The Essence Of Conservatism

I watched ABC’s This Week on Sunday and during the roundtable discussion the topic turned to the hot, hot summer and the issue of climate change.

The program’s regular panelist George Will, who perhaps is the most respected conservative intellectual in the country, is also famous for being  a climate change denier, and not a particularly honest one at that. So, I should have expected his response on Sunday:

WILL: You asked us — how do we explain the heat? One word: summer. I grew up in central Illinois in a house without air conditioning. What is so unusual about this?

Now, come the winter, there will be a cold snap, lots of snow, and the same guys…will start lecturing us. There’s a difference between the weather and the climate. I agree with that. We’re having some hot weather. Get over it.

Ah, if that last sentence doesn’t capture the essence of conservatism, nothing does: GET OVER IT!

Don’t have an air conditioner? Get over it! Don’t have a job? Get over it! Don’t have health insurance? Get over it!

Now, it so happens that I was also watching CNN later that day and crawling across the screen was some notation of the number of folks who had trouble getting over the summer heat; that is, they were killed by it.

I tried getting good numbers on just how many folks died trying to get over the heat, but, naturally, the numbers are hard to get right. Many factors may contribute to a death associated with the heat, besides just the heat. The Associated Press reported last week:

Americans dipped into the water, went to the movies and rode the subway just to be in air conditioning Saturday for relief from unrelenting heat that has killed 30 people across half the country.

I don’t know how accurate that number is, but there have been extraordinary heat waves over the last 30 years around the world and here in the United States, heat waves in which thousands upon thousands of folks failed to take George Will’s advice and get over it.

And I found the following last week in Missouri:

The Kansas City Health Department said five heat deaths are being investigated.

As Kansas City remains in the grips of an unusual early summer heat wave, the suspected heat deaths are soaring.

And moving east on I-70:

The medical examiner in St. Louis says three elderly people have died of heat-related illness in recent days.

People like George Will, who now has a professional stake in the outcome of the debate over climate change (to the extent there is a debate anymore; Republicans have pretty much shut it down) and the strange and extreme weather that goes along with it, can cavalierly dismiss the warnings that real scientists, as opposed to those who play them on right-wing radio and TV, are giving us about the effects of warming the planet via the world’s excessive exploitation of fossil fuels.

But the results of Will’s denial—and the entire American conservative movement shares that denial—is that some increasing number of vulnerable folks will not survive the summers to come, not to mention other extreme weather events like droughts, flooding rainfalls, and derechos.

And throughout all those events, just like throughout the extreme economic events that Americans have endured and are enduring, the conservative response will be: Just get over it.

Next Post


  1. George Will is four years younger than I am, but that’s pretty close. I grew up in a hotter clime than he, out in central Kansas, and I distinctly recall a summer in the early 1950’s when the heat was setting records with highs in the triple digits for weeks on end. We did have a/c, but it was the evaporator kind where a fan pulls air through wet straw. I would stick my head in the air stream just to catch my breath. And I was young and healthy then; that was nothing I ever want to go back to.

    Climate change is real and so is man’s contribution to it. This is just one more distinct difference in the two philosophies facing the voter in November’s fork in the road. What kind of society will we have? If conservatives like George Will win, one of the benefits will be that more of the poor elderly will die sooner, thus decreasing the surplus population.

    [trying to collect Christmas donations]
    2nd Portly Gentleman: What may we put you down for, sir?
    Scrooge: Nothing, sir.
    1st Portly Gentleman: Ah, you wish to remain anonymous.
    Scrooge: I wish to be left alone, sir! That is what I wish! I don’t make myself merry at Christmas and I cannot afford to make idle people merry. I have been forced to support the establishments I have mentioned through taxation and God knows they cost more than they’re worth. Those who are badly off must go there.
    2nd Portly Gentleman: Many would rather die than go there.
    Scrooge: If they’d rather die, then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population. Good night, gentlemen.
    [walks away, then turns back]
    Scrooge: Humbug!

    Thanks for the neat new word, Duane! I am adding “derecho” to my vocabulary list.


    • King Beauregard

       /  July 9, 2012

      Hey, don’t compare George Will to Ebenezer Scrooge. At least Scrooge had faith enough in his convictions to be forthright about them; also, he had an actual conscience that could eventually be stirred. Will doesn’t have any of that; he doesn’t even have a bow tie any longer.

