Thursday, June 30, 2011

This is the Government Republicans Want––No Government At All.

Doug Grow does a good job describing the atmosphere at the state capitol. It's ugly, but the ugliness is on one side of the disagreement. The governor offered compromises; the Republicans made additional demands.

The Republican Party is happy for the government to shut down. It's exactly the kind of government they want. No government at all.

Look at the extremist policy amendments Republican legislators tried to load onto the state funding bill and you realize it's a different kind of game to them. The Republican Party has mastered the strategy of hostage negotiation. They don't want an agreement; they won't take compromise. They want everything.

Consider the key issue of government spending and government revenue. Republicans are adamant about protecting the low low tax rate of the richest Minnesotans, lower than the rest of us pay.

Republicans demand the firing of 30,000 state workers, working people with mortgages to pay and families to feed, so they can protect 7,700 very very rich people, most of whom don't work in the conventional sense at all but finance their extremely comfortable lifestyle from dividends and financial transactions. Rather than raise taxes on millionaires, rather than removing recent tax breaks in fact, the Republicans are happy to raise taxes on all Minnesotans who own homes or rent apartments.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Few Words About Hypocrisy

Never mind that Michele Bachmann can't tell John Wayne from John Wayne Gacy, it's her lies about her own personal government subsidies that should make voters angry. This from the Des Moines Register backs up this from Politico.

("But she's so pretty when she lies, and she seems to believe what she's saying.")

Pork is a big Republican boogeyman, but they love their earmarks. Republicans know how to suck up government spending even when they're busy condemning it. Government spending is wrong except when it's spent on them. Read about it in USNews and World Report, not exactly a liberal magazine.

Even thought they are dead set against government spending and high taxes, Red States pay less in taxes and receive more in government spending. As noted in the Washington Post.

It's called HYPOCRISY.

Republicans shut the "public option" down during the healthcare reform debate. Never mind that they have the Cadillac of public options. It's not socialist if a Republican enjoys it personally. Story from Raw Story.

Republicans holler about the minor misbehavior of Democrats and demand resignation. But they remain in office after far worse. All well reported in The Nation. Was this hypocrisy reported on FoxNews?

On the Republican side, sexual misbehavior is an institution. They have a special church group to cover it up. And notice it's all men. Reported on Alternet (because the main stream media is too afraid of being called liberal.)

Sanctity of marriage? Republican pols have a sorry record of infidelity and still manage to be sanctimonious and point fingers. Reported in Washington Monthly, but not talked about on right wing talk radio.

The culture war was invented by Republicans to "defend" the superior values of the solid Republican south, west and middle west. The problem is these Red States have the worst statistics on teen pregnancy, divorce, murder, poverty and other "values" issues than the so-called Blue States. Again, reported by Alternet because the main stream media is too busy covering Republicans preaching values.

Do Republicans preach values because they lack them? From ScienceBlogs. And again.

It's called HYPOCRISY. I for one have a hard time forgiving this sin.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Today's Must-Read from the Wall Street Journal

Today's must-read is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal by economist Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. He isn't the first to dispute and disprove the Big Lie that's dominating the public conversation and shaping our national policy right now: the bogus idea that austerity creates jobs.

We've gotten to a dangerous point in our history. Our policies appear to be driven from the minority side and entirely based upon an unproven, actually a widely disproven, belief system.

The so called "genius" of unregulated markets and low taxes caused the mess we are in, so the Republicans and their massively wealthy sponsors are pushing public opinion toward doubling the bets on the bad policy. Voodoo Economics remains the Republican policy. Or call it religion.

As proved true with Iraq, Republicans don't care if something is true. They think they can make it true. In the words of the Bush White House "We create our own reality." And maybe they can make good things come true for a narrow group of very wealthy Americans.

What is happening is exactly what they said they wanted to happen. They want to kill government, our representative government. They want to kill democracy. They want to be rid of a government that can and will protect the public from pollution and poisonous products and fraud and financial collapse. These things don't bother them. Often they profit from them.

