Policy Shop

Policy as if people mattered

Have Hope: Conservatives Rationalize Leftist Stuff They Like

Last week, I had a co-authored piece in The Atlantic about using a universal basic income to cut the official poverty rate in half. The short of it is— as I pointed out last month here at Policy Shop —providing an annual $2,920 cash grant to every American would cut official poverty in half overnight. Although completely viable as a real-life policy that you could implement successfully, such a plan is generally dismissed as out of the question in our current political climate. While this is more or less true, I have considerable hope of the long-term viability of such a program if we can ever manage to get it going. Even though we are a much more conservative nation than our global counterparts, it is not as if those conservative tendencies and principles are consistently applied. Instead, when a left-wing program gets immensely popular, conservatives drop their opposition to it and dream up conservative-sounding rhetoric to justify it. The best example of this comes to us from...

Why Do Women Do Market Work?

Super-misogynist Gavin McInnes of Vice fame unleashed an odd hyper-masculinist performance on HuffPo Live last week , complaining, among other things, about working women. McInnes apparently thinks feminism is to blame for women becoming unhappy corporate strivers, instead of domesticated homekeepers. In making these remarks, McInnes refers to women striving to be CEOs, which suggests that when he talks about working women, he has in mind upper-class, highly-educated women trying to move up the economic power ranks. In the reality of most women, working in the labor market is not a discretionary activity undertaken voluntarily for self-liberation purposes. Like men, women work because they have to work in order to survive. There is no option. This is most obviously true for single women, but it's also true for husband-wife families. In anticipation of a piece I am preparing with Elizabeth Stoker on this McInnes blow up, I calculated the following numbers. They all come from the Census...

Sorry, John Stuart Mill Was Not a Libertarian

Libertarianism as it exists in the United States is basically a mid-20th century American philosophy, at least in origin. Owing perhaps to a combination of bad introductory classes and an urge for a longer historical pedigree, libertarians often like to pretend that great canonical thinkers prior to that time were also libertarians. But as that is an obvious anachronism, it turns out to be untrue. There are some lesser knowns here and there along the trail who might come close, but basically none of the big old philosophical names can rightly be associated with this mid-20th century libertarianism. Previously, I pointed out John Locke’s anti-libertarian transgressions , in which he observed and prescribed a solution to the intense coercion of labor contracts made between those with very unequal bargaining strength, contracts he analogized to slavery. To suggest Locke was not a mid-20 century American libertarian was so infuriating that some rather amusing, but ultimately incompetent,...

Heritage Action Is Ruining Your Government

Two days ago, it looked like moderates in the House of Representatives, led by John Boehner, had finally concocted a plan to avert a default and end the government shutdown. Then the plan went down in flames. The deal, the result of weeks of haggling, removed proposals to defund Obamacare and left in its place a provision stripping healthcare from Congressional staffers. It was an cruel deal, but a deal nontheless, with the support of a majority in the House. And it looked like it was going to pass until this: Key Vote: “NO” on House Spending and Debt Deal http://t.co/0yZCqc1wR3 #Obamacare #Shutdown — Heritage Action (@Heritage_Action) October 15, 2013 Marking a vote as a key vote indicates that Heritage Action will include the vote on their scorecard gauging a representative’s conservative bonafides. It suggests their propensity to support, and fund, a primary challenge against Republicans who vote for compromise. As the National Review ’s post-mortem on the collapse of the...

How Multi-Billion Dollar Corporations Rely on the Public to Feed their Workforce

(Flickr/Robert Banh)
Dunkin Donuts is getting a sweet deal. The company enjoyed $108.3 million in profits last year and compensated its CEO, Nigel Travis, to the tune of $1.9 million. Meanwhile, the public paid an estimated $274 million to feed, provide medical care, and subsidize the wages of their workforce. And Dunkin Donuts is not alone or even the worst offender: New studies out today from the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, the University of Illinois, and the National Employment Law Project detail just some of the vast scope of public subsidies for fast food workers. The Berkeley/Illinois study finds that, overall, public assistance to workers in the fast food industry and their families costs nearly $7 billion a year. That includes public spending on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—but doesn't account for free school lunches, housing assistance, or...

