A. The politics of race and age:
The Tea Party is overwhelmingly white (89 percent, in fact). 75 percent of Tea Partiers are 45 years old or older, moreover, roughly 60 percent are men. It is a movement of and for old white men.
B. Blame the immigrant is as old as America:
“The first known outbreak of yellow fever had occurred in 1703, before its malignancy even had a name. It was simply called “the great sickness.” The blame that first summer fell on a ship from St. Thomas that arrived in Manhattan peculiarly close to the beginning of the outbreak. Ever since suspicion attached itself to these “vessels from one of the sickly ports of the West Indies.”
Collins, Paul. Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery.. Crown/Archetype.
‘Kushim!’ is the first recorded name in History. He was an accountant in Mesopotamia somewhere about 5000 or more years ago. It is interesting and telling that the first recorded name in history belongs to an accountant, rather than a prophet, a poet or a great conqueror. The second name we know from about the same time is Gal-Sal. He was a slave owner and the next two names we know about were his slaves En-pap X and Sukkalgir. So the first people whose names we know of were an accountant, a slave owner, and two slaves — no heroes and no Kings. The first King’s name showed up a couple of generations later.
What this shows is that little has changed in 5000 years. The world is still run by accountants, business owners (slave owners) and workers (slaves), Kings, Heroes, and Prophets are just entertainment.
In the national and candidates debates during this election year, as in all other presidential years, the words “debt” and “deficit” are thrown about in order to justify one’s political position or criticize an opponent’s. Actually, it is usually a smoke screen since historically (at least since WWII) both parties run similar annual budget deficits with Republican administrations since the election of Ronald Reagan running somewhat larger annual budget deficits and both parties showing a somewhat similar growth in the National Debt as a percentage of GDP. The difference between the parties often comes down to what that Budget Deficit goes to pay for. Traditionally, for Republicans generally, it goes to pay for enhanced military development and tax relief for private capital expenditure and formation and higher income individuals with Democrats leaning more toward paying for social programs, public works, and tax relief for consumers and lower income workers.
Recently, I came across some information from the US Treasury Department on the annual US budget deficit, the total National Debt by year, US GDP and US National Debt as a percentage of GDP going back to at least 1929. I was able to cull the following from those spreadsheets.
First some definitions: The Budget Deficit is those government expenditures (including payments on the National Debt) not covered by revenues in a given year. For the most part from a policy standpoint, the annual deficit for any single year tends to be not all that significant except during times of great stress like wars and economic panic. The National Debt is what the Federal Government owes at any given time.
Let’s look at two lists I prepared from US Treasury spreadsheets going back to the end of WWII that I hope will shed a little light on the nature of the political rhetoric.
Percentage increase in total National Government debt by President during his term.
Bush 2 101%
Bush 1 54% (4 years)
Obama 53% (7 years)
Ford 47% (3 years)
Carter 43% (4 years)
Nixon 34% (5 years)
Johnson 13% (5 Years)
Kennedy 8% (3 years)
Truman 3% (7 years)
National Debt as a percentage of the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product at a President’s final budget.
Obama 106.7% (7 years)
Bush 2 85%
Truman 69.7% (7 years)
Bush 1 60.5% (4 years)
49.5% Kennedy (3 years)
35.9% Johnson (5 years)
Nixon 32.6 (5 Years)
Ford 31. 4% (3 years)
Carter 31.3% (4 years)
The second list is probably more important and informative since it relates the National Debt to the size of the economy at the time. While Bush 2 and Obama appear to have the larger percentage, a significant portion of those increases came at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of Obama’s as they struggled to deal with the Great Recession ($1.1 trillion DEFICIT for the last year of Bush2 and $1.5 trillion DEFICIT for the first year of Obama). It demonstrates how great an economic crisis it was. (A similar spike would appear if these charts continued back to the great depression. Under Roosevelt, the depression and WWII increased the National Debt well over 1000%.) One takeaway is that after WWII, the size of the National Debt as a percentage of GDP decreased through all administrations Republican and Democrat alike until Reagan took office. Since then it has steadily increased except during the Clinton years. The most significant impacts on both Annual Deficits and the National Debt since Reagan took office has been a large reduction in taxes on upper-income individuals, non-earned income, and corporations, funding of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and the Obama stimulus.
