Daily Archives: 14 Jan 2015

Sam Seder’s Afraid of the Big Bad BIG

Sam SederJust yesterday, I was discussing the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), Full Employment Won’t Reverse Income Inequality. And this morning, Sam Seder interviewed Karl Widerquist about the very same issue on The Majority Report. Widerquist is brilliant, but probably not the best advocate for the BIG. That wasn’t the problem with the show, however. The problem was Seder who remained amazingly resistant to the idea.

His complaint, that he talked about long after Widerquist had left, seems to be that he thinks it sounds too good to be true. Somehow, it must all be complicated and perhaps even a Trojan horse to destroy the welfare state. But that isn’t what it is all about. The BIG would be a way of creating a new welfare state — a more humane welfare state. And the BIG would be the basis of it. The trap that Seder is falling into is that he’s hearing a lot of different ideas for how the BIG could be structured. That’s because a lot of really smart people are working on it. There are lots of ways to implement it.

Think of it like universal healthcare. Pretty much everyone agrees that it would be the most efficient way to structure our healthcare system — even conservatives so long as it isn’t a realistic possibility. There, everyone is covered. It’s simple. That’s the idea with BIG: everyone gets a basic income. Seder seems to think that it would be too expensive to give it to everyone and so it would too have to degenerate into a means tested program. This isn’t true. You could just give people the BIG check every month and tax it back gradually from anyone who makes more than it. There’s no need for an extra bureaucracy — we already have the IRS and this would simply be a change in the tax rules and nothing more.

There are potential problems with the BIG. But these probably just reflect the fact that I have not studied the issue carefully. My biggest concern is the disincentive to work. In particular, I would not want to see low wage workers face very high marginal tax rates because the government chips away from their BIG as much as they are making by working. As I discussed three years ago (!) in, Catch 22 for Poor in America, this is already a problem with people who get assistance. There are solutions to this in the case of healthcare, food, and cash assistance. In fact, Obamacare has already fairly well taken care of the healthcare problem. Regardless, there are solutions to these problems for the current situation and the same solutions would apply to the BIG.

I’m sure that I’ll be writing a lot more in the future about BIG. It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve realized that a guaranteed income really is critical to our major economic problems. But it bothers me that Sam Seder is so skeptical. And to make matters worse, he took a call from a “left” libertarian who was very positive about the BIG. But he mentioned that the BIG would allow us to get rid of food stamps. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. We may want to provide the BIG only to adults and provide more traditional programs for families. Or to provide benefits to children through the school system. There are a lot of options. And we should be discussing these, because I’m sure there are libertarians who would like to use the BIG to destroy rather than strengthen the safety net.

Seven Lessons About Child Poverty

The Century FoundationThe official child poverty rate in the United States stands at 20 percent, the second-highest among its developed counterparts, for a total of almost 15 million children. Since the 2008 recession, 1.7 million more kids have fallen into poverty, according to UNICEF’s relative measure of poverty.

Compared to other age groups, a much higher share of Americans aged 0 to 18 are impoverished.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Why are we allowing so many Americans to start their lives in poverty, knowing that it likely will do them significant long-term damage, as well as limit our growth as a nation? It is a blow to our nation’s dedication to equal opportunity.

That question is especially perplexing because relatively simple, proven approaches would address some of the worst impacts of child poverty. What follows are seven lessons drawn from The Century Foundation’s Bernard L Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative conference last June, Inequality Begins at Birth, that would help us tackle gaps in our public policy, as part of the Initiative’s equal opportunity agenda. The lessons are as follows:

1. The Stress of Childhood Poverty Is Costly for the Brain and Bank Accounts
2. Child Poverty Is Not Distributed Equally
3. The Power of Parental Education
4. Higher Minimum Wage Is a Minimum Requirement
5. Workplaces Need to Recognize Parenthood
6. Government Works
7. Cash Allowances Are Effective

—Clio Chang
Seven Lessons about Child Poverty

Offense, Persecution, and Islamophobia

War Against ChristianityEarlier today, I saw a great article by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, Vox Got No Threats for Posting Charlie Hebdo Cartoons, Dozens for Covering Islamophobia. The website decided that as part of the coverage of the recent massacre, they would publish the cartoons that supposedly caused the whole thing, because they were part of the story. I think there are a couple of problems with this. One is that I don’t actually think the murders were a response to the cartoons — any more than the Columbine murders were a response to The Basketball Diaries. Another is that I don’t think people needed to see the cartoons — everyone knows that they aren’t offensive in a general sense the way that the photographs from Abu Ghraib were. But that doesn’t mean I have a problem with them being published. It was an editorial decision — just not a necessary one in my opinion.

One thing is for sure: the act was not “brave” — a fact that the editors of Vox agree with. The same act in isolation was brave. And the same act in other areas — like Saudi Arabia — would be brave. But not for a media group based in Washington DC and read by people like me. But there is another reason why I think that Vox had nothing to worry about: it isn’t an Islamophobic outlet. And that really does seem to be a critical element in the anger of normal Muslims about such cartoons: they feel like they are a sign of hatred.