Heroism is a Symptom of Political Dysfunction

Enron billionaire John Arnold took a break on Tuesday from his long-standing project of taking away the pensions of public employees in order to provide $10 million to keep Head Start programs running during the government shutdown . This is perhaps one of the more depressing spectacles so far to come out of the shutdown mess. The early education of poor kids in America now partially swings on the whims of a man with way more money than he deserves to have in the first place. This development reminded me of a Corey Robin post from April of last year . In it, Robin attacks the media gushing that followed Cory Booker rescuing a neighbor from a burning house. His point is that Booker’s rescue — and indeed many of Booker’s antics — are things that normally should be done automatically by a well-functioning and well-funded set of government services. That Booker even has the opportunity to do something like rescue someone from a burning building is a sign of institutional failure in fire...

McCutcheon Oral Arguments Point Way Backward, and Forward

Yesterday, despite most of official Washington being on lockdown, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on McCutcheon v. FEC —a case many are referring to as “Citizens United II.” The case is a challenge to the total cap on the amount that one wealthy donor can give to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs, known as “aggregate contribution limits.” An Alabama coal industry executive named Shaun McCutcheon (joined by the RNC) thinks that the current $123,200 cap—more than twice what an average family makes in a year—is a burdensome restriction on his political participation. So, he’s asking the Court to lift the cap, freeing him to kick in more than $3.5 million to Republican candidates and party committees. Senator Mitch McConnell, who proudly embraces his reputation as the “Darth Vader of campaign finance reform,” has asked the justices to go further by overturning key parts of the Court’s seminal campaign finance case and striking all contribution limits, including the cap on...

The Big Donors Behind the Shutdown

The big donors behind the crisis in Washington are finally being called out by the mainstream media. Yesterday, the New York Times had a major investigative piece about how the Koch brothers and other major conservative donors pushed the Republican Party toward its current extreme strategy of trying to stop Obamacare. I have been saying the same thing for some time, citing the key role played by the Club for Growth in threatening House Republicans with electoral retaliation at primary time if they don't go all out on Obamacare. But the Times story breaks new ground by spelling out exactly how deep pocketed donors are using their clout with Republicans in Congress. These donors have made defunding Obamacare a litmus test and have directed intense fire, in the form of TV and Internet ads against Republicans seen as not falling in line behind this push. This stands in contrast to the usual narrative about the government shutdown, along with debt ceiling brinksmanship—which is that it's...

McCutcheon Money: How Citizens United 2 Could Increase the Power of Elite Donors

Next Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court is scheduled (pending shutdown nonsense) to hear oral arguments on McCutcheon v. FEC , a challenge to the total cap on the amount of money one wealthy individual is permitted to contribute to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs. The current “aggregate contribution limit” is $123,200—twice the median household income in the U.S. As you might imagine, this cap affects very few people; just 1,219 people were at, over, or within 10 percent of the limit for the 2012 election cycle. I’m guessing you are not sitting on $150,000 you’d like put into politics next year—so, why should you care? Here’s why: This tiny group of people already has substantial sway in our election system, and a bad ruling in McCutcheon would give them even more. Demos and U.S. PIRG have worked together to project that striking aggregate contribution limits would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 elections...

How the Left Sees Liberty

Generally, I like to talk about liberty the way that libertarians do. I primarily do that because liberty, as discussed by libertarians, actually makes private property ownership an injustice. Because few people ever bother to think about that, adopting libertarian notions of liberty in my interactions with people of that persuasion is a never-ending well of hilarity. “What do you mean unilaterally grabbing up pieces of the scarce world without the consent of others (whose previously-existing access you steal away) and then violently attacking people who don’t go along with your fiat claims of ownership is aggression?” they say, “that’s just homesteading followed by self-defense!” And on it goes. The problem with the libertarian and right-wing notions of liberty is not just that they implode; it’s that there is a more plausible notion of liberty offered up by the left-wing that is only really achievable through leftist political economy. Under this, liberty is achieved when...

