What If All Elizabeth Warren’s Plans Fail?

Elizabeth WarrenIn a recent interview, Elizabeth Warren was asked by Ezra Klein what she could do if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and she can’t get any of her plans through Congress. (And let’s be honest: even if the Democrats do gain control of the Senate, she may have problems because the Democratic elites are still far to the right of the party itself.) Her answers were good — discussing the importance of putting people in charge of federal agencies who actually believe in their missions.

But she didn’t mention the single most important reason that presidents have a profound effect on the economy: the Federal Reserve Board. This is something I discussed years ago, Why the Economy Does Better Under Democrats. It was based on an article by economist Mark Thoma where he explained why, since World War II, the economy has done much better under Democratic than Republican presidents. There are a number of reasons for this but control of the Fed is one that the president has complete control over.

Trump’s Policies

I suppose I should clarify a few things. The economy has done fine under Trump. But that appears to be due to the tremendous amount of slack in the economy. Most of what Trump has provided has only hurt it: tariffs and political uncertainty. Even the tax cut was designed so as to have a minimum effect on the economy in the short-term.

One place Trump has complained (rightly so) is that the Federal Reserve has been raising interests rates and thus slowing the economy. The reason for this is that the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, believes that we are on the verge of an inflation spiral. It’s funny because this is pretty much what all the establishment types have been thinking for half a decade.

But it’s Trump’s own fault. He could have appointed a Fed chair that would have pursued the kind of expansive monetary policy Trump wants. But like the judges he nominates, Trump has no idea who to nominate to the Federal Reserve. So he just listens to the establishment Republicans that he surrounds himself with. Actually, we are lucky we got Powell. He’s really no different from the last Fed chair, Janet Yellen. It really raises the question of why Trump replaced her. But I think the answer is clear: he thought he was getting something different.

Warren’s Choices

Unlike Trump, Elizabeth Warren knows stuff — especially when it comes to the economy. I don’t expect she would make radical appointments to the Fed. But she would know what she is doing. And the monetary establishment might think her appointments were radical. I know she wouldn’t appoint the kind of hard-money zealots that conservatives prefer.

And she’s right that her policies and appointments will make a huge difference. Putting someone in charge at the EPA who will clamp down on polluters will mean corporations have to spend some of their profits on mitigation — you know, forcing them to employ workers rather than simply making the rich even richer.

Additionally, she can help our economy by reversing many of Trump’s policies like his tariffs — and threats of tariffs.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan in case Republicans stymie all her legislative plans. She can use executive power to make the world better — just as Trump has used it to make it worse.

Censorship Is for the Censors: Cannabis Edition

CannabisCannabis[1] is legal in Canada and quasi-legal in places in the US. Yet in the not too distant past, people spent a decade or more for cannabis possession. Even today, you can spend up to 20 years if the police claim you are distributing.

Whether cannabis is a great evil or no big deal depends upon when and where you are. I recently discovered that there are now cannabis affiliates programs. These are effectively advertising programs. For example, if you had a cannabis-related website, you could advertise for a seed or accessory (or, depending upon where you live, cannabis by mail) company and get a percentage of the sale.

Cannabis Goes Mainstream

If you want to get an idea of how this works, check out THCaffiliates.com. It is a very professional site that connects website owners to affiliate programs that they can use.

What I find really interesting about this is just how mainstream this has all become. Cannabis is just another commodity.

To be clear: I have no problem with this. Cannabis is just another commodity. But it is telling that cannabis was once a major boogieman in even more enlightened areas.

In Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers, Thomas Szasz argued that modern drug laws were no different than previous witch laws in the west. It seems society always needs some foil and since tackling real problems is hard, we just make up problems.

Censorship Broadly

This all had me wondering just what the point of these laws is. And I’m not even particularly interested in the drug laws specifically. I’m more thinking of classic censorship of art.

Because of all my writing about film, I constantly run into something strange in the United Kingdom. They don’t have a First Amendment there so it is far easier to censor films.

For example, when Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive came out on video in 1982, it was banned. Just ten years later, it was allowed with 25 seconds cut from it. Eight years after that, it was released in whole.


Once “unwatchable,” Eaten Alive is now passe (but totally awesome).

I see this again and again and again. The difference between something that will “destroy the youth of today” and something that is acceptable or even lauded is a few years. What’s up with that?!

Remember back in 1985 when Tipper Gore got the whole nation freaked out about nasty lyrics in pop songs?[2] There is no proof that the Parental Advisory Stickers actually worked to “protect the kids!” But they sure made middle-class parents like Gore feel better.


Highlights of the PMRC hearings.

Censorship Is for the Censors

And that is the point. Censorship is about making the censors feel better. It wasn’t film-lovers who changed their minds about Eaten Alive after ten years; it was the censors. By then, the stuff in the film was so common it no longer scared them.

And that brings us back to drugs. In the early 20th century, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics looked at making caffeine illegal. They quickly found that its use was so ubiquitous that it was impossible. It’s pretty hard to censor something that everyone is using.

I hope that right now you are taking a long and perfectly legal hit of cannabis.


[1] The word “marijuana” comes from Mexican Spanish for cannabis. It became the default in the United States because Harry Anslinger popularized it in his efforts to make it illegal as head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The idea was to associate it with Mexicans and turn the public against it. This has always been the approach to making drugs illegal from the first anti-drug law in the US in San Francisco where opium dens were made illegal to keep white women safe from those evil Chinese men. Racism is the surest way to get people on board for your small-minded cause.

