Blog 122c -Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses


Blog #122c – Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses

Why is there poverty in the United States today?[1] Most anti-poverty policies rely on one or more of four theories about the causes of poverty: the lack of jobs, the shiftlessness of the poor, the changing technological composition of production, or the scarcity of resources to provide for all. None of the four holds up.

We don’t have enough jobs. Not so. “Unless we create more jobs, there will be unemployed and thus poverty,” many believe. But unemployment is low, whatever the weaknesses of its measure, and most poor people are already employed. They already have “jobs,” or at least work, and very often hard work, often part- time, insecure, without benefits, almost always devalued. It is the substandard quality of the jobs we have that undergirds poverty.[2]  Killer jobs, not job killers, are the real problem.

And that so many jobs are substandard is not by accident. Simple economics dictates that employers will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to employees, but expenses for employers.  Matthew Desmond’s trenchant article[3] provides the figures, and lays out the consequences, in well reasoned and human terms. What’s needed are good jobs, paying living wages, secure over time, organized so as to be manageable along with meeting all the other obligations of complicated lives

They are poor because they are lazy. Not so. “They don’t want to work, or they drink, or are addicted, or mentally ill,” some argue. But, as noted above, most poor are in fact working, but at jobs with less than living wages or unsustainable working conditions Blaming the victims for their poverty will not work

Technological change requires workers with skills the poor don’t have. Yes but. A high school education may be increasingly needed to get a good job, but lack of a high school education is not voluntary for most without it. Getting a good education is not so simple for many, and especially for those that begin poor. Lack of good schools, of health care, of transportation, of housing, of physical security, of social encouragement, all play large roles. There is no evidence that, given the opportunity, poor people are not able to handle work that requires a post-high-school education. The poor may indeed have less education than those better off, but not because they are stupid.

Technological advances should in fact increasingly be able to provide enough for all, so that there would be no such thing as poverty, if they were appropriately socially organized.

There will always be winners and losers. The poor are simply the losers. No longer so. “The poor will always be with us is an old argument. It is increasingly wrong. Our societies are able to produce enough so that no one needs to live without adequate housing, food, clothing, rest, security, or the other things a decent standard of living in a technologically advanced society can produce. The statistics on inequality are clear. Even a modest redistribution from the top 1% would mean that all of the other 99% could live well above poverty levels.

 If none of these four explanations accounts for the widespread existence of poverty today, what does?

Two factors basically explain the existence of poverty today.

First, major real conflicts of material interest underlie poverty.  As pointed out above, simple economics dictates that for-profit businesses will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to workers, but expenses for for-profit businesses. Thus, poverty benefits powerful economic and political interests, powerful both in establishing economic relations, and in politically establishing governmental policies that further business interests opposing the steps necessary to eliminate poverty.  And,

Second, the necessity of dealing with immediate and critical human problems detracts from confronting these real conflicts, creating an incentive to downplay the existence of these conflicts politically as well as ideologically, even among well-meaning advocates of policies challenging the underlying causes of the conditions whose consequences they seek to ameliorate, so-called anti-poverty and social welfare programs.

So what is to be done to reduce and ultimately eliminate poverty from rich societies such as ours?

 Immediate actions. We have some limited but moderately effective social-mobility programs: minimum wage laws, restrictions on hours of labor and unhealthy working conditions, subsidized health care, unemployment benefits, public financing of elementary education. They need to be adequately and securely funded.[4] They should be championed, expanded, and stripped of any draconian and counterproductive work requirements. But more is needed.

Ultimate goals must be kept on the agenda as ultimately needed, goals such as a real right to housing, to free medical care, to free public education through college, an adequate income should be considered, and seen as obvious governmental functions, just as are police or fire services or streets and highways or sanitation or environmental controls or providing for holding democratic elections or public parks or clean water. So one might consider adopting as ultimate asocial goals for social action the elimination of poverty entirely and the provision of a right to a comfortable standard of living commensurate with what society is already in a position to provide, given a commitment to use it so that its wealth is distributed equitably among all individuals and groups in the society, commensurate with individual and group needs and desires. The even broader goal might be expressed as the just and democratic control of the economy as a whole and in its parts.