Are they willing to kill the government that builds roads and bridges and educates our children? Apparently yes. They look to a different future. They are taking their tax cuts and investing them in China and Indonesia and India, not here. They are guessing that poorly educated Americans will be more eager to do as they're told, and will work for much less. That is the Republican future.

It's a bold plan, but it isn't what anyone voted for. The only logical reason to shrink government spending at a time when business is flat is to depress the economy to make Obama unpopular and get a Republican president in 2012. So killing jobs is a good thing, for them. A flat economy is a good thing, for them. The Republican client list is holding trillions and is happy to wait another year and a half for the economy to get better.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How Not to Rush to the Bottom

Today's must-read is by Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post. America is dealing less intelligently with global trends than its European rivals. We are losing ground as a result.

American business seems bent on making the U.S. into a low-wage paradise, like Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico or Guam. We are blind to the flip side of this "paradise". The downside which we can see right next door. We are becoming a nation that can't afford the products being made. Low wage countries are not the envy of the world. They are not societies to emulate or admire, and we should know better. The leaders of American business should know better. Many of them do. But the low-wage competition has a powerful pull to it. It's hard to compete against a more ruthless business rival, hence this foolish race to the bottom. And what do we have when we arrive there? We have low-wage consumers who cannot afford to buy the products or hire the services.

Prosperous workers are not the enemy. Prosperous workers are less inclined to radicalism and likelier to invest in the company they work for. They become partners––up to a point. They share the same broad goals and values.

At some point the systematic impoverishment of the American worker will do two things. It will reawaken radicalism among workers, radicalism to match what we see in their employers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party.

The second thing is already happening. Flat and declining wages over the past thirty years have already eaten the muscle out of the American consumer economy. Workers who once could afford homes no longer can. Nor are they buying goods to furnish and fit them. They don't have the money. Rising necessary costs and debt have squeezed out discretionary spending. Workers can afford cars less often. They can barely afford healthcare and are becoming less healthy as a result, at the same time that employers are cutting health benefits and government programs to fill the gap are being cut. We have a revenue deficit because low incomes pay less in taxes to pave the roads and hire the teachers. When they retire the young workers of today will be much poorer than today's retirees, and there goes another large segment of the economy.

A prosperous working class was the goose that laid the golden egg––creating a half century of stable growth, broad prosperity and a robust economy. Reaganomics crippled organized labor, which killed that goose. No more goose. No more golden eggs. The current economic crisis was the inevitable result, but it's only the opening chapter.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Bubble Economics (Whose Bubble Was It?)

I read an excellent piece about bubble economics by Jonah Lehrer in Wired, received via BigThink.

A couple of aspects of bubble dynamics that aren't part of the public discussion, or are discussed too little (more about the why below):

1. Narrower concentration of larger and larger pools of investable wealth (investable = excess wealth beyond necessary living costs) creates greater instability, as was proven during the volatile "gilded age" prior to the creation of correcting regulations and moderating bodies under both Roosevelts and other presidents. Narrower competing investor groups tend to see-saw markets more quickly and pit too much investable capital against too few plausible investments.

2. Bubbles are bound to emerge when there is a rush to scoop up limited plausible investments, and plausible investments are bound to be fewer when the consumer market is relatively impoverished or has a weaker growth of income per rising necessary costs, as occurred post 1980.

3. Consumer incomes will reach a critical point when their income is rising more slowly than necessary costs (food, fuel, housing, education, healthcare). That critical point was delayed but made more critical by access to credit, and the cynical manipulation of that credit.

4. When the worker/consumer economy flags and there is no effort to counter that weakness, what does the investment class do? Does it take its enormous income rises and tax cuts and invest in goods and services (jobs) here in the U.S.? No. They have every motivation to hold (as they are now holding trillions) and wait for further depression of wages; they will also hold rather than invest in production where demand is slack. They will instead invest in other markets, like Asia and South America, which is what is happening now. (It's ironic how they manage to do so while wrapping themselves in the flag.)

