Saturday, January 14, 2012

Elect Gekko

Mitt Romney brings a campaign of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

The Republicans have a problem on their hands. After a marathon of more or less collegial debates, and on the verge of wrapping up their process and annointing their nominee prior to actual voting, it starts to become apparent that the one candidate who is not certifiably crazy, and has bought his way to the top in best Republican fashion, might not be the right horse after all.

The Occupy movement is in hibernation, but its memes have succeeded in turning the tea-party tide. The 1%, the 99%, "Occupy", and pejorative "Wall Street", have become guideposts in our discourse. Slowly the GOP is waking up to the fact that while being the party of the 1% is one thing, having a candidate and leader who is the perfect embodiment of 1%-ism is something quite different. Romney is that candidate, and may face an even worse election day than John McCain did four years ago.

Romney is of the 1%, is funded by the 1%, supports the 1%. He is using his money to buy endorsements, bury his opponents, and take small states like Iowa by storm. But money can't buy the general election, at least not yet (not when the other side is another well-funded front for the 1%, more or less).

At any rate, Romney's story may just be a little too brazen even for our jaded and corrupt age. His tax plan raises taxes on the poor and lowers them for the rich. This after several long decades of rising income and wealth inequality that have eaten into the very fabric of our country, and which Romney himself did a great deal to advance.

Much of his work at Bain was dedicated to "aligning" the interests of company executives with those of shareholders, and away from those of workers, with the result that executives, him included, made gobs of money while workers were shown the door, had benefits reduced, pensions taken away, and their companies bankrupted. 22% of companies he touched ended up in bankruptcy, but not before debt was taken on and enormous bonuses paid out. Much of this virtuous alignment had to do with high-risk leveraging, executive stock "participation", and a consequent focus on the shortest-term results. What has it left us with?

Economic efficiency is not always a bad thing, and Romney had every right to be a vulture / arbitrageur in the system. But making this out to be some kind of virtue and model for presidential leadership seems a little hard to swallow, even for his erstwhile capitalist-touting GOP opponents. John Stewart jokes that they suddenly see themselves as the 99% ... of the 1%. The list of Romney's targets and deals at Bain makes dreary reading- sundry consumer retailers and low-tech manufacturers whose innovations and efficiencies lie in reading spreadsheets, firing workers, offshoring, and putting slightly less ruthless retailers out of business. Sure, if we need a new Dunkin Doughnuts CEO, Romney might be the guy. But president?

Mammon plays a leading role in Romney's campaign as well. Who supports him? The rich, of course, for the most virtuous of reasons! So not only does he have his own fortune to run on, but as a tailor-made, say-anything representative of the plutocracy, money comes his way like manna, ready to buy endorsements, ads, and votes. His lack of a center is apparent in his spontaneous remarks, and also came out in his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts. His ambition was to solve problems, and he did a great job with the univeral health care program, as he had with the Salt Lake Olympics previously. But who knows what "efficiencies" and problems he will latch onto on the national stage? Everything we hear is cant and regressiveness.

It reminds me of another expert technocrat, doctrinaire capitalist, economic "modernizer", administrative wizard, and all-around rich guy in American history- Herbert Hoover.

  • Republicans become socialists- horrors!
  • Restructuring the US, Gekko-style. Sell off Alaska!
  • Lawrence Krauss gives a rather funny physics talk.
  • Our new chief of staff: "Deregulation had nothing to do with the crisis."
  • Haiti- not doing too well.
  • Prospects for reducing fuel use in transportation ... taxes are required.
  • "Necessitous men are not free men."
  • Economics note of the week: 
Not actually a quote, since Bill Mitchell had no concise bon mot to offer. But he describes the perverse process by which neoliberal economics looked at lengthening unemployment periods (longer time taken to find a job) in recent decades after the Keynesian heyday of quasi-full employment, and concluded that workers were lazing about and decided to "prefer" jobless benefits to working. These economists & politicians then dedicated themselves to cutting unemployment and other welfare benefits to "encourage" job search.  
Obviously, however, the data said something quite different, which is that along with the increasing specialization of work, which makes job matching increasingly difficult, (i.e. friction in the labor market), the overall higher unemployment rates made employers more choosy, allowed them to cut worker pay and benefits at the same time that unemployment benefits were cut, leading to overall lowering of demand, made up temporarily by consumer and real estate debt. At any rate, prodding more people to look for work via improverishment when no more work is offered can hardly solve the employment problem. But it does destroy people's lives and impair overall prosperity.

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