The Protected Few, the Unprotected Many
L: Back when we started this blog, there was a promise by the economist that we would post once a week. You can use your imagination to explain the gap since September 16 (there have been no illnesses or crises so that's not an option). I was saving this one because I'm pretty sure it doesn't match Jim's views and I didn't want to boldly challenge him in print. Well, here goes....
L: Back in May, Steven Brill published a book called Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year Fall--and those Fighting to Reverse It. Also in May, Time magazine excerpted it. Here's a long excerpt from Time's excerpt (did you follow that?)
Brill: ...many of the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great–the First Amendment, due process, financial and legal ingenuity, free markets and free trade, meritocracy, even democracy itself–to chase the American Dream. And they won it, for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.
By continuing to get better at what they do, by knocking away the guardrails limiting their winnings, aggressively engineering changes in the political landscape, and by dint of the often unanticipated consequences of their innovations, they created a nation of moats that protected them from accountability and from the damage their triumphs caused in the larger community. Most of the time, our elected and appointed representatives were no match for these overachievers. As a result of their savvy, their drive and their resources (and a certain degree of privilege, as these strivers may have come from humble circumstances but are mostly white men), America all but abandoned its most ambitious and proudest ideal: the never perfect, always debated and perpetually sought after balance between the energizing inequality of achievement in a competitive economy and the community-binding equality promised by democracy. In a battle that began a half-century ago, the achievers won.
Brill: ...On the other side are the unprotected many. They may be independent and hardworking, but they look to their government to preserve their way of life and maybe even improve it. The unprotected need the government to provide good public schools so that their children have a chance to advance. They need a level competitive playing field for their small businesses, a fair shake in consumer disputes and a realistic shot at justice in the courts. They need the government to provide a safety net to ensure that their families have access to good health care, that no one goes hungry when shifts in the economy or temporary setbacks take away their jobs and that they get help to rebuild after a hurricane or other disaster. They need the government to ensure a safe workplace and a living minimum wage. They need mass-transit systems that work and call centers at Social Security offices that don’t produce busy signals. They need the government to keep the political system fair and protect it from domination by those who can give politicians the most money. They need the government to provide fair labor laws and to promote an economy and a tax code that tempers the extremes of income inequality and makes economic opportunity more than an empty cliché.
L: I can pick out at least three phrases that Jim will not agree with. First, he (and most economists) doesn't agree that a "living minimum wage" across the board is helpful as it actually has the side-effect of reducing labor-force participation of undereducated or under-experienced job seekers--especially teenagers. However, I think that that just means that we need to be creative in helping people who are actually working full-time or maybe even at two jobs at a time, to make ends meet. Second, he thinks that mass transit should not be subsidized. But I say that if there is no way to inexpensively get people from where they live to where jobs are, we are creating a very unfair system. And third, I don't think he agrees that the political system has been completely co-opted by moneyed interests. I would have you read Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's (D-RI) Captured: Corporate Infiltration of America's Democracy for support of my view.
Do I have a response from the economist?