      By the way, does anyone notice that, at the end of “A Christmas Carol”, nobody tells Scrooge that he has to give away everything he owns? All anyone is asking is for him to help his fellow man now and again. He’ll still be rich, just slightly less rich, not that the difference will impair his comfort in any detectable way.


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  July 9, 2012

    I believe it was Gene Lyones, the Arkansas Icon of the progressive sort that just published a column telling folks to “deal with it” regarding ACA. If you don’t have HC insurance right now but most purchase in by 2014, “deal with it” was his advice.

    He also advised folks to become more familiar with the law of the land and recognize all the benefits contained in ACA. Wouldn’t it have been nice if Congress had taken his advice while constructing the legislation in the first place?

    So, regarding this blog. Are you critiquing George Will and conservatism or are you making another arguments supporting the reality of Global Warming?

    It makes “sense” to me that will all the stuff man puts into the atmosphere that some affects must be felt. How big, how bad, etc. is still a great unknown, in my view but I do not have the science background to understand the details, just like I am not at all sure today what a “higgs boson” might be as well or its impact on mankind.

    But let’s take the “worse case” scenario about the potential effects of Global Warming. What to do about them becomes the huge question for the WORLD, not just America. And as you start that list of solutions, please put a price tag next to each one, add it all up and then tell me how to pay for the solutions proposed.

    That addition exercise will make paying for universal HC in just America pale in significance in all likelihood. Green energy, great. I support “going green” as a matter of national security and do not need Global warming to make that case. Now go figure out how to “go green”, keep the power coming as demanded by Americans and pay for it, right out of consumer pockets probably.

    Or do you believe the “rich” can pick up the green energy tab, along with HC and keep us all healthy, cool or warm, and happy?



    • Relative to government oversight on environmental matters there can be no doubt that we have made great progress in the last 40 years. The EPA was created by none other than Republican president Richard M. Nixon in reaction to the simultaneous rise of an educated middle class and outbreaks of environmental disasters across the country. Rivers caught fire, whole communities were poisoned, air was becoming hard to breathe. An EPA website includes this:

      Also, science contributed another dimension to the national agitation. To the obvious signs of pollution that people could see, feel, and smell, science added a panoply of invisible threats: radiation, heavy metal poisons, chlorinated hydrocarbons in the water, acidic radicals in the atmosphere, all potentially more insidious, more pervasive, and more dangerous than the familiar nuisances. This could happen only in a country able to support a large, advanced scientific community with an immense laboratory infrastructure, marvelously sensitive instruments, intensive funding, computers, data banks, and vast interchanges of information able to isolate and trace the progress through the ecosystem of elements and compounds at concentrations measured in parts per billion, and to establish their effects upon living organisms in the biosphere.

      I agree that the country can not afford everything environmental that we ought to do. However, locally we have seen toxic lead, lead paint, and asbestos cleaned up efficiently, just as examples. Such things, including factory and vehicle emissions controls are necessities in my view. Richard Nixon was right on this one.


      • ansonburlingame

         /  July 9, 2012


        “Love Canal” sold the idea of the EPA by and large. That was a good step forward in my view, to prevent and cleanup such disasters.

        But as with all things government wise, there were and remain huge unintended consequences. I wound up right in the middle of such disputes at Rocky Flats. You would be amazed at the money spent to adhere to some really ridiculous “regulations”, all hard earned tax payer money that did little or nothing to clean up “bad stuff”.

        Rocky Flats was (after about 15 years of effort) returned as a “green field” but the cost in doing so was, in my view ridiculously high, at least by a factor of two or three, which amounts to $ Billions overspent.

        I have not been to LA in recent years but did live there in the mid 90’s. Smog remained at terrible levels, some 25 or 30 years after clean air efforts became “popular”. Sure you can argue the smog would have been even worse if…..

        But the point is that if smog gets too bad, people LEAVE the area. What really causes smog in LA and China for that matter? By and large it is too many people in a given area, spuing their “waste” all around them.



