Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Church and State

Franklin Graham, son and heir to evangelist Billy Graham, says that "progressive" is just another word for "godless;" and that what godless progressives want most is to take away the tax-exempt status of religious organizations.  In the real world, of course, you're unlikely to find any politician willing to endorse ending religious tax breaks; but that doesn't make it a bad idea.

Religion and politics are inseparable.  Both are systems of social control, evolved to limit certain individualistic behaviors by defining them as deviance: the immoral and the illegal largely overlap.  It follows that every sermon is political speech: no clear line ever has separated Church and State.  Religion has been integral to American politics since the arrival of the Puritans, entangled in every major political debate.  Inevitably, a contribution to a church is a political contribution.

Property tax exemptions for religious organizations deprive local governments of revenue, subsidizing church members at the expense of everybody else, irrespective of need; and the deductibility of donations lets individuals use government funds to advance sectarian ideologies.  Granted, the only feasible path to reform is to make all charitable contributions non-deductible, but given the political abuse of 503(c) corporations and similar manipulations, the time for genuine "tax simplification" has arrived.  Donors will have to give out of genuine altruism; religious donors, perhaps, to avoid joining godless progressives, and anybody else who doubts their "truth," in Hell.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wage Growth

Some economists are pretending to be amazed by the extent to which wage growth is lagging behind economic growth.  With the unemployment rate under 4% —full employment, by all historical standards — employers are supposed to be competing for workers by offering higher wages. They're not doing that, for two main reasons: they don't want to, and they don't have to.

The "free market" model never had much relevance to the real world, and today it is less predictive than ever.  This is especially true of labor markets, distorted by decades of neoliberal policy under Republicans and Democrats alike.  Corporate combination goes virtually unchecked, and when a few major players dominate an industry, they don't have to compete, even with no active collusion.  If any single company offers higher wages, the others have to follow; so nobody begins a process that would result in higher labor costs for all.  They may compete for a small number of high-value, highly specialized employees, but the bulk of their labor force is completely fungible.

Even outside the oligopolies, though, workers have become largely interchangeable in most job areas, especially in lower-wage occupations.  Much is made of technology's potential to replace jobs, but its greater impact may be in how it makes jobs easier, reducing the skills needed to do them.  At the same time, higher educational attainment is expected of today's workers, so jobs once done perfectly well by high school graduates now employ people with bachelor's degrees.  A tight labor market is not really a problem when almost anybody can do the job and somebody is willing to take it.

A substantial slice of corporate profits in recent decades came from suppressing labor costs: part-time jobs with "flexible" hours, "gig economy" contract workers, and legal restrictions on labor unions all facilitate the ongoing transfer of wealth from the many to the few.  Any economist claiming wages soon will "catch up" with corporate profits is either a liar or a fool.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bully Diplomacy

I hate bullies; but even more, I despise those who succumb to bullying.  Now that bullying is America's official, default foreign policy, I only can hope that its intended victims have the courage to resist.

Iran, of course, has no choice but to resist: it is not about to "negotiate" regime change, and nothing less than that will satisfy the Tr*mp gang (which includes Bibi and MbS.)  The courage will have to come from Europe, and how much courage European leaders can muster remains to be seen.

Despite the easing of sanctions under Obama, US investment in Iran was minimal following the nuclear agreement: US companies continued to be limited by other sanctions protocols, and benefits to the Iranian economy fell far short of what Rouhani and his moderates hoped to see.  Europeans were less restrained, so the impact of US withdrawal from the deal depends on European willingness to go along.  It still remains to be seen what secondary sanctions the Tr*mpistas decide to impost on European companies that remain in Iran.

While secondary sanctions against US "allies" would be economically damaging, Macron and Merkel might be willing to endure them for the political advantage that might entail.  Anti-Americanism is a tried and true means of garnering nationalist support, so a "principled" stand against the Tr*mpians well might draw away supporters of the National Front in France and the AfD in Germany.  Suing the US at the WTO would be a good start, but withdrawing their ambassadors to the US in protest would be a sure bet for solidifying voters behind them.

If any diplomatic intelligence remains in the Tr*mp administration, secondary sanctions against the Europeans will be minimal, and the denuclearization of Iran can continue.  If the yahoos prevail, though, we only can hope Europe finds the courage to resist.

Saturday, May 5, 2018


Contrary to the claims of numerous ageist commentators, Rudy Giuliani is not senile — he's always been incompetent.  His reputed "success" as mayor of New York City was grounded in unconstrained, racist policing.  His "response" to the attack on the World Trade Center consisted of showing up at Ground Zero, mouthing platitudes, and working to divert attention from the fact that he'd insisted that the city's emergency response force be headquartered there, despite an earlier terrorist attack.  Marion Barry, even high on smack, could have done just as well.

It's reported that Giuliani cooked up the current confusion in collusion with his pal, Tr*mp.  Even so, Our President couldn't resist taking a swipe at his loyal ally and brand-new legal mouthpiece while aggravating the ongoing gobsmackedness of the press.  (By the way, Tr*mp too is not senile — even though Dr. Ronny Jackson said he's not.)

Confusion, obfuscation, and chaos have served Our President well over the course of his career, both in business and in government; and the current brouhaha may serve the purpose of making evidence collected in the raids on Michael Cohen's offices appear to be "just another version" of events.  While the truth may be "out there," the "truthiness" is where modern political battle lines are drawn.