Well the New Year is upon us, and it’s time to take stock and see if I can make any sense out of the goings on of the last year and the interaction of reality with my own mind. This is my crack at it.
1. I believe that gun ownership should be a privilege and not a right. The 2nd Amendment was constucted to be similar to the Swiss model in which citizens formed a militia for national defense. There was no standing army. That was the original intent of the framers of the Constitution for exactly the same reason: there was no standing army. Today that rationale is not relevant. Even Switzerland has moved the guns from homes to depots to prevent what little gun violence takes place there.
I don’t believe background checks and a database of those with mental problems will solve much. In almost every mass murder, the perpetrators had no prior record of mental health problems although in retrospect everyone agrees that there were mental health problems. In almost every case, the guns were obtained legally. That tells you something which is that it is the proliferation of military type weapons with high capacity magazines that is the problem. These guns should not only be made illegal, but they should be taken off the streets, that is, confiscated or gotten rid of with buyback programs.
Terrorists have only been able to kill 17 people in the US since 9/11, but 88,000 Americans have died in gun violence from 2003 to 2010. Britain, which has very strict gun laws, had 41 gun murders in 2010 while the US had around 10,000. 6,626 Americans have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 3000 died in the tragedy of 9/11. The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far is around $4 trillion. At the same time zero dollars have been spent on the war on gun violence in the US in which about the same number of people die every year as died on 9/11. Does this make any sense? As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.”
2. I believe there should be a floor on poverty and a ceiling on wealth. For most of the last decade, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line increased each year, from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15.1 percent in 2010. In 2011 the official poverty rate was 15 percent, meaning that 46.2 million people live below the poverty line. The Walton family has more wealth than the lower 40% of the American population combined while workers at Wal-Mart subsist on wages so low that they need to supplement their incomes with food stamps and other social services driving up the cost of government.
Much of the wealth that the upper 1% possesses is used to distrort the political system and was gained fraudulently by those in the financial sector. I wrote this in 2010 on Will Blog For Food:
“Hedge Fund manager John Paulson helped to design the Abacus fund for Goldman Sachs and filled it with a bunch of garbage. This fund was then peddled to unwary investors while Paulson shorted it. As a result, when the garbage in the fund went south, the investors lost $1 billion and Paulson’s gamble netted him $3.7 billion. But that isn’t even the worst of it. Taxpayers who bailed out the system actually paid Paulson the $3.7 billion – as if he needed it.”
John Paulson hasn’t been prosecuted for this fraudulent investment scheme and paid taxes on his income at the “carried interest” rate of 15% just like his fellow private equity fund manager, Mitt Romney. He has used some of his ill gotten gains to contribute to conservative causes as has billionaire Sheldon Adelson who has made his money off of seniors gambling away their social security checks.
I don’t think anyone needs an income of more than $10 million a year, and a family of four needs an income of at least $40 thousand. These would be my recommended limits, for what they’re worth, for the ceiling on wealth and the floor on poverty. Remember anyone earning an income of $10 million is going to store much of that as accumulated wealth which is going to provide a certain percentage return on investment (ROI in plutocrat speak) as unearned income each following year in addition to the $10 million earned (yeah, sure) income.
3. I believe that global warming is happening right now and is a result of human beings polluting the atmosphere with carbon emissions. As the saying goes “Don’t shit where you eat” and we are shitting on Mother Earth. Future generations are going to have to eat and breathe here. Europeans and native Americans settled this continent without sending massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We’re going to have to relearn how to do the same, and there is not much time to waste without suffering the consequences that we’re already starting to suffer.
As the number of billion dollar weather events starts to pile up, we will soon run out of money. We need to divert money from the bloated and wasteful military-industrial complex and spend it on infrastructure redevelopment in order to counteract and protect ourselves from the devastating aftermaths of extreme weather events like SuperStorm Sandy and SuperTyphoon Bopha. As I previously said, we have spent trillions to avenge the deaths of approximately 3000 people while spending hardly anything on gun control or infrastructure hardening. Both of the latter are bigger threats to American security than are the handful of self-proclaimed Al-Quaeda terrorists who have done a trivial amount of damage to the US since 9/11. Yet we spend trillions of dollars on them which mainly goes into the coffers of corrupt politicians and defense contractors. Not to mention the millions of civilians we have killed in Iraq and Afghanistan which guarantees a future generation of terrorists bent on avenging those deaths.