[2] Note that there wasn’t a law just as there wasn’t a law during the horror comics freak-out of the 1950s. Instead, a bunch of powerful people just bullied the recording industry into self-censorship.

It’s Time to Stop Being Proud

It's Time to Stop Being ProudThere has been a recent controversy in the trans community. It brought up something that I spend a lot of time thinking about: the nature of competition and choice. But before I discuss that, let me go over the controversy.

Trans Athletes in Women’s Sports

EssenceOfThought and Rationality Rules have been fighting since the latter created a video, “The Athletic Advantage of Transgender Women (And Why It Is UNFAIR).” His basic argument is that if we don’t stop trans-women from competing in women’s sports there will be no women’s sports because it will only be trans-women who compete at the top levels.

I think there are generally two gut reactions to this. For most people, this just seems like “common sense.” For others, this seems like the typical hysteria of the bigotted mind.

You can work your way backward with EssenceOfThought’s most recent video, Rationality Rules Non-Apology & Tone Policing — A Critical Response.

On the facts, I side with EssenceOfThought. I have to admit to learning quite a lot. Not surprisingly, I haven’t given much thought to sports or biological changes caused by hormone treatments. To his credit, Rationality Rules has also been educated and changed his thinking — at least to some degree. So there doesn’t seem to be a lot of argument on this matter.

Tone Policing

As for the rest of this controversy, I don’t especially want to engage. But I don’t like the way Rationality Rules or his defenders have behaved — taking potshots at EssenceOfThought without owning it.

I know that EssenceOfThought can be brutal online. I like that. In one video (that I can’t find now), a friend of Rationality Rules says it is wrong to make instant messages public while briefly showing the twitter feed of EssenceOfThought. I believe this is in reference to their fight with Logicked. Out of context, it is just a smear — and a cowardly one given EssenceOfThought is never mentioned.

As EssenceOfThought has pointed out, this is nothing but tone policing. That’s petty, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. But it’s useless. And I do have a problem with that.

What Do Sports Prove?

Over the years, I’ve come to see hierarchy as fundamentally incoherent. This is a natural outgrowth to my rejection of free will. Without it, any person’s position in a group is entirely outside their control.

Thus, if one is the best sprinter, it is the result of the body (including the brain) they were born with as well as the environment that body interacts with. Much is made of the work-ethic of great athletes. But this too is not a choice but the result of the body and its environment. There is no choice — only the illusion of choice.

If this is not clear, read Free Will.

What Do We Take Pride In?

Despite all this, humans continue to feel pride in “choices” they believe they have made. And I understand: it is important for society to have standards — they help individuals to make good decisions — ones that make them happier. But it makes no sense for individuals to feel pride in what they do.

Instead, they should feel gratefulness. If you’re smart, you are lucky. And there is no point in society praising intelligence since it is its own reward. The same goes for knowledge. Or height. Or speed.

But I know what people always say. It’s some variation on, “But Donovan Bailey worked really hard!” Sure he did. And his work ethic was something else he was gifted.

I think it is great that humans strive to improve themselves. But in our endeavor to pit people against each other, we soil a noble endeavor.

A good example of this is how grades work. Most successful students know the experience of becoming addicted to good grades and losing their love of learning as a result. (See Alfie Kohn’s work.)

But this is all practical stuff. I’ll have to write an article about it sometime in order to make a convincing case. My point here is we are all just given. We may think we create ourselves, but we’re really just along for the ride.

Transgender Athletes

To me, the most remarkable thing about transgender women is how hormones change their bodies in fundamental ways. EssenseOfThought pointed out a few things in this regard. One is that trans-women generally have lower testosterone levels than cis-women. What’s more, hormone therapy “reduces muscle mass, bone density, and hemoglobin count while increasing body fat.” Yet excellent trans-women athletes were normally excellent cis-male athletes.

This shows how we aren’t in control of who we are. This has obvious relevance to transgender people. But it is much bigger than that. Thus, it makes no sense to me that we let people live in poverty or otherwise suffer. Beyond setting up a society that gives people the best chance to thrive, we need to get past notions like success.

Shaun created a great video two years ago, Paul Joseph Watson is Wrong About: Sports. He summed up with this:

If you’re prevented from being entertained by [watching a great women’s soccer game] because you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, they couldn’t beat the German men’s team!” then that’s just sad.

I want a world in which individuals are appreciated. We act like we live in such a world, but we don’t. Instead, we live in the world of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. If you don’t have abilities that make you marketable, you’re an outcast — or at least someone of no value. We celebrate those with red noses when we need them. But that isn’t appreciating individuals.

I specifically use this example because I know what I’m talking about goes back to things we teach children about inclusion and love. But these morals are not what our society is based on. Appreciating people as people and not for how they can make you richer or entertain you should be the goal regardless.

But it’s also the case that we have no reason to be proud that we are smart or fast or knowledgeable. Again: we should be grateful. We are lucky. But we are not great or better than others.

Don’t Fall for the Electability Trap

Joe BidenIt’s back! Less Than Half in US Would Vote for a Socialist for President. And this is the kind of thinking that will make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee before any other candidate gets to make their case.

This is not a defense of Sanders (or even Warren, who I’m actively supporting). For one thing, he doesn’t need defending. He calls himself a socialist but he doesn’t qualify by my definition. He’s a New Deal Democrat. It’s sad that politics in the US is so far off the rails that someone with such middle-of-the-road opinions as Sanders can get away with calling himself a socialist.

