The Best of Both Possible Worlds

I have always referred to myself as a pragmatic progressive. Progressive because of the policy goals and political ends I think best pursuing, pragmatic because I’m not super particular on how we get there, as long as we do. I often find ideologies interesting, but ultimately I think they do more harm than good, because they circumscribe what is thinkable. Also, they often work best on paper, and while theoretical space is a useful tool for playing and working with ideas, the lived world of actuality is almost always too complex for ideology to usefully encompass.

At the end of the day, though, I’m much more interested in (and motivated by) ideals than ideology. And I’m much more inclined to use them to pick ends than means, though they do very much play a role in both.

So, what ideals drive me, politically speaking? What political ends do I seek?

It’s pretty simple, really. I want everyone – by which I mean literally all humans – to have all the tools, education, and material support they need to prosper and thrive, individually and collectively; the opportunity to do meaningful work (whatever that means to them); and the material, cultural, social, and spiritual means to pursue and find happiness, again both individually and collectively.

Pragmatically, it seems to me the best way to get there is a combination of two systems of societal material allocation that often seem at odds: socialism and capitalism.

Both have virtues and shortcomings. Continue reading “The Best of Both Possible Worlds”

A Preliminary Case for a Universal Basic Income

From comments I made on someone’s facebook thread (lightly edited for clarity):
 
It’s a legit question how to pay for a UBI. Now, I’m no economist, but I do have some notions. First is, yes, upping the rates on the highest tax brackets. You know, like we did during the golden age from the ’40s til the ’70s. Not only does it raise revenue from top earners, it disincentivizes taking earnings that high, because why do it if the government’s just going to take most of it? So the incentive is to reinvest that money in the company that earns it, by building and buying stuff, and to pay employees more. Which pushes money down the socioeconomic chain to people who will spend it on goods and services rather than betting/investing in derivatives markets, which is where way too much money is these days. The multiplier effect suggests that money pushed down into circulation creates more value/money than money put into derivative investments, which increases GDP and, as a result, the tax base.
 
There is also the question of what the alternative to UBI is. Sure, you can say the answer is to keep doing what we’re doing. But technology has put us in a position where that’s not going to work anymore. We don’t need so many factory workers, because robots can do the job more efficiently, just like we don’t need so many grocery checkers, because self-check machines do the job more efficiently. The old way of doing things is undergoing a sea change, which we can fight, or adapt to. Put briefly, there won’t be enough jobs in the traditional sense for everyone who wants one. Now, this can mean good things. For instance, an explosion of new IP, since artists and creatives of all kinds will be freed to pursue their work without worrying about keeping a roof over their heads. But also a revolution in entrepreneurial undertakings. Right now, to start a business you need to have enough of a cushion/nest egg to pay your bills til the business gets off the ground and starts earning enough to sustain you. With UBI, more people are freed up to take more chances entrepreneurially, which means tapping the potential of the American people more deeply than ever before. I personally happen to believe in the American people a great deal, so I see this as a good thing.
 
There are also the long-term benefits to consider. Study after study shows that lifetime achievement and contentment are higher in people who grow up in economically stable/prosperous households. They commit less crime, are healthier and happier, and are, as a rule, more productive.

Continue reading “A Preliminary Case for a Universal Basic Income”

Why I’m Giving Up Outrage

Did you hear what Trump did today? Did you hear what he said? Can you believe it?!?

So begins, middles, and ends every day these days. And if it’s not Cadet Bone Spurs himself, it’s some other mouth-breathing movement conservative saying that God’s a white supremacist or that women’s bodies have a way of shutting down conception in cases of ‘legitimate rape’ or that liberals want MS-13 to cross the border in force so they can overrun every two-bit empty-Main Street town in the heartland that just hasn’t been the same since the plant/mine/factory shut down and moved operations to somewhere the labor laws aren’t so job-killing as they are in ‘Merica.

It’s exhausting.

Worse, I’m more and more convinced that it is, if not pointless, then at least counterproductive. Let me explain.

