“So, resolutely turning her back upon the house, she set out once more down the path, determined to keep straight on till she got to the hill. For a few minutes all went on well, and she was just saying, ‘I really SHALL do it this time–‘ when the path gave a sudden twist and shook itself (as she described it afterwards), and the next moment she found herself actually walking in at the door. ‘Oh, it’s too bad!’ she cried. `I never saw such a house for getting in the way! Never!'” –Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Paul Jay of the Real News Network interviews Jeff Faux, Founder and now Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC. He is an activist, economist and writer, He has written extensively on issues from globalization to neighborhood development. His latest book is The Servant Economy; Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class. Originally published at Real News Network.
A reasonably clear-eyed view of the Democrats, in simple language.
Lots of interesting points. First, the Democrats think they’re going to do OK no matter what:
[FAUX:] You ask yourself: you know, what is going on with the Democrats that they think they can get away with, you know, another three years, maybe more, of this kind of anemic growth, which is declining–with declining wages, declining incomes, declining opportunities for young people? And if you look carefully at what they say, I think there are several things.
One is [sic] . They’re going to be okay because the Democratic Party’s constituency is growing faster than the Republican Party’s, so that you have minorities, single women, immigrant groups that are growing faster than the white male base of the Republican Party. So the Democrats think that no matter what, they’re going to be doing okay in the future. … They also think, number two, that the Republicans will continue to scare the electorate.
Of course, we could generalize this to say that the political class thinks they’ll do OK, matter what. After all, wingnut welfare won’t go away even if the Democrat’s demographic Godot actually arrives one day.*
Second, and as a result, disemployment will remain permanently high.
[FAUX:] If you’re sitting in the White House now and talking–having this conversation with Paul and Jeff, one of the things you might say is, look, we got reelected when the unemployment rate averaged 9 percent. So doesn’t that mean we can get away with a weak recovery? Now, get away with it means that the Democrats don’t have to discomfort the business people who are financing them. … [S]o you’ve got this situation in which both Democrats and the Republicans in some sense are doing okay. You know, .
Third, there’s a blindingly obvious test for whether the Democrats are serious about changing anything: The filibuster:
[FAUX:] And the first–you know, after the president got reelected, the liberal press was full of this, oh, it’s a new Obama, he’s, you know, out there, going to fight for us, he learned his lesson. And the first test of this was the organization of the Senate and the issue of the filibuster.**
And, you know, there was a lot of talk in late November and December how the Democrats were going to get rid of this and they were going to allow the Senate to vote on important bills, you know, and pass them with 51 percent. Well, they opened the Senate, they reorganized it, and nothing happened. If you were president of the United States and you had gone through the last four years and you were seriously interested in changing the direction of this economy, you would have put all your political chits on changing that Senate rule. And they didn’t.
I agree with Faux on the test, but he’s got the timing wrong. The time for passing legislation with 51% Senate votes was in 2009 (as NC readers know). Change the filibuster in 2009, and you get — if you want — a right-sized stimulus package and Medicare for All, instead of the miserably inadequate stimulus we got, and a revision of the health insurance brokerage system crafted by a Wellpoint VP and greased for passage by a deal with Big Pharma. Heck, maybe you get Glass-Steagall back, and a genuine Pecora Commission instead of a kayfabe one. But the Democrats didn’t do the one thing that would bring about the changes that the remaining good will on their balance sheet had convinced voters they might do. And now the good will has almost gone, as indeed it should have, though it’s perhaps not written off.
And now we arrive at TINA (There Is No Alternative) once more: The path shakes itself, and we walk into the front door of the house we turned our back on.
[FAUX] You need a package that is stimulative of the private sector in spending. You need a package that certainly does not expand the foreign element in our economy, expand trade. As a matter of fact, you need a package to contract it and you need a package to provide for a better bargaining position for the American worker. And it’s not just union members. You know, unions were never a majority of the workforce, but the wage increases that unions got affected the rest of the economy. … Unions were the engine, really, the long-term engine of economic growth in the 20th century in this country. And by undercutting them, essentially we are taking a critical part of that engine and throwing it away. … So they’re going to have to start organizing. They’re going to have to start knocking off Democrats who are, you know, favoring austerity. And without some new force in this game, both Republicans and Democrats are united for another ten years of hard times. I don’t think this country’s going to be able to stand without some eruption of social tension.
But knocking off Democrats won’t help a bit; being an elected representative is, at this point, a sort of internship on the way to the real money on K Street (and most Democrats on the Hill, like most Republicans, are very well off anyhow). So how does a minor blip like losing an election reach a Democrat? I mean, at least, the sort of Democrat who can go up in a small plane without worrying? I don’t think it does. So I don’t see how “knocking off Democrats” helps.
But suppose that the Democratic Party — I know this is ridiculous, but bear with me — were electorally responsive. Legislation passes to re-empower union organizing. The SEIU leadership (say) turns from the craven careerists who helped sell ObamaCare instead of single payer into a modern version of the Wobblies, and organizes One Big Union of tens of millions (competing directly with the political parties, but never mind that). And presumably protectionist barriers go up to eliminate labor arbitrage. Does capital settle down happily to start making goods (and money!) here? I don’t think so, first because they’d have to give up a lot of power, second because they’d miss making people suffer, which they enjoy, and third because by this point the 1% are transnational and view nation-states as flags of convenience and great metropolises as pied-à-terres. So they just move everything off shore. After all, they bought one political system, so they can just buy another. Boeing moves to China (from Chicago); the banks move to London (good riddance, except for the jobs); Silicon Valley goes virtual in South East Asia. And so forth. All that’s left is coal, fracking, MacMansions, and Major League Football. And hippies and permaculturalists, of course.
Not an “alternative” I’m especially happy with; I think worse is worse, not better. It feels to me like a global problem has to be approached globally; but even leaving aside implementation details, something like a worldwide minimum wage to eliminate labor arbitrage*** faces massive collective action difficulties. And so the path shakes itself once again.
However, in what might be considered a corollary to Stein’s Law****, There Is No Alternative. Until There Is.
Readers? Can you come up with better proposals than Faux’s? Are there even plausible scenarios for better outcomes?
NOTE * As for scaring the electorate, yes indeed one might view the Republicans as the dogs who flush the game so the hunters can shoot it. Clean, earthy sport, what?
NOTE ** The filibuster, in this scenario, would be abolished when a new Senate session convenes, and the Senate passes its rules, which are passed by majority vote. Other scenarios also exist. Importantly, every player in Washington knows this, since it was all games out in the days of the “nuclear option,” when the Republicans were the ones who were going to abolish the filibuster by majority vote.
NOTE *** In Thailand, the minimum wage for a day’s labor is about the same price as a cafe latté in Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s über-hi so shopping mall. Obviously that’s wrong, and the poor shlubs in Thailand should see that just as much as the poor shlubs stateside.
NOTE **** “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”