Friday, December 23, 2016

Nice Things

I know this seems like pure pundity's fallacy. What The Democrats Need To Do Is What My Preferred Policy Positions Have Been All Along. But it actually isn't. I have plenty of preferred policy positions that I don't think are necessarily politically winners, and for some of the other ones I think are winners I admit it's a bit more complicated to sell them.

Still, it's 2016, and while the details vary by country, all through Western Europe and the US there are many of the same issues (again, varies somewhat by country). Life is harder than it was before. Younger people are getting a shit deal. Necessary costs of living (rent) have gone up. Pensions are being eroded. Public services that people rely on are getting worse. The idea of middle class existence as economic security, as opposed to simply high enough wages if you have a good run of luck in the jaayuuub market, is fading unless you have inherited wealth (money here, in Europe it's usually more property). For some reason the use of of the term "neoliberal" as an epithet by Sanders supporters has led to both a defense of it and a denial that the term means anything. News to lots of neoliberal proponents over the years. The financial crisis was used as an excuse to enact "neoliberal reforms" in Spain and Italy and Greece. You know, privatizing and slashing public services, cutting taxes for rich people, making sure people with not enough skin have more "skin in the game" for everything. Here the financial crisis was used an excuse for banks to rob people of their homes, with government subsidies to do it.

We're sort of reaching the breaking point of the decades long battle between the party that promises to kick those other people, and the party that promises not to kick them quite so hard. I think there have been some signs of Dems recognizing it, but they're still largely locked into that way of thinking. ACA, for all its benefits, just couldn't be implemented without making it fucking hard for people. That the subsidies aren't generous enough makes it too expensive for people, and that's a problem, but it's one thing to be forced to buy a car you can't really afford, another to buy a car that you can't afford that you have to take in for repairs every other week. The government can't just provide the nice things it once provided because reasons. Hell, once upon a time they built community pools and golf courses. Now your HOA might have a pool.

We're the richest damn country in the history of the world (close enough, anyway). Life shouldn't be so hard. Not against The Data, but the data doesn't really capture what's going on for "the middle class." It isn't that wages are stagnant or shrinking - though that's an issue too! - It's that doing the right thing and having a tiny bit of luck is no longer enough to achieve economic security anymore. Life's a crap shoot from 18-67 (soon to be longer, if Republicans get their way). We're all one medium sized economic hit (including medical) away from the downward spiral. And thanks to that glorious bankruptcy bill, once you get into a hole you're probably trapped there. Bipartisany goodness to make David Broder swoon. 74-25 in the Senate, 302-126 in the House. But the Dems are the good guys! Yah, well, not enough of them and not consistently enough. Vote for Dems and the share of them voting for horrible things will shrink slightly!

And it isn't complicated. Thinking that it is complicated is the problem. There are better and worse ways to achieve things, and the wonks can fight it out, but the point is to achieve them. And, really, given how small the nice things budget is who cares?

I see everything a bit like I see marijuana legalization. Yeah, sure, there probably are some public health issues that we should be thinking about if everyone can buy a pot candy bar at every corner store, but those public health issues are likely tiny compared to the public health issues of the drug war - mass incarceration, police militarization, racist policing, the breaking up of families (something conservatives pretend to care about but they don't care about anything), lack of interest in drug treatment, the violence that inevitably comes with lucrative black market industries, etc. Almost anything has to be better than the status quo. Yah, sure, increasing the minimum wage to $15 probably will have some negative impacts on jobs, but those negative effects will be minimal compared to sentencing millions to live with poverty wages. For some reason those who worry about the impact of the minimum wage on jobs don't worry too much about the fact that it is expected that as soon as the labor market tightens and wages begin to rise due to the magic of the free market fairy, the Fed will make sure to stop that from happening. This is a policy choice made by the "independent" Fed and it is made over and over and over again. There's nothing "free market" about it. The Fed intervenes in the credit markets to set interest rates in order to prevent the unexpected inflation that rich people don't like, and these choices only don't have distributional effects if you pretend those distributional effects don't exist. The Fed might not be deliberately trying to enshrine poverty wages, but it constantly makes choices that do just that.

Give people nice things, and make it easy. Provide things that it is generally understood that government should provide. Education, health care, roads, sidewalks, supertrains. Generous unemployment benefits, easier bankruptcy, affordable childcare that doesn't have some absurd eligibility formula, consumer protection laws. Everything should be universal benefits paid for by taxing rich people more than we do. Donald Trump's kids shouldn't have free college and neither should yours. But you should both pay taxes and get things in return for them.

Who knows if this stuff wins elections. Voters is weird. But it's the necessary and right thing to do regardless. Shit is fucked up and bullshit, more than it was 10 years ago and more than it was 20 years ago. It isn't enough to slow down that trend anymore, it's time to reverse it. We're about to see the consequences of not reversing it...