Monday, April 21, 2014

The Cloward-Piven conspiracy/strategy is REAL!

You can't trust anything out of Glenn Beck's mouth, so I was surprised to find out that the Cloward-Piven strategy actually existed.

The Truth According to Glenn Beck

Cloward and Piven were sociologists who came up with a strategy in the 1960s to increase government spending on welfare to the point of destabilizing government. At that point, the government would change to socialist or communist. Cloward and Piven executed a lot of their strategy in New York City, but there have been setbacks, such as welfare reform. Nonetheless, their strategy is still underpinning Democratic policies, such as the stimulus, ACA, Dodd-Frank, and any Democratic voting laws.

Strangely, Beck doesn't evaluate how well or poorly the strategy is going. He gives no current numbers on how many people are dependent on government or how soon that burden will topple us. I guess a reality check isn't Beck's thing when he's on a roll. Instead, he announces "case closed."

The Truth According to Wikipedia

This is where I learned the shocking truth that Glenn Beck wasn't totally full of shit. Cloward and Piven did indeed want to create a fiscal crisis, which they write frequently about here (a transcription of their original article). They advocated signing up as many poor people as possible for welfare and other programs, and making sure that they receive the maximum legal benefits. The reason was primarily to put huge strains on the government, but also to get more money into the hands of the poor, to rally the support among the poor for political change, and to provide a stronger, more reliable electoral base for the Democratic Party.

Contra Glenn Beck, the stated goal wasn't total annihilation of the government, but instead direct payment from the federal government to every person. This wasn't a well thought-out goal. There was no math in their proposal--how much the payments would be to each person, how that would affect the economy, how the money would be raised.

Cloward and Piven admit some problems with their plan:
"A welfare crisis would, of course, produce dramatic local political crisis, disrupting and exposing rifts among urban groups... Group conflict, spelling political crisis for the local party apparatus, would thus become acute as welfare rolls mounted and the strains on local budgets became more severe. In New York City, where the Mayor is now facing desperate revenue shortages, welfare expenditures are already second only to those for public education.
...welfare costs are generally shared by local, state and federal governments, so that the crisis in the cities would intensify the struggle over revenue... If the past is any predictor of the future, cities will fail to procure relief from this crisis... for state legislatures have been notoriously unsympathetic to the revenue needs of the city (especially where public welfare and minority groups are concerned).
If this strategy for crisis would intensify group cleavages, a federal income solution would not further exacerbate them... legislative measures to provide direct income to the poor would permit national Democratic leaders to cultivate ghetto constituencies without unduly antagonizing other urban groups, as is the case when the battle lines are drawn over schools, housing or jobs. Furthermore, a federal income program would ... permanently relieve them of the financially and politically onerous burdens of public welfare*--a function which generates support from none and hostility from many, not least of all welfare recipients.
... it should also be noted that there would be gains even in defeat."
Cloward and Piven were enamored with crisis as a vehicle for political change. They observed that the Great Depression and the black protests and riots were very effective in spurring legislation. However, they were quite wrong about the how the welfare burden crisis would play out. The federal government never came close to giving direct payments to every person. The closest was a short-lived proposal in 1972 by presidential candidate George McGovern, who was defeated in a landslide. Instead, welfare more and more became a target for derision as failed social engineering. Welfare reformers from the conservative side haven't been wonderfully successful in changing welfare dependency either.

Cloward and Piven moved on, and were leaders in the push for the Motor-Voter law. If not for Glenn Beck, we probably wouldn't know about this earlier plan of theirs.

The Truth According to the Daily Kos

An author at the Daily Kos points out that had Obama wanted to follow the Cloward-Piven strategy, he would have tried to torpedo TARP, causing even more disruption in employment. That would have provided an even bigger crisis, which would have allowed for nationalization of a bunch of industries, even larger increases in aid programs like food stamps and unemployment payments. The author also doubts that there was a Cloward-Piven strategy, but instead it was only one article.

Truth Filter

From my experience, I'm inclined to think that Cloward and Piven did have a plan, but that plan wasn't fully implemented and didn't work as mapped out. There were crises from welfare demands, but the solution didn't take the form of direct checks to the poor. I doubt that Cloward and Piven's vision was particularly influential. It's not was though welfare or community organizing didn't exist until Cloward and Piven created them. Welfare most likely would have developed just as it did, regardless of these two.

That's a big problem. These two saw welfare as a way to alleviate poverty and build a political base, but they didn't see welfare as a subsistence trap. They didn't discuss the perils of living off of guaranteed low-level income such as losing the drive to improve and losing the skills and habits of working. That consideration didn't seem to enter their consciousness at all.

Richard Cloward died in 2001, but Piven has continued their work. She still supports direct payment from the federal government to all citizens and residents. The payments should be substantial enough for people to live in dignity. This means that employers will have to pay even more since their competition is a substantial handout.

