Balkinization  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Will democracy (even if desirable) survive?

Sandy Levinson



The invaluable Thomas Edsall has a terrific online posting in the NYTimes discussing a new book by Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century."  It argues that there is really no plausible way to stop the ever-increasing inequality, based on the comparative rate of return on capital and labor.  (As Marx predicted, there is in fact an increasing world-wide "reserve army of the unemployed").  Edsall's column concludes as follows: 

His prognosis is extremely bleak. Without what he acknowledges is a politically unrealistic global wealth tax, he sees the United States and the developed world on a path toward a degree of inequality that will reach levels likely to cause severe social disruption.
Final judgment on Piketty’s work will come with time – a problem in and of itself, because if he is right, inequality will worsen, making it all the more difficult to take preemptive action.

As some of you know, we will be having a symposium at UT on Friday on whether democracy is "desirable."  Perhaps the response to the question is "who really cares, because the real point is that it is doomed to functional extinction as plutocrats use their economic power to buy the distinctly non-autonomous political system."  Better that they give obscenely expensive birthday parties or pay $100 million for Jeff Koons puppies than emulate Sheldon Adelson by purchasing politicians instead.  See, e.g., Larry Lessig's Lost Republic on this latter point.

Comments:

This from Edsall's penultimate paragraph:

" ... he [Piketty] sees the United States and the developed world on a path toward a degree of inequality that will reach levels likely to cause severe social disruption."

raises the question as to the "severe social disruption" that may likely result.

While perhaps Piketty's "global wealth tax" may be a better solution, the United States should address inequality on its own as surely even capitalists here might understand it is not in their interests to have severe social disruption; or might such disruption have to result before any such understanding?
 

Capitalism vs. Democracy?

Edsall is offering a false choice.

All political economies throughout history - including progressivism and socialism - have featured income inequality. This is hardly an exclusive feature of free market capitalism.

Next, the key to social stability is economic mobility, not income equality. The average person is completely unaffected by Bill Gates earning a fortune building and selling Microsoft. This money was not taken from them. The average person does care about being able to go as far as her economic talents will take her. Being equally impoverished under a socialist state does not enhance social stability.

Finally, democracy is simply a majority or plurality of voters electing representatives to set policy or setting policy directly through referendums. You can very high income inequality and a vibrant democracy.

Piketty's thesis is also largely wrong.

Extreme income inequality is largely driven by government policy, not free markets. Indeed, with the devolution of the United States into just another Euro-style progressive and socialist political economy, there is no major free market country left in the world against which to make the comparison.

For investors, the advent of national banks following progressive monetary policy that printing money will goose demand and thus GDP and job growth has created an ongoing series of inflationary bubbles in the financial markets that smart investors have ridden to fantastic fortunes.

For wage earners, the massive expansion of the progressive and socialist regulatory state and the compliance costs and economic distortions it imposes has dramatically slowed economic growth and thus employment and wage growth.

Progressively punitive tax codes punishing wealth creation (like those Piketty proposes and his French socialist government has imposed) add to that economic sclerosis. The left seems to realize that taxing an activity will result in less of the activity in everything but wealth creation.

For low skill wage earners, things are even worse as government wage and benefit mandates in excess of what the young and low skilled can produce in goods and services has made them virtually unemployable and created mass endemic youth unemployment. This stunts their economic productivity for the rest of their working lives and the national economic productivity in general.

Piketty is correct that the massive destruction of capital and more equal opportunity poverty of the Great Depression and WWII did reduce income inequality. Who really wants to repeat those?
 

If the wealthy are told that the alternative to sharing their wealth is violence, why should they not treat this as an extortionate threat, rather than a political argument?

Speaking as an engineer, it is my opinion that increasing income inequality is an inevitable consequence of the fact that "capital" is responsible for an ever larger percentage of production compared to "labor", and so labor's negotiating strength is declining. At some point, which I expect to arrive before the end of the century, that share will approach 100%, and those who own capital will not need labor at all. And then what will those without capitol do?