Hey, Wall Street—The Club for Growth Is Not Your Friend

Here we go again: Financial markets are plummeting thanks to the threat of a government shutdown and, beyond that, another debt ceiling crisis. One of the great bull markets of recent years is being derailed by a bunch of extreme conservatives in Congress. But Wall Street shouldn't just blame the Tea Party for ruining a good thing. It should blame big donors from its own ranks who are bankrolling groups like the Club for Growth who are also responsible for the crisis. As I have noted here before, the Club has been fanning shutdown brinksmanship by urging members of Congress to toe the far right line on Obamacare. This is no passing suggestion, given that the Club has been a main funder of primary challenges to moderate Republicans. So the story here, in part, is the Club for Growth vs. stable financial markets and an ongoing economic recovery. That's pretty ironic given the group's name. But it also points to an important internecine conflict within America's wealth elite. In fact,...

Inequality Is a Function of Political Power

Scott Sumner has become famous in the internet world and elsewhere as monetarism’s most capable defender. Sumner has a lot of things to say, but one is illustrative for my purposes here. Sumner argues that advocates of fiscal stimulus often make the mistake in their arguments of assuming away monetary policy as static or accommodating. His point is that you can’t do that because the efficacy of fiscal policy always depends on what monetary policy is doing in the background. This same basic point also needs to be driven home for those who want to talk about how this or that thing will affect the distribution of income in society. Matt Yglesias’ review of Tyler Cowen’s new book gives us an excellent jumping off point for what I mean. In his book, Cowen apparently argues that coming technological changes will have certain negative effects on median incomes. Yglesias rightly points out (as does Cowen) that this outcome will only come if we fail to implement certain policies that will...

Capitol Workers Strike to Protest Federally Subsidized Inequality

It’s their fifth strike in five months, but the workers of Good Jobs Nation didn’t seem the least bit tired this morning. Low-paid employees from the food courts of federal buildings, the gift shops of the Smithsonian, and others employed under federal contracts, concessions, and lease agreements donned matching t-shirts, picked up signs and marched to the White House. Congress might be locked in endless, dismal debates about defunding health care and cutting food stamps, but President Obama—the man who recently said reversing rising inequality was his highest priority ,—could sign an executive order with the potential to raise wages for 560,000 low-paid contract employees. The workers delivered a petition with 250,000 signatures calling on the President to take action. Fifteen U.S. Senators submitted their own letter , urging President Obama to use his executive authority to “require federal agencies to give major preference in awarding contracts to companies that… pay their workers...

How Much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty In America?

Last week, the Census Bureau put out its annual income and poverty figures for 2012 . The big news on the poverty front is that the percentage of Americans living in poverty is unchanged at 15 percent, which amounts to 46.5 million Americans. More than one in five kids under the age of 18 are in poverty, and nearly one in four kids under the age of six are impoverished as well. These are numbers we’ve all become accustomed to, but they can still shock the conscience if you make an effort to let them soak in again. The sheer scale of poverty in the U.S. is so massive that it can seem as if eliminating or dramatically reducing it would be nearly impossible. After all, 46 million people is a lot of people. But in reality, if we stick to the official poverty line, the amount of money standing in the way of poverty eradication is much lower than people realize. In its annual poverty report, the Census Bureau includes a table that few take note of which actually details by how much families...

If New York Didn’t Have One of the Best Systems of Small-Donor Public Financing ...

(Flickr/Johannes Valkama)
Last week, we talked about the role that outside spending played in the New York City Council race and how of the 20 candidates Jobs for New York supported, 16 won. However, as Mark Schmitt at The New Republic pointed out , over half of the candidates Jobs for New York supported also had the support of the Working Families Party, who are often on the opposite side of the real estate debate. According to Common Cause’s scorecard , both groups supported the same 13 candidates, the vast majority of whom won their races. It’s unclear why Jobs for New York would support candidates that also have the backing of their opponents—perhaps they were just shrewdly banking on the winners—but it is clear that the group’s spending highlights the rise of outside spending and the importance of public financing. Jobs for New York’s spending raises two issues: One, as Schmitt points out, New York City at least has a public financing system allows small donors to offset some of the impact of outside...

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