        • Anson, I get that the process can be inefficient, but what’s the alternative if you have radiation contamination and an alarmed public? Seems to me there really isn’t one, practically speaking. In judging the efficiency of that cleanup I defer of course to your direct experience, but it occurs to me that it was an instance of being low on the learning curve. In comparison it looked to me like the operation for debris removal after the tornado in Joplin was a model of efficiency, and that was done by contractors under FEMA. Shows it can be done and that FEMA learned from Katrina, IMHO.

          As for LA, I had to visit there on business trips during the ’80’s and ’90’s and I wouldn’t have lived there for any amount of money because of the pollution, the crime and the traffic. But I can assure you the smog would have been much worse without emissions standards.

          I hope you aren’t suggesting we adopt a policy that government wash its hands of the urban air pollution problem and just let people leave. I’ve got a feeling that a lot of conservatives invested in urban businesses would be very upset by that. Of course, there is an existing model that shows that not everyone would leave, and that’s Mexico City. Which is what LA would look like under such a policy.


  3. All,

    As I read through these blogs, including our friend in the “Corner,” and all of the issues raised and discussed, I’m wondering whether or not we, meaning we the people, this nation, have reached a tipping point. That is, if we continue on the path of “business as usual” rather than make some major paradigm shift in our collective polity, will we become, as Arnold Toynbee warned us, one of those great nations that commit suicide? Is it possible to come back from the brink or is the momentum toward our national destruction unstoppable? Am I Chicken Little, or is the sky really falling?

    I read a thought provoking and somewhat disturbing article this morning, “How to Think,” by Chris Hedges Chris tends to be a little hyperbolic, but, IMHO, gives an informed and sometimes wise perspective. He writes in the last paragraph:

    “. . . here is the dilemma we face as a civilization. We march collectively toward self-annihilation. Corporate capitalism, if left unchecked, will kill us. Yet we refuse, because we cannot think and no longer listen to those who do think, to see what is about to happen to us. We have created entertaining mechanisms to obscure and silence the harsh truths, from climate change to the collapse of globalization to our enslavement to corporate power, that will mean our self-destruction. If we can do nothing else we must, even as individuals, nurture the private dialogue and the solitude that make thought possible. It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.”

    So, we can blame political parties, or the President, or the Congress, or the Courts, but it is ultimately we the people who have failed the nation. Or have we?

    The trouble with the tipping point is you don’t know where it is until you put that last piece of straw on the camel’s back and he is crushed to the ground.

    Depressing isn’t it? But then it is Monday after all.



    • Depressing, indeed.

      But I tend to resist blanket characterizations of our “dilemma” like: “We march collectively toward self-annihilation.”

      There’s a lot of Glenn Beckedness in Hedges’ prose here, in terms of its apocalyptic nature, which admittedly does strike a chord in terms of the sheer hopelessness involved in getting folks to understand that there is most definitely a conspiracy (relatively loose) to keep the rabble under economic control, whether one terms that control “enslavement” or something else.

      And you are right, Herb, that ultimately the people are responsible for whatever happens, in that within the body politic there is a remedy for the wrongs being perpetrated. The trouble is that forces work (some together, some separately) to keep enough of the people agitated about the wrong things.

      But I am hopeful that my descendants will be part of an enlightened populace, perhaps in a thousand years?


      • Duane,

        I’m sure you’re familiar with the old story about the farmer who’s got a cart load of hay being pulled by a mule. Every so often the mule would just stop. And try as the farmer might, he couldn’t get the mule to go. So he gets a 2×4, goes around to the front of the mule and bashes him right between the eyes, upon which the mule starts moving again. The farmer does this a number of times when a passerby notices what the farmer is doing and asks, “Why to you keep hitting your mule with a 2×4?” “Well,” says the farmer, “before he’ll go forward, I’ve got is to get his attention.”

        While I’m admittedly a pessimistic, glass-half-empty kind of guy, I think the only way to get out of the current mess is to first get everybody’s attention. We had that opportunity back in the fall of 2008 with the financial crisis. But rather than let the “too big to fail” fail, we opted to bail them out with TARP.

        The inherent danger in a capitalist economy is its cyclical nature – from boom to bust. Thus, there is sometimes a heavy price to pay for achieving and then maintaining the highest standard of living in the world. But the cowards prevailed and now we’re in what appears to be an unending spiral of debt. Tough love is hard. I know, because I’ve used it. But it does get results.