However, this trend is being exaggerated by decisions of government. Economic concentration is in the interest of politicians, it concentrates wealth for easy extraction, just as a farmer would rather milk the cow than eat the grass. This is true of both formal extraction, in the form of taxes, and informal extraction of "rent".

The irony is that some people respond to this trend by trying to increase the power of politicians, who then have more leverage to enhance concentration of wealth for their own purposes. And so the trend accelerates, instead of slowing.

As for democracy, it is, famously, the worst form of government except for all others. Clearly, we need a *new* alternative.
 

If Piketty is right, then I'd expect Marxist analysis to make a strong comeback.
 

Our TYRANNYSAURUS REX seems to be salivating over the Second Gilded Age. Alas, he remains stuck defending alleged drunks and alleged stoners in the Mile High State (of mind) allegedly operating under the influence, with dreams of being rescued by Tom Perkins and other wealthy typhoons [sic] claiming that the efforts to address inequality are like the Holocaust.

And Brett demonstrates as an engineer who can't bridge the vacuum between his ears.

Tweedlee Dee and Tweedlee Dumb.
 

I see by Amazon that we actually have two authors among us among the comments.
 

"AUTHOR! AUTHOR!"

It's time for curtain calls.
 

Sandy: "the real point is that it is doomed to functional extinction as plutocrats use their economic power to buy the distinctly non-autonomous political system."

Two questions:

1) Do you have any examples of an election where "plutocrats" sided for one candidate and bought the election for him or her?

With the exception of a handful of ideologues like Soros and the Koch brothers, business money generally flows to the favorites in an attempt to curry favor or at least stave off persecution.

2) Is this the political economy that "plutocrats" would choose to elect for themselves?

Investors are making their money off of markets inflated by the distinctly anti-democratic Fed generating trillions of dollars in funny money.

In contrast, the elected President and Congress have created the worst business environment since the Great Depression and business is sitting on over two trillion dollars rather than growing the money by expanding operations.
 

Bart: I've noticed it's a persistant problem with "campaign reformers", that they always interpret things in terms of outside forces corrupting office holders, rather than the other way around. Politicians being bribed, rather than businessmen being extorted.

I suppose this is because their prefered solution to everything is laws, and laws are written by office holders, so that if they admitted the problem was originating with the office holders, they might as well just give up. But it does blind them to the reality of who's actually got the power here.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Brett;

Agreed. I would add that the powerful also abuse government to persecute the weak.

I subscribe to the dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Government is a necessary evil and the best we can do is firmly leash it to basic functions and have the governing class answer to the people democratically.

Dogs eventually slip leashes, though, and our government has nearly completely slipped its bonds.
 

Government is a necessary evil and the best we can do is firmly leash it to basic functions and have the governing class answer to the people democratically.

# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 11:40 AM


Unless some black guy we don't like gets elected, then screw the people who democratically elected him. Right, Baghdad?
 

I've noticed it's a persistant problem with "campaign reformers", that they always interpret things in terms of outside forces corrupting office holders, rather than the other way around. Politicians being bribed, rather than businessmen being extorted.

I have noticed that many reformers generally argue there is "corruption" out there and that certain special interests have too much power. They repeatedly note the interconnection between those in government and outside. They do not merely note things are going in one direction. There is special concern for office holders since they are the ones we the people elect. They are the ones directly governing us. They are the ones we have more power over in various respects. The power of government, and a libertarian would seem to be the type to note this, makes it particularly a concern. A bad actor corporate owner is less of a concern than a governor. The fact that people in government seek out support and often legislate in ways to obtain it from certain parties (pressuring some in the process) is readily noted.