(I suppose it is more accurate to call Sanders a Social Democrat. But Americans don’t usually know what that is. Or what Democratic Socialist is. Or basically anything at all. That’s why simplistic slogans is the way of the day: “Capitalism good! Socialism bad!”)

The Pathetic Logic of “Electable” Candidates

It is a fool’s game to try to figure out which candidate is more electable. I know in 2004, everyone thought John Kerry was the most electable. He lost.

In fact, based upon Lynn Vavreck’s The Message Matters, it is now clear the Democrats’ best chance to win the presidency in 2004 was by nominating Howard Dean and running an anti-war campaign. But that’s not the kind of insight that falls out of people’s common sense.

People aren’t interested in political science. In fact, mostly, they have no idea what it even is. So instead of engaging with what the data show us, they try to read other people’s minds. And it just doesn’t work.

The Racist Neighbor

There’s actually some sociological research on how people think this way. People always assume that their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. And when it comes to Democrats, they always assume the world is more conservative than it actually is.

An important aspect of this is that it means we automatically dismiss women and people of color. “We must defeat Donald Trump” easily breaks down to “We must nominate a white man!” Indeed, I’ve even heard liberals I know speculate that maybe we shouldn’t nominate a woman — as though Hillary Clinton didn’t win 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016!

I remember last year, PM Carpenter wrote, Why This Democratic Socialist Opposes Bernie Sanders. His entire argument was that he didn’t think the nation was ready for a socialist candidate.

But how did he know?! Even at the time, I thought this was nonsense. But after Donald Trump, how does anyone claim to know who others will vote for?

Voters Don’t Care If They Like a Candidate

I always go back to 1988 and the Dukakis campaign. It was really painful to watch it transpire.

There was the tank photo op that Bush turned into a commercial:

Then there was the rape of Kitty debate question:

And, of course, the Willie Horton ad:

All of that seemed to matter a great deal. But it didn’t. These things stuck because the economy was roaring along and Bush’s party was in the White House.

Similarly, the misreporting of Bush and the grocery scanner was a big thing in 1992 because the economy was tanking and Bush’s party was still in the White House.

People used to marvel at how nothing ever stuck to Ronald Reagan. We called him the Teflon President. But it was because the economy was doing well. Nothing really sticks when things are going well for the president and non-issues do stick when things are going badly.

You Don’t Know Who Is Electable

I know I’m a broken record on this stuff, but it’s important. And I don’t think polling tells us a lot. How would people have answered this question in 2015: “Would you vote for a corrupt, crude, childish sexual assaulter who plays a rich man on TV and stiffs hardworking small business owners?” I don’t think so. In fact, most people didn’t think he would become president until moments before he did.

If Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, he can win the general election. The only thing that would stop him is if there really is something behind the repugnant #NeverBernie movement.

And if that’s true of Sanders, it is even more true of Elizabeth Warren.

People should just vote for who they want. As long as it isn’t Joe Biden — because no one wants him. His appeal is entirely that he is “electable.” I might listen to an argument based on political science that he is more electable than Harris or Warren. But this idea that he is the guy who conservatives will vote for is just nonsense based on what liberals and moderates think others want.

Similarly, let Sanders run and see how he does. This freak-out among Democrats is pathetic. And if it succeeds in anything, it will be saddling us with Joe “Waist Rub” Biden.

Vote for who you want because you don’t know anything about what other people want.

Don’t Give Ben Shapiro Credit for Admitting Defeat

Ben ShapiroBen Shapiro went on the BBC show Politics Live to talk about his new book The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great where he complains that as a society we must be tolerant of each other.[1]

The host of the show, conservative journalist Andrew Neil, asked him to explain how Shapiro’s own career wasn’t contrary to this idea. Instead of answering, Shapiro complained about how unfair the whole thing was.

Shapiro ended the interview shortly after proclaiming (I’m not making this up), “I’m popular and no one has ever heard of you.”

Ben Shapiro Tweets

After the interview, Shapiro tweeted out something that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention:

In this tweet, he is apologizing because he called a conservative a leftist. Everything else was fine. And implicit in this is that somehow his childish behavior would have been okay if Neil had been a leftist? I don’t get it.

But later, he twitter out a face-saving statement:

This is the tweet that far too many liberals are misinterpreting as saying something good about Shapiro. For example, on The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur said, “That’s a good tweet to end it there. There’s a little self-abasement.”

Thankfully, Dan Evans was there to shoot this down. He noted that this was just a standard Shapiro tactic. But the fact is that Uygur’s reaction is what most liberals will have. And that’s why Shapiro uses it. It makes Shapiro look reasonable.

Tweet Doesn’t Mean What It Appears To

Note a couple of things. First, it took Ben Shapiro a full day to come up with that tweet. It came 22 hours after the first “sorry, not sorry” tweet that showed him to be as angry as he was on Politics Live.

More important: what other move did Shapiro have? The video was out. Even assuming that the interview was done by someone like Mehdi Hasan who he would just dismiss, Shapiro still looked like a spoiled child who had never been questioned before. In situations like this, you admit defeat and pretend to be the Big Man. Shapiro is not brilliant and is nothing like what the media portray, but he is relatively smart. He understands how you deal with situations like this.

And look at the tweet itself. There is nothing about acting childishly. His error was just that he didn’t prepare properly!

How would that have changed anything? It might have made him react even worse given that he would have thought he was going into a friendly interview. The only thing that would have changed is that he wouldn’t have made the wildly embarrassing mistake of calling Andrew Neil a leftist.