Another way of looking at this, and perhaps even more illuminating, is how many percentage points over his predecessor a President increased the National Debt as a percentage of GDP when he left office:
The above clearly shows Clinton and Reagan as outliers. The difference between them appears to be almost exclusively their approach to taxes on higher earners and corporations. The list also further demonstrates the massive distortion of governmental finances engendered by the Middle Eastern wars and the Great Recession.
I believe that a national economy works better and the growth of National Debt moderated when a significant portion of public expenditure works its way through the economy from the bottom (like fuel in a furnace) rather than from the top. How that is done should be the basis of public debate (welfare, public works, incentives to work or to hire people, or consumer tax relief and so on).
I have no idea of the ideal size of National Debt a mature nation should carry but suspect it depends on the interest rate on the debt and the ability of the nation to service the debt during times of crisis. That is why I believe Keynes prescription to run budget deficits during times of crisis and surpluses during periods of growth is sound politics and prudent fiscal policy.
Note: It should be pointed out that total US debt as a percentage of GDP from all sectors went from approximately 1.5 times GDP in 1946 to a little less than 4 times GDP today. In 1946, the total US debt-to-GDP ratio was 150%, with two-thirds of that held by the federal government. Since 1946, the federal government’s share of total US debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen from about 2/3 to a little over 1/4. On the other, hand the share of total US Debt as a percentage of GDP of the financial sector, has increased substantially from less than 1% in 1926 to about 28% in 2009 with much of that growth occurring in the private Non-Government backed securities area. Government backed debt part of the financial sector, such as Ginnie Mae etc., has remained a relatively stable while private financial debt has soared from 0% to about 12% of the total US debt as a percentage of GDP. The ratio for households has risen nearly as much, from 10% of total debt as a percentage of GDP to about 24%.
In other words, while federal debt as a portion of the nation’s economy generally has been falling, private debt has been growing substantially.
So, what does all this mean? Damned if I know. I do know, however, that those who tells us they do know, usually don’t, and if they do, what they tell us is often a lie.
Given that we are well into the presidential primary season, I thought it would be helpful, if admittedly a little late to provide some historical background on the process.*
First a few points:
1. The Constitution did not create a democracy. It created a Republic with certain minority rights contained in the first 10 amendments. It did not give the right to vote to all citizens. That right has evolved throughout our history and is still evolving.
2. There is nothing about a democracy that ensures that it will govern better that many other forms of government. If voting by citizens is a measure of democracy we have had democracies that have governed badly and authoritarian states that have been governed well. No one would call China a democracy but when they had elections over 90% of the people vote.
3. In most democracies who is elected is not determined by who votes but who does not vote.
4. Suffrage, the simple right of a citizen to vote, has never been universal. It began under the Constitution limited to propertied males and is still evolving. But that right has never come with real power. Power, in the United States, includes wealth and ideology.
5. Nominations are more important than the elections. Far fewer people vote or take part in the nomination process than the members of the parties that vote in the general election. It is essentially undemocratic at its core. Supposed anti-establishment candidates like Sanders and Trump take full advantage of these flaws while criticizing their opponents for doing the same. For example, Sanders fully knowing that the lightly attended caucuses are undemocratic flooded them with short term enthusiasts in order to appear to the media, successfully by the way, more popular with the rank and file voters than he was at the time. His claims that super delegates are somehow undemocratic rings hollow when most of his success comes from packing with enthusiasts an un-democratic process.
Now let us look at the evolution of political parties and the nomination process in the United States.
1. Beginning in 1789 and for more than 40 years thereafter, candidates were named by the legislators. This method was called the legislative caucus. Up to the early 1840s, there was a steady extension of democracy by changes in State voting laws, culminating in the Rhode Island reforms of 1842, resulting from Dorr’s rebellion, extending the suffrage to the ordinary man. By 1843, voting democracy for male citizens was established more or less in all the States.