Transformational Measures. But to achieve such goals, shorter-term steps also need to be pursued, measures that move in these directions but that do not promise more than are immediately political feasible yet can contribute to meeting long-term goals.. [5] We should not neglect the importance of the poverty fixes we already have. Safety-net programs that help families confront food insecurity, housing unaffordability and unemployment spells lift tens of millions of people above the poverty line each year. By itself, SNAP annually pulls over eight million people out of poverty. According to a 2015 study, without federal tax benefits and transfers, the number of Americans living in deep poverty (half below the poverty threshold) would jump from 5 percent to almost 19 percent.[6]

  1. Improving minimum wage laws. Moving towards the ultimate goal of stablishing a standard of living for all that guarantees not only the necessities of life but at a level consistent with a comfortable and secure standard of living and a level commensurate with the productive capacity of society, appropriately organized to fullfill social needs and enforced well enough to prevent destructive competition- among businesses based on how little they pay their workers.
  2. Strengthening workers’ rights, moving in the direction of fair wages for all, including strengthening requirements for fair labor standards in the work place. Encouraging self- organization workers and poor households along diverse lines needing publii representation..
  3. Expanding the public and non-profits sectors, in the direction of recognizing the benefits of using social contribution as the motivation of provision of goods and services, rather than profit to be made by furnishing them, e.g. in housing, health care, education, recreation, transportation, environmental amenities, creative arts.
  4. Terminating public expenditures whose motivation is economic development and growth for their own sake, and focusing them on their contribution to meeting social goals, including provision of socially desired levels of goods and services. Publicly subsidized job creation as part of and motivated by economic development interests will simply benefit employers unless coupled with living wage and decent working condition requirements. Adding a work requirement to the receipt of social benefits is likewise a painfully ironic was of reducing such benefits to their recipients in a system in which if they do not produce profits for an employer, over and above their wages they will not be hired.[7]
  5. Making the tax system strongly progressive, lower at the bottom, higher at the top, moving towards the broad reduction of inequality and targeting them to the encouragement of socially desirable activities.
  6. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of imaginatively recasting budget priorities, specifically reducing the military budget, funding anew climate -change-centered civilian conservation corps, increasing foreign aid aimed at alleviating conditions that lead to emigration etc.
  7. Recasting the public thinking about the meaning and values of work, the causes of poverty, the values implicit in alternative approaches to inequality and injustice. [8]

In Matthew Desmond’s eloquent words, “We need a new language for talking about poverty. ‘Nobody who works should be poor,’ we say. That’s not good enough. Nobody in America should be poor, period.”  He’s right.[9]

[1] The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty

 [3] Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not,” concludes simply: “the able-bodied, poor and idle adult remains a rare creature “Why Work Doesn’t Work Any More,” The New York Times  Magazine, p. 36ff. Available at                             https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html

[4]

[5] For a further discussion of the concept of transformative measures, see pmarcuse .wordpress.com, blogs 81a-81e, 97, and 99, Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

[6] Mathew Desmond, op. cit., p. 49.

[7] Mathew Desmond in a factual, tightly argued, and very persuasive article effectively demonstrates the futility of work requirements attached to the receipt of social benefits. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour. the New York Times Magazine of September 11, 2018,

[8] Matthew Desmond, op. cit., writes ”No single mother struggling to raise children on her own; no formerly incarcerated man who has served his time; no young heroin user struggling with addiction and pain; no retired bus driver whose pension was squandered; nobody. And if we respect hard work, then we should reward it, instead of deploying this value to shame the poor and justify our unconscionable and growing inequality.”  And Joanna Scuffs, in a rich and provocative article , writes of ”the slipperiness of the term ”work”, from work  as a daily grind into work as “life’s work “oeuvre, art,  the reason you’re here on earth.” The’Linguistic Chamelion” of Work,In These Times, April  2018, [[. 65ff.

[9] Op. cit., p. 9.

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Blog #94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today?


