Friday, July 29, 2011

Is the "Debt Crisis" a "Crisis"?

Here is some data I put together based on the debt to GDP ratio for my Intro Sociology class, when I introduce the idea of "social panics" (the Salem Witch trials are a great example--we have a "panic" about every decade).

1) We look pretty much like all of the other OECD countries, whether you're talking about growth, or the debt to GDP ratio. Chart 1 is a plot of growth vs. debt/GDP of the OECD (high income, industrialized) countries. The red dot is the U.S.

2) We've been here before, in the 50s, and our economy was doing just fine. (Chart 2)

3) Has there been some radical change in how much we are paying in taxes? Yes--since WWII there has only been one brief period when our tax revenue was as low as what we are paying today relative to our GDP--by far. (Chart 3)

First Public Campaign Speech

I gave my first public speech today. I gave one to a small group of supporters last month, but this was a "street speech" at a protest of the proposed cuts to safety net programs, contrasted with the continued failure to address the fact that many large corporations are finding ways to pay no taxes ( Here is a copy of the speech:

While Congress has been debating budget policy, transnational corporations and plutocrats are winning. Conservatives assume that every person is a self-sufficient island, each of whom starts life on a level playing field with everybody else, therefore in the game of economics, everybody is entitled to keep all that they win. However, they forget that we are all born into differently endowed families, and our life chances are tied to those resources (or lack thereof). The vast majority of poor remain poor, and the rich get richer, while our rates of poverty and social inequality in the United States are greater than in any other industrialized country and reached crisis levels decades ago.

Conservatives assume that safety net programs increase poverty by incentivizing laziness and slow economic growth by draining resources from productive workers, thus taxes are better left in the hands of mega-businesses and the new U.S. aristocracy. However, most people want to work if jobs are available, but when full unemployment and underemployment is at least 17% in Indiana, and a 40-hr week at minimum wage provides poverty line wages ($15k), the assumption of viable work is faulty. The average rate of child poverty in the U.S is 21%, while the combined rate in the rest of the industrialized world is 10%. Cutting safety net programs only creates impoverished families, while those countries that invest in social goods (healthcare, education, jobs retraining, family assistance), tend to rank highest in health, democracy, and economic growth.

Finally, conservatives assume that taxing the wealthy punishes success, which sounds plausible, given that the top 50% of earners pay 93% of U.S. income tax. However, those same earners monopolize 90% of income, while the bottom 40% of families in the United States have an average net wealth of $0. Further, real income for the bottom 60% of workers has stagnated since Nixon, while the income of the top 5% has doubled. Thirty years of the neoliberal experiment has not produced a stronger society. Rather, it has eviscerated the social contract on which our country’s vision was founded. The larger question is whether it reasonable continue supporting a system where half of our citizens have insecure food and housing, while transnational corporations outsource our jobs, disregard the safety and welfare of their employees, and have widely publicized records evading all taxes?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Debt Ceiling Shenanigans

As with most of the rest of the country, I've been enthralled with the soap opera drama of Congress: will they or won't they? As the August 2nd deadline grew closer and no plan seemed to appear, I grew more skeptical that they would reach a compromise. I even spent 2 days collecting and analyzing demographic data about the current House of Representatives, especially Tea Party endorsed representatives, who have been holding up the process.

Then tonight I realized that the Democrats only need 25 Republicans to vote for the debt ceiling increase. Normally they would need 218 votes, but with vacancies and illness, they need either 216 or 217. One of those ill is a Democrat, so they have 192, which means that if they all support raising the debt ceiling, then there only has to be a few Republicans who prefer not to cause a collapse in our global economic trust when the first of our bills start to go unpaid. None of the tax reform/spending cuts/hula hooping even needs to get attached, and the congress will again have wasted months creating fun political theater for the voters back home and 24-hr news corporations.