        Our manufacturing base is gone because we can’t compete in a global economy of low wages and high productivity. And that’s true with or without unions. And technology is killing jobs too. It’s now possible to run an entire manufacturing plant with a computer the size of a shoe box. Human capital is becoming superfluous. The middle class, which is the prime consumer of goods and services, is also eroding. And the gap between the poor and rich has reached unhealthy levels. Soon it will be too late for the government to come to the rescure

        So it seems that both Keynes and Hayek were wrong. But George Bernard Shaw was probably right: “If you laid all the economists end to end, they still couldn’t reach a conclusion.” Or maybe we should just all head to Lowe’s and get us a bunch of 2×4’s.



        • Herb,

          You wrote,

          Tough love is hard. I know, because I’ve used it. But it does get results.

          Yeah, and sometimes the results are not what you expect:

          In the nearly five decades since the first tough love residential treatment community, Synanon, introduced the idea of attack therapy as a cure for drug abuse, hundreds of thousands of young people have undergone such “therapy.” These programs have both driven and been driven by the war on drugs. Synanon, for example, was aimed at fighting heroin addiction, its draconian methods justified by appeals to parents’ fears that drugs could do far worse things to their children than a little rough treatment could. The idea was that only a painful experience of “hitting bottom” could end an attachment to the pleasures of drugs.

          But like the drug war itself, tough love programs are ineffective, based on pseudoscience, and rooted in a brutal ideology that produces more harm than most of the problems they are supposedly aimed at addressing. The history of tough love shows how fear consistently trumps data, selling parents and politicians on a product that hurts kids.

          I quote all that to say that, sure, it’s possible that allowing the complete collapse of the financial system would have been good in the end, but there is no doubt that much suffering, of a kind we cannot now contemplate, would have accompanied such a possibility, and that suffering would have fallen mostly on innocent Americans. It’s just too easy, Herb, to now say–when the gravest danger has passed–that we should have simply allowed the down cycle in capitalism to have its way. Surely we are better than that and have learned something about economics since the 19th century?

          By the way, our manufacturing “base” is not gone (we are still number one in the world in manufacturing, by far), it has just shifted to more complicated production, like, say, fighter planes and medical devices, which require highly-skilled workers, of which there is a shortage. So, I think it hyperbolic to say,

          Human capital is becoming superfluous.

          But I do agree that we have some serious problems with our workforce, which has taken a severe blow in the Great Recession and may not completely recover. Long-term unemployment is a big, big problem. Your point about the middle class, which is the engine of job growth in any economy, is the one that may prove to be our undoing, if we don’t demand a more equitable distribution of this rich nation’s income. Whoops! I am guilty now of committing socialism, in the minds of ignorant right-wingers.



        • I think Duane’s right in his comment above, Herb, and to what he said I think one of the most important things we should push for the future is to bring back Glass Steagall and break up the big banks so they can never again be too big to fail.


          • The one thing I am not clear about regarding the Dodd-Frank financial reform law is just how it affects the too-big-to-fail issue you mention. I just can’t get a straight answer on it, although admittedly I haven’t studied it all that closely. The quick answers I have gotten range from yes to no to “both.”



  4. Herb, you present an interesting link in your comment. I suggest that the history of the EPA and its programs over the last 40 years is evidence that our nation can make progress despite politics, even despite the short political cycles. (see my reply to Anson, above.) What that requires though is politicians, and as you say, a body politic, who are willing and able to look ahead and actually invest in the future through taxation.

    I for one am determined to discern which pols seem to fit that description and vote for them. As for educating the body politic, my route is blogging and the newspaper. Pretty small potatoes, I know, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with one blog comment. 🙄


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  July 9, 2012

    Herb and Jim,

    I share the pessimism suggested by Herb. I have written about such, beginning with my old (but still current) concerns about the “cliff”. I have of late been writing about the “stress” placed upon democracies in Europe and America and have referenced a book The World Turns, suggesting the diminishment of democracys ability to cope with really tough choices arising in the world today.