Piven doesn't see any difficulty with this idea. She doesn't question how tasks will get done if everyone could be paid for not working, or the effect of a surge in wages on living costs. She also states that the US is a fabulously rich country, rich enough to afford wars all over the globe. Piven clearly lives in a self-made fantasy world. She is incredibly clueness when it comes to economics. Sad that she's been a professor for decades now, so she's been teaching these economically ignorant ideas to a couple generations already.

I suppose the good news is that I don't hear many other people repeating those ideas. The vast majority of people want jobs, not payouts for just hanging around. Cloward and Piven never got the welfare system they wanted, the direct federal payment system they wanted, or the more socially equal society they wanted. Most people wised up and realized that world vision was an impossibility. That's good progress there.

Protest in Boston, 1966

P.S. Direct connection between Barack Obama and Cloward-Piven: none except in Glenn Beck's mind.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The invisible primary clarifies everything

I learned this concept from Jonathan Bernstein, the only political commentator who has stayed interesting to me. (Others, like Josh Barro, seem great, but it only lasts for a short time.)

The invisible primary is the contest before the presidential primaries start. It consists of potential or declared candidates visiting early primary states, talking, occasionally staking out positions, occasionally attacking one another, wooing donors, and most of all wooing the important party players who have influence on swathes of voters, usually within one state.

I've learned a lot about the Republican invisible primary, but not so much about the Democratic version. Maybe in 2020 it will be in play, but 2016 isn't looking too likely.

Here are links to some of good posts on the invisible primary. If you don't know this concept yet, you have a wonderful learning experience in store:

  • Bernstein on watching the developing party agenda.
  • Long but great article about the GOP invisible primary. Very readable.
  • How someone decides to jump in.
  • Related to Rand Paul.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Who pays taxes?

Do lower income people pay their fair share of taxes? Look at this graph from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank:


Wow, the lowest 20% of earners pay almost nothing in taxes. The top 20% bear, let's see, 69% of the tax burden. How horribly unfair.

Until you look at this graph:


Here we see that the top 20% may pay 69% of taxes, but they also suck up 50% of all the income. The richest fifth get half of the pie. How much of the pie do the lowest fifth get? Just 3%. How much of the tax burden should we expect them to bear?

Before you complain about how little some folks pay into the system, look at how little is paid to them.

Old question: Who benefited the most from tax cuts?

Back in 2012, one of the issues was who benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts. Dems said the rich did. Repubs said it was everyone. Now, finally, here's a graph that shows who benefited: (Click on the graph to enlarge.)


Look at the left-most 10% of the graph and see that rates declined much more steeply for higher incomes than for lower. This graph is based on effective tax rate and includes payroll taxes.

Low-wage workers are more affected by changes in payroll taxes and much less by income tax rate cuts. It's the opposite for high-income earners. Since the Bush tax cuts lower income taxes, but not payroll taxes, low-income workers saw little benefit. This was also shown by figures on how the end of the tax cuts would affect different earners. Again, lower-income workers would see less of an increase by percent (about 4%). Higher income earners would see a 8% increase.

Here's another interesting tax-related graph: Who gains from tax breaks--those credits, deductions, and exclusions that lower our tax bills. This graph shows the actual shares of these tax breaks and how much accrues to different segments from the lowest 20% to the highest 0.1%. The biggest winners (in light blue) are the 80-99% of top earners. However, look at the share that the top 0.1% (in dark blue) get. An excellent aspect of the graph is that the areas (dark brown, tan, light blue, etc.) directly represent the actual share of the money. You could imagine them as stacks of bills given to the groups.


However, this isn't just a give-away of tax dollars to the well-off. Higher earners pay much more of taxes than do lower earner. They also pay marginal rates (currently running 38%) that are much higher than tax rates on lower earners. If exclusions came down, marginal rates probably should too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The political history of the Supreme Court

I'm not a great student of American history. The last American history course I took was, embarrassingly, in high school. There is one surprising advantage to not having studied a lot of American history--I haven't formed a lot of prejudices that are set in stone. I have a superficial knowledge, but I know it's only superficial, so I'm ready to question all those standard theories that float around.

So, what is the real history of the Supreme Court? I started wondering because of suggestions (among liberals) that the GOP might not confirm a Supreme Court nominee for the rest of Obama's term. Looking back at information about the Supreme Court (mostly from Wikipedia), I saw a number of interesting trends.

FDR through Nixon

Supreme court nominees used to be much closer to the president and much more political. For example, Hugo Black was a senator. Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) tapped him because he was young, from the south, and a strong legislative supporter. Luckily he was also a great fit for the job. He was extremely interested in constitutional questions and developed "textualism," a conservative school of thought on how to interpret the Constitution. This is almost all news to me, and quite fascinating.

