Thursday, January 31, 2013

Economy Not in Crisis?

Driving in to Asheville this morning listening to Morning Joe on Sirius/XM, I almost lost control of the car when one of the guests made the remark that the economy is not in crisis.  Apparently, there are those, like Mr. Scarborough himself, who are either satisfied with or oblivious to 8% unemployment in America.

Well, there is a different world view. Many watching at home or listening on the radio have a different world view - the teachers in NC who have not seen a raise in 5 years, or have lost their jobs to sweeping budget cuts; the autoworkers in Detroit who have made concession after concession in pay and benefits in order to just have a job; the construction worker just about anywhere who, because of slow demand for housing and commercial construction, may have worked only 30 weeks last year.  That world view may even be shared by those in the Morning Joe studio out of the view of the camera lens, working hard behind the scenes to make Joe and his panelists look good, even if they can't make those whose images we see on the screen make sense.

During this morning's discussion, there was lots of talk about "confidence," about "certainty" from Washington, about "spurring business investment," and more supply-side nonsense.  While the panel bemoaned the drop in wages for men since 1973, and the overall drop in household income over the last 3+ decades, they didn't seem to connect that with supply-side tax policies that are the obvious causes of wage stagnation among the working class.  They didn't relate stagnant working class wages with skyrocketing executive compensation, or a tax code that values wealth over work and which allows the ownership class to get away with classifying much of their compensation as "unearned," or union-busting policies that favor the wealthy and treat labor as just another cost line item to be minimized at all costs.

This morning's panel didn't seem to realize that wage stagnation and 8% unemployment stifle demand for goods and services, and that businesses hire workers to meet demand for goods and services.  They seem to think that businesses will somehow, out of the goodness of their hearts, start "investing" once there is some kind of "long-term" deal to "save" Social Security and Medicare.

We've had long-term "deals" before: does anyone remember Gramm-Rudman-Hollings?  That was done away with 5 years after it was enacted.  And remember PAYGO, which was gutted the minute Republicans decided that tax cuts didn't need to be paid for?  Both were "long-term" deals intended to put our country on a sound fiscal path.  The nature of Congressional long-term deals is that they are only binding until the next Congress or the one after that decides to break them.

But this morning's panel didn't seem to pay much mind to 8% unemployment, oblivious to the fact that as long as unemployment remains at depression levels, we are not going to solve the "fiscal crisis."  And they apparently don't understand that putting people to work means creating demand for goods and services.  Corporations, sitting on record profits, don't have any incentive to hire given slack demand.  They are perfectly happy to keep their money in their mattresses, since inflation is near zero and interest rates are as well.

So it is left to the Federal government to be the customer of last resort, buying and paying for roads, bridges, schools, broadband access, wind farms, solar water heating for schools, electric vehicle infrastructure, regional high speed rail, metropolitan mass transit, teachers, firefighters, police, first responders, universal electronic medical records, energy efficiency, and a host of other infrastructure projects.  A huge round of true stimulus spending is needed, not watered down with tax cuts as ARRA was.  That will jump-start the economy, putting people to work, creating more and more demand for other consumer goods and services.  Then the Federal Reserve OMC can perform its inflation control function normally, tax revenues will increase, and then we can start attacking deficit spending.

But please, anyone who says that the economy is not in crisis, with 8% unemployment, must be called out as myopic at best, and cruel at worst.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Second Amendment

In the ongoing debate over gun laws and the epidemic of gun violence in America, many make the point that the 2nd amendment is some representation of the idea that "the people" have the right to engage in armed insurrection against the government.  They point to writings of Jefferson and others who seem to advance such an argument.  Yet a reading of the Constitution in its entirety does not support such a notion.

The 2nd amendment clearly defines the right of the people to keep and bear arms in the context of a well-regulated militia.  That militia is described in great detail in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives the Congress significant control over the militia.

First, the Constitution gives the Congress the authority to provide for "arming, training, and disciplining" the militia.  The implications of this authority are clear.  The Congress can under any reasonable interpretation specify the types of arms, establish training requirements including training in safe and proper use of such arms, and provide for sanctions against those who violate the arming and training rules.

The States are given specific limited authority to appoint officers for the militia, and to execute the training of the militia "according to the discipline prescribed by Congress."  Again, the Congress is given substantial authority for the arming, training, and discipline of the militia, providing for compatibility in arms and doctrine when various state militia are called up for joint operations.

In Article 2, the President serves as Commander-in-Chief of the militia "when called into actual service of the United States."  This gives the President broad authority over the militia, not differentiating between the military and the militia.

Most importantly, why does the militia exist?  That question is clearly answered in Article 1 Section 8, giving the Congress the authority to call forth the militia to "enforce the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions."  Furthermore, Article 4 gives the Congress or the President significant power to protect the states against invasion or domestic violence.

Under the weight of all this evidence, it is simply misguided to suggest that the Framers had any intention of encouraging in any way, shape, or form, any kind of "armed insurrection."  It is time today to put such notions to rest, to call those out who make such arguments as either misguided ideologues or dangerous to our nation.  Don't let them continue to pervert the Constitution!