them, but we must protect their rights and equal treatment under the law.

How to Recover Our Stolen Democracy

My belief is that government should serve the people. Unfortunately, the conservative belief is quite different, and over the past half century this has allowed and encouraged the extraordinary concentration of power and wealth with the very richest people in the country, to the detriment of literally everyone else. If we are to recover our democracy, the things that allowed this plutocracy must be changed, and a fair share of the nation’s wealth restored to the rest of us. Here are some of the things we must do.

The Great Depression taught us that banking and investment must be separated. But Congress, controlled by the very rich, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which in 2008 forced the government to rescue the rich by bailing out overextended investment banks with our money. Reinstatement of the separation is the most important thing Congress could do. That way, when investment banks go under because they chased risky schemes, which they continue to do, they will lose their own money, not ours. But we will guarantee the safety of ordinary deposit banks, as long as banks maintain the required reserves and follow the rules.

We must disallow all enterprises and activities that do not contribute to the general welfare. It’s easy to see that theft, burglary, and embezzlement have no redeeming social value. That’s why they are illegal. But Wall Street every day rakes in money—our money—with rapid computer trading and other sleazy activities that should be illegal. Fast computer programs flash away all day to pick pennies off the top of trades several times per second. They contribute absolutely nothing to the country, and should therefore be outlawed.

They are not the only way Wall Street steals our money, of course. Hedge funds bet that an enterprise will fail. When it does, high rollers stuff their hidden bank accounts with sums that have lots of zeros at the end, while the general economy declines. In fact, the great majority of Wall Street enterprises are pure rent-seeking. That is, they “invest” in ways that contribute nothing, but extract unearned money from the economy. That’s the very definition of rent-seeking.

Another practice is the hostile takeover of businesses in financial difficulty. The vulture buyers then sell everything the company owns and fire everyone. The rich buyer gets richer, often much richer, and everyone else gets poorer and unemployed, and the country loses out. All such hurtful practices should be disallowed completely, because they are harmful to people and to the economy.

Wall Street is totally amoral. “Investment” doesn’t mean committing money to something beneficial. It means putting money into something with the sole purpose of extracting unearned profit. Any contribution to the economy is accidental. The purpose is to extract money, and that extracted money is ours.

People and corporations with Big Money routinely hide it offshore in financial institutions that keep their depositors’ names secret. The majority of this money is illegally hidden to avoid paying tax on it. We must have a new law that disallows investment in any institution in which the IRS cannot determine the names of depositors and the value of their holdings. Violators must personally be punished with prison terms. Fining a corporation does nothing because the fine is always paid by the corporation, not the criminal. At base, our money ends up paying the fine, and the practice continues.

Corporations have taken to “moving” their headquarters to places with low tax, although the only moving done is to establish a small office there. The corporation continues to benefit in many ways from the taxes we pay, but contributes nothing to the country. We should simply disallow this practice, but if not we should treat the company as a foreign business, and assess fees to cover the cost of the services and infrastructure a foreign corporation with a big presence in the US uses.

In general, we must end the opaque ways used in banking. The government should be able when necessary to learn the names of all “investors” in any enterprise. Tax authorities must be able to find out who owns real estate such as the multimillion dollar homes in NYC and elsewhere that are hidden by a series of shell companies designed to keep ownership hidden.

A revolving door has always existed between Congress or regulators and lobbyists. After serving in Congress, literally anyone can easily walk into a job that will quickly make her a millionaire by lobbying the same people she formerly worked with. There should be a significant period imposed before anyone can take such a job. I suggest five years. Congress is intended to be a legislative body, not an easy way to become rich.

These are only a few of the many corrections we must make if we are to restore real democracy and end the plutocracy we have become.

Let us hope the coming election gives us a Democrat for president and a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. If that happens, we stand a fair chance of correcting the failures that Republicans have forced on us over three decades of subversion and failure to honor democracy.

The Unemployment Conundrum

All the months since President Obama turned the job loss situation around in 2009 have shown steady improvement in new jobs. Unemployment has fallen and employment has risen. We are in good shape, it seems.

