What’s There to be Bitter about?

Some pictures are worth a thousand words. And some words paint an astounding picture. Consider the following article from today’s New York Times:

Despite Tough Times, Ultrarich Keep Spending

Who said anything about a recession? Sometime between the government bailout of Bear Stearns and the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that America lost 80,000 jobs in March, Lee Tachman spent roughly $50,000 last month on a four-day jaunt to Miami for himself and three close friends.

The trip was an exercise in luxuriant male bonding. Mr. Tachman, who is 38, and his friends got around by private jet, helicopter, Hummer limousine, Ferraris and Lamborghinis; stayed in V.I.P. rooms at Casa Casuarina, [full text]

Now contrast the above with a slightly different story from last week’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

Working poor struggle to get by

Twenty-five dollars. That’s all Sandra Walerski can spend in the Claymont Save-a-Lot today for a week’s worth of groceries.

Walerski, 47, who lives in Trainer, Delaware County, travels over the Pennsylvania line to shop in tax-free Delaware – part of a mighty fight to keep her family of six afloat as the hard-time economy grows wide and deep.

Food and gas prices soar while the dollar weakens and employers shed jobs. People like Walerski are among the worst casualties – a rising number of working poor in the region, generally defined as families with one or more workers making no more than twice the poverty level.

Being working poor is like living in another America, a lesser country where you go to a job, pay bills – do everything right – and still teeter perilously close to the edge.

“Working poor is what I am,” says Walerski, who possesses a broad, smiling face and a fighter’s demeanor. “There are lots of us, and we look like everyone else.

Some weeks, Walerski spends as much as $45. But overall, her precious dollars seem to buy less while her four kids are eating more.

Her carpenter husband works diligently to pay the mortgage on the family’s cramped house, down the street from a refinery. But there isn’t enough.

Meanwhile, a growing tumor in Walerski’s brain, as yet unbiopsied, prevents her from being employed. She used to put in 50 hours a week, juggling a day-care job with telephone-survey work. She prays that the cancer that resulted in surgery to remove her breasts does not return. [full text]

Get the picture?

12 thoughts on “What’s There to be Bitter about?

  1. If those ultra-rich would spend just a fraction of their wealth to help the poor and middle-class instead of selfishly splurging on themselves, it would be a much better world.

  2. Yeah, I know. If only the rich family on whose summer house my boss’s crew has been working for almost two years would find some way to give its money to the dozens of working-class folks who’ve been employed on the project… I’ll tell ya: splurging! They’ve been so lavish that they’ve had to hire carpenters, electricians, masons, plumbers, roofers, drywallers, painters, security system technicians, audio/video installers, glass installers, cabinet makers, custom window makers, pool installers, sauna installers, gas & oil technicians, tilers, welders, sheet metal fabricators, excavators, form builders, and concrete pourers. And that doesn’t even include the architects, engineers, landscapers, contractors, construction material suppliers, waste disposal professionals, porta-john suppliers, and professional cleaners!

    If only we could come up with a way to encourage them to write checks to working-class people…

  3. Justin, it’s called sharing productivity gains.

    Between 1947 and 1974, productivity increased about 100%. Middle-class wages increased about 100%. Everyone enjoyed a rising standard of living, meaning everyone could afford consistently more of both the necessities and benefits of life.

    In contrast, since the switch to supply-side economic theory (GHWB’s “Voodoo Economics), productivity has increased about another 100% in the last 30 years.

    But, unlike the period before, between 1980 and the present, middle-class wages have gone up about 25%.

    That means a stagnating standard of living. Oh, sure, DVD players cost $50. But costs of health insurance and cost of college have far outstripped inflation, housing costs 60% more in real terms, employee pensions are a quaint memory of a simpler time, and both parents now have to work longer hours to maintain a middle-class standard of living.

    Question: What happened to the other 75%?

    Answer: it has been retained by the managerial class. CEO salaries, in contrast to middle-class salaries, have gone up several times.

    IOW, they have appropriated the increased productivity and NOT invested it in job-creating enterprises.

    So, actually, Justin is right: they do need to write out checks to the middle class. By investing in productive endeavors that create jobs. That’s supposed to be their end of the bargain, but they’ve totally defaulted on their end. Sounds like breach of contract, punishable by tax increases.

    PS: Next time you’re here, Justin, check out the thread with the Oswald Krell letter. It completely shoots down your piece in the Projo last Saturday.

  4. the odds are that the $50 DVD player was made in China and sold to you by a Hell-Mart employee making minimum wage and no benefits.
    and Justin, how many of your crew are dealing with the insecurity of no, or inadequate, health insurance? if your boss does cover that, does he or she find financial disincentives and rising costs working against doing the right thing? taking some money off the top to build some basic protections for workers would free up many people to start small businesses without putting themselves and their families at undue risk. that would be free enterprise vs monopoly capitalism.

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  6. I heard a very informative piece on NPR this morning. Although I don’t recall the guest’s name (it’s not up on the website yet), his whole point was that in the last 20 years, America has made a major shift in its economic focus, from manufacturing and production of goods to becoming the world’s financier and making money from moving money around.