2. The era of the spoils system, and it lasted for a little over 40 years, from just before 1840 to just after 1880. The spoils system arose, from the fact that in a system of mass democracy, where most men at least have the right to vote, there must be some way of nominating candidates for office. The method chosen was the nominating convention. This raised the problem of how to finance sending the delegates to the convention.
The solution that developed around 1840 provided for the party machine of the winning party in an election to reward the party faithful by appointing them to governmental office. To the victor belong the spoils. These appointees then kick back money to the party kitty, say, a quarter or 10 percent of their salary every year; and these kick-backs provide the funds for the nomination convention and the process of political campaigning. In that new system, government officials themselves went as paid delegates to the nominating conventions, and the nominations and getting out the vote in elections were controlled by the party machines. All of these were local in cities or on a State basis. It was a feudalistic power structure.
One of the interesting features of the whole system was the role that politics played in people’s lives. In this period, from 1840 to 1880, politics and religion, frequently revivalist religion, were the chief entertainment outlets of the American people. They did not have organized sports or other kinds of entertainment except an occasional traveling company of actors, and, more often, revivalist preachers. So people identified with a political party.
Here’s how the system worked. Professionals, not amateurs, ran the elections. Issues were of little importance. Charisma was not important; in fact, it was a drawback. The parties put up the most colorless dark horse they could find—the less people knew about him the better—and then counted on enthusiasm for the party to get out the votes.
Elections in that period were pretty close, although after 1865, on the whole, the Republicans did better than the Democrats because the South had become a minority area and the Democrats a minority party. But, on the whole, few people were interested in issues or in candidates, and it was very difficult for a winning candidate to be reelected because once people got to know him they quickly discovered how dull a person he was. That’s why he got nominated in the first place. The nominee was by definition the candidate that the local State party machines had nothing against. The local machines had an effective veto, and by the time they finished vetoing everybody who had any importance or was known, the only one left might be a man like James A. Garfield, a completely dark horse. The only alternative was a Civil War general, who did, of course, exercise some attraction. The elections were extremely close, and up to 80 percent of the electorate voted. We have the exact figures for most of this period. The average was 78.5 percent. We have never gone that high since 1896.
This spoils system was, in a sense, a shakedown operation, particularly against business. And as business and finance became stronger, they became increasingly restive under this exploitation by party machines. Take the New York Customs House, which had 1,100 officials who were the very core of the New York election machine, which in turn was the core of the system for the whole country. Those 1,100 officials kicked back a good part of their salaries to the New York State party machine. So they, in turn, charged businessmen outrageous tariffs, as much as the traffic would bear. The laws were ignored. The customs officials would tie up a shipment of steel and keep it tied up until the tariff they demanded was paid.
Businessmen changed the system in 1880-1883. William C. Whitney (who later started the modern American Navy as Secretary of the Navy in the Cleveland administration), devised a scheme to cut the very roots out from under the party machines. He established the Civil Service in the Pendleton Act of 1883. This had the effect of cutting off most of the funds on which the party machines depended. So the parties now had to look to big business to finance them.
3.This led to the third historical stage, the era of big-business domination, from 1884 to 1932. It was radically different from the one preceding. Voting dropped off drastically. In the 1870s political activity had cut across all groups and classes — rich and poor, white and black, Catholic and Protestant. African-Americans were more active in politics in the 1870s and 1880s than they have been at any time in the 20th century until very recently. Politics was everybody’s game. But once big business got control, voting fell off and hovered around 52 percent, instead of the 78 percent it had been before. The professionals were pushed out and amateurs took over — people who came in for one campaign or two, generally financed by business — men like William McKinley, who was elected President in 1896.
Then, big business discovered it could control the Republican National Convention, because of all those delegates from the Solid South who did not represent voters and who therefore could easily be bought. From 1896 on, as a result, the Republicans dominated the national scene through amateur control of politics and increasingly restricting political activity among middle-class whites to the WASPs. It was in the 1890s that we got the Jim Crow laws and other restrictions which in one way or another ensured that certain minority groups really couldn’t expect to make it.
