Sunday, July 6, 2014

The State of the Union

Politico Magazine features three great pieces looking at the challenges facing the U.S., especially inequality and climate change.  Here's the closing of a piece by Joseph Stiglitz on how the 'good times' weren't all that good, but were better than they are now:
Yet I am, perhaps, naive enough to believe it is not capitalism alone that is at fault: It is, even more, the paralysis of our politics and the banishing of any progressive thought from a debate that still pretends the No. 1 problem is government. I have spent my career as an economist second-guessing markets, demonstrating their imperfections, and yet markets can be a powerful force for increasing standards of living for all. But we need a balance of the kind we achieved in the middle of the 20th century, when government was afforded a progressive role. Otherwise, I fear, we will permanently scar ourselves with the rigged economic and political system that already has done so much to create today’s inequality.
When I was growing up in Gary during its own smog-choked “golden age,” it was impossible to see where the city was going. We didn’t know, or talk, about the deindustrialization of America, which was about to occur. I didn’t realize, in other words, that the rather grim reality I was leaving behind was actually as good as Gary was ever going to get.
I fear America could be at the same place today.
In another piece, Nick Hanauer resumes his role as Cassandra for the 0.01%, warning that there will be mobs in the streets if the ultra-wealthy don't take action to lessen inequality:
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.
What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.
Finally, Jedediah Purdy discusses inequality and climate change, and gives one of the scarier bits of information which seeks to answer those who question why we are playing with fire when it comes to climate change:
The other was the new set of U.N. reports on climate change, which confirmed, yet again, that the problem is real and accelerating. Happy developments like President Obama’s new greenhouse-gas rules and California’s pioneering climate legislation amount to spitting in the wind. Half of the total greenhouse-gas emissions in human history have happened just since 1970, and, growing at 2 percent a year, annual global emissions are set to double between now and 2050. (emphasis mine)  Everything hard, from drought to floods to disease, is going to get worse, and, like all natural disaster, it’s going to be hardest on those who are already poor and vulnerable.....
Climate denial is structural as long as the economy’s everyday feedback system, the price system, treats fossil-fuel emissions as free. We are running a carbon deficit that there is no way to repay. Like any unsustainable debt, our carbon deficit makes the borrowers feel richer than they really are, until it falls due and they are suddenly poor again—plus interest. We are greatly inflating the level of industrial activity the Earth can afford, ecologically speaking.
All three pieces are well worth reading, although they are rather depressing.  The most important part is that they are at least being discussed.

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