I discussed this issue a year and a half ago, Another Conservative Atheist? It had to do with a comment by Robert M Price — a man I greatly admire for his writing about religion, and the Bible especially. But in an interview, Price expressed surprise that a fatwa hadn’t been taken out against the artist who creates Jesus and Mo. I had read the strip a long time before then, so I knew it and liked it. I wrote, “It is kind of like a road picture, but instead of Hope and Crosby, it has Jesus and Mohammad. It is silly and insightful and even, I would say, sort of sweet.” I grabbed the most recent installment and asked if people could “spot a reason why Muslim’s might not find this cartoon so offensive.” Here it is:

Jesus and Mo

Or consider the strip this week and how scrupulously evenhanded it is to both religions (Moses shows up now and then too):

Jesus and Mo - Charlie Hebdo

Note that I am not talking about murderers. I’ve always found the excuses of murderers in cases like this to make no sense. I mean, Mark David Chapman claimed that he killed John Lennon because he somehow offended God by saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus or some such. There were millions of Christians who Lennon offended, but it was only Chapman who murdered him. So I’m talking about the general offense that any religious person feels when their religion is depicted in an unflattering way. I don’t think they should be pandered to. But I understand. I was offended when Glenn Beck co-opted my hero Thomas Paine with the insipid Glenn Beck’s Common Sense (it is clear that Beck has never actually read Paine). I assume most Muslims think as much about these cartoons as I do about Glenn Beck.

As expected, Vox has not had its offices fire bombed:

Writers at Vox have indeed been bombarded with threats for our Charlie Hebdo coverage. But not one of those threats has come from a Muslim or in response to publishing anti-Islam cartoons. Revealingly, they have rather all come from non-Muslims furious at our articles criticizing Islamophobia

Our coverage of Islamophobia has brought a very different response. Articles decrying anti-Muslim bigotry and attacks on mosques have been met with dozens of threats on email and social media.

The most common states a desire that jihadist militants will murder the offending writer: a recent email hoped that Muslims will “behead you one day” so that “we will never have to read your trash again.” Some directly threaten violence themselves, or imply it with statements such as “May you rot in hell.”

Others express a desire to murder all Muslims — one simply read “I agree with maher Kill them all” — also often implying the emailed journalist is themselves Muslim. One pledge to attack Vox writers begins, “Fuck you and any cunt who believes in allah.”

You should read the whole article. It goes on to discuss how the coverage of the threat to free speech has been almost entirely focused on Muslim extremists. But the threat of violence — which comes fast and heavy from Islamophobes in this country — is also a potent threat to free speech. There are a lot of people who don’t want free speech. They just want an excuse to hate Muslims. And the smartest of them can finesse the argument by claiming that Islam is an especially bad Abrahamic religion. But it’s still just an excuse to hate a minority group.

Republicans Always Think Their Ideas Are New

Marco RubioSteve Benen wrote an interesting article this morning, Marco Rubio’s Awkward Fight for the Future. He noted that Rubio has been going around talking about how Hillary Clinton’s policies are “20th century relics” in a 21st century world. Benen thinks that this is a reasonable pitch, but noted that it doesn’t really fly coming from a guy who “opposes marriage equality” and “doesn’t believe in climate science,” and who defends “an ineffective trade embargo that was created in 1960 and failed to produce any meaningful results over the course of 54 years.” Benen leaves the list at that, but we could go on and on. In particular, Rubio believes in supply side economics which is not only “so 1980s,” but which has been absolutely refuted.

But we should not be surprised that Rubio is taking this approach. And it is hardly a unique approach. The most defining element of conservatism since at least 1980 — but to a large extent much further back — is that proponents of it see themselves as “edgy.” If you ask them, they are the ones who are revolutionizing politics; the liberals are just falling back on the same old ideas. It’s funny because they have things exactly reversed. Liberals have been a wellspring of new ideas over the last forty years. Conservatives, on the other hand, have been involved in a long argument to push policy back to 1890 — or even 1860, if you know what I mean.

Paul Krugman has written a lot about how conservative economists simply stopped paying attention to what Keynesians economists were doing from the 1970s onward. As a result, they make claims that are not only wrong — they are anachronistic. The same thing seems to have gone on in politics. I’m amazed to hear what conservatives claim liberal policies to be. You would think that Bill Clinton had never been president. Now I’m not a fan of neoliberal policies at all. But the fact remains that the Democratic Party is dedicated to those kinds of policies. And they get no credit for it from the conservatives. In fact, as I’ve argued elsewhere, all the neoliberal policies do is push the conservatives further to the right.

In Marco Rubio’s mind, the Cuban embargo is a 21st century idea. The denial of marriage rights to same sex couples is a 21st century idea. The denial of climate change and even evolution is a 21st century idea. The reason is that anything that liberals believe in must be old thinking. Because liberals are the stodgy ones and conservatives are the “revolutionaries.” (That’s largely true. Republicans act like a revolutionary party and that is an extremely dangerous thing.)

What’s most important here is that Rubio is not unusual in the least. Mitt Romney fancies himself the bringer of light. It has been a long time since conservatives were standing athwart history, yelling, “Stop!” They claim to be rallying the troops yelling, “Follow me to the future!” What they are actually doing is calling for the future to be the past. It may not be wrong to say that Clinton represents 20th century ideas. But that’s a hell of a lot better than the 19th century ideas that Rubio and the rest of the Republican Party represent.