And that means that Ben Shapiro’s second tweet is really just a more artful version of the first. “I was wrong about Andrew Neil being a leftist but he was still really mean to me!”

Conservative Privilege and Ignorance

This sounds a lot like Megham McCain. For all the complaining about liberal snowflakes, when it comes to celebrities, I see almost exclusively conservatives. They do nothing but whine when the aren’t provided safe-spaces where they are never challenged about their vulgar beliefs.

What’s most amazing about the whole thing is that Ben Shapiro didn’t realize that the media in other countries is different than it is here in the US. Andrew Neil wasn’t asking gotcha questions; he was asking questions. Shapiro had every opportunity to answer them and even contest their assumptions. But instead, he complained about the questions and tried to dismiss them as nothing but a leftist hit job.

The question this raises is how someone like Ben Shapiro could get so much media attention in the US without constantly running into this kind of questioning. He’s supposedly the facts guy. Yet the US media treat him with kid gloves.

But I know the answer to this. Bernie Sanders gets hard questions all the time. Anyone pushing leftist policies does. But American media has been so cowed from five decades of conservative accusations of “liberal bias,” that it just lets all but the most extreme conservative nonsense go back without comment. (And this has led to what is acceptable just getting more and more radical.)

Ben Shapiro Must Be Stopped

People like Ben Shapiro need to be shut down. Their celebrity is heightened be claiming that they are somehow reasonable. Ben Shaprio acts like a petulant child on television and the takeaway is “at least he’s self-aware”? No! He’s a conservative grifter, making money by harming our society and the most vulnerable among us. He is toxic. I don’t care that he’s nice to his dog; we shouldn’t be talking about what is good about Ben Shapiro because none of that has anything to do with his work.

He’s an evil man and he must be stopped. His admitting defeat is part of his work. It is nothing to be even grudgingly positive about.


[1] To be fair, Shapiro isn’t saying that we should all get along. His argument is finely tuned to complain about liberals and to let off conservatives. It’s fine to call liberals fools but wrong to call conservatives racists because of course they never are.

Elizabeth Warren’s Farm Plan

ScottyElizabeth Warren has a solid plan to help the US farming industry. But before I get to that, let’s talk about Star Trek.

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty meets with a material scientist to barter some knowledge in exchange for a whale container. Scotty, being from the future, talks to the Mac, which doesn’t respond. The scientist says, “Just use the keyboard.” Scotty then begins typing at an amazing speed and before long, the formula for transparent aluminum is displayed on the screen. It’s a fun scene in a fun movie. But it isn’t the way the world is.

If a modern American were sent back to a neolithic city, they wouldn’t know anything. In my experience, most people don’t even know what causes the phases of the Moon — or why the seasons change.

We Need a Diverse Farming Industry

It’s because of this that I think any group of people needs to hang on to their most fundamental skills. A society of only genius computer programmers would be one economic shock away from disaster.

We need a strong farming industry. And that means a diverse farming industry. The history of farming over the last century has been one of consolidation and increased homogeneity. And this is not the result of mysterious global economic forces that no one can do anything about. Instead, it’s the result of government policy — specifically the encouragement of mergers.

The Problem With Modern Farming

Warren lays out the problem, which is mostly consolidation (as it is in so many other industries). For example, a handful of companies control the most important aspects of food production:

Sector Companies Market Share
Meat Processing 4 53%
Chicken Distribution 3 90%
Corn Seeds 2 71%

As a country, we’ve gotten way too focused on the strict definition of “monopoly.” The main reason anyone cares about a monopoly is that it leads to uncompetitive markets. It doesn’t matter if there are a thousand companies in a market; if the market doesn’t work, we need to do something about it.

That’s what Warren proposes to do.

Plan to Save Farm Diversity

There are a number of parts to Warren’s plan, but attacking consolidation is the most important.

As discussed before, this is the key problem. Companies do not merge so that they can provide cheaper products to consumers. They merge because they can increase profits. Even if this does result in cheaper products (and that is hardly assured), it has negative effects on the country. We see it in the overuse of corn. But more to the point, we see it in the elimination of small farms.

Warren notes:

Mergers mean that farmers have fewer and fewer choices for buying and selling, while vertical integration has meant that big agribusinesses face less competition throughout the chain and thus capture more and more of the profits.”

Other Ways to Help Farmers

The rest of Warren’s plan discusses some examples of things she’d like to change. One is an issue that is coming for all of us but which has greatly affected farmers: technology that users can’t repair. This is all part of our out-of-control intellectual property laws. It’s like with DVDs. You may think you own them but you are actually just licensing them.

So farmers can’t fix or upgrade their own machinery. That would be violating the manufacturer’s intellectual property. It’s an outrage and it is great to see Elizabeth Warren acknowledging it.

There’s one part of her plan that I’m less sanguine about. Warren wants to limit foreign ownership of active farmland. I’m an internationalist and I don’t like this idea on that level. On the other hand, the world is the way it is. And just as we shouldn’t allow multinational corporations to control our access to food, we should be concerned about foreign interests doing it.

Ultimately, I don’t think we need to worry about this if we can reverse the consolidation in the farming industry. Foreigners are interested in farming for the same reasons that these corporations are. If we limit the size of farming concerns, we will automatically limit foreign interests.

Good Politics

This is yet another important policy proposal from Elizabeth Warren. It is also great politics. This issue is important in Iowa. It could well be the difference between Warren winning and losing the state.