5. Is it fair to call this recent bubble a middle class housing bubble? I don't think so. It didn't burst; it deflated. Promised prosperity stopped materializing. The middle class and working class economy stopped getting air in the form of wage and income rises. Wages and incomes ceased to be robust enough to enlarge the economy. Housing costs continued to rise based upon demand (partly demand for credit access and the added usefulness of real estate as collateral), based upon expectations workers were fed, empty cheerleading by economists about an economy the working class had been shut out of. Bubbles are filled by excess income. The working and middle classes have had lagging incomes for thirty years, so it wasn't their bubble.

6. I think another critical point was reached when baby boomers began shifting retirement savings out of equity markets into treasuries and other safer or more arcane securities (gold, real estate, newer magical financial instruments).

7. Lehrer's description of herd behavior is apt. What I don't hear discussed is the basic counterbalancing role of government, to invest and regulate countercyclically. A more apt analogy than tulips and fads would be the familiar model of the overloaded Indonesian ferryboat, where the near swamping on one side will cause a sudden and catastrophic rush to the opposite side of the vessel and a rapid capsizing. Economies need large institutions with no profit motive or profit requirement to act countercyclically. IN A RECESSION THE LAST THING YOU WANT GOVERNMENT TO DO IS SPEND LESS. Everyone else is spending less. To get out of recession government needs to counter that natural thrift instinct and spend more. I hear no one saying this. I hear no one speaking about the key countercyclical responsibility of government. In a healthy economy public and private institutions would know that role and fill it.

8. I can only assume that the guiding motive of the powers on Wall Street who are controlling the American economy isn't to right the economy and keep it seaworthy; it's to jettison more people, to swamp more lives, to lower wages, to panic small investors out and purchase their holdings cheap, too offload American capital and invest it elsewhere. (Borrowing a scenario from Germany in the 1930s, to invite the oppressed to sell their goods to their captors dead cheap. Where they are going they won't need their things.) I think the Republicans and their clients have exactly the economy they wanted. They are safe and dry and they find it easier to deal with other parties who are treading water.

I notice this. I don't read it being reported. I don't hear it being discussed. I write about this. But who am I? I am not an economist. I am a writer. Economists know which side their bread is buttered on. Controlling the incomes of a mandarin class allows concentrated wealth to shape the public mind and the public conversation how they like.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cost rising/life expectancy dropping in US relative to "socialist" Europe

The Washington Post reported that life expectancy is dropping in the U.S. relative to Europe. And we spend considerably more per capita in America to do considerably worse.

Of course the small percentage holding most of America's wealth are worried that their wealth may be taxed to pay for public obligations like Medicare and Social Security, as they once were in the bad old Communist days of Eisenhower and Reagan. Their private hope is that people who need help will quietly die off first, that working people will die earlier and cheaply and not become "a burden." If the middle class becomes poorer, they too will die earlier and cost less, their retirement will be shorter meaning less will be drained from corporate pension and insurance funds, leaving more money for the people who now have most of it.

This is a cynical strategy, but, let's face it, wealth is cynical. If wealthy people don't like to think this way they hire people to think this way for them. Wealth takes a cold view of things. Wealth owes its loyalty to narrow calculations of money and its preservation. We shouldn't kid ourselves that these calculations aren't being made. Recall the cynical sale of securities that were designed to fail, securities which the bankers were simultaneously shorting on the market, earning millions from their customers' losses. These calculations do take place.

Is it "Socialist" to recognize this? Is it "Socialist" to honor pledges to American citizens? Is it "Socialist" to make sure the healthcare system delivers its care, including the miraculous advances funded by tax dollars, to all of its citizens?

