To Bern or Not to Bern!

I am growing weary of the superfluous yet at the same time deeply important clash between the #neverhillary Bernie supporters and the #nevertrump Bernie supporters. I’m not certain the split aligns perfectly with a millennial demographic or not, but somebody is either being somewhat politically naive or is incredibly ideologically pure about something. One puddle of wisdom (from my small reservoir of wisdom) that I have imparted to my millennial daughter on occasion, is that one of the things about life that sucks the most is you will have to sometimes do things you really don’t want to do. I’m pretty sure this is one of those times.

Here’s the thing. There’s a big difference between issues politics and electoral politics. The difference is that in issues politics it is necessary to demand 100% of what you want because that is the only way to get any of what you want. It’s you and your issue versus everybody else and their issue. There are multiple contestants in multiple battles so where you win you stay and where you don’t you move on. In modern electoral politics there are only two contestants (as far as is today’s reality) and the point comes (and it always comes) where you need other people’s supporters on your side to win, because your goal and reward is not a small victory in isolation but a majority victory in a contest decided by everyone. It is not a contest of you versus everyone else but of your coalition versus their coalition.

Compromise of ideologies is necessary in the electoral world and an anathema in the issues world. Many Bernie supporters come from the world of issues politics. They did not previously involve in electoral politics because they had no use for elections unless it directly affected their funding. Other than that they would only pursue an electoral victory if they had a champion for their issue(s). There have been single issues champions throughout the but rarely have there been any special leaders who could coalesce the numerous issues silo activists into a cohesive power bloc.

Issues activists are used to either getting what they want or leaving defeat behind and moving on to the next battle. They make black and white decisions. The concept of joining together in a coalition with the people who just caused you lose, who made you not get what you want, is utterly alien to them and feels dirty and immoral. So it’s not difficult to understand why they have trouble putting together movements. It’s just sad.

This phenomenon works in reverse as well, although people involved in electoral politics usually only drop in to work on issues when they feel burned out and made filthy by the deceits of electoral politics, and want to recharge and cleanse. Someone coming to issues politics from electoral politics will seek coalitions with what they consider to be like minded issues advocates, with similar issues. They don’t quite understand why the other issues groups leave the coalition once they get what they want. Then they remember why they were frustrated with issues activism to begin with and go back to electoral politics. To work in both electoral politics and issues politics concurrently takes some highly skilled compartmentalising, of which not everyone is capable.

This whole broken process has been a bane of the progressive movement for years, because it hasn’t really been a movement at all. It has been a bunch of separate progressive issues oriented advocacy groups all in competition with each other for grants and status and recognition. There is always a lot of rhetoric about coming together as one coherent progressive movement but it always dissolves into jealousy and competition for scarce resources. The scarcity of resources is intentional and part of a greater strategic initiative by right wing tricksters, but that’s another story.

These progressives have only come together in agreement when they have had a messiah figure to rally them. Gene McCarthy, George Mc Govern, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, all to widely varying degrees, were able to bring a number of progressives together into some semblance of a movement, enough to have some modest influence on the Democratic Party. Bernie has been the latest, most successful and probably least likely of these standard bearers. The rub is these movements died off with the relevance of their leaders. Without the focus of the strong leader the coalition descends once again into the relative chaos of egotism and economically manipulated competition.

Bernie is, and always has been, aware of this. Warnings about life after Bernie have been clear parts of his speeches from the get go. He has spent most of his time and energy since it became apparent he would not win the nomination imploring that his followers continue on and forge a game changing movement. This is true, and necessary. He has implored them to remember that this is not about him but about us. This is true, and necessary. He has implored us to defeat Donald Trump by any and all means. This is true, and necessary. He is showing and/or reminding us that 30% of 100% is much more than 100% of nothing. This is true, necessary and perhaps his greatest lesson taught.