Coming from many politicians, this wouldn’t matter so much to me. But Warren has shown herself to be far more interested in policy than politics. And her spat with Trump over her Native American blood didn’t speak well of her political sense either. But this is smart. And it’s good to see.

America Cheer Coup in Venezuela

Protest against US military intervention in Venezuela

Juan Guaido has gone to the next level of his attempt to take over the Venezuelan government. He has some military backing and is now calling for a coup.

Media Coverage

CNN calls the following video footage of Juan Guaido talking to a “cheering crowd.” All the coverage is localized and tends to make the situation look much worse than it is. That doesn’t mean the coup won’t succeed, of course.

What’s more, they reported Guaido: The Majority of Venezuelans Support Me. There’s no context. As far as I can tell, Venezuelans are reasonably fond of Guaido but they are most definitely not in favor of a coup. And they aren’t in favor of his policies.

US Cheerleading

The US government is all over this, of course. I have little doubt that it is all planned. Nothing new there. Despite our constant talk of supporting democracy, we support what our government sees as its own narrow interests — usually the interests of our corporations that show no loyalty to the nation at all.

Marco Rubio, of course, is out cheering it all on:

This is nothing more than an incitement to violence. And that’s what’s behind all the coverage. If the people of Venezuela think there is no hope, they will roll over.

The good news is that the coverage outside the US is far better — and calmer. There isn’t the kind of cheerleading we see here. Of course, most of the western democracies have been in support of Juan Guaido — showing that they don’t care much about democracy.

False Narrative

What’s amazing about this is that the opposition might well have won the election earlier this year in Venezuela. Instead, they decided to boycott it. Listening to news coverage here in the US, however, you would think that the opposition was barred from running.

But I guess when you have the US supporting you, it’s just easier to grab control of the government and call it “democracy!”

Going Forward

I don’t know what will happen. But I know that under normal circumstances, the people of the US would prefer that we just mind our own business. What’s going on in Venezuela has nothing to do with us. And if we care about the humanitarian situation in the country, we would end our sanctions.

But instead, the US government won’t be happy until our corporations control Venezuela’s vast oil reserves.

Elizabeth Warren’s Ultra-Millionaire Tax

Elizabeth WarrenThe most exciting thing in the Democratic presidential primary has been Elizabeth Warren’s stream of policy proposals. Over time, I’d like to dive into them. Today, I will look at her Ultra-Millionaire Tax.

She starts by highlighting work by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman (PDF) who first looked into this idea in 2016. It includes an amazing fact that I don’t think most people grok: in 1986, the bottom 90 percent of Americans owned 38 percent of the wealth here. In 2014, it was 25 percent. So let me provide a little context.

The average wealth of the bottom 90 percent in 1986 was roughly $80,000. In 2014, it was roughly $83,000. These are inflation-adjusted numbers, so the bottom 90 percent did see real gains: 0.1 percent per year.

During the same time, the average wealth of the top 1 percent increased from $5.2 million to $14 million. That’s a real gain of 6.0 percent per year — 45 times the relative gains of the bottom 90 percent. I don’t have the data for the top 0.1 percent, but it would be much more extreme.

Note also that during the housing bubble the wealth of the bottom 90 percent went way up — as did the wealth of the top 1 percent. After the crash, both groups saw their wealth decline. But the top 1 percent didn’t see it decline as much, and after two years, it had turned around. The bottom 90 percent saw their wealth decline and then stagnate.

This is not an accident — just the way the world is in a globalized economy. Dean Baker (PDF) has shown that the current situation we have where most people see little or no gain from productivity growth is the result of government policy. This is the way that our leaders have chosen to make it.

The Rich Aren’t Taxed Enough

I’ve written before about how the poor and middle classes get screwed by the tax system. One part of this is shown by how much everyone but the very rich pay compared to the very rich:

Group Wealth Taxed Relative Taxation
Top 0.1% 3.2% 100%
Bottom 99% 7.2% 225%

Like most taxation in the United States, this is regressive. Conservatives always claim that they want a flat tax. But they only apply this to progressive taxes. They don’t even mention all the regressive taxes.

Beyond Income Tax

Warren makes an excellent point about why the income tax — even if improved to be more progressive — is not enough:

While we must make income taxes more progressive, that alone won’t straighten out our slanted tax code or our lopsided economy. Consider two people: an heir with $500 million in yachts, jewelry, and fine art, and a teacher with no savings in the bank. If both the heir and the teacher bring home $50,000 in labor income next year, they would pay the same amount in federal taxes, despite their vastly different circumstances. Increasing income taxes won’t address this problem.

As a result, she proposes a wealth tax.

Ultra-Millionaire Tax

There are various policies we need to change to reverse this that go beyond taxation (intellectual property law, for example). But Elizabeth Warren’s proposal is essential.

The tax itself is pretty modest: 2% on net worth over $50 million and below $1 billion; and 3% on net worth over $1 billion. There would be no new tax on anyone with a net worth of less than $50 million. That’s pretty generous, I would say. That means only 75,000 American households would pay any of this modest tax. That doesn’t mean they won’t fight it with all their substantial resources.

Saez and Zucman estimate this would bring in $2.75 trillion over the first decade. According to the CEPR Budget Calculator, this represents an increase of about 5 percent in revenue.