And yet we have a big problem with unemployment. So significant that one demographic segment has shown unexpected major increases in drug use and suicides: middle-aged white males—the Trumpsters. The phenomenon is so prominent that we can no longer pretend that African-Americans are to blame for all our addictions. Nor can we any longer pretend they are the only unemployed.

This is the conundrum: how is it possible that the employment situation can be both steadily improving and at the same time worsening enough that these men become addicted and commit suicide?

The fact is that both Trumpsters and the younger hipsters are right, but they are talking about two different populations. It is very important that the nation address the problems that afflict the middle-aged Trumpsters as well as the hipsters. As I have said here, here, and here, I think an important step is to reduce the length of the work week, as we have done in the past.

Between these two groups, the greater difficulty lies with those who haven’t been able to find stable work for decades. People, not just whites, but African-Americans also, like those Paul Theroux talked to during several years of travels through the Deep South (the title of his latest book). Although he wrote about the south, the same conditions persist in other parts of the country, particularly rural areas. In the deep south, the cities tend to be prosperous enough to support the people reasonably.

But get outside the city limits ten or twenty miles and you will find that most of the population is poor and struggling, the employment situation desperate, the infrastructure in disrepair. Factories and farms are abandoned and overgrown, with jobs shipped overseas, and demand for local agriculture and manufactured products long gone. Good people are trying to help as much as they can, getting small funding from state and federal governments, but recovery is not underway.

But in many cities themselves, besides in the South, unemployment and depressing conditions are also high.

What Donald Trump is saying, although most of it is contradictory and false, resonates with many such people, because nobody else seems to believe they are worth the trouble, and they don’t like that, or the idea that whites are moving toward less power and dominance. Nothing has improved for them for a long time, and Trump tells them he will fix everything.

But Trump lies, of course. Nothing this failed businessman could do will fix the situation, although he tells them again and again he will make everything all better. But neither does anyone else of importance have the sure answer, and very few are even thinking about it, because they dismiss these people as being uneducated and beyond help, besides which many are the wrong color. They are therefore not worth the trouble.

But their situation is serious, and thoughtful steps can be taken to improve their prospects. The global market is here to stay, but the government could enact many minor laws and regulations that would be small but progressive steps toward improving things. Theroux wrote about the collapse of fish farming, for example, under the onslaught of Asian fish farms and their cheap products that now flood the US market.

But most Asian fish farms are filthy, disease-ridden, and chemically contaminated, and the workers are poorly paid. In the US there are now some modern hygienic fish farms that provide far superior fish to the US market, and we like their products. The government could easily enough forbid diseased and chemically polluted fish from being sold, subsidize the construction of US facilities, and guarantee the price for the operators. It could encourage worker ownership, which would bring greatly improved income to fish farmers, which would have a multiplier effect in their locale.

Likewise, other efforts could bring superior US American products to market. Henry Petroski, in The Road Taken, recounts how several inferior Chinese hand tools broke in his hand the first time he used them. The US government could encourage production of superior products. This is not without precedent. For example, Detroit’s Shinola corporation broke out of shoe polish business and into several new lines that are decidedly superior products. Likewise, the Lodge Cast Iron Foundry of South Pittsburg, Tennessee has been around since 1896, but not only has not faded away with the loss of the iron industry, but is now producing cast iron cookware that beats imports in both quality and price.

In recent years our pundits have told us we can no longer rely on making things, since the Third World can make them so much cheaper. But, as my examples demonstrate, cheaper is not always better, and there is a market for superior American stuff of all kinds. Moreover, not everyone can or should go to college. Skilled work of any kind is to be admired, should be well paid, and is worth a lot to our own markets.

It would not take earth-shaking new programs to put these people on a new trajectory. But it would take more than haphazard and disinterested efforts, which we seem to be making now. We can do it, but first we have to believe that it’s important.