Another interesting factoid is that president always tried to push the court toward their political side. FDR did it big time because his first New Deal programs were struck down by a conservative court. FDR made a lot of appointments to the court over his 13 years as president, and he was successful in his goal. The court was fairly liberal due to his selections. Eisenhower wanted to reverse this trend, but his choices weren't so effective. He aimed for conservative (but presumably not Jim Crow conservative), but ended up with Earl Warren.

So even after Eisenhower, the court was fairly liberal. Kennedy and Johnson together appointed four judges, but two resigned after a few years. The balance on the court didn't move much because of their presidencies. Nixon, like Eisenhower, wanted a more conservative court yet didn't get what he hoped from his appointees except for his last appointee, William Rehnquist.


By the time Reagan was president, the conservatives in the country were quite fed up with the liberal slant of the court. Per my memory, the biggest complaints were over abortion legalization, the end of school prayer, and limitations on evidence collection and police tactics. However, Reagan didn't give the conservatives what they wanted immediately. For the first vacancy, Reagan nominated the first woman on the court, Sandra Day O'Connor. I wonder how angry his conservative supporters were over that.

His next appointee, Antonin Scalia, probably pleased the conservatives mightily. For the next vacancy, Reagan went with the ultra-conservative Robert Bork. In doing this, Reagan ignored all the buzz that this was going too far. This is just speculation, but I'm guessing that in 1987 (the year of the nomination), Reagan was no longer fully in control of his decision-making. The choice backfired. Democrats were successful in painting Bork as too conservative. The replacement nominee, John Paul Stevens, was considerably less conservative, to the chagrin of the conservatives.

Reagan's legacy on the Supreme Court were two swing justices and only one solid conservative. The anger and disappointment of conservative must have been huge. George H.W. Bush had two appointees--another mixed bag of one swing vote and one solid conservative. Clinton, following the established pattern, appointed two liberal-leaning justices.

21st Century - Fully Political

With George Bush II, the conservatives finally got more than lip service. Bush II appointed two solid conservatives. Obama has appointed two solid liberals. At this point, there is barely a swing vote on the Court. Occasionally Anthony Kennedy sides with the liberals, but generally there are five conservative votes.

What I learned in all this:
  • Presidents have always tried to nudge the Court into their corner. 
  • Conservative presidents have often failed to get conservative judgments out of their appointees. I wish I understood why this happened so often. 
  • The pressure to appoint clearly conservative or clearly liberal justices has grown. Both sides dearly want to own the majority on the Court. This may indicate that the Court has become ever more important in political outcomes in the country.
  • Professional experience as a judge became more important after Johnson and Nixon--due to some embarrassing nominees and appointees. This allowed the presidents to pretend that they were nominating someone neutral. However, this veneer of neutrality is a sham--nominees fulfill political goals. They aren't neutral legal arbiters, as most judges are supposed to be. 
  • The sham is still active and seems to be demanded of both politicians and nominees, so it will continue.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Short: A story in pictures

First, who voted for Romney versus who voted for Obama:

A Democratic convention crowd:

A Republican convention crowd:

Images, full story:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grouches at National Review strike again

How big a deal is it that Stephen Colbert is taking over for Letterman on the CBS's late show? I can well imagine that his Comedy Central fans will miss his pointy political satire. Lots of people wonder what his personality is. Outside of his parody (a take-off of Bill O'Reilly's pomposity), do we have the faintest idea who he is? We don't know whether he can carry a late night talk show.

But the old grouches among the conservatives have a vastly different concern. They see another major slap at the heartland of the US. At least that was Rush Limbaugh's response-- though that's moderate for him. Limbaugh might have railed against Colbert for roughly a minute, much less than law student Sandra Fluke got.

So why does National Review need three posts letting their curmudgeons sound off about Colbert being an unfunny liberal replacing yet another unfunny liberal?  Because National Review basically don't have thoughtful critique from a conservative viewpoint anymore. Instead, it's cut and slash against everything Dem and liberal. This is the longest post, giving the old grouches the most place to wheeze about "his perverted version of a conservative character."

I realized earlier this year that I had to stop reading National Review so often. The low point was the flaying of Pete Seeger on the occasion of his death. Seeger wasn't the singer of "Puff the Magic Dragon" to them. Instead he was a bagman for Stalin.

So Stephen Colbert may be a traitor in the war on the heartland, but at least he didn't work for Stalin.


Extra. Ben Shapiro (creep-in-chief of Breitbart) writes a creepy post comparing Colbert to blackface comedy. There's something ironic (meaning hypocritical) about the editor of Breitbart complaining about the worst aspects of conservatives being lampooned. So does that mean parts of Limbaugh's show are vile blackface comedy riffing off liberals? (Hat-tip to The Atlantic Wire. National Review didn't link to it because it makes conservatives look pretty bad.)