Make no mistake, there are still extremely wealthy people in Europe and Scandinavia, and they show no indication of wanting to move here. In most modern industrialized countries there is a social contract and a strong sense of the public good, things we seem to have abandoned in this country.

If there is a protected class that everyone seems eager to protect it isn't the middle class or the working class or even the poor; it is the very rich. (Here in Minnesota the Republican Party is hoping to eliminate 36,000 public sector jobs to preserve the special low tax rates of 48,000 very wealthy Minnesotans. And they have the support of millions of average people to do this. Republicans are also dumping thousands of poor people from their state funded health plans.)

When you see what is happening, it's no wonder life expectancy is dropping in America. The losses have only begun. And who is it benefiting? The irony is that the money saved isn't being invested here in America. The "patriotic" tax cutters and entitlement slashers are quietly taking those savings and investing them in China and other emerging markets. They certainly aren't creating jobs in America. How patriotic is that?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Feed the Rich

Where did all the tax cut money go? It went into very few pockets and from there to emerging markets where it is busy creating low-wage jobs and a future of non-American economic power. Why would those tax cuts create jobs here when the big plan was to ship the work somewhere cheaper, someplace without the nuisance safety regulations, and workers' rights and benefits? In another era this strategy would have been called UnAmerican, but it's hard to call a party unAmerican when they are wrapped in the flag.

You can read Krugman every week, or Joseph Stiglitz every once in a while, to get a sharp mature assessment of the GOP bullshit. But sometimes it's interesting to go at the b.s. one talking point at a time, like economist Brad DeLong does, and see how quickly the right wing arguments fall apart. And they do. Sadly, it takes a brain and a bit of patient thought to see how fragile the GOP material is.

The GOP arguments fall apart because they are saying one thing while carefully planning something completely different. At moments of contradiction you will usually see John Boehner burst into tears, which is a helpful distraction. The Republicans have their game plan and it doesn't do most of us any good. It wasn't meant to.

Their strategy is to make sure the economy screws most of us over and hands the fruits of that screwing over to the handful of people up top. The plan is to streamline the narrowest possible delivery of wealth. Efficiency for the very few. This is the economy they want. This is the economy they planned. An overseas economy of underpaid, eager, frightened people with no rights. A Dickensian economy, a Scrooge economy. If it makes Americans angry the Republicans are assuming that most will blame Obama. To make sure of that, there is talk radio and Fox"News".

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Republican Economy

This is a Republican economy. This is the economy they wanted.

This is where the money is going.

The money that would have hired people and created jobs and got money flowing through this economy to pay the mortgages and the grocery bills and the gas bill and the electricity and the middle class taxes, is instead being fed to the executive suite. This has been the pattern for the past few decades, and that is why the economy is flat.

How the Rich Became the Uber Rich (but no explanation about how we helped them to it.)

How the Middle Class Became the Underclass (but no explanation of how we voted for this to happen.)

The point is it's all driven by public policy, which is driven by money in politics, which was re-legalized by Republican appointees to the Supreme Court, who pushed every single de-regulation they could, which the super-rich demanded and paid for with campaign contributions and extortion tactics, it also got us a free predatory economy which the rich also wanted, which plundered working Americans' savings, which made the economy more unstable, which led to the financial collapse of 2008.

Are you happy now? Reagan's dreams have come true. The Republicans are ecstatic.

If you want evidence that the very very very rich are in control. Look at spending.

And do they have to carry their share of the load? No. Their money gives them license to evade taxes, and the middle class can't continue picking up the slack, which is why we have a deficit, which is why they'd like us to profitize Medicare and Social Security. Which would make things infinitely worse. Is this a solution?

Instead of listening to the attractive, expensively dressed "reporter" on some market-watch program, who probably gets his or her "scoops" by buying lunches for Wall Streeters, listen to a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who's covered this story honestly and aggressively for decades.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Astroturf Guerillas

Ever wanted a glimpse inside the right wing machine? Take a look. This is what's called the dittohead effect. These people know how to listen and do as they're told. You have to hand it to the right wing. They've got obedient servants.