To give you some scale, SNAP and other food assistance programs costs the federal government roughly $70 billion per year — that’s roughly one-quarter of how much the Ultra-Millionaire Tax would raise. That provides some kind of idea how much good could be done with the money. At the same time, our military budget is roughly $600 billion per year — roughly 2.2 times as much as the wealth tax raises. (Eternal war is expensive.)

Details, Details

Some people may be thinking that the rich will just find a way to evade this tax. But Warren has put in a number of measures to avoid this. One is that the tax applies to all wealth — even that held outside the country. It also increases enforcement by funding more IRS agents and establishing a minimum audit level for people with wealth above $50 million.

Perhaps best of all, the Ultra-Millionaire Tax goes after the (false) claim of the rich that they will just leave the country. Warren says, “Fine!” But there is a 40 percent tax on net worth above $50 million for people who emigrate.

Warren also claims that the Ultra-Millionaire Tax would allow us to improve our procedures in the implementation of the Estate Tax to remove loopholes. So we would likely get more from it. (Also: we need to greatly increase the Estate Tax.)

Summary

There’s more about the Ultra-Millionaire Tax at Elizabeth Warren’s website. Win or lose, she is expanding the policies that Democrats think about. And these policies are wildly popular with the bases of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden alike.


Article updated to reflect Barney’s criticism.

Medicare for All 64-Year-Olds

Dean BakerDean Baker is one of my heroes. There are lots of smart economists in the world. A small number of them seem to care about humans. And of them, I only know of one who is really creative. So unlike the vast majority of those in that defiled profession who are only good for telling us what won’t work, Baker is forever coming up with clever policy ideas to improve society.

About a month ago on his Patreon feed, he published a remarkable article, Medicare for All 64-Year-Olds. (The article is now public but you should really consider ponying up a buck or five to support him.) In it, he presents a simple idea to implement Medicare for All.

Full Medicare for All Is a Heavy Lift

As much as I support Medicare for All, I don’t hold out any chance of us getting the policy implemented any time soon. Even if Bernie Sanders becomes president and we have majorities in both houses of Congress and we get rid of the filibuster, there are far too many Blue Dog Democrats to get it passed.

And I’m not sure it is best to do all at once. There will be disruption and conservatives will push the narrative that it isn’t just a temporary problem but one central to “socialized medicine.” And the media will report it like it is a fact. And single-payer will be off the table for a couple more generations.

Expand Medicare Eligibility by One Year

“That gives us a total tab of $13.8 billion, less than 0.3 percent of total spending, or roughly the amount the Pentagon spends in a week.” –Dean Baker

Dean Baker’s idea is also really simple: let’s slowly increase who qualifies for Medicare. Right now you have to be 65-years-old. Baker says, “Let’s reduce it to 64.”

And he runs the numbers. He notes that the headline price for Medicare for All will freak people out. And it really doesn’t matter that people will save more by not having to pay for insurance. People don’t think in this way.

But decreasing the qualifying age for Medicare would be cheap with the “total tab of $13.8 billion, less than 0.3 percent of total spending, or roughly the amount the Pentagon spends in a week. It would be pretty hard to argue that this is not an affordable tab.”

Given that these are people already in the process of retiring, the change should not be difficult. And it would serve as a proof of concept. It would make lowering the Medicare age requirement again that much easier. We might even be able to jump to Medicare for 60-year-olds.

I’m not being glib when I say that I am ready for the revolution today. But since I don’t think the American people are anywhere near revolution, I think it is best to make whatever changes we can that help people today.

It’s possible that we will get Medicare for All right away. But it seems unlikely, given the makeup of the Democratic Party. Dean Baker’s idea not only provides millions of people with tangible benefits, it sets in motion a process that could lead to full Medicare for All in a relatively short period of time.

Don’t See Randy Rainbow Live

Although I went out of my way to not have this site’s automatic twitter posts tag Randy Rainbow, many of his fans noticed. They were so angry I figured I must have written something really bad. But I’ve gone back and read this article. It’s fine. Unlike most of the press that Rainbow gets, however, it is not glowing. I have yet to see what I think of as a real review of his act. And that’s just not taking him seriously as an artist.

The complaints were mostly about my criticism of Randy Rainbow’s dismissiveness. People apparently can’t read. I was accused of calling him an “asshole.” I did not. (No one seems to have taken the time to even glance at the link.) I was also accused of calling his fans idiots. I did not. These people clearly didn’t like my less than rave review and latched onto fragments that gave them the best option for attacking me.

Not one person evidenced any understanding of the two points I was making. It was tribalism and nothing more. And that’s all art is for most people. Apparently, Good People never criticize anything about Randy Rainbow. Only “shitty” writers and general “douchebags” do that. And that’s fine. But it says a lot that not one of these people who were so upset could bother to leave a comment. Twitter really is the perfect medium for a country that lacks nuance.

–Frank Moraes (20 April 2019)

Randy RainbowLast night, I went to see Randy Rainbow. I got a free ticket. But it was extremely troubling.

It’s hard to write this because I had a great time last night. The show was funny and the band was great. But part of me can’t watch a show without seeing it from a professional and political standpoint. And on these fronts, it was pretty bad.

Professional Entertainment

The crowd that came out to see Randy Rainbow last night was scary. I thought that I liked his work. These people were crazy in love. During the question and answer section of the show, I suffered greatly from pena ajena. The questions were embarrassing. One example, “If your mother ever wants a break, I’m willing to step in.” Rainbow dealt with the question well, “You know I’m in my 30s, right?” (He’s fast approaching 39. Vanity, thy name is Randy!)