4. I don’t believe that good middle class jobs are coming back as we recover from the Great Recession. They were disappearing long before the Great Recession hit. The combination of automating and computerizing manufacturing processes combined with the outsourcing of menial labor combined with the deunionization of the country means that we shouldn’t sit around and hold our collective breaths expecting that everyone who has lost a good middle class job is going to get one back as we recover from recession and the unemployment rate gets down to 5%. The jobs that are being created are for the most part minimum wage service sector jobs. Even so-called full employment, if we achieve it, will consist in large part of those kinds of jobs. So what good is full employment as a measure of anything or a goal?
The so-called job creators are really job destroyers and they know that. They are just laughing up their sleeves as they automate and outsource thereby slashing the cost of production and increasing profits while at the same time calling for lower taxes on themselves on the grounds that they are job creators. This makes Wall Street very happy and top management is handsomely rewarded for doing this. As CEO pay soars, jobs are either outsourced or subcontracted to temp agencies who hire non-full time workers at minimal wages to do the heavy lifting. By this means the major corporations take no responsibility for low wages. It’s somebody else, a sub-contractor, that’s paying the low wages, not them. And a college education is no panacea. Middle aged college degreed folks are being let go, laid off and downsized never to be rehired again. A good job right out of college is no guarantee of continued employment as you become technologically obsolete in about 10 years.
What’s the solution? I believe that self-employment is a big part of it. When you are employed by a corporation, you are vulnerable to being laid off for any reason at any time. When you’re self employed, you can never be laid off. It may be too late for a lot of people, but young people coming up in school, even those college bound, should learn a trade while in high school that they can fall back on if need be. Most trades that serve the local community cannot and will not be outsourced and are amenable to self employment. The college educated crowd needs to think about what occupations and professions allow them to be self employed and which only allow them to be employees of some corporation. And most corporations don’t want you if you’ve been laid off after the age of 50 when you are most vulnerable and desperately need a job.
I also believe that government has to be the employer of last resort. Corporations are in the business of outsourcing and creating temp jobs. Even startups usually only need employees until they really get rolling, go public and get obsessed with their stock price which means they need to reduce the cost of labor. At that point the job creators seek to creatively destroy American jobs and pocket increased profits.
Well, folks, there you have it in a nutshell. These are some of the topics I will be writing about in 2013. I also like to bring in the San Diego connection as what’s happening in the wider world is also very definitely happening here as well. As far as our political system is concerned, my prediction is that Republicans in Congress will obstruct any meaningful legislation whatsoever and put a halt to any initiative President Obama wants to make. Better hope that 2014 brings a return to majorities in both the House and Senate for Democrats and that Obama can manage to get something constructive done for the good of the country in his last two years in office.
Happy New Year to All.
Anna Daniels says
John- I agree with so much in your long thoughtful post. We diverge about the role of government in creating jobs. I don’t agree that government should be the employer of last resort. If we agree that there is such a thing as the “public good,” execution of the activities that assure the public good should be government jobs. Teachers. Police. Firefighters. Environmental protection monitoring. Scientific research. I am unwilling to turn these jobs over to the private sector.
John Lawrence says
Anna, thanks for your comment. You don’t think government should employ people for infrastructure repair and development? The high speed rail initiative in California is government sponsored. You would be against that? You didn’t support Roosevelt’s WPA program that put large numbers of people to work during the Great Depression? If the private sector is unable to supply a sufficient number of jobs so that almost everyone can be employed, how are all of these people going to provide for themselves? It’s happening today. 50% of recent college graduates are unemployed or working at Starbucks (i.e. underemployed).