Likewise, I have not noticed that reformers are just concerned about laws. Yes, they think certain types of laws are appropriate. Why? Well, people don't act out of the goodness of their hearts. Also, laws provide a means of restraint that applies across the board, it is not a sort of unilateral disarmment as would be if people would use electoral means to target certain people == some people are in safe seats, so they need not change their ways in that regard. But, reformers repeatedly come off as moral evangelists. They have a certain vision of how things are. They often speak in moral tones -- such and such forces are in effect evil. Laws alone won't change this. They know it. In fact, the proposals often are realistically not likely to occur -- there is not going to be an amendment to change Citizens United. But, it is really just a symbol for the larger cause. It leads to support of certain candidates, pressure to investigate and use legal action more using existing laws, advance popular movements etc.

It is a sort of concrete symbol to work around. Meanwhile, a lot of other stuff is going on. That's what I have noticed.
 

"Finally, democracy is simply a majority or plurality of voters electing representatives to set policy or setting policy directly through referendums. You can very high income inequality and a vibrant democracy."

The point is likely that to the extent money is power then economic inequality undercuts democratic values. Campaigns do not spend a lot of time raising and spending money because they are convinced it does nothing to further victory.

"Do you have any examples of an election where "plutocrats" sided for one candidate and bought the election for him or her?"

Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co. comes to mind. You may also want to read the recent NYT article on out of state money influencing elections.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/us/politics/a-national-strategy-funds-state-political-monopolies.html

"Is this the political economy that "plutocrats" would choose to elect for themselves?"


I think you answered this yourselves when you note that 'Investors are making their money off of markets,' many likely could care less what policies may be boosting those market gains.

I do not disagree that government can extort business. But businesses are going to use government too. It is there and it is tempting to use it to gain an advantage. Even in minimal government times we had plutocrats using government to gain advantages (such as in the building of railroads and internal improvements). As long as there is a government businesses are going to push to use it. To say 'we will have a government which just is not allowed to do what these businesses will want' sounds more fanciful to me than restrictions on plutocratic campaigns that work.

 

Mr. W:

Money is indeed the mother's milk of politics, but there is no evidence that it flows predominantly in one direction. Like the population at large, the wealthy are all over the map ideologically - from a Euro-socilist like Soros and the Hollywood left to conservative Texas oil billionaires and the libertarian Koch brothers.

Buying elections generally fails. See Sheldon Adelson trying to get Newt Gingrich nominated in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg losing elections across the country trying to save firearm prohibitionists the voters were firing, and the unions massively outspending WI Gov. Scott Walker and failing to move any votes in the failed recall.

As your NYT piece observed, money allows candidates to get their message out to receptive audiences of voters who are already primed to cast ballots for them:

Alabama’s transformation was the product, in part, of a sophisticated political apparatus designed to channel political money from around the country into states where conditions were ripe for Republican takeover.

I would contend that bypassing government attempts limit campaign speech and allowing voters to more easily elect representatives who are more likely to enact the will of the voters is a good thing.
 

I wonder what Edward Bernays, the Father of Public Relations, would say (if he were still alive) about our TYRANNYSAURUS REX"s:

"I would contend that bypassing government attempts limit campaign speech and allowing voters to more easily elect representatives who are more likely to enact the will of the voters is a good thing."

Considering the polling results, particularly concerning Congress over the past several years, what has been the "will of the voters" as well as perhaps those who haven't voted, with respect to elected representatives? Are the libertarian Koch Heads that gullible about Koch Bros. motives? Our TR has often described the good old days in American history as the "Gilded Age," which of course he has enjoyed only in his dreams as a Koch Head. Political spin is a public relations variation. All of this takes money. As George Costanza of Seinfeld said, "It's not a lie if you believe it." And repeating a lie often enough can convince some to accept it. That's the essence of public relations and political spin.

So our TR can spout off on the "will of the voters" in an election and ignore the consequences of how the representatives they elect actually perform. If our TR has any doubts, no doubt he gets over it by thinking of Ayn Rand and her "Atlas Shrugged." Alas, with all the spin, our TR ignores that Ayn Rand was more libertine than libertarian.
 