Who is paying for this guy to go around teaching "guerilla tactics"? The Koch Brothers among others. Big Oil. Big Tobacco. Big health insurers. Big Polluters. Wall Street. Guerilla, my foot. The original minutemen weren't funded by multinational fat cats or bused to Lexington and Concord by Koch Industries.

Whether they know it or not (and they probably have no idea) the people in this "training session" are learning how to be obedient storm troopers for the very very rich. They are ordinary folks being trained to help degrade the interests of ordinary folks like themselves. Being taught underhand tactics to distort information and cover up for their masters. A strange mixture of flim-flam and Maoist revolutionary cell. It's a con game.

Who are the American Majority? They appear to be a majority of two, sons of a Kansas Republican with ties to Jack Abramoff. Often as not it seems the Republican Party and corporate lobbying groups are one and the same. They certainly have the same HR department.

It's the names of these groups that make me suspicious. When it says "Majority", assume a handful of people working for a very few very rich people. When a group is named "Women United for Liberty" assume that it's funded by men and dedicated to limiting women's rights. When "Tax Reform" is in the name, you can pretty well guess the goal is to shift taxes off its rich clients and onto everybody else. If its name contains the word "Prosperity" it will be the narrow prosperity of a few very rich corporations and individuals funding the organization.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Handling a Manic-Depressive Economy

For half a century it was the successful policy of the U.S. government to moderate the moods of the economy, mostly to keep the economy from dropping into a depression, but also to keep it from overheating. To act as a thermostat. This required government to modulate markets, to soften the hardship and deprivation at the low end of the cycle and rein in the excess reward at the upper end––something it's much harder to do because the rich investor class has thousands of lobbyists working to keep the upper end from any moderation however rational. When there is excess pressure in one direction it's necessary to pull in the opposite direction. This is what keeps boats afloat and cars on the road.

COUNTERCYCLICAL. Try Googling that word and you don't come up with much. A few arcane economic articles available in PDF. One of the most important jobs of government is to counter the irregularities of the economy. Prior to the regulations inaugurated in the early 20th century the U.S. economy had catastrophic nationwide bank panics every few years. These panics ruined millions of people and threw millions more out of work, broke up families, bankrupted thousands of farms and businesses, saw towns dry up and disappear, and precipitated waves of suicide and child abandonment.

The veers and spikes of the economy allowed a few speculators to become enormously wealthy. Bubbles inflated and popped leaving millions in the hands of a few clever people. Sometimes the speculators precipitated the bubbles and the panics in order to profit from them. Regulation put an end to the worst predatory market behaviors and ushered in the long period of broad prosperity that characterized the best half century in American history. It was a bit boring, perhaps, but homeowners and families don't benefit from financial rollercoasters. The dismantling of those regulations in the years after Reagan took away or weakened the countercyclical tools of the federal government and ushered in poorer labor markets, more fluctuations, more bubbles, more Wall Street misbehavior and led to the near collapse of 2008-2009. If the government had a stronger hand we'd be recovering more broadly now, but Reaganism has concentrated the recovery at the top. We have a topheavy poorly balanced economy that is more unstable and less seaworthy.

Unregulated economies sometimes behave like those overloaded ferries that occasionally capsize in the straits of southeast Asia. When they become overweighted on one side, everyone rushes to the opposite side and the craft capsizes. In moments of imbalance the craft needs a counterbalance to remain afloat. In the economic context this is the job of government. To put weight on the side that everyone is rushing away from. To spend money when everyone is afraid to. To spend money in areas that are slack, on necessary infrastructure that has been neglected––even when there is a shortage of revenue to do so. That is a function only government can fulfill, because government works over longer spans of time and across broader areas. Government thinks in terms of economic climate patterns rather than the weather of the moment. Across the United States one year's drought will visit another region next year. Knitting smaller regional markets and different sectors together helps keep the broad economy afloat.