This trend is going to continue unless you believe that the private sector is going to somehow employ all these people. For reasons given in the article, I don’t think this is going to happen. Either the government, directly or indirectly, has to supply the jobs or the government has to supply the unemployment insurance, food stamps and other means of being on the dole or people have to be left to their own devices (the Republican way) meaning increasing homelessness and dependence on soup kitchens and charity.
Anna Daniels says
I absolutely do think government should come in and stimulate the economy with jobs via public infrastructure projects. We should have four years of WPA type stimulus under our belts by now. Republicans have stood in the way of all that in congress while shamelessly taking credit for the little bit of stimulus that made its way to their home communities and states. Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer. They are the party of Nada.
Wes Demarest says
John, I too find little fault with what you have written. But with one variation; you mention self employment as the best option for the unemployed. To a point, but their income will diminish over time as well because of the overall decline of those employed in both income or jobs. They will also enter the self employed ranks in order to maintain a life style they are comfortable, but with fewer working and those that are working for less, the dollar will not go far. I am experiencing that in my photography business right now, and am not alone. I have also committed it my self by servicing my own oil burner and not hiring anyone. I save about $150 – $250 and a service tech looses. He has the same obligations, plus a truck on the road, paying for continuing education, inventory to maintain, yadda, yadda, yadda. Granted not everyone will or is able to service a burner, but it is an example of declining income for the self employed.
I personally feel that both parties have sold out, but that started out centuries ago when someone needed a favor from a politician, or ruler. Influence peddling is a high art and is more pernicious than cancer and will never end. Couple that with growing ability of machines in the work place that never tire and are far more accurate than a human; soon the working class will no longer exist and just how many more plumbers can a community support?
As far as the government being an employer of last resort – maybe. Most will just show up expecting a check for no effort and ends up being feel good welfare. Reestablish the CCC’s, have the Army Corp of engineers run it and put them to work on public use projects just as they did in the 30’s. I have been fortunate in meeting a number of them during my time in the park service, and to a man, they were proud of what they did. They wore uniforms, lived in barracks, and ate in mess halls and worked every day. They were allowed leave and occasional weekends off and settled their differences in the ring. As I mentioned to you previously, the programs of the 70’s yielded mixed results, but results just the same. Between YACC, and CETA programs, work was performed in the parks, but the quality and amount was a result of the local area manager. Some were feel good PC correct types that did little to ensure that anything scheduled was accomplished. In other parks the work was exemplary and just as with the CCC’s, can still be seen today.
Income leveling sounds good, but will take a revolution to bring about, but then with no guns, that will not happen. John, you have a world of source material and is too bad you are not paid by the word.
John Lawrence says
Wayne, thanks for the perceptive comment. You are right that a community can only support so many plumbers, and communities are filling up fast with self-employed service people. Also It needs to be pointed out that as a self-employed person, there is no guarantee of a certain level of regular income. Therefore, one needs to adapt one’s lifestyle to these existential facts. It’s best not to have any regular payments either like mortgages, car payments etc. That makes it easier to roll with the punches as one gets one into a better financial position. Life strategies are definitely different and must be thought through. But in the long run, I believe, a person is better off realizing that they are not dependent on an employer for a job. There’s a certain sense of exhilaration in that.
bob dorn says
It does seem we’ve reached a clear, sink-or-swim moment in politics. Even average, third-generation Republicans are capable of revolting against the gross disparity in incomes that makes it possible to say, as you do, “The Walton family has more wealth than the lower 40% of the American population combined.” We’re becoming the high tech equivalent of a banana republic, and sooner rather than later a resolution of this intense conflict is gonna come. People of good will and common sense are coming into the politics now, if for no better reason than to save their own asses. I’m glad John Lawrence has put his own on the line for some time now.
John Lawrence says
One correction: The number of gun deaths each year equals approximately the number of people that died on 9/11 plus the number of Americans killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (about 10,000 altogether).