Your Vote: Plutocracy or Democracy

The most popular article at my site lately is this one. Apparently, more than a few people are aware of the enormous danger of the plutocracy we have allowed to develop in recent decades, a danger that’s particularly evident in this election. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and now Hillary Clinton are stressing it.

Those who have read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, or any of several recent books that document our dangerous slide into government controlled by and for the very rich, understand that people like the Koch brothers have used their enormous wealth to subvert democracy for their own benefit.

Lest you think this is exaggeration, there are regular secret meetings of the very rich to plot this subversion, documented with great difficulty by Jane Mayer. They are held in secret places that nobody else can get into, without any public notice. No press, no liberals, no Democrats. They go so far as to set up outward-facing speakers that blast loud music so no one lurking in the nearby woods can overhear. Democrats have no such secret meetings, and the platform is there for everyone to see.

Here’s how the very rich launder money so that no one knows who contributes what: A non-profit agency is set up to take donations for “educational” purposes. No one even knows who is managing this agency. It collects tens of millions from very rich Republican donors. These agencies, like Caribbean banks that hide wealth, are little more than a PO Box, or maybe a rent-a-desk in some sparsely populated western state. Another “educational” non-profit is set up in another crossroads town; money from the first one is transferred to it, stripped of any identifying info. Other “educational” shadow companies also contribute. There may be a third, fourth, and fifth rent-a-desk, and other non-profits that similarly contribute. By then the money is mixed like paint. Presto, freshly laundered cash for controlling Congress, and nobody can tell whose money it is.

There is much more to Republican mendacity, including the several Republican state legislatures that are doing their best to abolish democracy. They gerrymander their districts so that the Democratic majority cannot win; they pass laws that make voting more difficult instead of less, designed to keep the poor and black Democratic voters away from ballot boxes; they cut the number of voting places, restrict the hours, and “lose” blank ballots on election day; they subscribe to the belief that anyone in another state who shares a name must be voting twice, and remove people from voting rolls by tens of thousands, often without telling them; they have been caught red-handed manipulating the votes in various ways on election day. The most serious consequence of their skullduggery is that they have made it very difficult to undo.

This is why Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the most important persons in the election. Clinton’s certain nomination has been ordained for a long time, but it is Bernie and Elizabeth who have told us in clear terms that our democracy is gone, and we must reclaim it from the plutocrats however we can. If we want to seize our democracy from the clutches of people with preposterous wealth who want to control it and us, we must listen to Bernie and Elizabeth, because they are the main ones telling us how to get back on track.

Why Homelessness Won’t Be Solved by Itself

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an admirable series on homelessness—on the front page. Like everywhere else, the city has spent many millions to help solve the problem, and it has only gotten worse. That’s because homelessness is not a city problem. It’s not even a national problem. At base, it’s a global problem, closely related to the concentration of the nation’s and the world’s wealth in the hands of a few people who have absolutely no use for it.

Homelessness is not one single problem. Locally, the two most significant factors are unemployment and substance abuse. The former is no doubt the far bigger factor, in spite of what some people think. To those people, mostly white conservatives who believe because they were always able to find work, anyone unemployed is simply not trying hard enough. Oddly enough, the same people also believe that all homeless are addicts. In neither case do they think that economic conditions might have something to do with it.

Homelessness is not caused by the homeless. It is caused by the economy.

I will leave addiction for another time. The biggest element of homelessness is unemployment, and many of the personal tales are heartbreaking. Millions of people with decades of dependable skilled work were tossed aside when factories closed, their jobs shipped off to poor countries where the bosses pay a fraction of US wages, and workers are too desperate to demand more.

The newly jobless family is unable to find equivalent work, and falls behind on the mortgage and bills. Eventually they settle for beginning-level wages, which don’t pay the bills. They downsize, sometimes unable to sell their house in a down market, which is then seized by the bank. Sometimes they can’t find work because they are “too old”, which can be anything from 40 on up. Sometimes everything fails, and they have no choice but to live in their car, or a tent.