Blog#94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today?
The Electoral College itself is illegitimate and vitiates a key principle of constitutional law: “one person, one vote,” grounded in part on the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and arguably underlying the Fifteenth Amendment as well.[1]

Trump lost the 2016 election by a popular vote. He only won the Presidency because of the distortions of the Electoral College. The Electoral College distorts election results, and violates the principle of one-person one – vote, in the following ways:

1. Voting in the Electoral College is by states, not by counting individual votes. The number of votes a state has does not reflect the choices of its voters, but is skewed in favor of smaller states, who have three votes (paralleling the number of Senators and the minimum of one Representative each state has), and is thus skewed in favor voters in smaller states.
2. Voting in the Electoral College is by states, not by counting individual votes. In each state, all its electoral votes are cast in favor of the party with the majority of votes, and the votes of any member of the minority party in that state are disregarded, and without influence in the national result. It’s winner take all in the Electoral College vote count, which means losers’ votes don’t count at all.[2]
3. The Electoral College was provided for in the Constitution by the framers as a compromise with the interests of the slave -holding states, and with intent to insert a buffer between a popular vote and a theoretically more deliberative small body, out of an open fear of direct democracy.
4. The numbers show that the net effect of the Electoral College procedure is to give the vote of each African-American and Hispanic citizen in each state significantly less weight in the final election result compared to the vote of each of the majority white citizens. The votes of Trump voters counted more, per person, than the votes of Clinton voters.
5. The Fifteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, may well be considered to void this Electoral College arrangement, opening up to questions of the legitimacy of its results in 2016.

————————

[1.] See http://www.theconstitutionproject.com/portfolio/one-person-one-vote/; “
An examination of the Supreme Court’s dilemmas and tensions as it stepped into the “political thicket” of voting and representational equality, establishing the practice of what has become a core American principle: “One person, one vote.” It has the echo of a core American belief. It rings with the same distinctively American clarion call for equality and individual empowerment that reaches back through the ages to the nation’s founding: “…of the people, by the people, for the people”, “All men are created equal” S But it wasn’t until 1963 that “One person, one vote” became a widely articulated core principle of the Constitution when it was first spoken by Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Supreme Court.”
[2.] “For example, Blacks constitute about 36 percent of the Mississippi electorate, the highest Black voter percentage in any state in the country. About 90 percent voted for Clinton. But whites are 64 percent of the state’s votes, and about 90 percent of those chose Trump. Trump therefore handily won 58 percent of the state’s total vote and all [100 percent] of its Electoral College votes. In 2016, as for decades, the Electoral College result was the same as if Blacks in all the southern states except Virginia and Maryland had not votes at all.” Bob Wing and Bill Fletcher Jr., “Rigged, The Electoral College,” Z Magazine, January 2017, p. 2.

Blog #93 – Election figures show Trump with only 27.2% of eligible voters: What Mandate?


Donald Trump aimed his New Year’s Eve tweet at “my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” Leaving aside the incredibly childish gloating over “his enemies,” from someone who occasionally talks about “bringing our nation together,” has Trump’s staff succeeded in keeping from him all knowledge of the actual vote counts in the 2016 election, in which his leading opponent, far from “losing badly” to him, in fact got 2,000,000 popular votes[1] more than he did?

Or has his staff not let him learn that, out of some 232,000,000 persons eligible to vote [2] in 2016, only 62,000,000 actually voted [3] for him, not only less than for Clinton , but also only 27.2% of those who were eligible [4]. 79% of those who were theoretically eligible to vote for him did not do so– less a glorious victory for Trump than a rejection of his candidacy by a large majority of Americans, a failure of the Trump campaign, hardly a victory.[5]

Or has his staff not let him learn that the roots of the compromise that resulted in Article Ii of the Constitution creating the Electoral College, was the founders’ distrust of grass-roots democracy and later white leaders concerned to hold down freed black voting impact, coupled with the gerrymandering of Republican-led legislatures o distort their states’ votes?[6] Or is Trump simply incapable of acknowledging facts that undermine his claims to have a broad popular mandate in this election?

The argument in defense of the Electoral College, now sometimes made, that it did not affect the outcome in the 2016 election, even though a national popular vote shows Hillary Clinton winning over Donald Trump now by over 2,000,000 votes; if the rules had been to have the popular vote determine the result Trump would have campaigned differently and won anyway. Indeed, Trump may have campaigned differently and gotten a different result; but so would Clinton. There is no reason to believe it would have made more of a difference in the number of voters voting for Trump than the in the number of those voting for Clinton.

Conclusion:

So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively.

