Monthly Archives: April 2013

Interesting info from Pew

I have arranged to receive weekly reports from the Pew Research Center on reports they have generated. They are an excellent place to get information on social and political trends. Pew is non partisan; it’s just the facts.
The latest had two interesting notes:

During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data. These wide variances were driven by the fact that the stock and bond market rallied during the 2009 to 2011 period while the housing market remained flat. Affluent households typically have their assets concentrated in stocks and other financial holdings, while less affluent households typically have their wealth more heavily concentrated in the value of their home.


The key Senate vote that halted gun control legislation last week is drawing a mixed reaction from the American public: 47% express negative feelings about the vote while 39% have a positive reaction to the Senate’s rejection of gun control legislation that included background checks on gun purchases. Overall, 15% say they are angry this legislation was voted down and 32% say they are disappointed. On the other side, 20% say are very happy the legislation was blocked, while 19% say they are relieved.

That’s the last post for a while. I’m off tomorrow to get my left knee replaced. Looking forward to a new experience.

Quote for the day: I have long been of the opinion that if work were such a splendid thing the rich would have kept more of it for themselves. – Bruce Grocott

William Pfaff on half-baked theories

Another column from my favorite commentator. He looks at the fiasco of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, that predicted disaster if the national debt exceeded 90% of GDP, and became the rallying cry of conservative economists intent on imitating Herbert Hoover. Since then it has been discredited but he notes how much suffering it caused. Then he goes on to consider the impact of other half-baked theories in the past.

Not like the rest of us

I’m indebted to Jared Bernstein’s excellent blog today for calling attention to a pilot study of the way the thinking of the wealthy (top one per cent) differs from that of the general public. It was written by two professors at Northwestern (Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright) and one at Vanderbilt (Larry M. Bartels). The entire paper can be found here.

I think it contains important information for understanding politics in the US today. The paper is 17 pages long, plus footnotes, so a briefer version can be gotten from Bernstein’s blog. Here is the abstract of the paper:

It is important to know what wealthy Americans seek from politics and how (if at all) their policy preferences differ from those of other citizens. There can be little doubt that the wealthy exert more political influence than the less affluent do. If they tend to get their way in some areas of public policy, and if they have policy preferences that differ significantly from those of most Americans, the results could be troubling for democratic policy making. Recent evidence indicates that “affluent” Americans in the top fifth of the income distribution are socially more liberal but economically more conservative than others. But until now there has been little systematic evidence about the truly wealthy, such as the top 1 percent.We report the results of a pilot study of the political views and activities of the top 1 percent or so of US wealth-holders. We find that they are extremely active politically and that they are much more conservative than the American public as a whole with respect to important policies concerning taxation, economic regulation, and especially social welfare programs. Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealth-holders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct from those of the general public. We suggest that these distinctive policy preferences may help account for why certain public policies in the United States appear to deviate from what the majority of US citizens wants the government to do. If this is so,it raises serious issues for democratic theory.

Popular voting for the presidency

If the presidential election were based on the national popular vote rather than on the vote in the electoral college it would ensure that each person’s vote counts no matter where he/she lives. And that would prevent aspirants for office from ignoring all except a few battleground states.

The National Popular Vote bill, when passed by a state, would require its electors to cast their vote to the winner of the national popular vote. The bill would only take effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes — that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). The bill would thus guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide without requiring every state to enact it.

The bill has been enacted by 9 states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to activate it, including Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, California, and Hawaii. For more information click here.

Quote of the day: Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again. – Franklin P. Jones

At last

It’s been almost six months since Sandy but at last our garage is whole again. Three Amish carpenters assembled it from pre-fab parts in about 17 working hours. I can recommend Stoltzfus Structures of Atglen, PA.


More on inequality

Yet another blog today, the result of rising early to meet my garage.

The NY Times reported that one hedge fund manager last year took home $2.2 billion, while another, whose fund is under government investigation and has not done very well, got more than one billion. Then, while browsing old New Yorkers dropped off by a friend, I saw an article Nichlas Lemann had written a year ago. A good review of books written about inequality, it led him to wonder why the extraordinary inequality that has developed over the last three or four decades has not resulted in a significant political movement.

Things haven’t changed a lot since then as evidenced by the fact that the Republicans still feel quite comfortable defending their stand against raising taxes on the rich while Democrats feel triumphant in raising the top marginal tax rate from 35% to 39.6%. The Republicans often claim that taxing the rich is not an effective way to raise revenues but I suspect that’s because they can’t believe it would be possible to go back to a 70% top tax rate. I like high marginal rates because they would discourage the kind of self serving greed that characterizes most upper management these days.

Why should we raise more money that way? Not to give to the poor but instead to give to the nation as a whole. By that I mean expenditures on infrastructure in the large sense. For example, just as we fund public libraries, we should be heavily subsidizing public transportation and other similar measures that accomplish important public objectives while being especially helpful to the poor and middle class.

Quote of the day: Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first. – Peter Ustinov

A fascinating book

I just finished reading my book club’s latest selection, The Oath by Jeffrey Toobin. The book is a record of the Supreme Court in the Obama years, from the fumbled Oath of Office at Obama’s inauguration to Roberts surprising action in preserving the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. This guy can write. (He is the New Yorker writer who also wrote The Nine, a more general, prize winning book about the Supreme Court.)

There’s no doubt Toobin is a liberal but his book is even handed as it explores the events of the period, the background leading to these years and the personalities of the justices. He concludes that the Democrats, including Obama, are relatively passive about the court, only seeking to preserve the findings of the earlier liberal era. On the other hand he finds that the conservatives under Roberts are aggressively activist and are intent on turning back as much as possible the actions of the past.

There is a fascinating discussion of the legal techniques used by justices to accomplish their ends. And my own conclusion, based on this book and others I have read about the history of the court, is that all justices, liberal and conservative alike, manage to find ways to rationalize the results that their political inclinations dictate. The only difference is between liberals and conservatives in this regard is who their inclinations tend to benefit.

The Amish are here

An Amish crew of carpenters arrived at 7 am today to begin building a new two car garage. It will replace one destroyed by a neighbor’s tree during Sandy. Mostly prefab panels and trusses so they expect to finish tomorrow. The crew of four all look approximately 16 years old. Hope they know what they’re doing.