What I don’t understand is why so many of Bernie’s followers, who have followed him through the crucible of mainstream efforts to get in his way, have now stopped listening to him. Actually I do understand. The messiah has betrayed them. He has not delivered on their issue(s) so they are expressing their rage. They will try another tack later after they get over feeling suckered by promises of glory in a progressive paradise. To be clear though, this type of betrayal is not an unusual occurrence. It is seen, commonly, in the affairs of both parties and is not fixable from the top down. Let me repeat, it is not fixable from the top down but only from the bottom up. This is why Bernie is so adamant that his supporters not run away licking their wounds but stay and fight and elect Clinton despite themselves.

In order to have a bottom up re-evolutionary movement that succeeds the Sanders coalition must stay together and organize. To accomplish this it is critical that the activated millennials not get jaded and cynical and go back to their X-boxes. Bernie is trying his damnedest to impart the knowledge that this whole thing is bigger than him and must survive his primary loss. And the first step towards that accomplishment is to prevent the uniquely American fascism of Trump and his minions from ever getting enough control to do irreparable harm to our nation and thus the globe. That would take generations to recover from.

So listen up kiddos and ex hippies. You think you need an unconditional Bernie electoral victory, when what you really need is for the many wonderful progressive issues activists out there to drop their ego facades, overcome their economic jealousies, and form the powerful progressive movement that has always been there, dormant, and ready to flip the entire political landscape. I can help, but I’m old, as are my beautiful tye dyed peers. The mantel is now being passed from Bernie’s hippie contemporaries to Bernie’s hipster acolytes. We’ll all help actually, if you let us, we’re experienced protesters. And we still know how to roll an English joint.

Here’s a parable for us to end todays sermon. When Mom broke out the Ben and Jerry’s  you told her you wanted 3 scoops of Cherry Garcia. She said no but you can each have a half scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough, because that’s all we have. Do you say no, I know you have some Cherry Garcia in there and it’s either the whole 3 scoops or nothing at all. Or, do you take the cookie dough and get at least a bit of a sweet taste in your mouth. If you all keep bugging mom maybe you’ll get some of that Cherry Garcia next time.

You weren’t that stuck up in school, were you?

An Economic Epiphany

I freely admit that the subject I probably know the least about is economics. I didn’t take Economics in college, primarily because I both despised and feared Statistics. I have never had more than a passing interest in it throughout my adult life. It is pretty much Greek to me, and outside of the bare basics of supply side and demand side I know very little about the complex influence of the application of various policies on the economy. But in the wake of the recent great recession I have vowed to learn more.

It was a significant epiphany for me that, during the consumption of a soft serve cone at Burger King, a revelation came to me, ostensibly from the bowels of the universe, about the basic nature of economics. It came to mind, as it often does, that the obscene profits taken by certain people were immoral. I was struck by the thought that since there exists a finite amount of wealth this means that as long as there were winners there was a corresponding amount of wealth lost by losers. This troubled me. It made the accumulation of great wealth by CEOs, hedge fund managers, and insider day traders, among others, seem particularly cruel.

The pain and despair of those unfortunate “losers” is not only a personal tragedy but a national one as well. Some of these losers are businesses and their failures carry with them the loss of jobs and production of wealth. And many of those “losers” are not failures in the classic sense of being inferior players of the game. Many of them were merely on the wrong end of an arbitrary decision by the powerful. Their only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So I asked myself, “How do we reduce the numbers of losers without reducing the number of winners at the same time?” After all, people deserve to make profits from their hard work and good ideas. This was when the light bulb went on. It became clear why certain economic indicators were so important to those who care about such things. The answer was growth. If additional wealth is created and the economy grows, then, at least on average, the profiteers take their profits from the added wealth produced and the losers need not lose. Ideally profits and growth are equal and there are no losers. We know this does not happen in nature. There are always some losers. But in growth times the losers are more likely defined by the natural perils of the market than by the dirty tricks of the Gekkoesque, although those indignities still happen with greater than deserved frequency. During periods of growth things in general are not so bad. Lots of winners and few losers.