    As well, see my reply to Jim’s reply to me. We started out with legitimate concerns over “Love Canal” but look where we are today in the environmental movement. In my view we have gone far too far in that movement. Today we need to really unleash the power of production to regain our fianacial footing. Yet the EPA holds back that “unleashing”. No the EPA should not be abolished, but restrained, yes indeed in my view, far more than it has been restrained in recent years.

    Delete environmental objections and Keystone pipeline construction would be happening right now. And I am sure the environments around that pipeline would be well protected if we were doing so, today.

    Look at Empire’s new request for a rate increased caused in part by decommissioning two older coal fired plants. Want to reduce warming effects then pay for them is the lesson in that message. And you know as well as I do that Empire’s rate increase request will meet all kinds of outrage from paying customers.

    Democracy is based on a balance in politics, compromise if you will.

    So today the President yet again goes on his attack the “rich” campaign to once again raise taxes on only the “rich”. The longer we keep pitting one side against the other, the more concerned I become for the ability of democracy to resolve our problems, to the extent that they can be resolved.

    On the other had some of our problems are so big that any meaningful resolution, like universal HC, are beyond the reach of a democratic government. The only way to resolve that problem, democratically is for one side to out F….. the other over a few generations. And that of course brings in to play the tyanny of the majority, not balance or compromise.



  6. ansonburlingame

     /  July 9, 2012

    To Jim, written here to avoid a narrow string above related to EPA and other environmental controls on masses of humanity, here and elsewhere.

    Humans create far more “waste”, call it environmental havoc than any other species, by a long shot. The balance of nature in Africa (a place I have been reading a lot about lately) is amazing, until humans and technology intruded into that area. Since early man tribes in Africa, just like the American Indians here coexisted with the animal kingdom in a balance of nature. Man killed for food and what was left over was cleaned up in a day or so by “nature”.

    That of course changed as human population expanded, along with technology. And here we are today literally swamping the earth with human generated “waste” that nature has no way to clean up.

    Since at least the industrial revolution nature has lost, big time, against human generated “waste” and the trend continues at a rather dramatic rate at least in historical measures of time where a century means little..

    If Earth is to remain a beautiful blue “ball” in space instead of a “green blob” where life can not be sustained, what is the solution?

    Fewer humans on Earth is the ultimate soluition it would seem to me and somehow control the expodential rate of human population increase along with the technology to support such human population.

    Someday “man” may well “invent” some miracle “thing” that will do great good for all of humanity but to produce such a “thing” the polution would be unimaginable. Fine. Manufacture such “stuff” on the moon and polute the hell out of the moon. Sure that is science fiction today but tomorrow……..?

    In the meantime, we are faced with the extremes of radical environmentalism, preserving “spotted owls” at the expense of humans. Guess who loses that fight ultimately. Sorry Mr. Human, you cannot build a house because there is not lumber to build it.

    Neither you nor I, Jim, are radical environmentalists. But they do have a say, a big say in a Democratic administration. Well where is the middle ground in such disputes of nature vs. humans, here in America or in Africa?

    You and I disagree over HC reform. Well the cost of HC reform pales in significance to evironmental remedies called for the preserve the “balance of nature” around the world today. We will eventually get rid of petroleum products and replace such fuel with something more environmentally friendly. But will we continue to be able to supply all the power demanded around the world for energy in all forms?

    I have no idea how many KW or power per day are required to support American lifestyles or human lifestyles around the world in “lesser” conditions of living. Should that number be “equal” throughout the world, KW per hour per human life? Or should we in America use our skills and technology to “do better for America”.

    To me that is part of the “great debate” worldwide over Global Warming. And it sounds a lot like, on a smaller scale our own debate over “tax the rich only” or who should get great HC. Try “equalizing” those benefits, in America or world wide, God Forbide.



  7. Duane,

    I’m starting a new column since we’re being pushed to far to the right. (How’d you let THAT happen? Shouldn’t we be pushed to the LEFT on this blog?)

    Anyway, as to your last comment to me, I probably shouldn’t have used the tough love metaphor. It applies more to personal issues that to national and international issues. My bad. But the point I was trying to make is that we keep deferring what I believe is the inevitable collapse of our financial system and getting closer and closer to Anson’s “cliff.’ Sometimes things are just too broken to be fixed, especially when the cost of the fix is more than the benefit.