[1]So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively. > “Trump’s Antii-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.
[2] The actual figure is “almost 3,000,000”: 65,844,954 – 62,979,879 =2,865,075
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
The actual figure is 231,556,622 (http://www.electproject.org/2016g).
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
[4](62,979,879 / 231,556,622) = 0.2719847891026844
[5] Why for whom they would have voted had they voted must necessarily remain speculation, logic suggests categories:
a. prevented from voting by deliberately restrictive provisions;
b. dissatisfied with all the alternatives , or
c. happy to let the then predicted if mistaken expectations of majorities for Hillary Clinton become effective without needing heir vote .
If a, they would hardly be likely to vote for the Republicans who by and large were behind the increasing voting restrictions ;
if b. believing their inaction would result in the victory of the predicted for Clinton, were satisfied with that second-best non-Trump result ; or
if c. supporting a Trump defeat, believed their votes not necessary to ensure that result.
In any of those cases, non-voting voters were logically more likely Trump critics than supporters
But ignore these speculations, the broad parameters of the argument that Trump has only minority support in the electorate, still stands.
[6] A good summary of the history is at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/stephen-henderson/2016/11/19/electoral-college-race-problem/94079504/. For a more extended discussion see: . Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.” P. 1155, 1156. Finkelman, Paul, “The Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College” (2002). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 23, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1447478. The author concludes: “Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago the United States rid itself of slavery. Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.”
[7] “Trump’s Anti-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.

Blog #92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%


Blog #92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%

Dealing with the implications of Donald Trump’s victory by pushing for reforms in the way presidents are elected may seem a very mild way to face what are certainly immediate as well as long-range problems ,. In fact, however, they are transformative demands, transformative in the sense that they both logically and politically to deeper but critically related problems, to the questioning they are related to the underlying issues of power and injustice that need to be faced. Yet they do lead straight to such further questions: does not the role of money in the electoral process need to be radically addressed, beyond the mechanics of the election process? And thus further the effects of the growing inequalities of wealth in our society? And an examination of what the results of the skewed election and Trump’s accession to power mean for democracy as a whole? Is not raising the question of a distorted electoral process an organizing issue when it is related to who benefits and who is excluded by the distortions?

For ultimately the distortions in the electoral process, and specifically the use of the Electoral College and the manner of its election to determine the outcome of the presidential election serves the 1%, not the 99% that Trump’s claims to be a populist often puts forward. Just how the electoral process is rigged in favor of the 1% is taken up in the succeeding blogs, but evidence for the rigging in favor of the existing power structure comes from two other sources: the historic origins of the Electoral College in a clear distrust of grass-roots democracy, and the policies of Trump, having used the rigging to be elected, then favoring the 1% in all his appointments and policy decisions.

The results are already very dramatically and symbolically apparent in the early conduct of Trump’s President-elect actions.

Symbolically, Trump is organizing his government, not out of public space available to him, but out  of the Trump Tower, a private 58-story luxury office/residential building on Fifth Avenue in New York City , with his name in giant letters on top of it, a dominant emblem of Lower Manhattan, a global business and financial center.. It will be retrofitted as a Presidential get-away, [1] at taxpayers’ expense, Government agencies will pay rent – to Trump — for space they need to occupy in the building. Condos, on higher floors below Trump’s own three story penthouse, go for up to $11,000,000.  Not an apt setting where ordinary people would feel they would be welcome to participate in the government, as parts of government “of the people.” Rather, homes and offices for the 1%.

But then Donald Trump is hardly himself one of the people. He prides himself on being a billionaire, is a large-scale real estate developer, had properties and investments globally, travels in is own jet, hires and fires people to serve him, some of whom he treats shabbily. He is certainly one of the 1%.

His policies, what we know of them, are largely skewed in favor of the rich: tax cuts for the rich,, insecurity and low wages for immigrants, relaxation of regulations protecting everybody’s environment, luxury resorts, casinos, branding of all sorts of luxury goods aimed at the largest ends of the  market. For the use and enjoyment of the 1%

With fully democratic elections, enabling a fully participatory popular democracy, we might be able to make America democratic again, to give it a government by the people, of the people , for the people,– and make Donald Trump’s government of the 1%, by the 1%, and for the 1% vanish from the earth.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/11/18/how-donald-trump-will-retrofit-midtown-manhattan-as-a-presidential-getaway/?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-b%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.180e8c019787

Blog # 83 – Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View.


Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View:[1]

The five points, in brief:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government

Because of the size and hostility of big business

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to “open.”

It should be respected both by government and business.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

Private in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual beneficiaries.

It should give way to the public   sector in housing policy.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like that between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roma circus,           or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic  change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The five points, in detail:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government[2]

Because of the size and hostility of big business

In the election campaign, there’s a fear of saying that on both sides. Even Sanders seems to accept the idea that government sold be as limited as possible, only where necessary to remedy failures of the private sector.