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the audience ate up the performance. But my seat cost $55. So I had expectations even if I wasn’t the one paying.

Problems With the Show

Probably the worst part of the show was that the sound was horrible. All the canned sound (more on that in a minute) seemed to come from one speaker. And the EQ was off. There wasn’t enough bass and there was too much treble. It made me uncomfortable. And even though I was otherwise enjoying the show, I probably would have slipped out if I hadn’t been packed in on both sides.

More annoying when it came to the ticket price was the fact that roughly a quarter of the show was pre-recorded video. And these weren’t recorded for the show. They were mostly standard Randy Rainbow YouTube videos. I’d seen half of them before.

And they’re good. (Of course, blown up on a big screen they don’t look so good.) But I could stay home and watch it for free. I think it says a lot about Randy Rainbow’s contempt for his audience that he doesn’t think he needs to program a full 90 minutes of live material.

Canned Music

The live songs always include canned music — mostly background vocals. I don’t particularly like this, but I understand it. I wouldn’t even bring it up except that when Rainbow is singing live, he is usually up on the screen singing as well.

It also highlights the fact that Randy Rainbow isn’t that compelling a live performer. His singing is fine but his gestures are muted — designed for nightclub performances, not a large theater. I think that having a giant screen is meant to make up for this but it only made the live Randy Rainbow seem smaller. It was also extremely distracting.

Often, when performers don’t have a great stage presence, they make up for it in other ways like having outrageous costumes. Rainbow does this to some extent, but not nearly enough. His costumes are more along the lines of prototypes. Like he’s saying, “If this were a real performance, I’d have an amazing costume here.”

Another factor that makes it less than it could be is Randy Rainbow’s dismissive personality. His attitude toward the audience is the same as it is toward Trump. And I kept remembering a headline in Current Affairs, People Who ‘Pretend’ to Be Shitty Are Frequently Just Shitty. Although given his audience, I can’t necessarily blame him.

Commodity Machine

Truthfully, the show would be far better if Randy Rainbow just performed show tunes with his exceptional band. I was especially taken with Justin Vance on sax, clarinet, and flute. He really added to the feel that there was an orchestra on stage instead of just a four-piece combo.

Of course, such a show wouldn’t be popular. It certainly wouldn’t pay for the caliber of the band. But that’s the point. The entire Randy Rainbow organization is a commodity machine.

Randy Rainbow Merch

There are a half-dozen different Randy Rainbow t-shirts you can buy. They are low-quality and made in Honduras. But hey, a good-quality t-shirt might have taken a dollar off the profits.

So perhaps you would like Randy Rainbow glasses? How about socks? The t-shirts are $30 but the socks are a real bargain at just $20.

For only $5, you can get a “what the fuck you guys?” bumper sticker, which is more or less what I thought about this exercise in non-productive capitalism.

Making Money

The two young women selling all the Randy Rainbow stuff were working very fast to meet the demand. It made me start to do some rough calculations.

There were 1,633 seats at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Seats were $39.50, $45.00, and $55.00. Based on where I was sitting, I would say these represent about 30%, 50%, and 20% of the total seats. The place was packed, so that’s roughly $75,000. I figure rental is $10,000 for the night. The total cost for labor is $10,000 — if Randy Rainbow pays really well. And let’s give him another $10,000 for misc expenses.

That means, even without at least a few thousand dollars from Randy Rainbow merch, the production netted $45,000 playing in a small city. I don’t begrudge Randy Rainbow. Get it while you can!

Capitalism Destroying Art

But the whole thing highlights many problems with capitalism. First, Randy Rainbow is making an excessive amount of money while producing relatively little material. And he’s fast approaching the point where he will not have to produce anything at all.

Then there is the fact that people have to pay $40 just to get a bad seat at this event. And they are apparently paying it because of Randy Rainbow’s celebrity. I too went in eager to like it. But had I paid, I would have felt let down. There was maybe $15 up there on stage. The extra $25 to $40 was what we pay because the market can bear it.

Whatever. Randy Rainbow remains an interesting creative artist. And the people love him. But there really is no reason to leave the house. You can buy all that crap from home too.

YouTube and Twitter are the perfect venues for Randy Rainbow.

Economics Doesn’t End Under Socialism

Libertarian SocialismElizabeth Warren said, “I’m a capitalist. I believe in markets.” This is perhaps the stupidest or at least most ignorant thing I have ever heard Elizabeth Warren say. But it’s not just her. I hear this said all the time by people who are, in fact, socialists.

Where did people get the idea that a socialist economy wouldn’t have markets? Does economics stop working in a socialist economy? Of course not! What this idea shows is that most people don’t know fuck all about socialism.

Socialism is an economic system where workers own the means of production. That is to say: people should get paid for their work. They should not be paid for owning stuff. That’s it. Workers will still make things. They will still exchange voluntarily in markets.

Socialist Don’t Understand Socialism?

It is incredibly annoying to see self-proclaimed socialist in the United States accept this. The idea that there wouldn’t be markets seems to follow from the myth that socialism is a top-down authoritarian system like Stalinism.

I can see why conservatives and liberals would want to frame it this way. But why socialist? But maybe the issue is not why socialists would say such things but why so many liberals now call themselves socialists.

I fear that some so-called socialists are just incredibly childish. Some clearly think that socialism is some major break from reality. It’s a world where you get all the candy you want and transparent fairies dot the sky and life is a dream. I don’t know. I realize it doesn’t generally go that far but I’ve heard people say some pretty naive things that are only slightly less absurd than fairies.

