Monday, September 7, 2015

"Politicians Want to Exploit the Issues--they Don't want to Solve the Issues" (Peter Von Matt); so "Let's rescue our democracy and take back our economy" (Robert Reich)

"Let's rescue our democracy and take back our economy!"
For the past 30 years Republican candidates have preached that tax cuts primarily benefitting the wealthy are necessary to stimulate the economy, that tax increases on the wealthy destroy jobs, and that government spending on infrastructure, schools, and social programs is necessarily inflationary. Government spending, they say, adds to the deficit and that will cause high inflation. On the other hand, they say we can't reduce the deficit through taxation on the wealthy because the wealthy are the "job creators" and taxing job creators will mean higher unemployment.

For 30 years Republican orthodoxy has been proven wrong: wrong on inflation, wrong on the debt, wrong on taxation, wrong on job creation.  See, e.g. Paul Krugman's article in the NYT this morning "Trump is Right on the Economics."

The G.O.P.'s wrong, wrong, wrong policy orthodoxy has put an end to the Republican party as "a party of economic development, economic growth, and upward mobility," says Brad DeLong. It has turned the Republican party "now and for the forseeable future, (into) the party of entrenched, and increasingly, inherited wealth--people for whom economic development and creative destruction is actually a minus." Quotes are from Brad DeLong's very interesting analysis HERE (describing the destructive decline of the G.O.P. from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump).

What happened to the moral center of American capitalism? asks Robert Reich. This is a broader problem than just the corruption of the G.O.P.

What's needed, says Reich, is a mass movement--by voters like you and me--that rescues our democracy and takes back our economy.  Here is Reich:
An economy depends fundamentally on public morality; some shared standards about what sorts of activities are impermissible because they so fundamentally violate trust that they threaten to undermine the social fabric. .... We’ve witnessed over the last two decades in the United States a steady decline in the willingness of people in leading positions in the private sector – on Wall Street and in large corporations especially – to maintain minimum standards of public morality. They seek the highest profits and highest compensation for themselves regardless of social consequences. 
CEOs of large corporations now earn 300 times the wages of average workers. Wall Street moguls take home hundreds of millions, or more. Both groups have rigged the economic game to their benefit while pushing downward the wages of average working people. ....
Where has the moral center of American capitalism disappeared? .... We’ve got to put limits on executive pay and have a much more progressive income tax so that people who are earning tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year are paying at a rate that they paid before 1981, which is at least 70% at the highest marginal level.  .... 
None of this is possible without an upsurge in the public at large – a movement that rescues our democracy and takes back our economy. One can’t be done without the other. Our economy and democracy are intertwined. 
Last week, the online publication Die Zeit published an interview with two prominent Swiss elder statesmen: Peter Von Matt and Franz Steinegger. They addressed one of the problems of Swiss politics at the moment, the referendum on mass immigration passed 18 months ago, which directs that immigration quotas be established that will put Switzerland in violation of bilateral treaties with the EU regarding the free movement of people within the Schengen area.  The Swiss have until February 9, 2017 to sort this out.  The clock is ticking. [See my post about the referendum HERE]  But what particularly struck my eye in this interview was the more general observation about how democracies must go about solving such problems. Here is the bottom line:  Democracies depend on thoughtful voters who engage with issues; not emotional voters easily manipulated by demagogic politicians. 

What democracies--all democracies--need are more citizens who engage with issues thoughtfully in search of a solution, and fewer politicians who simply exploit issues to garner votes.  Politicians, on the whole, are not interested in solving the great issues of the day, says Von Matt, rather they are interested in exploiting the issues in order to garner votes. We see this with our own immigration discussion. Donald Trump says he wants to deport all 11 million undocumented workers in the United States. He says this not because he wants to solve a problem presented by these undocumented workers. In fact, studies are clear that the presence of these workers is a net gain for the country, not a drain. No, Trump takes this position in order to exploit the issue to garner votes. He is playing on the emotions, fears, and prejudices of a xenophobic white working class constituency. He is not trying to solve a problem. And this happens not just with immigration, of course. The same dysfunctional dynamic occurs when politicians discuss the deficit, tax policy, economic recovery, or the Iran nuclear deal: politicians are exploiting issues to attract votes, they are not interested in solving problems.

The following is my translation:
Von Matt: [Politicians] say it’s about the issues, but it’s about the votes. They say it’s about immigration. But it's about gaining votes with the demand for less immigration. This is a logical deception. They want to exploit the issues—they don’t want to solve the issues.

Steinegger: Politicians want to exploit the problems. For example, immigration. Perhaps there is a connection that, on the one hand, we (the Swiss) have the highest percentage of foreigners in Europe, together with Luxemburg, and on the other hand, the lowest unemployment rate. In short, I say: one would only have to introduce a type of Apartheid; whoever supported the [initiative against mass immigration in 2014] will only be cared for in the old age home and the hospital by people who can prove their Swiss ancestry to 1291—everyone else will get normal treatment. Indeed, that way everyone would soon come to understand the advantages of immigration. ….

Zeit (addressing Von Matt): You go even further and mean: perhaps one needs to let the [bilateral agreements regarding immigration with the EU] splinter on the rocks. Does it require a shock to bring the country to its senses?

Von Matt: The shock will come in any case. What has happened between January 1, 2015 and today? The terrorist attack in Paris, the currency shock (Swiss Franc), the “Islamic State,” the steep increase in the number of refugees. None of this was foreseeable. None of us would have dreamed these things. This unpredictability has increased like never before. True, recognizing this does not help me. But we have to think about it. …. Democracy needs concerned, not irate citizens. Otherwise it does not function. The socialist and the libertarian must speak with each other. Politics is a job for thoughtfulness, not a job for feelings and emotions. ... [W]hat’s necessary is the very careful and engaged thought-work of the voters.
The entire German language interview in Die Zeit can be found HERE.

Brad DeLong says the fearful, xenophobic, reactionary, and thoughtless portion of the electorate that currently holds the Republican party hostage is only 10% of the voters. This is a concern for our politics, but it should be of particular concern to Republican voters.

Issues get solved in a democracy through thoughtful citizen engagement.  There is evidence of thought percolating in these very primaries.  See, for example, Iowans Question G.O.P. Talk on Illegal Immigrants, in the NYT (9/6/15).  This is an example of what needs to happen more. Thoughtful citizen engagement, it's the life-blood of democracy.

No comments:

Post a Comment