Eventually, big business undermined its own dominance by being too greedy — there’s no other word for it — in the 1920s. They alienated not only the workers and the farmers and the petit-bourgeois white-collar workers but also much of the middle classes, including most of the merchants and light industry. All that was left, still in control at the top, was high finance (sometimes called Wall Street) and heavy industry — steel, coal, the automobile industry, and so on. By running politics solely for their own benefit they alienated everybody else.
So in 1932, everybody else lined up behind a Democrat. In the once solid mid-West, which for decades had voted Republican year in and year out — except rarely for a third party as in 1892 and in 1924 — many people now decided that the Civil War had been over for a long time and it was time to vote Democratic.
4. Out of this situation came the New Deal, the fourth stage. The New Deal was a system of organized blocs. Formerly organized finance and organized heavy industry had run everything else. Now the New Deal set about organizing all the other interests, especially mass labor in the CIO, the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee (SWOC), and the United Mine Workers, which had been the only really strong labor union before 1930. They organized mass labor; they organized the farmers, they organized others: Most of their money came from merchants. The largest contributor to Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign in 1932 was the Strauss family of R. H. Macy. Second largest was Vincent Astor, whose real-estate holdings in New York City had been injured by the depression. Third was Bernard Baruch, who was a professional contributor to the Democratic Party.
These were the groups that the New Deal organized. What they wanted to set up was a system of countervailing blocs: finance, heavy industry, light industry, professional groups, labor, farmers, and so forth. They figured that if any party or political group got control of the Government and acted too selfishly, the others would form a coalition and restore the balance.
5. Well, the New Deal ran its course, and since about 1950 or so we have had plutocratic control. Three things are necessary to win elections: money, enthusiasm, organization. The role of money has increased to the point where it’s more and more difficult to offset the lack of it with good organization and enthusiasm. Organization must be super-efficient and enthusiasm has to be sustained and widespread. The costs of elections, what with TV air time, air transportation, and all the rest of it, have climbed sky-high. The Democrats just don’t have it. Do they have organization and enthusiasm? It’s hard to tell. I’m afraid the enthusiasm has dwindled to some extent.
It also signaled the rise of professional political consultants and lobbyists. It used to be the elections and nomination process was run by party loyalists paid by the party they now are serviced by the lobbyists and reams of professional consultants with little ideological commitment to the party. That later role is now taken up by various media organizations, news media like Fox news and MSNBC or social media blogs and the like.
Anyway, we now have a plutocratic system, and many politicians see it simply as a matter of buying elections. Here’s why. As our economy is now structured, the big corporations — aerospace, oil, and so on — are able to pour out millions to support the candidates they favor. The restrictions on the books are easily evaded, and the politicians in power won’t do much about it because they want some, too. The Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by the Supreme Court merely confirmed a process that already existed. What it did do is take away the power of government to alter the process.
6. We perhaps are witnessing a new phase in the evolution of parties and elections in the nation. The traditional structure of both parties and the nomination systems that supported them appear to be in a state of collapse or at least major change. It is as though we are returning to the mirror image of the process that existed at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Now instead of nominating an unknown party hack the parties through the nomination process seem to be moving toward selecting celebrity outsiders. The nomination process now exists for the benefit of the ideologically based media operations. To them, it does not appear to matter who wins the nominations as long as it enhances their ratings.
As I pointed out above, the nomination process is more important than the election. We as a nation are faced with a political party of the right well organized and capable no matter who is their standard bearer or whether he wins or loses. On the left, any ideology more radical than acceptable to the more centrist elected officials on the Federal, State, and local levels lacks an organization to develop candidates on all levels and get them elected.
- Note, a substantial portion of the above comes from Carroll Quigley’s lecture The Mythology of American Democracy given to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces on August 17, 1972.Some parts are taken directly from that lecture but updated and edited. My apology to the good professor for not placing those portions in quotes.
I support the movement toward electric vehicles and self-driving automobiles. They are a necessary component of any comprehensive assault on the looming crisis of human-induced climate change. There is, however, an emerging problem that should be examined and solutions proposed and implemented— the sooner the better.