Our TYRANNYSAURUS REX closed his 11:40 AM comment (after reciting political platitudes/cliches) with this:

"Dogs eventually slip leashes, though, and our government has nearly completely slipped its bonds."

Compare this to to his more recent comment about the "will of voters" and the representatives they elected in a more recent comment, the same representatives that make up the government allegedly unleashed. Apparently where there's a will there's an "Oh Vey!." Our TR is not known for consistency.
 

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Back on topic, the NYT is reporting that the Tea Party groups are now outraising the GOP establishment and are running their own independent ground games.

Actually, the Tea Party has been developing an independent ground game since we elected Scott Brown to replace Teddy Kennedy.

The GOP big money guys (aka "plutocrats") were already furious with the Tea Party. The NYT report should make their day.

The Democrats are likely equally pissed. There was a reason Team Obama abused the IRS in an attempt to shut down the Tea Party fundraising before the 2012 election.
 

The Democrats are likely equally pissed. There was a reason Team Obama abused the IRS in an attempt to shut down the Tea Party fundraising before the 2012 election.
# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 12:51 PM


Pissed? LOL Dems are thrilled that the Tea Party is destroying the GOP.
 

How much of the increase in inequality in the United States in the past few decades is due to (a) the increase in assortative mating (in itself a result of the success of feminism and the entry of millions of women into highly compensated professions and business) and (b) the immigration to the US of tens of millions of impoverished Latin American peasants?
 

BTW, the above are empirical, not normative, questions.
 

"Pissed? LOL Dems are thrilled that the Tea Party is destroying the GOP."

Hardly. The GOP establishment represents what every governing party wants to face: A tame 'opposition' party which doesn't really want to oppose, just enjoy being the second dog, and raking in graft, while harmlessly bleeding off public opposition to whatever the governing party wants to do.

Should the GOP go down in flames, the "first past the post" system in America guarantees that another party will swiftly replace it, and that new 2nd party will almost certainly be enthusiastic in it's opposition to Democratic policies.

Why would the Democratic establishment want that? They don't, that's why the Democratic establishment has been the GOP establishment's best ally in fighting the Tea Party movement.


 

Brett's:

" ... and that new 2nd party will almost certainly be enthusiastic in it's opposition to Democratic policies."

sounds like anarcho-libertarians. Alas, the demographics suggest that Brett might have to assume leadership, in which case he might cover the anarcho part with a revival of the "WIG" [sic] party late of late antebellum days that Lincoln's Republican Party defeated.
 

that new 2nd party will almost certainly be enthusiastic in it's opposition to Democratic policies.

# posted by Blogger Brett : 5:04 PM


Trust me, the Dems are not worried about a bunch of redneck morons sitting around the woods getting drunk and accidentally shooting each other.
 

No, they're worried about ordinary citizens opposing them, and so, whenever such citizens DO oppose them, they slander them in the way you just did.
 

Brett is an ordinary citizen? A self professed anarcho-libertarian is an ordinary citizen? A person in fear of changing demographics is an ordinary citizen? A person who is a Second Amendment absolutist is an ordinary citizen?
 

Shag, in some respects I'm ordinary, in some I'm not. But, really, do you actually suppose the Tea Party is out fund raising the GOP establishment by "getting drunk in the woods and accidentally shooting each other"? Is that how you believe they're posing a threat to the GOP establishment's continued control over the party?

With "Bartbuster" it's really hard to tell if he actually thinks a major movement in American politics consists of drunks with guns, but I'm guessing probably not. But he felt compelled to say it anyway, just as you feel compelled to say the things you say, and likely imagine them clever, rather than obnoxious and insulting.

What is it about the left, that you can't conceive of people disagreeing with you, and yet being decent, ordinary people? Or, at least, are driven to describe the people who dare to disagree with you in such uncomplimentary terms? I can only speculate, having no window into your mind, but perhaps you could engage in some heroic act of introspection, and tell us?
 