We’ll start with the ‘rage’ part. After all, you can’t spell ‘outrage’ without ‘rage.’ And while outrage is a righteous anger, it is still anger. And anger is, well, problematic. It makes things black and white, crystal clear in the moment. But the thing is, when you’re angry, you don’t think clearly. You don’t think long-term, you don’t make smart decisions. Anger hijacks your higher brain functions and focuses them on itself, on the thing that’s making you angry. It fills your brain, crowds out other factors and considerations. It makes you do and say foolish things, things you will regret once you’ve cooled down. And while there’s a kind of power in anger, it’s a wholly destructive power. It wants to lash out, hit back. It mistakes vengeance for justice. I’m not saying it’s never useful or justified. Sometimes it’s both of those things. But rage and anger almost never get past the tactical to the strategic. They are essentially reactive instead of proactive.

Which segueways nicely to my second point. Continue reading “Why I’m Giving Up Outrage”

Hillary, Bernie, and Me

I was a strong and early supporter of Bernie Sanders, especially the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign: the guy who took the high road, who spoke truth to power, who organized at the grassroots and refused to engage in negative campaigning. The guy who said on her worst day Hillary Clinton would be a better President than any of the Republicans.
But I have a confession to make: I never thought he’d win.
It wasn’t lack of faith in the message or devotion to the agenda he espoused. That faith and devotion is what drove my support. To me Bernie Sanders was only a vehicle for getting the word out and starting to organize. It was clear the man himself was an imperfect vessel (he is, after all, a career politician). It was also based on a cold, hard political calculation. Remember the incident in Seattle about a year ago, when two #blacklivesmatter activists stormed a stage he was set to speak on? The way Bernie and, more importantly, his most ardent supporters handled that told me all I needed to know. However you stand on the incident, nobody gets the Democratic nomination without support from African-Americans. And while Bernie has done a great job of mobilizing younger African-Americans, they were outnumbered by their elders, who were less willing to take a chance.
Still, I advocated, and donated, and when the time came I caucused. All along I tried my best to keep to the high road the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign laid out.
Sadly, my candidate chose not to. Somewhere along the way, some subtle threshold got crossed. It was about Bernie now. Bernie the man, the visionary, the leader of a revolution, though what the revolution meant or would look like was never made clear. He started throwing punches, insisted he was going to win despite the fact that the path to victory only got narrower and less likely with every primary and caucus, even the ones that he won.

Continue reading “Hillary, Bernie, and Me”

About This Whole Hillary/Bernie Thing

So, let’s get started by placing your humble correspondent in context. I am a supporter of Bernie Sanders. I give him money every month, and when Washington State holds its Democratic caucuses in a week or so, I’ll be there, standing with other Sanders supporters. I think his run for the Democratic nomination is one of the most important political developments of my lifetime. His overarching theme of wresting the apparati of state and nation back from the oligarch class and putting it to work for the common good makes my heart soar. His indictment of the warping effects of money in politics is trenchant and is clearly resonating in the hearts and minds of millions of citizens. He’s given a voice to ideas and positions I think many of us despaired would ever be so clearly articulated on the national stage, and his grassroots organizing campaign has upended the conventional wisdom about running for office without the assistance of either SuperPAC money or mainstream media coverage.

And, frankly, he’s losing.

It’s not over yet. It is at least theoretically possible for him to overcome the odds win a majority of pledged delegates (superdelegates would, I think, fall in line at that point, as they did in 2008, when President Obama overtook Hillary Clinton). But it’s really, really unlikely. By the accounts I trust, he’d need to win something like 60-40 in every one of the remaining contests to make up his current deficit and come to the convention in Philadelphia with a winning majority.

I hope he does. But I don’t expect he will. The odds are overwhelmingly against it.

That said, I don’t think he will —  or should — drop out of the race. For one thing, the message he articulates deserves as wide a hearing as can be accomplished, and the longer he stays in the race, the better he’ll be able to do that. The more attention he can bring to the fundamental causes of wealth and income inequality, the more acceptable talking about it becomes in the national discourse. Which means maybe finally we’ll be able to do something about it. And the more he talks about what Democratic Socialism actually means, and the policy choices that fall within its penumbra, the more the national discourse will be empowered and/or forced to give them a fair hearing.

Every vote Bernie gets and has gotten only makes that case stronger. And the grassroots organization he’s built can accomplish a great deal going forward, whether or not he gets the nomination or is elected to the Presidency.

But the odds are that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. Not only that, and despite the gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair that is my facebook feed these days, the odds are that she will be our next President.

And I’m okay with that. Continue reading “About This Whole Hillary/Bernie Thing”