Government's job is to moderate the spikes and the depressions, to balance the interests of different sectors, and it's foolish to take that capability away. There is a name for that do-nothing philosophy. Herbert Hooverism. Government isn't the enemy in an economic crisis. As was seen in the worst weeks of the crisis, government is essential, and never more essential than when free markets fail. We need a better vocabulary for explaining this. A better set of descriptive models. The government is a sure hand on the steering wheel, a thermostat to keep the house livable summer and winter. The government is also fire and police and public health departments when things go wrong. But this countercyclical role of government, this balancing mechanism, is key and little discussed. It needs to be part of the public conversation. When no one is spending is the most important time for government to keep money flowing in the economy. Government is the only entity that can and will work in opposition to the frightened impulses that have us paralyzed. Countercyclical is a cumbersome word. Maybe we need a better one.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

America Isn't Broke, Just the Middle Class

AMERICA ISN'T BROKE. So there's no reason to kill Social Security or Medicare.

We CAN and should repair our infrastructure. It would put people to work, which would pay for groceries and clothes and rent and mortgages and healthcare and pay taxes.

Our middle class is dying because their incomes have been starved for the past thirty years, as all the productivity and increased profitability was funneled into the pockets of the people at the top.

Whether we allow the middle class to die, and the American economy with it, depends on choices we make. It's a perverse strategy to tax the people who are out of money and leave the rich alone.

Ask Americans and you won't find many who know this. You will find millions who feel strained, insecure, frightened, pessimistic about the future, but you won't find many who know why this is or what to do about it.

It is easy to get frightened people to do as they're told. First you make people less secure, then you drop the safety net. It brings a lot of people into line very quickly. Lies are essential.

Backed up by 24 hour talking heads repeating the old joke that tax cuts and endless pay raises to rich people will feed and clothe and house the rest of us. That strategy is what got us here. Ten years of tax cuts to the rich bankrupted the country.

Some are happy with the failed GOP strategy and Republicans in the House of Representatives are comfortably in the pocket of a rich minority who pay for their seats.

People need to start shouting back. Call the radio programs that push the falsehoods. Complain to the advertisers who sponsor the lies. Applaud the media sources that tell the truth. Write your congressperson. Give the Democrats some courage. And vote the GOP out.

Be clever. Surprise people. Talk back. Like this.

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Premeditated Murder of the American Middle Class

This headline isn't from a lefty blogger, it's from Investors' Business Daily:

10-Year Real Wage Gains Worse Than During Depression.

Did you wonder how the American economy went bad? Look no further. The vast majority of Americans are nervous, underpaid, and either out of work or working harder than ever. This does not make for a robust consumer economy. When you starve the majority of incomes it has consequences.

The middle class isn't just done, it's been ruled irrelevant. So says Advertising Age. With flat incomes and rising necessary expenses on fuel, housing, education, healthcare and food, their disposable incomes have disappeared. Without money to spend you don't matter anymore.

The engine of the great American prosperity 1945-1975 was a prosperous working and middle class. The two were practically the same thing. Reaganomics ended that by flattening middle class incomes, killing unions and shifting the tax burden off the rich and onto the middle class taxpayer. Reagan accomplished this with the willing help of millions of American workers.

Today's GOP is outdoing Reagan, though, mounting an all-out assault on the American middle class, while protecting the very small, very rich upper class. A lot of Americans still vote Republican out of habit, out of team spirit, out of obedience to the dog whistle.

The middle class Republican has to swallow a lot of outright lies. Self deception is something you learn to do, and if you practice for a long time you get good at it. Being obedient helps. This GOP ability to lie and get away with it is remarkable enough it's written about in places like Forbes.

Who is really paying taxes? We (the working and middle classes) are. They (the rich) are not. Yet the sacredness of upper class tax cuts remains the keystone of Republican politics.

