Category Archives: Joe Firestone

Are We An Oligarchy Yet?

By Joe Firestone

Matt Stoller believes that the recent pre-publication release of a study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page doesn’t support the idea that the United States is an oligarchy yet. He says:

A lot of people are misreading this Princeton study on the political influence of the wealthy and business groups versus ordinary citizens. The study does not say that the US is an oligarchy, wherein the wealthy control politics with an iron fist. If it were, then things like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, veterans programs, housing finance programs, etc wouldn’t exist.

What the study actually says is that American voters are disorganized and their individualized preferences don’t matter unless voters group themselves into mass membership organizations. Then, if people belong to mass membership organizations, their preferences do matter, but less so than business groups and the wealthy.

Well, it’s true that Gilens and Page never say that United States is an oligarchy, and perhaps it’s also true that they don’t believe it. But they do say this:

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Did Canada’s Middle Class Just Get More Affluent Than the US’s, or Did that Happen Long Ago?

The New York Times and Dave Leonhardt’s Upshot section made a big splash a few days ago by reporting on a study showing that the Canadian middle class had caught the US middle class in median income and likely surpassed it since. The study is based on an effort to measure median income per capita after taxes, and its results are presented as something truly significant.

However, I think the study is biased in that in median income per capita after taxes, it selected the wrong measure. What is needed is a measure of income or affluence that takes account of the value of cross-national variations in Government benefits delivered to the middle classes. Since the United States has lower taxes than most comparable nations, but delivers much less in safety net and entitlement benefits, it’s pretty clear that the measure used in the study reported on by The Times overestimates the real median income of the US middle class in comparison with the middle classes of other comparable nations and provides a misleading impression of the relative affluence of the American middle class.

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Peterson/CBO Beat for Austerity Goes On!

By Joe Firestone

Recently, I’ve been writing about oligarchs advocating for entitlement cuts and austerity. I’ve discussed attacks on entitlement benefits for the elderly from Abby Huntsman (of MSNBC’s The Cycle) and Catherine Rampell (a Washington Post columnist), both the children of well-off individuals. These posts have come in the context of the English language release of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and the more recent pre-publication release of a study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page using quantitative methods and empirical data to explore the question of whether the US is an oligarchy or a majoritarian democracy. They conclude:

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More Misdirection from Rampell in the Service of Generational War

By Joe Firestone

In my last post, I took issue with a recent column by Catherine Rampell, who tries to make the case that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them. Rampell relies on an Urban Institute study to make her case. Since that post, she’s offered another that replies to some of the questions raised by commenters on her earlier effort. I’ll reply to that new post shortly, but first I want to present key points emerging from my analysis of Federal monetary operations in my reply to her earlier post. See that post for the full argument.

First, once Congress mandates spending, there is no way that the Treasury can be forced into insolvency or an inability to pay its obligations as long as it is willing to make use of all the ways it can cause the Fed to create reserve credits in Treasury spending accounts which can then be used for its reserve keystroking into private sector account activities that today represent most of the reality of Federal spending.

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Misdirection: Rampell Views Entitlements Through the Generational War Lens

Some of the favored children of the economic elite who have a public presence, work hard in their writing and speaking to divert attention from inequality and oligarchy issues by raising the issue of competition between seniors and millennials for “scarce” Federal funds. That’s understandable. If millennials develop full consciousness of who, exactly, has been flushing their prospects for a decent life down the toilet, their anger and activism might bring down the system of wealth and economic and social privilege that benefits both their families and the favored themselves in the new America of oligarchy and plutocracy.

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Is the MSM Blackout on Inequality, Plutocracy, and Oligarchy Ending?

By Joe Firestone

All of a sudden MSNBC cable commentators are talking about plutocracy and oligarchy. Surprisingly, the first occurrence of this I’m aware of was Chuck Todd, reacting on his Daily Rundown show to the spectacle of Republican candidates traveling to Vegas to seek funding from Sheldon Adelson and his group of hugely wealthy Jewish Republican donors. Todd began to explore the implications of that event. He seemed exercised, and more than the slightest bit upset, about its meaning for Democracy and used the words plutocracy and oligarchy. Andrea Mitchell also discussed it later and she, too, registered apparent dismay, while using the “p” and “o” words.

Chris Hayes has been on leave during this period, so we haven’t heard from him about this. But Chris Matthews, the “oh so very slightly left-of-center insider” has been making very unfriendly noises about Adelson, the Kochs, and the Supremes, culminating today (April 3rd) with nasty references to plutocrats, oligarchs, and candidates, kissing oligarchs somewhere or other, on both his program and Al Sharpton’s.

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The Village Still Ignores the Most Important Point

By Joe Firestone

In recent posts I reviewed two commentaries by Abby Huntsman on Social Security and other entitlements, also noting points made in other critiques of her narratives. Abby’s commentaries are here, and here, and my critiques are here and here. The most important point I emphasized in my two rebuttals is that there are no fiscal solvency or sustainability issues related to Social Security, or other parts of the safety net, but that the issues involve only the willingness of Congress to appropriate entitlement spending, and either the removal of current constraints on Treasury to spend appropriations such as the debt limit, or the willingness of the Executive Branch to use its current legislative authority either to a) generate sufficient seigniorage from platinum coins to spend such appropriations; or b) use a type of debt instrument, such as consols, which aren’t counted toward the debt limit.

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When You Really Look, Financial Quicksand Turns Into Oligarchical BS

By Joe Firestone

Abby Huntsman’s first rant about entitlements soliciting generational warfare got a lot of pushback from defenders. I reviewed the main points made in defense of entitlements, and then added “the most important point of all” as well. Abby made a second try, however, this time singling out Michael Hiltzik’s reply to her to respond to and adding a few more points, while withdrawing a bit from her claim that life expectancy has changed very much for seniors since the New Deal period. Hiltzik took issue with that one too. Let’s review Huntsman’s reply to Hiltzik by analyzing the MSNBC transcript of her second rant against entitlements.

Abby Huntsman:

. . . the need for entitlement reform. there was a firestorm of reaction. an article in the ” l.a. times” went as far as to say i want to lead my generation into poverty. come on, man. this isn’t about me. it’s about the major problem.

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Envy or Honest Outrage?

By Joe Firestone

(Updated)

Catherine Rampell offered a theory the other day, in a piece entitled: “Income inequality isn’t about the rich — it’s about the rest of us.” She says:

People don’t hate you because you’re beautiful. People hate you because they are getting uglier. . . .

And then later, she says:

Yes, anti-inequality rhetoric has grown in recent years. But it’s not the growing wealth of the wealthy that Americans are angry about, at least not in isolation. It’s the growing wealth of the wealthy set against the stagnation or deterioration of living standards for everyone else. Polls show that Americans pretty much always want income to be distributed more equitably than it currently is, but they’re more willing to tolerate inequality if they are still plugging ahead. That is, they care less about Lloyd Blankfein’s gigantic bonus if they got even a tiny raise this year.

She proceeds to review polling data to show that this is so, and then advises the 0.1% that if they want to be left alone then “they should probably support policies that “promote the upward mobility of other Americans. . . “ such as Pell Grants, higher minimum wages, and early chidhood education.

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The Most Important Point of All Was Ignored

By Joe Firestone

MSNBC’s right wing representative on The Cycle, Abby Huntsman, got a lot of pushback from Social Security defenders after her rant last week. They made points similar to the following in countering Huntsman:

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