The automotive system in the United States, as it is in most countries, can be described as predominately individually owned vehicles operated on collectively owned and maintained public rights of way. In the US, this system of right of ways is funded, not from the government’s General Fund, but chiefly by a type of user tax based upon levies on gasoline and other petroleum products used to power the vehicles.
Since about the turn of the Century, miles driven per person have fallen consistently year after year. Increased mileage rates per gallon of gasoline have risen putting additional stress on the various Highway Trust Funds. Major replacement of aging bridges and tunnels must now use the government’s general funds if they are to be repaired at all.
What will happen to the nation’s roads and highways during the 2020s when electric cars and trucks are expected to make up significant portions of the vehicles using the nation’s roadways? They are now given a free ride. That cannot continue. Solutions should not wait for the crisis to occur that may leave the highway fund in a hole that it may never be able to fill.
Although there appear to be several credible ways to resolve this emerging problem, we are talking about changing a nation’s entire system for funding its most significant transportation network upon which its economy is based. It will take time to work out the politics, procedures, and technologies of any system we settle on.
We should be doing this now before not after the crisis hits us.
t is a fundamental aspect of Economic Democracy, that there be ready availability of critical fundamental information about a nation’s economy and its distribution. It is simple, wealth, like military might, and for that matter religious ideology should not be permitted to manipulate the public well-being for its own purposes because its purposes are inconsistent with that of democracy. The founders of this nation recognized the danger to a free society posed by militarism and religious sectarianism and attempted to address it in the Constitution, Bill of Rights and other fundamental documents of this country that make up our social contract. Those protections are now under intense attack and must be resisted.
Also, it is time to further that work by establishing additional rights to protect the individual from what Teddy Roosevelt called the “Malefactors of Great Wealth”. Just as it allows the free exercise of religion and the implied ability to protect ourselves from militarily imposed tyranny from within and without, our fundamental declaration of rights must include the protection of the individual and the social contract from those individuals and institutions of great wealth and political power whose interests are not consistent with the liberty of the individual citizen. Abolishing our ability to take collective action through government as proposed by the Libertarians is as antithetical to Liberty as would be surrendering our right to a common defense against those who would otherwise impose their will on us.
With in mind, one of the statistics often relied upon by the media, government, and often economists to show the size of a nation’s economy,the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of similar measures, troubles me. It is often used to compare national economies as well as to demonstrate an economy’s growth over a period of time. Among the many reason for its inadequacy, one seems to me especially appropriate. GDP is a gross number that includes the cumulative effects of population growth. Since in most advanced economies population growth has stagnated or is even declining, it would be better, I believe, for purposes of comparison and growth to show the GDP per person in an economy along with its relative distribution.
In this way, policymakers can concentrate on, or be forced by the public informed by these figures, to concentrate on distribution and individual economic growth.
I suppose, like many who consider themselves progressive, I have the hope that sometime in the future, led by those individuals and groups that support us now, our ideals will become a strong effective majority able to wield enough influence to persuade society to adopt plans and programs we believe necessary. I still have hope and a glimmer of expectation.
I fear, however, the tragic truth is that the young as they age become conservatives, ethnic groups as they move into the middle class do so also. The gay community outside of the South is now free to vote Republican without too much shame while the black community is prevented from voting even if they are Republican. And worse of all, the seven and eight-year-olds of our nation seem to have been indoctrinated in many of our schools to hate others as well as to despise science.
One group, the men and women of this country working in the lowest of industrial, service industry, and agriculture jobs who at one time appeared to be the bedrock of the Democratic Party, have turned away sometimes even violently so. Most of them were of European immigrant heritage. Many of them or their ancestors suffered through similar hatred and prejudice with which they greet the immigrants of today.
Why were they lost to the Democratic Party? Oh yes, it’s easy to dismiss most of them as simply old white men, racists to the core whose last hurrah was this most recent national election. Even I did so in previous blogs. Yet, they were not the grand beneficiaries of the “ancien regime,” but only their expendable foot soldiers: those who had been persuaded that they had the most to lose when in fact, they had the least to gain.