The reason for the current deficit? Reducing taxes on those who've taken all the income increases over the past generation and a half, while increasing taxes on those whose incomes have stalled–––on most Americans. The Republican policy is to protect and help the few who need no help or protection while leaving the less fortunate, most of us, unprotected and unhelped. Sometimes it's worthwhile to listen to a Nobel economist.

The debt, run up by Bush and compounded by the collapse Bush and his Republican policies precipitated, makes the current situation worse. It takes chutzpah to make debt an issue when your own party created it. If you like massive debt––Vote Republican.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Did Psychopaths Cause the Economic Crisis?

Answer: possibly. An article in Fast Company suggested that psychopathology led to the ruin of the energy giant ENRON. But there are other more recent articles saying the same about the executive class in general. A highly regarded human resources magazine. The New York Times. National Public Radio. This American Life. What does it say about our society if the people who run our economy are nuts?

We test convicted criminals for psychopathic tendencies when we sentence them and before releasing them back into the general population, but people who head up large corporations are immune from this kind of intrusion. So we don't really know whether the people who lead our companies or trade our stocks or operate hedge funds to game the markets or manage our health insurance on a denial basis are psychopaths.

All we have is the set of traits psychologists use to measure psychopathology and the unsettling realization that many of these psychopathic traits are also the traits of rock stars in the business world.

The standard list of psychopathic characteristics:
Glibness and superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Pathological lying––skilled secretiveness
Manipulative cunning
Lack of remorse or guilt––ruthlessness
Shallow affect––genuine emotion is short-lived and self-centered
Lack of empathy, lack of concern for others
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions––evasion of liability

It does sound like a lot of the people in executive positions. Especially the people at the very top.

Another often-cited characteristic of psychopathic personalities is risky behavior. To a certain degree we admire risk-takers, but risk can be taken to extremes, with much at stake and large downsides. Concentrated wealth in the hands of big risk takers risks our entire society.

Did psychopaths in expensive suits lead us into the financial crisis? If so, they're still running things, and paying themselves more than they did before.

I'm not saying we should label individual CEOs as psychopaths. It's not that simple. But maybe we should begin labeling ruthless CEO behavior, the remorseless downsizing of companies and the pocketing of vast sums, as psychopathic. As sick behavior. As something to be abhorred rather than admired.

We see some of the same stubborn recklessness in the elected politicians who cut taxes on the very very rich and protect them from regulation and interference, while simultaneously and ruthlessly cutting millions of working people off from help.

Consider the dangerous game of budget Chicken being played by Republicans right now. We wouldn't tolerate it on the highway, why let it happen with our state and federal budgets? Threatening government shutdowns and credit defaults is recklessness. Gladly dumping the poor, the sick and the elderly but refusing to consider restoring the Reagan era tax rate onto the extremely rich is antisocial behavior.

There is a callous ruthlessness in the Republican leadership that comes very close to psychopathology. And it's hard to negotiate with psychopaths; they don't blink, they don't hesitate, they don't think twice or worry about other people. That's why they often win. We admire winners in America, but we should draw the line somewhere. Antisocial disregard for others shouldn't be admired or rewarded. Why do we vote for it?

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Governing Like There's No Tomorrow

There's an excellent piece about Michele Bachmann in Mother Jones. I've written essays and satires on this strange rapture-wishing, and am surprised there isn't more discussion of the odd priorities that apocalyptic thinking pushes to the fore.

Let the environment go to hell, let global issues fester and explode, let the financial system collapse, make the world fall apart so Jesus will come.

They also want to be in government so they can run it into the ground.

Does Israel know the kind of ally they have in these strange Christian rightists? They want Israel to exist so it can be drowned in blood. These Christian "friends" are like greedy heirs who hover around a "loved one" hoping he will die soon, and plotting to make it happen. It is the stuff of a bad murder mystery, which everyone ought to be able to see through.

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