The cynical may argue that those Republicans will face losing their seats during the next election, since the Tea Party has promised to run challengers to any defectors. However, as a sociologist who has studied social movements for years, whenever there is a movement there is a counter-movement. This is especially the case when the first movement is loud and threatening. Take the Tea Party--it is a counter-movement to Obama's success. The Tea Party has brought the country to what is perceived by most to be the brink of economic catastrophe, piled on top of the mess perceived to have been left by Bush, not to mention the fact that this class of freshman TPers was elected in year when only 1/3 of us bothered to show up at the polls. Which means this: Tea Party challengers will pose no danger to Republicans who vote for the debt ceiling to be raised. Moreover, the challenge for the Tea Party is to not get booed off every stage in the next election. All they have done is handed Democrats control of the House in the next election, and assured Obama that he can take it easy next year (provided of course that unemployment doesn't spike next October). At this point it doesn't matter which side is ideologically right or wrong, since public perception has consolidated to the belief that the Tea Party is the source of this logjam, and when it comes to politics, perception is all that matters to agitated voters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Officially a Candidate

A trip to the city-county building today confirmed that I'm officially a candidate with 183 signatures. All of the legwork with hot, sweaty days knocking on doors paid off. Not only meeting people and hearing their concerns and thoughts, but with a candidacy confirmation.

The next step, the campaign, sounds equally as challenging, since none of this is remotely familiar, despite having read numerous books and studies about social movements and political sociology.

Since it is feeling more real, I checked out a book from the public library, "Mayor of Castro Street," by Randy Shilts. He tells the story of Harvey Milk, who won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. I thought the biography would give me insight not only into city politics, but being an out, gay city politician.

I soon hope to arrange a meeting with my two competitors to get a sense of what the next 4 months has in store, and ideally, arrange a public debate between us, so the public can get a sense of who we are, what we think is important, and how we might differ in our approaches to city politics.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Still Pending--No Word Yet

It's been a week since my frantic last-minute signature-gathering effort and I'm still in "pending" status. I called today to see if there was an update and there is none. The voter registration office has some internally conflicting information, and the person who actually makes the decision to certify me is out of the office until next week. They have me on record for more than my required signatures, but the process hasn't been made official for some reason, and the office can't tell me why. I also was told that any of the people I registered to vote, who also signed my petition, cannot be added to the valid petition signatures if their voter registration was not verified prior to the certification deadline.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Frantic Canvass

Several days after what I assumed was my final canvass, I called to confirm that I had plenty of signatures. The previous week I was confirmed at 148, so over the weekend I went out by myself in a neighborhood adjacent to mine, and collected almost 30, and was expecting around 15 from a woman who had volunteered to canvass in Broad Ripple. Combined, even if the city continued to kick out signatures at a rate of 40%, that would still put me over my minimum signatures. Signatures had to be turned in at 12:00PM on Thursday, so when I called at 10AM, I was told I still only had 148, and 20 of those were still "pending" (voters I registered, whose identities still needed confirmed)!!! The first few workers I talked to did not have a record of the 30 I turned in on Monday, nor the other volunteer, whom I had been unable to reach for over a week. I was advised to run out and get as many signatures I could in the hour that remained and get them in the office by the deadline. I was able to get 4.

Fortunately, the other signature sheets were found, and by 1PM I was told I was over my minimum signatures, as long as the voter registration "pendings" were confirmed. I won't know for certain if I'm officially on the ballot for perhaps 2 weeks, when I'll received a letter telling me that I had the minimum signatures to be certified as a candidate.

Now I have to find a "committee" and a "treasurer." I put these positions in quotes, since I have no idea what they are or where I might begin to find them. All these forms and deadlines... I have never been good at administrative tedium, being far better at research and analysis. For example, I recently completed an economy simulator for my students, that incorporates OECD data for the last 20 years, comparing government policy (taxes, spending, etc) on various outcome measures, like health, violence, and economic growth.
Economic Policy Simulator