Pre-NSA "spying" disclosures, Brett was quite obvious in picturing himself as a person that was not "ordinary." Is a self professed anarcho-libertarian an ordinary person? So Brett may be trying to change his "brand" what with NSA revelations that can check back on Brett's Internet invectives as an anarcho-libertarian.

Actually the "left" needs ordinary-persons-like-Brett to make its case for progressive governance. It is easy using Brett's own words to demonstrate his inordinariness [sick!]. If Brett is a typical Tea Partier, all the better in making the "left's" case. Indeed, it is Brett and his ilk who tar " ... decent, ordinary people ..." with whom there may be disagreement by Brett's efforts to latch onto their "brandwagons" while remaining anarcho-libertarian. Or is Brett telling us that the Tea Partiers are anarcho-libertarians? Hmm.
 

IOW, you're not into introspection, and the slander will continue. Got it, didn't really expect otherwise.




 

Truth is generally a defense to alleged slander. What was it Truman said about the Internet's kitchen?
 

Hm, is "bartbuster"'s assertion about drunks in the woods with guns the truth? Is Bart DePalma a "yodeler"?

Here's an idea: Let's have a nice, rational conversation, just once, without inane pet names or insults. Just to see what it's like.
 

Brett sounds like the sort of pol here sneers at from time to time with his ordinary person getting harmed shtick. For instance, does the average person want to be defended by those who want to take their voting rights, including the power to directly elect senators, away? Given his (selective) bashing of certain types of people, I think it best to remember the glasshouses principle there.
 

shag/bb:

The worldview of the left across the world is best summed up in the old Soviet saying: "What is mine is mine, what is yours is negotiable."

American progressives and socialists label GOP establishment types who concede to progressive and socialist expansions of the state as "moderates."

The left reserves their slanders for those like the Tea Party who seek to reverse and dismantle their progressive and socialist state. The sophisticated ones use fancy terms like anarcho-libertarians, Whigs and robber barons. Most others learned everything they know about political debate in the kindergarten sandbox and offer such insightful analysis like "redneck morons sitting around the woods getting drunk and accidentally shooting each other."

If you progressives and socialists actually thought that the Tea Party was an ally in destroying a threatening GOP, then your approach would be 180 degrees different.
 

Our TYRANNYSAURUS REX's:

" ... the old Soviet saying: 'What is mine is mine, what is yours is negotiable.'"

is more descriptive of that Russian emigre Ayn Rand's libertarian template that our TR and his ilk follows.

But during those Bush/Cheney eight (8) years our TR's focus was not on libertarianism. Our TR's transvergence to the Tea Party was like the rat abandoning a sinking ship what with the 2007-8 Great Recession. Yes, our TR rebranded himself.
 

Was our TYRANNYSAURUS REX aiming at me with his:

"The sophisticated ones use fancy terms like anarcho-libertarians, Whigs and robber barons."?

I didn't realize that "anarcho-libertarians" was a fancy sophisticated term. I have used that term in the singular with (due) respect to Brett who had described himself as an "anarcho-libertarian" to perhaps distinguish himself from our TR, a plain vanilla libertarian/conservative. I have also referred to Brett as a "Wig" [sick!] for not too subtle reasons. Nor have I directly referred to our TR as a "robber baron" but have stressed his adulation of the "Gilded Age" when "robber barons flourished. While our TR may be barren, I can't say with sophistication or otherwise that he is a robber.
 

that you can't conceive of people disagreeing with you, and yet being decent, ordinary people?
# posted by Blogger Brett : 7:55 AM


Actually, I can. But neither you nor Baghdad Bart is one of them. You're a pair of racist lying scum.
 


If you progressives and socialists actually thought that the Tea Party was an ally in destroying a threatening GOP, then your approach would be 180 degrees different.
# posted by Blogger Bart DePalma : 10:53 AM


Dumbfuck, your views are even more radical than the mainstream GOP. That does not make you a friend. The only good thing you're doing is making it far more difficult, if not impossible, for the GOP to win national elections.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

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