We won’t go into the idea that perpetual growth is impossible in a capital based system. Not now at least. So we will assume that growth is possible and likely probable. I wondered why growth was so slow today. What could be the cause of profit taking without the creation of wealth necessary for a healthy, free marketplace? It was this phenomenon which seemed to me to be the likely cause of a non growing economy, of winners and losers, and the harbinger of economic weakness with the accompanying recessions. Could it be that there are those who take profits, often obscene profits, without contributing to the creation of wealth in any way, who are some of the main villains in this scenario that creates losers?

There are plenty of people in America who make money, lots of it, and never create one iota of wealth. They do it simply by transferring money or assets from one place to another, one party to another, taking a goodly cut for their facilitation. Another group makes their millions organizing, and often manipulating deals, consolidations and mergers, once again taking their cut merely from having the connections to bring the players together. These people often use other people’s money to make their own, socializing the risks and privatizing the profits. Corporate CEOs take in outrageously big salaries, with gigantic golden parachutes. Their compensation is not commensurate with their value to the business. Another bunch of leeches manage hedge funds, those exclusive mutual funds that exist mostly for the wealthy. These Wall Street millionaires actually do participate in a degree of wealth creation but also take huge salaries for performance that is little better than the average Joe using Charles Schwab.

These people are examples of a phenomenon made popular during the Reagan years. It is the concept of making money without doing any work. There have always been people who did this but in the 80’s it became fashionable. For the huge influx of students who rushed into MBA programs at the same time it became the ultimate goal. The ethic of hard work and playing by the rules gave way to a cut throat race to the top where success was measured only by how rich one could get, how fast and how easy.

I feel that after thirty years or so of this amoral profiteering I call “transactional exploitation” our country was ripe for the kind of economic collapse we suffered in 2008. It was this vampiric greed, coupled with the repeal of Glass-Steagal, that played an important role in bringing on the great recession.

The economy of the early 2000’s was largely driven by the housing construction and real estate markets. To simplify a complex scenario, in the 1990’s Congressional Democrats advocated that we make home purchase available to more Americans. Because home ownership was regarded as a lynchpin of American economic prosperity the Democrats reasoned that making home ownership available to more citizens would help stabilize the economy. They were thinking along the lines of slightly lowered income requirements, lower down payments, longer term mortgages and reasonable interest. Instead the vultures, enabled by the repeal of Glass-Steagall, created toxic financial products which they misrepresented to naive first time home buyers. Banks created nebulous security constructs which led to short term profits but were destined to fail. When the bubble burst it took down the housing market, major lenders and established securities brokerage houses. All of Wall Street collapsed in the wake of this implosion and investors suddenly lost as much as 40% of their assets. We are still crawling out of that hole and yet the vultures keep looking for scams that will make them flush while flushing the suckers they exploit down the proverbial drain.

I do not begrudge talented people from making good livings from the application of their unique skills. But there is a difference between making a living and making a killing. Just look at the words, living and killing. Which word fits better into a just and prosperous society, where all have the opportunity to thrive. Which fits a society where the ladder to success exists, but honest people trying to climb it are stepped on and thrown of by the ruthless or never allowed on it because of the neighborhood they grew up in or the color of their skin or the economic impossibility of getting the education or training they need to be able to climb in the first place.

Somehow society, through our collective ownership of government, must begin to re-balance the value of professional endeavor in America. We must figure out a way to reduce the value of the greedy non wealth creators and increase the respect for and value of under appreciated careers such as educators, scientists both social and applied, nurses etc. We must educate to the point where consensus demands that the gap in earnings between the lowest and highest is not so dramatic.

The transactional exploiters, who imagine themselves job and wealth creators, and those who worship them, aspiring to be just like them, are a bigger threat to the American economy and national security than any of the alleged “takers” so often mythologized by some. It is the alleged “makers” of whom we need to be careful.

Maybe I know more about economics than I imagined.