However, the loss of work because of modernization is a greater factor than outsourcing jobs to the Third World, although they are related. As I have said here and here, more and more of the work we depended on is being done by robots and computers. Some of this modernization calls for employees with new skills, but many more jobs simply vaporize, their workers pushed out to fend for themselves. Jobs in management aren’t shielded from this trend, either, if for no other reason than the analytical work by management, as well as software coding, can be done at 25% of the cost by workers in India and elsewhere.

Not all is lost, however. Effort in at least four areas can create higher levels of employment. These are: (1) a shorter work week; (2) better laws that provide universal citizen needs at greater efficiency; (3) laws that keep jobs and money in the country; (4) and changes that attenuate the greed of the very rich and the corporate bosses.

As I have said before, my half-humorous suggestion for determining the work week was to divide the grand total of hours of work available by the grand total number of workers. In principle it’s actually a good idea. It would give us a work week of 20 hours or so, which would give us some of the benefits that modernization should provide.

Getting to a 20-hour week is not simple, because workers can neither suddenly be paid half as much nor can they be paid the same for half the work. But we did it to arrive at the 40-hour week from 60 hours, so it is quite possible.

The federal government can do numerous things to make living under the new situation comfortable. Conservatives who believe that a sort of anarchy with few laws and minimal government is the best way are simply wrong. That would give us more crime and less efficiency.

We have laws because not everyone can be trusted to behave for the common benefit, obviously. Besides individual criminals, corporations and the very rich dependably behave in ways that reduce everyone else’s wealth and wellbeing while increasing their own. This has given us the current plutocracy, which, if we are to restore our democracy, must be overthrown one way or another. But that will not happen as long as the very rich and their congressional pets control the government. The once-reasonable Republican party has gone berserk, and is no help. It will take great Democratic strength to rescue the country from itself.

The laws that have taken away from the common good must simply be ended. If a practice cannot be shown to be socially worthwhile, it should be outlawed. It’s not hard to think of examples. Flash trading and hedge funds have no social utility at all; they do not benefit the country in any way. Giant banks must return to boring old banking, and shed their investment services. This is something the Great Depression taught us, but we forgot. Corporations must not be able to avoid their fair share of taxes by setting up a shell headquarters in some low-tax country. All the tax dodges set up by the very wealthy and their congressional pets must be ended. There is no reason the very rich should own such a huge part of the national wealth, because the only place it can come from is the rest of us.

Rather than clutching their pearls and watching corporate bosses rake in multi-millions for sending jobs to poor countries, Congress should enact any number of laws that discourage them from shipping jobs out and closing the mill. Simply requiring all foods to be pure and without known chemicals and impurities, and labeled GMO if they are, would not only improve the quality of our food, but would eliminate carelessly produced foods from overseas. Modernizing factories could be encouraged with financial incentives. Many small steps would improve the employment picture.

Corporations have taken to setting up an office in a low tax country and calling that the corporate headquarters to avoid paying taxes. There are many ways that could be curbed, including designating such companies foreign companies, subject to taxes and duties greater than those for domestic companies. The global economy is complex, but our laws should not allow the US to suffer for the benefit of corporate officers.

In all cases of universal citizen need, the federal government must manage that need, because profit-making interests will always cost significantly more. Every such step we take improves the wellbeing and wealth of the country. National health care is the most obvious instance. National health care insurance would provide the average equivalent of a seven percent raise. The simplest example of benefit here is the avoidance of unnecessary death from untreated disease. An adult who dies unnecessarily costs the country a lot, which falls on the deficit side of the national accounting. There are many other possibilities for national services besides health care that would improve the financial security of all citizens.

These things are so obviously beneficial for the country it is ridiculous to believe we’d be better off without them, as Republicans claim. The federal government is efficient, in spite of what Ronald Reagan claimed, and requires fewer people to do the same work, without the severely bloated wages of corporate bosses.

Right now the government seems to have no understanding of what causes homelessness, nor have more than a handful of people suggested what we can do about it. I believe that the ways I have suggested are well worth discussion and development. I believe they would cure or improve several serious problems. Unfortunately, one political party, the one that caused most of the problems in the first place, would rather defend the plutocracy.


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