    Our elected officials are duty-bound to protect our person and our property, otherwise why have a government? So, reason suggests that in these difficult times, these officials, at all levels, should be planning for and setting up conditions as best they can for a soft landing. Restoring Glass-Steagall and the other financial reforms that have been tossed in the ditch won’t cure the problem even if Congress would to it. The problem is that there is little or no enforcement of the laws that are already on the books. The Fast & Furious debacle, for example, was caused in large part because federal prosecutors (Bush appointees) refused to take any cases involving gun sales perhaps (and I’m just guessing here) because of undue influence of the NRA. Part of Reagan’s 1986 law that gave amnesty to illegal aliens included a provision to extract heavy fines from employers who hired such persons. It too was never enforced for fear that the affected businesses would simple move to Mexico, taking all those taxes with them. I could go on, but you get the point. What good is a law if it’s not enforced?

    Now, as to the manufacturing base in the U.S., the UN has reported that after a long chase, China has finally surpassed us in gross output. The data you’re using appears to be as of 2006. By 2010 however, China jumped ahead. (See A pertinent quote from this article, which also has a great graphic, (I love them charts and graphs) reads:

    “The fact that the U.S. has stayed competitive globally with a collapsing labor market is evidence of its continued edge in productivity — more than one-third of American million manufacturing jobs disappeared between 1970 and 2010, while the Chinese now enjoy a total labor force five times that in the U.S.”

    That just underscores my point that productivity increases here are due almost exclusively to technology, not labor.

    On that point, a February 2012 report from the Brookings Institute, “Why Does Manufacturing Matter? Which Manufacturing Matters? A Policy Framework” tells us in the Introduction that,

    “The United States lost 41 percent of its manufacturing jobs between June 1979, when manufacturing employment peaked and December 2009, when it reached its recent low point. The last decade saw the most severe manufacturing job losses in U.S. history. Manufacturing’s share of total employment fell from 13.2 percent in January 2000 to 8.9 percent in December 2009. During the last two years there have been some positive signs for manufacturing. The number of manufacturing jobs increased by 2.6 percent from December 2009 through September 2011. . . . However, the recent manufacturing job gains pale in comparison to the losses since 2000; at the rate of manufacturing job growth that the nation has seen since December 2009, it would take until 2037 for the nation to regain all the manufacturing jobs it lost between January 2000 and December 2009.

    “Moreover, inflation-adjusted hourly wages in manufacturing fell between December 2009 and September 2011, even as manufacturing employment was growing. Manufacturing wages declined more rapidly than wages in the private sector as a whole. Thus, even if recent job growth continues, all is not well with American manufacturing.”

    Well, I’ve gone on too long. Just wanted to find some independent confirmation of my contention that the middle class is struggling. I think the last phrase in the quote above says it all: “at the rate of manufacturing job growth that the nation has seen since December 2009, it would take until 2037 for the nation to regain all the manufacturing jobs it lost between January 2000 and December 2009.”

    So, can we hang on between now and 2037???



    • Herb,

      Let me organize my response this way:

      1) I don’t think the collapse of our financial system is “inevitable.”

      2) Financial systems aren’t like old cars that wear out and get unrepairable. The financial system can be fixed, like breaking up big banks and Glass-Steagall, etc., and getting the government’s house in order by making some budget cuts and raising revenues. I have a little more faith in our democratic system’s ability to get those things done than you, but I admit my faith is being challenged on a daily basis and is weakening.

      3) Enforcement of the regulations that do exist would be essential to avoid further trouble with the banks, and that would require a Democratic administration.

      4) As for U.S. manufacturing, here is the lede in an article by Frank Vargo, VP for International Economic Affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers:

      U.S. manufacturing remains the world’s largest manufacturer, despite an inaccurate report in today’sFinancial Times that China has passed the United States. American manufacturing, in fact, is so large that if it were a self-standing economy, it would be the eighth largest in the world.

      That was written in March of 2011. He continued:

      The United Nations Statistics Division compiles global data on manufacturing value-added, and its most recent data shows the United States continues to lead, with close to 21 percent of all global manufacturing output in terms of constant dollars (real manufacturing value-added in 2009). China is the second largest, with about 15 percent of global manufacturing. No official data are available for 2010 yet, but given the gap between the top two manufacturers, China will not have surpassed the United States in 2010.