But this brings up a broader point. Most people who claim to be socialists are really just old-fashion New Deal Democrats. And this very much includes Bernie Sanders.[1] Socialism means something. It’s something I believe in. And it’s not just Capitalism Lite.

Allies Not Comrades

That’s not to say that I don’t think these people are allies. I very much do. Their vision of the future is infinitely better than our present. At the same time, it’s annoying supposed socialists complain about Elizabeth Warren when she says she is “a capitalist to my bones.” Even if Bernie Sanders were pushing notably different policies (and he isn’t) it’s not like those policies have a chance in this country in the short-term.[2]

The truth is that if good old-fashioned New Deal liberalism is ever going to become dominant then people need to accept that some of us believe in actual socialism. The term shouldn’t be co-opted by people who are ultimately the opposite: capitalists.

America Needs a Real Left Wing

Understand this is not about purity. In fact, as I’ve noted there’s a very real practical issue here. Part of what’s going so very wrong in the United States is that the Overton window has contracted ridiculously and this has simply moved the country rightward.

In The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition… Socialism, John Nichols noted that socialism used to be part of our national conversation. It became a boogeyman rather late in the Cold War.

Don’t Water Down Socialism

Now Liberals are trying to define it out of existence. And this may work to some extent in the short-term. But it doesn’t move us forward in the long term. Because then socialism just becomes this mushy word for an economic and political system that is not as bad as what the Republicans have on offer. And, at best, that means that roughly half of the time Republicans will be in charge. And that’s one step forward and two steps back — as it has been for the last 40 years.


[1] Based upon statements when he was younger, Sanders was a socialist. At this point, he’s an extremely successful politician on the national stage. He’s had to tone things down to get where he is. And I don’t hold that against him at all. As it is, he’s a lightning rod. His Medicare for All plan doesn’t explicitly state that undocumented residents aren’t covered so the right-wing press is going crazy. Typical. But Sanders is not a socialist.

[2] I’ll admit: if Jeremy Corbyn were running here, he’d be my first choice. Because he would be a prominent advocate for actual socialism. I just don’t see Sanders as a socialist. Most Americans don’t know the difference between a democratic socialist and a social democrat. Well, it’s right there: Corbyn is a democratic socialist and Sanders is a social democrat. And it doesn’t matter what they call themselves.

Pete Buttigieg Isn’t Wrong About Insurance Companies

Pete ButtigiegI don’t like Pete Buttigieg. He’s vague while young. And that means that he is almost certain to become more conservative. And his political inexperience means he will almost certainly be controlled by others once in the White House. So I don’t support him. But Ana Kasparian (see video below) is wrong when she claims that he doesn’t believe in Medicare for All because he thinks insurance companies will still exist.

Buttigieg spoke to George Stephanopoulos who asked, “Isn’t Kamala Harris… right when she says, ‘That means doing away with private insurance’?” Buttigieg responded, “I don’t see why it requires that. After all, if the framework we’re using is Medicare, a lot of people who have Medicare also have Medicare supplements.” Kasparian claims this means that Buttigieg is for a public option.

My position is that we shouldn’t have private healthcare. It is morally unacceptable that some people would live and others die due only to their ability to pay for better healthcare. But then, I’m a socialist; I don’t believe that economics should allow Dick Cheney to live to be an old man while ordinary children die while waiting for a heart transplant.

Medicare for All and Insurance Companies

But the argument against Buttigieg, in this case, smacks of Purity Politics — as if Medicare for All is the only thing we will ever need in order to healthcare justice. Just as I support Obamacare, I support Medicare for All — even though it is just one more step.[1]

What’s more, even Sanders’ plan allows for private insurance. It just forbids private insurance from competing against Medicare for All. And this is exactly what Buttigieg was saying.

Pete Buttigieg Is a Man for Another Time

But as I said: I’m no supporter of Pete Buttigieg. But of it is a matter of character. Nathan J Robinson did a good overview of why Buttigieg wasn’t trustworthy. But I could look past that. On the issues, there isn’t a whole lot to like. Actually: there isn’t a whole lot at all.

On most issues, Buttigieg has never said anything publicly. Most of his positions are pretty standard liberal ideas. But there are cracks. He’s in favor of charter schools, for example. But what’s most troubling is that he has contradicted himself a couple of times on Medicare for all. Despite what he told George Stephanopoulos, he’s generally been in favor of a public option.

That’s fine. But as we know through long, painful experience with President Obama, we aren’t likely to get the public option if that is our ask. Pre-compromising is not a good negotiating standpoint.

So it’s fine to criticize Pete Buttigieg. (Can’t we just call him “The Kid”?) But let’s not confuse what Medicare for All is just in the name of going after a man that has more than enough vulnerabilities.

Update

Sanders’ Medicare for All plan does not explicitly state that undocumented residents aren’t included. So of course Fox News and Washington Examiner are going crazy saying that it covers “illegal immigrants.” It will never fly and I’m sure the Sanders campaign will clarify. But it’s interesting just how bigotted conservatives are. There must be something very wrong with our kindergartens because half the nation is not learning the most basic concepts of social existence.


[1] I’m not just looking toward healthcare equality. There is no way that at this time Medicare for All (or any other “universal” program) will include undocumented people. I don’t know of a major candidate who is suggesting this. And even if one did and then became president, there’s no way it would stay in the legislation until passage. I hate to be a pessimist about this stuff, but we live in an exceptionally xenophobic country.