    This has held down middle class incomes, as klaus rightly points out, and allowed a class of super-rich to emerge. More importantly, though, it has hurt America’s economic security by expanding our dependence on imports and placing so much of our domestic debt in the hands of foreign governments (China being a major example).

    Now, this is rather a “meta” perspective, but it fits with Sen. Obama’s prescient comments about how “bitter” people have become. I also think the real story of what he said that day — which was not covered anywhere near as much — was how young black men have become so bitter that they take to drug-dealing and murder. Huffington Post has this story:

    Put simply, America needs to re-tune its economic engine and return to good jobs and decent wages that offer real opportunity for people to move up on the economic ladder. Up until 30 years ago, it was manufacturing in big industrial plants. We haven’t found a suitable replacement yet — the condo boom of the 80’s and the tech bubble of the late 90’s weren’t it. And, clearly, the credit bubble of the last 6 years hasn’t been it, either. About the only bastion of middle class income and benefits is public employment — and it’s under relentless attack by “starve the government” Republicans.

    The kind of change that’s needed can only happen from the top. Here’s hoping our next President and Congress can do something to chip away at the horrible policies of the last two decades. There’s a reason they called it “trickle down” — it’s because the people at the bottom get only a trickle.

  7. Oh: And regarding Krell’s letter, it completely misses my piece; it shoots down nothing. (Short explanation in the comments to Kiersten’s post.)

  8. Justin, if you have to ask where I get my numbers, it confirms my suspicions that you really have no business talking about economics. You can’t have a clue about the status quo.

    I get them from the Wall St Journal, BusinessWeek, the NY Times, the Census Bureau, the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), economics blogs….

    The numbers I cite are EVERYWHERE! (Yes, that was a shout). Everywhere, that is, except the ProJo. Which, due to their right-wing bias, somehow manages to overlook the real state of the economy, and what’s been happening in this country for the past 30 years.

    And all the numbers tell the same, sad story: the rich get richer–wildly, enormously richer–and the rest of us get a few crumbs. And that’s the WSJ’s story.

    Once, just once, dispute some facts. The problem is, you can’t, because they all tell the story of how badly the middle class has been deliberately shafted by 30 years of Republican economic policies.

    During the recession of 2001-03, the median wage fell. It has not gotten back to where it was, and we’re entering another recession. This is the MIDDLE CLASS (yes, another shout). Not the bottom. The middle. The heart and soul of this country. And the Republicans are directly to blame.

    There’s a new book out that describes in great detail how only those at the top of the economic pyramid do well under Republicans, while the middle and bottom do better under Democrats. Coincidence? Hardly.

    Look, you may be happy licking up the crumbs that your wealthy masters leave for you, working 80 hours a week and still not making ends meet, as I’ve heard you complain over and over and over and over again. (Ever stop to think that you made some bad choices?)

    There is huge value–to everyone–in sharing wealth. Allowing a concentration of wealth among a small elite in inherently anti-democratic. The Founding Fathers thought so. But I you’re happy to let your masters run the show to their benefit, while you’re on the outside looking in, complaining about how little money you make, never quite figuring out that you are partly responsible for your own situation.

    Plus, even frickin’ Henry Ford understood the benefit of paying good wages. Henry Ford–the Nazi sympathizer. Why can’t you figure out that good wages turn the proletariat into consumers who can afford to buy more, which multiplies the wealth. For everyone.

    That’s why everyone benefits more from Democratic presidents than Republicans. Even those at the top, because, by spreading the wealth around, more is created.

    There’s a Pew Poll just out that says only 41% of America believes things are better now than they were 5 years ago. 31% says they’re worse. Those are the worst numbers in decades.

    So get your head out of the sand. That is the America that your Republican masters have created.

    And, without looking, let me guess. You slammed Krell because you claim you didn’t say what he says you did. Gosh, that’s one I’ve never heard before.

  9. Look, if the numbers are EVERYWHERE, it ought to take you no time at all to point me to one instance. I’ve seen this sort of data in different contexts and thought it would be helpful if we worked from the same source. For example, I’m aware of the “new book” touting Democrat presidents’ economic record, but I haven’t come across a good synopsis, and I’m a bit too busy to read the whole thing. If I’m ignorant, educate me.

    As for Krell, well, yes, he clearly and indisputably declared my argument to be otherwise than it was. Specifically, he claimed that I omitted data and points that I explicitly included and, indeed, that were central to my point.

    An aside: I love how quickly you compassionate liberals shift to belittling others. Yeah, I’m a working-class dog with rich masters. Got your kicking boots on?

    And I’ll note for the record that I’m pretty sure that I’ve never complained about my circumstances without also mentioning the large portion of the fault that is my own. But I find myself where I find myself and can only proceed from here.

    Now go ahead: prove to me that you’re not as despicable as I’ve come to expect. I’m on your turf, here; there shouldn’t be any need for you to prove how macho you are.

  10. Justin, this is why I stopped visiting your lovely site. You do not engage in argumentation. Rather than provide evidence, you:

    1) claim that you didn’t say what I’m suggesting, even when your own words are quoted back to you. Notice how I was able to predict you would disown your own words? You’ve done this time and again.