But the economy is by nature private, private is more efficient, private is the default way of providing goods and services, socially necessary good and services and luxury goods and services.

In the case of housing, private means the real estate industry, the complex  of land and building  ownership; public means public housing, which can include housing owned publicly by decentralized in management to its occupants.

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to open.

It should be respected both by government and by business.

Privacy is a requirement for human dignity and individual freedom: areas of life in which each individual may decide for him or herself what kind of life to lead, what kind of relationships to have, what kind of priorities to pursue.

In the case of housing, a person home, in that sense, is his or her castle, personal, inviolate, private in the sense that most people understand home ownership [3]. In multi-family housing, coops, etc., it means full resident participation and decision-making in building matters.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

“Private” in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual or  non-resident corporate beneficiaries.

In the case of housing, that means it should give way to the public sector in housing policy. If the goal of public policy in a democracy is the general welfare distributing essential goods and services should be on the basis of need, not on the basis of ability to pay.

There should be a right to housing, as a human right.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like one between a gladiator and a tiger in a circus, or between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roman circus, or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

In such a partnership, it is in the private interest to reduce the number and quality of any benefits to workers (to residents, in the case of housing) to the minimum, and increase the costs that government will pay to the maximum. The interest of government is to increase the benefits to the occupants to a reasonable maximum, and to do it by lowering the costs it must cover to provide profits to the private partner to the minimum.

It is a permanent conflict of interest between the partners, where most benefits to one is a cost to the other. (Pure efficiency savings are an exception but are rare; each side will be striving for efficiency in what it does regardless of partnership or not.)

Legally, in a partner, each partner is personally liable for all the debts of the partnership. Hardly the case with public-private “partnerships.” Public-private partnerships are functionally essentially a cowardly way of not raising taxes for a necessary and publicly desired approved purpose.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The housing system as a whole is today distributed on the basis of wealth, not of need, based on its exchange value as a commodity, not as a use value and necessity of life. It benefits the rich much more than the poor, the 1% more than the 99%.

It requires  radical change, including change in the capitalist system of which it is apart,  but only incremental change is politically possible today politically in New York City or on the necessary national level; the power of the real estate industry and the profitability of land speculation are too great. Incremental change needs to be pursued, perhaps best on a sectoral level.[4]

Brad Lander’s efforts on the City Council of New York may be close to the outer limits of what is politically feasible today. Such change should be part of a broader vision of what is fundamentally necessary desired.

If this leads to a pretty basic criticism of the capitalist   system under which we are working today, so be it. Listen to the pronouncement of one hardly vulnerable to being accused of being a socialist. Might it, or an equivalent statement of a general principle, serve as the preamble to any serous proposals even for modest reform?

“”the machinery of the current globalized economy [constitutes] …a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. [where] the limited interests of businesses [and] a questionable economic mindset [take precedence,] an instrumental logic that holds the maximization of profits as its only objective….the principle of the maximization of profits…. reflects a misunderstanding of the concept of the economy.” It results from a “global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effect on human dignity and the natural environment. [5]

—————————

 

[1] Expanded from and influenced by a panel discussion on “privatize!” atthe exhibit If You Can’t Afford to Live Here, Mo-o-ve!, in New York City on June  23, 2016.

[2] An expansion of this point will be found at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, Blog #84: Big Business Requires Big Government, Contra Republicans and..

[3] For a discussion of legal aspects, see Peter Marcuse, “Homeownership for Low Income Families,” Land Economics, May 1972.

[4] Blog #60, Towards a Housing Strategy for New York, at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, although from 2014, might also be of interest.

[5] Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis, May 24, 2015.

Blog#84: Big Business Requires Big Government, Contra Republicans and…


Blog #84 – Big Business Requires Big Government, Contra Republicans and…

In the current election debates a very unfortunate assumption has crept into many of the arguments, from those of Trump to those of the Republican party’s established conservatives, to the Hillary mainstream of the Democratic Party, and even sometimes into the Sanders campaign: the assumption that “big” government is bad, that the less government the better, that government itself, as such, is an interference in the naturally private economy. Raising taxes to provide what society needs is always per se a solution second best to having individuals or cooperative or new economy organizations provide what is wanted. Even the Sanders campaign, although spearheaded by a nominal socialist, has hardly challenged that view. One may actually better argue that raising taxes is itself desirable: it both strengthens the ability to pursue social priority is, as it progressively redistributes wealth and income.

