By Jim Miller
San Diego’s progressive community got a well deserved shout-out last week in the national media with The Nation praising the good work of our city’s “expanding progressive base.”
More specifically, the article noted that the local movement to raise the minimum wage was comprised of many of the same folks who formed the community-labor alliance behind the David Alvarez mayoral campaign:
That coalition, Raise Up San Diego, includes the Center for Policy Initiatives as well as labor unions, immigrant rights groups and service providers. The campaign is endorsed by the San Diego LGBT Community Center, San Diego’s NAACP chapter and several other organizations and small businesses. Many of the groups had collaborated on issue work, elections and voter-turnout programs in the past . . . San Diego’s expanding immigrant community is just one indicator of the city’s transformation. Alongside its newfound diversity, the city has begun to shift politically, from reliably Republican to a more complicated patchwork of blue, red and purple.
And, as I have observed here in the past, the community-labor alliance that backed Alvarez and organized to advocate for this minimum wage increase has the potential to do more as the city continues to change. Thus, while the Alvarez campaign did not prevail in the mayor’s race, it did help push the discussion of economic issues in a progressive direction and planted seeds that will hopefully take root if local progressives can overcome the turnout problems that have allowed the right to win low-turnout off-year elections and push back against the rising tide.
Whatever the future holds, coming on the heels of a couple of grim electoral rounds, this historic win for San Diego progressives is cause for celebration.
But, as Doug Porter noted last week as well, San Diego’s reactionary right did not take this loss lightly and may very well mount yet another initiative drive bent on killing the minimum wage increase. Phase one of their campaign was to saturate the local media with scare stories and tales of impending doom that most of them from the House of Manchester on down, duly regurgitated, facts and larger context be damned.
Rather than spending more time sparring with the UT-San Diego and/or debunking weak arguments from other quarters, I thought it might be more illustrative to focus on a few stories that were completely absent from local media coverage during a week that highlighted things economic.
So while our local plutocrats and their underlings were busy bemoaning the fact that San Diego’s low wage workers were given a raise that puts them a little below the local Self-Sufficiency wage of $13.09 and well beneath the $15 an hour rate being pushed elsewhere, we learned several key new facts that might have shaped our media coverage by putting the struggle to raise the minimum wage in a larger economic and political context, but somehow they slipped through the cracks:
1) The top 1% is even richer than we thought. As Bloomberg reported:
The oft-cited line that the top 1 percent of U.S. households lay claim to 30 percent of all wealth is probably an understatement, according to a European Central Bank working paper.
Incorporating “missed” data on rich households pushes the share of wealth held by top earners up to between 35 percent and 37 percent, wrote Philip Vermeulen, a senior economist at the ECB. That’s higher than the 34 percent suggested by the 2010 U.S. Survey of Consumer Finances data from the Federal Reserve.
So don’t worry, the national movement to raise the minimum wage is doing little to disrupt our economy or harm anyone, particularly those at the top who benefit most from the status quo. In fact, they are even richer than we thought they were and our obscene level of economic inequality will remain intact even though we did something to help low-wage workers.
Thus despite the hysterics from the editorial board of the UT-San Diego and elsewhere, the fact of the matter is that we need to act boldly and do even more to fight for economic justice or the redistribution of wealth upwards will continue unabated.
2) It is the rich, not the poor who are robbing you blind. Daily Kos and others passed along the news that an analysis by David Cay Johnston, a former Pulitzer Prize winner, revealed:
[T]he Bush tax cuts, touted as a harbinger of prosperity by the Republican Party, actually robbed each American taxpayer of $48,000 in pre-tax personal income during the twelve years of their existence, for a total of approximately 6.6 trillion dollars.
This is more than enough to pay for every student loan, car loan, and credit card debt in the U.S, while still leaving 2.4 trillion dollars in the pockets of Americans. It is the equivalent of an extra 11 dollars a day lost to each American taxpayer over the last twelve years . . .
Advocates of so-called trickle-down economics have grounded their thinking in the idea that the entire pool of US wage earners benefits financially when the rich get increased tax cuts. According to Johnston, however, this is disproven by actual IRS statistics. Quite the opposite has happened to US workers; more than $6.5 trillion has gone missing from the incomes of those who are not wealthy. Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer because of enormous tax cuts and a record-breaking stock market.
Newsflash: the same folks that advocated for these tax cuts are the loudest voices against raising the minimum wage and every other progressive economic policy in the book here in San Diego and across the country. This story challenges the commonly held notions that underlie their arguments but was largely ignored by the mainstream media.
Why is this important? By always focusing on working people rather than the rich as the beneficiaries of government policy, the media consistently frames the issue in a way that helps reinforce the ideological hegemony that serves the interests of the economic elite—from the local to the national level—and encourages many working people to identify with an ideology which is against their own economic interests.
3) Despite many conservatives’ misplaced animosity toward the poor, it is the rich who are the real slackers. As Robert Reich noted in his blog:
In a new Pew poll, more than three quarters of self-described conservatives believe “poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.”
In reality, most of America’s poor work hard, often in two or more jobs.
The real non-workers are the wealthy who inherit their fortunes. And their ranks are growing.
In fact, we’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history . . .
[I]nherited wealth [is becoming] far more common among rich millennials under age 35. This is the dynastic form of wealth French economist Thomas Piketty warns about. It’s been the major source of wealth in Europe for centuries. It’s about to become the major source in America – unless, that is, we do something about it.
As income from work has become more concentrated in America, the super rich have invested in businesses, real estate, art, and other assets. The income from these assets is now concentrating even faster than income from work.
In 1979, the richest 1 percent of households accounted for 17 percent of business income. By 2007 they were getting 43 percent. They were also taking in 75 percent of capital gains. Today, with the stock market significantly higher than where it was before the crash, the top is raking in even more from their investments.
Both political parties have encouraged this great wealth transfer, as beneficiaries provide a growing share of campaign contributions.
Thus, the last fig leaf of “meritocracy” is about to fall off of our American oligarchy unless we do something about it and do it now. Reich’s solutions include reinstating the estate tax, eliminating rules that limit capital gains taxes, and establishing a wealth tax. Of course, these are all things that would make Jerry Sanders’s Chamber of Commerce crew, the Lincoln Club, the editorial board of UT-San Diego, and their cohorts on the national stage spontaneously combust, but they don’t even need to worry about hearing about them on the news.
This situation makes things harder for progressives as we need to educate and advocate at the same time, frequently without much help from the mainstream media. But as last week’s victory showed, even here in San Diego, sometimes facts and basic decency can overcome disinformation and fear.
Let’s hope last week’s win was just the beginning of what will surely be one of the key struggles of our lifetimes.