We Get the Poor Children We Don’t Pay for

Matt BruenigMatt Bruenig has some simple advice regarding one of our most pressing national issues, Want to Fight Poverty? Expand Welfare. Always Expand Welfare. It is, in part, a response to a common liberal solution to fighting poverty: limiting the poor. The arguments goes something like this, “Give the poor birth control and they will have fewer kids.” In short: enact policy to make contraception affordable, but not to make having children affordable. Sadly, the only reason that liberals can get away with making this argument is because conservatives make the argument that not only should we do nothing to make having children affordable, we should not even make contraception affordable.

But why is it that American liberals so often want to “fight” poverty by spending less on it. It’s not like these people make the argument that if more poor people used birth control there would be more money for those who didn’t. Ultimately, I think it is all about control. Liberals — just like conservatives — want to control the poor. The theory is that the poor can’t manage their own lives, but as I’ve noted here many times, the rich are only successful because they get a great start and then are never allowed to fail.

We have a lot of poor people in the United States. And why that is so is pretty obvious from two graphs that Bruenig presents. They both involve all the advanced economies — and a number of not so advanced economies like Hungary and the Slovak Republic. And it turns out that we have the highest child poverty rates of them all except for Greece (which is only slightly higher, and Turkey. We have twice the rate of child poverty of Germany and the United Kingdom. And a staggering 7 times the rate in Finland. Which reminds me:

But even more amazing is just how little we spend on this kind of welfare. Bruenig’s second graph shows spending on public family benefits as a percentage of GDP. We spend 0.7%. The next lowest spending country is Portugal, which spends almost twice as much: 1.2%. Germany spends 2.2%; Finland, 3.2%; and the UK, 4.0% — almost 6 times as much. The only country that spends less is Turkey, which spends nothing at all — and results in almost a third of its children living in poverty, so I don’t think we need to give that model a lot of thought. Bruenig noted, “How an American liberal looks at this sort of graph and concludes that what we should be targeting is lower welfare outlays is beyond me.”

I think it all comes down to how neoliberalism has infected the Democratic Party. As I point out all the time, it wasn’t a Republican who ended welfare as we know it. The whole basis of it was that the thing that the poor really needed was a good kick in the butt. And there was also this idea that I find so revolting that it’s great for rich women to stay home and raise the kids but poor women need the “dignity” of working outside the home. Fundamentally, the problem is that a large fraction of American liberals have given up on liberalism.

John Boehner: Friend of the Lobbyist

Lee FangLobbyists enjoy access to establishment politicians of both major parties. But Boehner leaves behind a career that is marked by a particularly extreme coziness with K Street.

He was once caught handing out tobacco industry campaign checks on the House floor before a vote on tobacco legislation…

As he raised millions from corporate political action committees, Boehner encouraged lobbyists to have a direct influence over the policy process. Under Speaker Boehner, the reverse revolving door became a blur, with more and more corporate lobbyists hired to manage the day-to-day business of key congressional committees and to serve as senior staff.

—Lee Fang
Lobbyists Mourn House Speaker John Boehner’s Departure

The Fed Will Stop Any Extra Economic Growth

Dean BakerI’ve already written an overview about all this nonsense, Trump’s Huge Tax Cut for the Rich — of Course. It turns out that Trump’s tax plan is just a bigger version of Jeb Bush’s. And Marco Rubio’s. Basically, Trump’s tax plan is just another Republican tax cut for the rich. And look: Grover Norquist Blesses Trump Tax Plan. I had read somewhere that Norquist had seen the plan before it was announced, and that he had given his blessing then. So there is nothing surprising in any of this. Donald Trump is just another Republican loud mouth with absolutely nothing to offer.

But Dean Baker wrote a really insightful article on Tuesday, Trump World and the Fed. He focused on one aspect of the plan: the supply side voodoo. When Jeb Bush announced his plan, he claimed that it was going to increase economic growth to a 4% rate. No economists took that number seriously. Even the conservative economists who Bush has on the payroll distanced themselves from that. We haven’t seen much over 3% since the 1960s. But since Trump has to do everything bigger, he said his tax cuts would produce 6% growth. And why not? If Jeb Bush can get away with pulling a number out of the air, why can’t they all?

Baker’s point is that the Federal Reserve would never allow that kind of growth. As it is, we have anemic growth, low employment-to-population rate, and no real wage growth, and the Fed is just itching to raise interest rates.

Baker’s point is that the Federal Reserve would never allow that kind of growth. As it is, we have anemic growth, low employment-to-population rate, and no real wage growth — and the Fed is just itching to raise interest rates. Baker noted, “In this case, we would expect to see the Fed raise interest rates sharply as they saw the Trump tax cuts boosting growth. Higher interest rates would slow house buying and new construction, discourage car sales, and put a crimp in both public and private investment.” And that, of course, is assuming that Trump’s plan worked as he claims (which of course it wouldn’t).

There is a broader point here. The Fed now sees its job as making sure that millions of Americans are involuntarily unemployed and that all Americans are stuck with stagnant wages. That’s not how they would put it, of course. They would say they are heading off inflation — despite the fact that they haven’t manage to even meet their 2% inflation target since the financial crisis. But regardless of their reasons, they point remains that whatever the economic policy, the Fed is determined to stop it if it actually works.