      I don’t know if there is more recent data.

      So, I’m not sure whether it matters if we are number one in the world or not, but it does matter (as you point out) that increased productivity (and in addition to technology, skilled workers also add to the increases) has not led to increased wages for workers. It has, though, led to increased profits, which are coming at the expense of those workers, and at the expense of the country’s well-being. It has also, again at the expense of the country’s health, caused much higher unemployment (as you cited).

      5) As for how to recover lost jobs, most of them we won’t recover. The emphasis now has to be on keeping the manufacturing we have, much of which requires highly-skilled workers, and build upon that. But in addition to that, we have to find a way to  equalize the playing field between management and labor, so that folks who spend years in school and then years on the job have long-term job stability and decent wages and benefits. I don’t know of a better way to do that than labor unions, which unfortunately are attacked every day by right-wingers. Why? Because Republicans represent the interests of management, not the workers. The problem is, as Henry Ford eventually realized, that if the workers don’t have any money to spend, who will buy the shit that is made?

      6) Come to think of it, after all this, maybe we are doomed!


      • Duane,

        I knows it’s a little late to be commenting on this post, but I came across something that I think is pertinent to the conversation. You can find it at

        It’s an article about Wal-Mart and expresses what I’ve been saying for several years now. “Everyday low prices” can have some serious unintended consequences. I think Sam Walton would be rolling in his grave over the way his family is now running the business. He certainly would have taken better care of his employees.



        • Herb,

          Thanks for the link. The idea that Walmart is harmful for the economy has, of course, been around a long time. When I was a conservative I bought into the counter idea that low prices, far from hurting the economy, allow Walmart customers to spend money on other things, which actually boosts the economy. What a joke that sounds like today.

          The article documents a true trickle-down effect of such practices as paying low wages and seeking products “sourced from foreign factories, where raw materials and labor are cheaper” as well as the cruel circular effect:

          sending an increasing number of jobs abroad and allowing Walmart (now the nation’s largest employer) to keep their employees’ wages low.



        • Interesting, Herb and Duane, but I believe the article’s blame on Walmart is misplaced. The fault is not Walmart’s, nor anybody else’s. The fault is the globalization of the economy and the participation of the third world in it. It is naive to expect any company to sacrifice profits for patriotism. I won’t say that never happens, but it’s very rare from what I read.

          I know that we have blogged on this subject before, but I believe that good government can provide the solution. We need the return of Glass-Steagall and less secrecy in finance. We need higher productivity, boosted by government-funded basic research. We need reform of the tax code so we are all on a level playing field, and I believe that should include the elimination or at least reduction of the corporate income tax in favor of a consumption tax of some kind. And finally, we need an educational system that emphasizes STEM courses over liberal arts degrees so as to increase productivity. (Why can’t government subsidy of education loans be used to do that? We are subsidizing the wrong stuff.)

          As far as the money saved by globalization, that is real for sure. I read recently that groceries make up only 6% of the average household budget in the U.S. Amazing! Clothing is also dirt cheap by historical standards, at least at Walmart, and J.C. Penny is lately beginning to catch up with that. Housing would be cheap too if not for the American “bigger is better” meme. So where have the savings gone, besides into big houses? Eating out, smart phones, iPads, larger-than-needed vehicles, and fuel. IMHO.


          • Jim,

            Here’s another spin on the mischief being caused by Wally World:

            All things considered, it seems to me that Wal-Mart is behaving like a schoolyard bully. And since the little guys can’t complete, and since its employees are apparently not well treated, I tend to agree with Duane that its bidness practices are mostly un-American.

            In fact, I would like to see Wal-Mart busted up like AT&T was in the 80’s. It’s got way too much control of the market. Size matters. It’s not unlike the too-big-to-fail banks. We haven’t done anything about them either. But then, as long as we have folks like the CEO of JPMorgan sitting on the Federal Reserve Board, well, that speaks for itself.



