Sunday, February 7, 2016

Read this one (again):The pitchforks are coming ... and are central to the 2016 election

Politico Magazine published this special report by Nick Hanauer in 2014 - but it is even more timely today given the ever widening economic gap between rich and poor, between ultra wealthy and the vanishing middle class.

Hanauer is an entrepreneur from Seattle. Let me pause and establish his creds in his own words (speaking to his fellow billionaires).

You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries—from itsy-bitsy ones like the night club I started in my 20s to giant ones like Amazon.com, for which I was the first nonfamily investor. Then I founded aQuantive, an Internet advertising company that was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. In cash.

Here are some snippets.

... I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Here’s what I say to you: You’re living in a dream world. What everyone wants to believe is that when things reach a tipping point and go from being merely crappy for the masses to dangerous and socially destabilizing, that we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time. Any student of history knows that’s not the way it happens. Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand. That’s the way it always happens. If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible—for everybody. But especially for us.

There is a solution.

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.

One question now, on the eve of a national election, is which party will do what Hanauer suggests. The other question is which candidate will most likely do it

Bob Lord at Blog for Arizona complains about supporters of various candidates ignoring their candidate's (glaring) weaknesses. True, but the analyses in the national media are focussing on that; see my earlier blog about the last Democratic debate.

Arizona Eagletarian, in reacting to Lord's post, commented thusly:

Now, about Hillary and her relationship to Wall Street. That is fundamental to what this election is about.

Greg Sargent's Plum Line (Washington Post) has a good deal more on the fundamental difference between Sanders and Clinton.

But the broader argument between the two ultimately is about bigger questions, such as what the American people really want and the deeper reasons for polarization, divided government and gridlock. Sanders basically has faith that there is a majority view in this country that supports much more aggressively redistributive policies (much higher taxes on the wealthy than Clinton can stomach) and a much more ambitious government effort to set a high minimum standard of living (single payer, a higher minimum wage) than Clinton can accept. Sanders believes that there is a majority view out there that understands this to be in everyone’s common interest, transcending racial and class lines, and that it can be accessed by adequately communicating this interest to the American people, thus mobilizing them, and by breaking big money’s distortion of the discourse and political system.

This is not necessarily a naive view. Sanders believes that we must essentially re-imagine American democracy, if only because so doing has at least the chance of broadening the scope of what is possible.

Clinton doesn’t necessarily believe in the latent majority view of the American people that Sanders envisions. She’s more inclined toward the view that forces such as “negative partisanship” ultimately cloud people’s views of their own interests, and that often there isn’t a perceived common interest between different groups. These problems and divisions, Clinton believes, are exacerbated by a system that is designed to frustrate change, and that these structural realities have to be maneuvered around and cannot be overwhelmed by organization and persuasion — though they can perhaps be mitigated by them. Clinton doesn’t believe taking Wall Street and corporate money has to skew policy outcomes, but more to the point, she thinks that giving up that money would probably compromise the Democratic Party’s ability to achieve short term advances in keeping with her view of what the American people and the system can tolerate.

Another way to see the differences is to cast the argument in terms of Hanauer's call for FDR-like reform. Given the track record on income inequality over the past 40 years of both Republican and Democratic administrations, it is hard to imagine an incremental solution to economic inequality.

To put it another way, if candidates do not take on the issue of economic inequality, the pitchforks will come. My fear is that the pitchforks will be assault weapons and their wielders, led by some demagogue, will be wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, carrying their bibles, and chanting Liberte' and Christianite'.

h/t Daily Kos for the "classic" pitchforks article.

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