The last two economic booms were due to the Federal Reserve. The Fed destroyed the economy in the late 1970s to head off what was actually high inflation. And then when it lowered rates, it brought on the boom of the 1980s, which people wrongly give Reagan credit for. And then in the 1990s, Clinton’s economic policies were mostly fine, but it was only because Alan Greenspan was an iconoclast and allowed unemployment to get below 4% that the boom happened. It’s interesting to note that one of the big dissenting voices at that time — calling for him to raise interest rates — was current Fed Chair Janet Yellen. (Did you hear that Yellen just announced that the Fed will, in fact, raise rates by the end of the year? Way to go! Keep the rich happy! Screw the poor!)

So we are in this situation where we need two things to happen if the economy is really to start working for all Americans in the usual liberal, market oriented, way. First, we need good (or lucky) economic policy. Second, we need the Fed to allow it. So we have to break through two plutocratic barriers. This is why I am more and more convinced that we have to give up on the capitalist system as we now find it. It is self-corrupting. The more money people have, the more influence they buy. That isn’t the only problem with capitalism, but it is one of the biggest we now face. And it is one with no solution.

One Way to Start to Combat Gun Violence: Voting

I'm NRA and I Vote!You can’t be connected enough to read this blog and not have heard about the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College. I don’t think I’m at all alone in feeling like I’m suffering from learned helplessness. It’s not this particular shooting, which mightn’t have been changed by anything. But clearly, our guns laws do need to be changed. Yet we don’t do anything. Or rather, the political environment is such that the most reasonable steps to making guns less of a threat in our society are met with hysteria by the pro-gun nuts.

I know people who are gun fanciers. Most of them do not have any problem with any of the gun regulations that have been proposed in the last ten years. Yet when it comes to voting, they don’t dive into the policies. They just see who the NRA says is “evil” and who is “good,” and they vote based upon that. It doesn’t matter in the least that the “evil” candidate probably agrees with them more than the “good” candidate.

And, of course, there is the problem of voters. I’ve been seeing the “I’m NRA and I Vote!” bumper stickers since I was a kid, and it’s very true. The same thing can be said of conservatives generally. There are a lot of people who are outraged by these kinds of attacks. They answer the pollsters’ questions about common sense gun regulations. And then on election day, they don’t show up to the polls. During the Colorado recall, state senator John Morse was recalled by just 319 votes for the crime of passing hugely popular legislation.

Again: this is not about mass shootings. The mass shootings are just a reminder. There are roughly 11,000 gun homicides each year in the US. That’s 30 per day. Suicides are even worse. Over at Vox, Zack Beauchamp put together, Deaths From Gun Violence vs Deaths From Terrorism, in One Chart. It’s a boring chart. In 2001, there were four times as many Americans murdered with guns as were murdered by terrorism. But the rest of the years since have been pretty much like the last year of data (2011): 653 times as many people murdered with guns as by terrorism. Maybe that’s not a fair comparison. But if you look at firearm related death rates, the only countries worse than the US are places like Colombia and Swaziland. The closest advanced economy is Finland, with a rate of one-third ours. Ours is almost five times that of the most obvious comparison, Canada.

The question remains the same: what are we going to do about this? And, sadly, the answer is the same: nothing. There are lots of problems in America. Far more people die because of economic inequality and all the things that go along with it. People die in wars — and many other things that conservatives are far more keen on. The answer to all these things is the same: voting. If people voted as much in off-year (and off off-year) elections as they do in presidential elections, this country would be in far better shape. And it would make the Republican Party far more reasonable. We can’t be like the people in The Daily Show segment: non-voters who are slightly embarrassed with a self-deprecating chuckle. Those people should have been crimson in their public shame. (In fairness, the one guy got pretty close to crimson.)

Morning Music: BBQ Chickens

Indie Rock Strikes BackAfter discovering Hi-Standard, I became interested in finding more of their music. It turns out that one of the founders of the band, Ken Yokoyama, started another band when Hi-Standard stopped working in 2000. The band’s name is BBQ Chickens. And they are great too. At the same time, Yokoyama created Pizza of Death Records, which seems to be doing very well, and currently includes Garlic Boys.

In 2002, they released a video of two of their songs, “Sick Guy/Stupid Magazines” off the album, Indie Rock Strikes Back.

Anniversary Post: Peanuts

Peanuts First Strip

On this day in 1950, the first Peanuts cartoon was published. Now, it is easy to discount Peanuts because it certainly is not as good a comic as Calvin and Hobbes or Bloom County. But it can’t be judged like that. It has to be compared to Beetle Bailey — which started less than a month before Peanuts. Or the dreadful Family Circus, which was launched a decade later. When I was a kid, I read the comics every day. I didn’t like Family Circus from the age of 8 onward. And Beetle Bailey was always meh. But Peanuts was consistently enjoyable — and that was 25 years after it was created.

My only distaste for Peanuts comes from the television shows. And it’s not the fault of the cartoon. In fact, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is really quite good — wonderfully written. But why the producers decided to get really bad child actors to do the voices, I’ll never know. It’s just ghastly. But again, it looks great and the writing — as with the strip — is solid.