        • Jim,

          Your claim that much of the fault is with “the globalization of the economy and the participation of the third world in it,” is undoubtedly true.  There isn’t much we can do about that I suppose, apart from some of the suggestions you make (I would have to explore further with you a couple of them. For instance, lowering the corporate tax rate would presumably make businesses more competitive and thus more profitable. But businesses are profitable now and are not investing enough of the profits in American jobs. What would then be the benefit of more profits, in terms of the problems we are discussing?)

          Which leads me to something else you said:

          It is naive to expect any company to sacrifice profits for patriotism. I won’t say that never happens, but it’s very rare from what I read.

          That also is undoubtedly true. But we have to ask ourselves why it is true. Why is it that we can ask young men and women to sacrifice their lives for patriotism but we can’t ask American companies to give up some of their profitability for the same idea—and even promote themselves for doing so? But it is certainly naive to think that will happen on a large scale and here’s my guess why:

          1. We are very good at creating the cultural conditions that result in people donning uniforms and going overseas to get killed for their country and we always have been.

          2. We are not very good at creating the cultural conditions that would result in putting patriotism over profits. Instead, to a large degree the emphasis, in the name of an unfettered “free enterprise,” is that profit making is patriotic! Thus it is that greed—”excessive or rapacious desire”—gets a pass for fear that all profit-making would be deemed unpatriotic, which, of course, it isn’t.

          Liberals of the kind I consider myself to be wish #2 above could be countered by a powerful cultural meme that would undermine the excuses of businesses not to invest in America the enormous profits they are holding domestically and offshore. The resulting jobs and economic boost would perhaps create the needed revenue to start funding the research you mention or to emphasize STEM courses via government subsidies.



    • Dear Response Organizer,

      Well, we disagree on your #1, but mostly because you’re an optimist and I’m a pessimist. Unfortunately we won’t know the answer to that dilemma until it’s too late. I just hope our elected officials are not so high on their inflated sense of self-worth that they forget Santayana’s maxim – “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (See the recent bankruptcies of San Bernardino, Stockton, and Mammoth Lakes California as portentous examples of what government at all levels might be facing very soon.)

      On your #2, the broken-down car analogy may not be so good. I agree. But we have seen a patchwork of laws that have attempted to control the excesses and abuses of our capitalist/financial systems. These range from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, (to stop price fixing), to the Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914, (to regulate monopolies), to the Securities Act of 1933, (to require registration and disclosure of securities), to the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, (to keep banking and investment companies separated), to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, (to impose additional management and accounting rules that arose from the Enron and WorldCom collapses), and many others. Over the years, some of these laws have been revised or repealed or rendered moot by the Courts (see Citizens United.) or otherwise watered down and defanged. These days, many companies find it more beneficial to their stockholders to simply pay the fines for violations than to follow the law in the first place.

      Anyway, what I meant to suggest was that, since we could be in for a long and painful fall off of Anson’s cliff, we should be thinking about changes that may help mitigate the damage. Many suggestions are out there. They include getting rid of the Federal Reserve and folding it into Treasury, going back on the gold standard to help slow down our monetary printing presses, imposing higher tariffs on imported goods to make American goods more competitive, and making our trade policies more protective of American workers and American bidnesses.

      As I see it, we are currently in a kind of paradox. If we raise taxes, that will reduce demand for goods and services which, in turn, leads to more unemployment. If we cut spending, that too will create more unemployment by reducing the government’s workforce and that of government contractors. Any combination of the two will have more or less the same consequences. The only way to slow down that spiral into a full out depression, IMHO, is to cut back on globalization and buy American. And we can start by burning those damn made-in-China uniforms for our Olympians.

      On the manufacturing thing, I read Frank Vargo article. It’s not surprising that as a representative of the American Manufacturing Association he would claim the U.S. to be number 1 in the world. If he didn’t do that, he should be fired. I would say, however, that the comments at the bottom of the article are the most interesting part. The guy from the Financial Times defends his statistics and says they are more accurate than the AMA’s. But statistics, as we know from Mark Twin, are the third kind of lie.

      My point was more on the decline of employment in the manufacturing industry. And that’s another paradox isn’t it? We keep improving output by technology and have come to depend less and less on human labor. So, more products in the marketplace, but fewer middle-class buyers. Can you say “Pogo’s Enemy,” boys and girls.



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