Art A Layman says
While there is little doubt we are in a quagmire where the land is beginning to act like an eddy, I don’t see much help from the solutions you have posed here.
On guns, your proposition that background checks and databases of the mentally ill will not be much help is true but solutions, if indeed there are any, will have to come from a potpourri of those and many others. Many ideas have been floated; Fixing or eliminating gun show sales, databases of gun owners, banning all “assault-type weapons”, more stringent testing for gun ownership, longer waiting periods, reporting of guns lost or stolen and on and on. Each idea has merit but even collectively they won’t stop all gun crimes of person against person or mass killings. At best we would hope they can reduce them.
Personally I abhor concealed carry permits. If you’re going to carry in public I’d at least like to know it. In a discussion with a gun advocate friend he opposed open carry because people tend to avoid you, to which I replied, “Voila!”. The expansion of Stand Your Ground Laws beyond your domicile is tantamount to a license to kill. Coupling those with concealed carry should ensure, eventually, that no one ever debates any issues, in the home or in public. I also queried my friend this: “You’re in a bar (it could be anywhere) and the discussion becomes heated. You go about hitching up your pants to get serious and your adversary pulls his concealed gun and shoots you -dead – claiming he thought you were reaching for a weapon”. I received no answer!
The SYG laws, written by ALEC in template form, are passed verbatim with little or no change and absent some sort of “reasonable judgement” provisions prosecutors often have little choice but to accept the “self-defense” plea.
Don’t know that I’ve ever read where our 2nd Amendment was predicated on Swiss laws but at the time, for the reason you suggested, they made perfect sense. Beside the fact that we were a new nation conceivably subject to future invasion or a tyrannical government, guns were necessary for fighting possible Indian attacks, wild animals and for simply providing food.
Ironically, strong proponents of the 2nd Amendment and those others suggesting our Constitution is a hallowed document, fail to realize how poorly it was written nor that it was a paramount example of COMPROMISE of the worst kind! Alas, without that COMPROMISE we would not have had a nation.
Pretty much in complete agreement with you on Global Warming but the lessons of history are complicated by the fact that the world population is now 7 billion people, most of whom we do not control.
Tend to agree more with Wayne re your employment solutions. First of all, what does economics teach us about supply and demand? As the supply of plumbers (for argument purposes) increases and the demand remains relatively constant what happens to the price plumbers can charge? Actually demand would decrease as many of us begin to fix our own plumbing, TVs, refrigerators, etc., further reducing prices.
Being a successful self-employed person requires a great deal more than the skill of the profession. One also has to be proficient at managing money. Not exactly rocket science but extremely important. Many self-employed in today’s world seek to grow their businesses, that is somewhat the nature of the beast, and that growth will lead to needing more employees. Of course those added employees will be subject to the vagaries of the business cycle and the ability of the owners to manage a growing enterprise. Ergo, employment ebbs and flows.
I am certainly a vociferous voice on the absence of social responsibility of American business but a view that businesses laugh at the loss of jobs is simplistic. Businesses do exist to grow and make more profits. In that regard the outsourcing of jobs is more due to putting manufacturing within the markets they seek to serve. Sometimes this is required, as in China, and in others it is necessary to appeal to the customers in other lands. Every country at one time or another will appeal to “home grown” products. Rising transportation costs are also an incentive to produce locally and no doubt cheaper labor is not a deterrent. Remembering, however, that labor costs, in many industries, are not nearly as significant as material and distribution costs.
The one area that sorely needs fixing is that of manufacturing overseas for import back into the US. Corporations who do that are often only interested in profits with little regard for the welfare of our country.
You have posed a raft of issues some of which can be cured by legislation and some not. In the political theater existing in America this Bucket List would take centuries to fix and I’m not sure we have centuries. In the current and near future, given that theater, an appeal to adopt European, or whatever, outlooks will gain little traction, wise or not. Your solutions would work well if we could return to our agrarian roots but was it not Thomas Wolfe who wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again”?
In my inimitable fashion I throw wet blankets much better than I offer solutions but here it is from the cheap seats!