Big business is linked to the necessity of big government in two ways. First, it requires government to function. One could not have a private business economy without courts, sheriffs, streets, currency, educational systems, common production standards, fire departments, etc., etc., etc. Second, to protect the common interests of the majority of the population in the general welfare, any control of the possibly injurious activities of big business requires an equally large and well organized government. So in both cases the bigger the activities of business the bigger must the activities of government be.

The private economy did not precede the existence of government; the two grew together.

It’s about time that the disparagement of “government” was confronted directly, and that the most desirable roles for government and private enterprise be openly discussed and their political implications made plain. Government can be seen simply as we doing together what cannot  be separately. It is not an option; it is a necessity. Big government has been made the villain of public policy, with legislative action its pitchfork whereas it is so large because the activities of private business seeking individual private gain are so formidable.

[Of course there can be bad as well as good government – see discussion at bottom; in what follows the reference is to good government. The point is that it is not the size of government that counts, but its quality. Nor is it  question of central  or decentralized government ; there are advantages to each, but those that object to “big government” object to local government regulation as much  as to central : to “invasive” local land use regulations as much as they do to central government open space conservation regulations. On the other hand, there is an inherent difference between private non-profit business and  profit-motivated businesses, not discussed here; the reference here is to the realm of private profit-motivated businesses. The unique role of non-profits and some forms of individual enterprise, taken up in detail in “new economy” debates,[1] deserves extensive discussion not possible here.]

Donald Trump makes his business expertise, not his governmental experience, his main theme. His claim to the presidency is based on his abilities as a businessman. His ability to negotiate to add billions to his private accounts is used as evidence that he can raise and spend publicly-directed money just as well. .But running a business is not at all the same as running a government. The purpose of government is to serve its citizens, to do collectively what they want to do but cannot do individually. The purpose of business, by contrast, is to make a profit for its owners. Irrespective of its social contribution. Success for   a business is making money for its owners. Success for a government is using its resources, the resources of its citizens and its land, for the common good, and to promote their private efforts to develop and grow in a fashion not interfering with the efforts of others to do the same.  Private business’s purpose is best achieved by using its resources for the limited enrich its private owners, in the process competing with others trying to do the same and reducing their contribution.

The motivations and purposes that drive business people thus are, and ought to be, almost the opposite of the motivations and purposes that drive, and ought to drive, government.

Examples:

Donald Trump’s activities : in business , if you’re unscrupulous , as Trump might often  seem to have been, you can save money by not paying those who do work for you , laying  off employees, defaulting on loans, going bankrupt and screwing creditors and investors, and at the same time  paying yourself handsome sums as salary  for your efforts.[2]  He can  start one venture after another, an airline, a university, producing steaks, building hotels, golf course abroad, and just walk away from them when his plans turned out to be hopelessly unrealistic, putting hundreds of people out of work without a howdy-to. That’s normal for business, but not what a public servant is supposed to do.

A casino’s owner will make money if the casino’s patrons lose money; government has an interest in protecting against unfair losses, making sure patrons are informed and risks are transparent. Casino owners object to government regulations; patrons benefit from it.

In urban development, and recently very visibly in housing  policy , the concept of public-private partnerships has been used to try to have the best of both worlds, the private and the public, the business and  the governmental . It is a false hope, if note a deliberate hoax. “public-private partnerships  are not  partnerships in the true sense of the word: they are not run by c0-eqals,  all partners do no share liability with all other partners nor allocate revenues by majority vote of the partners.

They are a partnership like one between a gladiator and a tiger in a circus, or between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roman circus, or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild. In such a partnership, it is in the private interest to reduce the costs of any benefits to occupants to the minimum, and increase the costs that government will pay to the maximum. The interest of government is to increase the benefits to the occupants to a reasonable maximum, and to do it by lowering the costs it must cover to provide profits to the private partner to the minimum. It is a permanent conflict of interest between the partners, where most benefits to one is a cost to the other. (Pure efficiency savings are an exception but are rare; each side will be striving for efficiency in what it does regardless of partnership or not.

Developers look for beautiful natural sites to build golf courses for the rich, the majority of citizens enjoy preserving open space and conserving natural resources for their common enjoyment.