Perhaps as Chris Hedges points out they are inherently conservative and resistant to change.
“The danger the corporate state faces does not come from the poor. The poor, those Karl Marx dismissed as the Lumpenproletariat, do not mount revolutions, although they join them and often become cannon fodder. The real danger to the elite comes from déclassé intellectuals, those educated middle-class men and women who are barred by a calcified system from advancement. Artists without studios or theaters, teachers without classrooms, lawyers without clients, doctors without patients and journalists without newspapers descend economically. They become, as they mingle with the underclass, a bridge between the worlds of the elite and the oppressed. And they are the dynamite that triggers revolt.”
Chris Hedges, in a May 14, 2012 article on Truthdig titled ‘Colonized by Corporations’,
On the other hand, given the Donald Trump phenomena (and Ted Cruz and even Bernie Sanders as well) they may be more like Bakunin predicted, true anarchists willing to tear down everything liberal and conservative alike that contains a whiff of the traditional political system
Many years ago, I was tasked with the responsibility of guiding through to fruition one of the most massive pieces of environmental legislation in the country. Arrayed on the other side were the usual suspects, the rich and powerful and the corrupt and venial. Standing with them were those who actually were most at risk; those persuaded by those that had the most to gain that they had the most to lose. People like the construction workers and the family farmers and the like. We, the liberals, laughed at them, at their ignorance and conservatism. And, in that case, we won.
I recall a short time after our victory spending night after night driving from one farmhouse to another, sitting in the farmer’s kitchens explaining why it was necessary that their lands be preserved for the good of society and future generations and then working with them on how to replace the marginal income that used to be available to them and their descendants from the sale of a portion or all of their land to developers — figuring out how they were going to be able to continue to farm when faced with increased costs and reduced markets. In some cases, I was able to work something out. In others, I could not. I had in those latter cases agreed to plead with the great coalition we had assembled to pass the legislation and the regulatory agencies it had empowered to help with a solution to these specific equitable problems. Usually, my pleas fell on deaf ears. We won they lost was the response that in one way or other I heard most. It was the same with the building trades unions. They lost, we laughed. So, those who began with fear of the unknown because they were the most marginal became filled with hate at what they saw as arrogance and insensitivity of those professing to be liberals.
We should not let that happen. Those people on the margins should not be lost even if they, for one reason or another, believe they must oppose whatever we stand for. It is like the parable of the lost sheep. Liberalism means sweat so that no soul is lost, no soul left behind if you will.
They, this modern day Lumpen Proletariat, who subsist at the poverty line and slightly above it do not see the threat from above, but from below — those they fear will take the only things that keep them from abject poverty and despair, their jobs and the few items of value they may have acquired. As a result, they also hate those above who they perceive encourage them to do so. There is probably nothing that enrages them more than to be accused that they, clinging (often barely) to the lowest levels of the economic ladder, have benefited from “white privilege” to get there. They are more angry than racist more fearful than ideological.
If we wish to continue in 2016 what was begun in 2008 and continued 2012, it cannot be lost like it was in 1980, 2000, 2010 and 2014. It is those who most fear and hate liberalism that must be wooed; one by one if need be. We cannot win by only relying on our people, those who currently are the progressive voting groups, getting out to vote, because sooner of later inevitably we will lose them just like we did the Reagan Democrats.
Effective political persuasion operates through a process which is often misunderstood. It does not consist of an effort to get someone else to adopt our point of view or to believe something they had not previously believed, but rather consists of showing them that their existing beliefs require that they should do what we want. Of course, it requires arguing from the opponent’s point of view, something we Americans can rarely get themselves to do because we will rarely bother to discover what the opponent’s point of view is. We Americans, even we Progressives, seem to prefer argument and force to discussion and compromise.
It is not easy. Politics is an eternal war of attrition and the opposition is better equipped and trained. All too often, all we have is our optimism to sustain us as the barricades are overrun while we wait for popular support that never comes.