    2) You find a minor point that is irrelevant to the main argument and then act like you’ve disproven the entire thesis while ignoring the big picture of what’s being said. You did the same thing to Krell. OK he was wrong in saying that you didn’t cite your source, but that in no way invalidates what he said.

    3) You call me names. Whether it’s socialist, moronic, or “despicable� as in this case. Whatever, this is a dodge and a distraction.

    And now you’ve added “appeal to pity� to your repertoire. You are very, very quick to blast others for not taking personal responsibility. But, when I do it, it’s “despicable.� Is that big meanie klaus picking on poor wittle Justin? BTW: appeal to pity is a logical fallacy. Oh! Woe is me! is not a counter-argument.

    What I have been trying to explain to you is that you—and people like you—are largely responsible for your own situation. Because you support and enable Republican policies, you are giving your masters the stick they use to beat you. Why don’t you see that? Why don’t you do something about it? I got news for you: I’m not the one who’s kicking you. It’s them. They’ve got their collective foot on your economic throat, not me. Why do you roll over and play dead or lick their hand while they beat you?

    And why take out your anger on me? I’m the messenger. I’m saying stuff that you don’t like, but, for the love of god, grow a spine and stand up for yourself. Don’t blame the welfare people. You see, the fact of the matter is that I do feel bad for you, and I’m trying to slap you back to your senses.

    Start by expanding what you read. Look, I can’t just give you a source. I read. A lot. AND I take notes. I have notebooks and files with this stuff. Then I take the time to synthesize what I’ve read. So any comment I post will have stuff from half a dozen different places. And you want me to provide footnotes? Dude, you’re the blogger. Do some homework.

    For instance, your op-ed was based on Pat Crowley’s numbers and whatever you got from the Census Bureau/IRS. OK. That’s a start. Get another 6 or 7 sources and then start writing. Then maybe you’ll have something to say that will be worth listening to. Since you don’t, it’s impossible to take you seriously.

    I’ve recommended Economist’s View any number of times. Have you ever been there? Why not? Because you might not like what you read? I’ve cited BusinessWeek many times. When’s the last time you read a copy, cover-to-cover, like I do every week?

    Or are you just lazy?

    And please, I’ve quoted your own words back to you, and Krell did the same thing, and STILL you insist that “you never said that.� I felt bad for you when you lost your editing job, and said as much. But then you went and blamed your loss of your job in Mass on all the folks collecting welfare in RI. I parsed that piece paragraph-by-paragraph, but you still insisted that you had never said such a thing. Then you started calling me names, blah, blah, blah.

    Or do you not understand the concept of “implication”? I quote: “…One simple solution is to make Rhode Island a more attractive place to live by decreasing the cost of living here (i.e., lowering taxes)…â€?

    If lowering taxes is a solution, doesn’t that imply that it’s a cause of people leaving? If you say “one & one,” I am justified to infer “two.” That’s just how it works.

    Your posts infuriate me, both for their content and their sloppy thinking. Blog posts/comments are not the best place for dispassionate arguments, but, in response, I do provide evidence, numbers, data that prove that you’re wrong. I’ve done it time and again, but you dismiss it all.

    For example, commentors at AR have said I’m obsessed with the 1890s. No, I’m not. Karl Rove and Grover Norquist are. That is their idea of an ideal political environment, and they were actively working to re-create those circumstances. No such thing as the FDA. No oversight of the financial markets. (That’s really worked out well over the past few years, hasn’t it?) No right to unionize. Workers spending half a year out of work. Yup, them sure were the good old days. IF you were rich.

    Look, I admit that you’ve got it tough. You are trying to prove that Republican policies help everyone, but that’s simply wrong. Or a lie. Republican policies, by design, help only a very small economic elite, and the rest of us can go pound sand. To divert attention from this, they use scare tactics like terrorism, gay marriage, and immigration to keep you from noticing what’s really going on.

    As for this book about how Republicans only help the wealthy, if you’d been reading a wide variety of sources, you would realize that this has been around for a couple of years, at least. Political Animal/Washington Monthly has had 2 or 3 posts on this over the past 2 years. It’s been out there. Why did I find it, and you didn’t?

    There needs to be some corrective to your corrosive rantings because the MSM—especially the ProJo—won’t call you on the fact that you are simply disseminating RW propaganda, unsubstantiated and unsupported by anything resembling a fact. If you want to remain in economic thralldom for the rest of your life, that’s your choice. But, what really infuriates me is that you insist on pushing policies that keep other people down there with you.

    And you say I’m despicable because I tell you the truth?

    You know what? I’m tired of this. Go read Economist’s View. Read Krugman’s column & blog. Read Dean Baker at American Prospect. Read the latest Pew Poll that tells you that median income in 2006 is lower than it was in 1999, based on evidence from the Census Bureau, Historical Incomes Tables, H-6, and that household net worth for the upper incomes has increased by 123% since 1983, while net worth for the middle class has only increased 29% in the same period.

    If you won’t help yourself, there’s really not much I can do. I’ve said many times that I have a family. And spending time with you detracts from time with them.

    Excuse me, I’m going to spend some time with my kids. You can sink or swim on your own.

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