A business providing health care privately seeks to maximize the net income from what it does; a patient needing care looks to government to help provide it as economically as possible, a private for-profit business’ goal is to provide a  good return to its owners.

Jobs are created by business– when it is profitable for it do so. But its workers are a burden for a business, not a benefit; the fewer they employ, the better for their employer, the less they are paid, the greater the profit to the owner. When Walmart raised its minimum pay for its workers to $8 to $9 an hour, its stock value fell $1.5 billion dollars.[3] Government has an interest in expanding the employment of workers and the quality and pay of jobs they have: . If providing housing for the rich is more profitable than providing it for the poor, workers’ happiness is among the purposes of government.

In housing production and management, business will give housing for the rich priority. If housing for the poor is in short supply and more needed than housing for the rich, government will give housing for the poor priority. Business will evict the poor from its housing if they cannot pay a profit-producing rent, without concern for where they will go; government’s interest is to prevent homelessness, with a special concern for those unable to afford private housing on the market. The market itself will determine the direction in which a business person will steer the energies and resources; social priority and social justice should determine government’s priorities.

Of course not all businessmen are heartless, and many may even recognize it is to their own benefit in the long run that citizens should be happy, and that government can help them to be so. It is not that all business is bad, or government is all good. On the contrary, in the capitalist system within which we live, prospering responsible business enterprises are essential to a thriving economy. But the tension between business and government is inescapable, and should be recognized. A government dominated by business interest and run for their benefit is no more desirable than a business system rejecting any action or regulation of government as unwanted and unnecessary.

Nor is all government good. Corruption is a real danger, and protecting and expanding democracy a constant struggle. But how well and how efficiently and how justly a government functions should be determined by the quality and, if you will, the morality of its leaders and the ability of its citizens to hold them to account. The role of money in the political process undermines good government, and the greater the ability of business interests to dictate what a government does the less will the government be able to work for the benefit of all its citizens.

Goals and motivations are inherently different between government and private business activities. For government there is always at least the expectation of social responsibility. For big business, it is rarely even a wan hope.

But there is no inherent difference in efficiency between private business and government. A recent story in the New York Times[4] is telling. [911 is the emergency services telephone number established by the federal government and operated as by local agencies throughout the United States]: .[5]

“WHEN YOU DIAL 9/11

AND WALL ST. ANSWERS

Squeezed for Profit to Private Equity,

Emergency Services Fail to Deliver.”

The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents a profound shift on Wall Street and Main street alike…private equity firms… have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to every American life.”

The story continues to describe the death of a woman because an ambulance arrived late after a 9/11 call because its crew had to be assembled to provide a response, a man whose house burned to the ground as he  waited after a 9/11 call for the privatized fire department, which billed him $15,000 anyway and then sued him when he did not pay.

If this  leads to a larger criticism of the capitalist system under which we are working today; listen to the pronouncement of one hardly vulnerable to being accused of being a socialist:

“…the machinery of the current globalized economy [constitutes] …a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. [where] the limited interests of businesses [and] a questionable economic mindset [take precedence,] an instrumental logic that holds the maximization of profits as its only objective…the principle of the maximization of profits…. reflects a misunderstanding of the concept of the economy.” It results from a “global system where priority tends to be  given  to speculation and the  pursuit of financial gain, which  fail to take the context into account, let alone the effect on human dignity and the natural environment. “[6]

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[1]  See Gar Alperovitz, “The New-Economy Movement,” The Nation, May 25, 2016.

[2]How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions.” www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/…/donald-trump-atlantic-city.html, The New York Times, June 11, 2016 –

[3] https://www.thestreet.com/story/13534777/1/target-reportedly-plans-to-raise-its-minimum-wage-to-10-an-hour-matching-walmart.html

[4] The New York Times is itself a big business.  It is an exception to the rule that big businesses are not concerned with social responsibility. A substantial range of activities privately conducted for profit are also subject to rules, as professions , and journalism has its own self-imposed Code of Ethics., not only reflecting the individual professionals personal standards but also lending its products a credibility essential to its business marketing results. June 26, p. 1. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/business/dealbook/when-you-dial-911-and-wall-street-answers.html?_r=0

[5] A convincing analysis can be found in Elliott Sclar, You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For: The Economics of Privatization (Cornell University Press, 2000}.

[6] Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis, May 24, 2015.