Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Biden's lost agenda

In the Fall of 2020 the American people decided to dump Trump. Americans didn't agree on much else; voters rejected significant change. Overall the result did not surprise me, especially given the summer riots and the "defund the police" movement.

Biden's agenda is mostly history. Except for the most important part. I'm going to get to that in a future post (it's not student loan forgiveness!), but first I want to reference the future America rejected. I'll use George Packer's summary in the Oct issue of The Atlantic (emphases mine):

America’s Plastic Hour Is Upon Us

... The scale of Biden’s agenda is breathtaking. At its center is a huge jobs program. A Biden administration would invest $2 trillion in infrastructure and clean energy. He proposes creating 3 million jobs in early education, child care, and elderly care—sectors usually regarded as “soft” and neglected by presidential candidates—while raising their pay and status. “This economic crisis has hit women the hardest,” Sullivan said. “These care jobs are primarily jobs filled by women—and disproportionately women of color and immigrant women—but they don’t pay a fair wage, and the opportunities to advance aren’t there. This is a big, ambitious, bold proposal—not an afterthought, but at the core.” Another $700 billion would go to stimulating demand and innovation in domestic manufacturing for a range of essential industries such as medical supplies, microelectronics, and artificial intelligence. Some $30 billion would go to minority-owned businesses as part of a larger effort to reduce the racial wealth gap.

Biden is proposing industrial policy—massive, targeted investment to restructure production for national goals—something that no president has openly embraced since the 1940s. His agenda would also give workers more power, with paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, a public option for health care, and an easier path to organizing and joining unions. It would more than double the federal minimum wage, to $15 an hour ...

Ok, that's the agenda that was. Wave good-bye to it, but don't give up entirely. There's something in there that can be saved.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

What is middle class and what percentage of American voters can't get there?

What would make someone "middle class" in 2020?

I like to think of this in terms of what a "middle class" 30 yo adult should have or be able to do without inherited wealth [1]:

  • basic health, life, dental, and disability insurance.
  • enough savings to live without income for 3 months.
  • at least two weeks of vacation a year plus holiday
  • ability to take the family on a local or auto based holiday
  • cover the basics: food, utilities, broadband, mobile phone, automobile, two laptops, a game console, netflix, a bicycle
  • together with a partner
    • enough income to cover a 15 year mortgage on an average American non-urban home with good-enough public school services
    • enough income to raise up to two children to adulthood (but not pay for their college -- that's upper class)
    • a second car
That's not a comprehensive list, but I think it's not hard to fill in the rest. Things that are often beyond middle class include:
  • international travel
  • paying for children's college education
  • a short commute
  • weekly restaurant meals
  • multiple bicycles
  • substantial savings esp. retirement savings
  • routinely buying work lunch
  • multiple streaming services, cable TV
  • a subscription to the New York Times digital services (this is a problem)
How much compensation, including income and benefits, does it take to be middle class today?

In the absence of good data my impression is that a new teacher is at the very bottom of middle class (compensation increases over time). Salary.com says the range for all teachers is $50K-$74 plus. Add on benefits that are worth at least $10K and the entry to middle class America in 2020 is probably $60K for an individual. 

2014 Pew report article on "middle income" estimated that "a three-person household would have to earn between $42,000 and $126,000. I believe that number omits benefits so it supports my $60K compensation number as a good reference. 

For a 50 week year at 40 hours a week a $60K/year compensation works out to about $30/hour or twice peak minimum wage. Google tells me the hourly wage for a plumber or electrician is about $25/hour, enlisted American soldiers get $20/hour but with benefits and allowances for food, housing, etc they may be in the $25 range. In 2000 motor vehicle manufacturing workers made a similar $20 hour, with benefits that might get compensation up to $22/hour. In US government a GS-7 level is about as high as one can get without a college degree and it maxes out at about $50K/year -- just barely middle class given benefits.

All of these are below my "middle class" threshold though federal employment comes closest.

It's hard to make it into the American middle class range without a college degree or some degree of business ownership [2]. Since no country on earth has gotten much more than 50% of young adults through college this means a middle-class-or-better life, which still comes with quite a bit of economic stress and uncertainty, is only available to about half of Americans.

Half of US voters unable to attain the basics of the bottom of the middle-class is not a politically viable situation. More on that in a post that updates this one.

- fn -

[1] If you live in American for a while it eventually dawns on one that a lot of white folk inherit a substantial amount of money. I'm excluding that from this definition but it does explain some unusual consumption patterns.
[2] Bruce Springsteen, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Wayne Gretzky, yada yada ya. Don't make me come down and bop you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

How I think about the Trump voter and America

A few days ago I listed about 25 reasons that Donald Trump should not be President. Any one of them is sufficient by itself.

There are lots of lists like that. Every science and reality oriented publication in America had its own list. All opposed Trump. All recognized that beyond his venality and incompetence democracy was also at stake.

And yet ...  he almost won reelection. The GOP held the Senate. Dems lost some House seats. The polls were wrong again (I blame the iPhone for the polls - ask me why).

So what do I think about America in general and the Trump voter in particular?

America is what it has always been. Some decades it does better, some worse, but in general it's a rough neighborhood. We were born from slavery and genocide, we fight lots of wars, we don't have universal healthcare, we tolerate mass shootings of children, we have large majorities that support torture of prisoners, we fund public education with local taxation and college through massive debt, we tolerate systemic anti-Black racism, we allow suppression of Black voting, we reelected GWB despite his torture program and the misdirected conquest of Iraq. We did well with higher education and science for a while, but the GOP attacks on science have done grave damage.

We aren't the worst of nations. China, Russia, North Korea, Germany in the early 21st century ... there are lots worse than us. We aren't the best of nations. Canada, the Nordics, South Korea, most of Europe, Japan are all better. Among post-industrial nations we are probably somewhere in the bottom third, but I could maybe argue for being average. Which makes sense -- we are made of humans and we're big and diverse enough to have a representative sample. Our Presidential system and electoral college and our history drive us down a notch or two.

That's America. What about the Trump voter?

I divide the Trump voters into slices. The biggest and most important are the "White* Left Behind". They are a diverse group, but in general they do not have the cognitive traits to be a "knowledge worker". They did not attend college and college would have been a poor use of their time and money. They don't read newspapers, they don't reason out their vote, they vote based on tribe and emotion. They are more or less anti-Black racist but they don't think they are being unfair. They are desperate to work but there are few good jobs for them. Living in an increasingly high tech and complex world they are every day reminded that they can't keep up. They live on the edge.

Trump's genius was exploiting the WLB while showing them that they have real political power. I don't blame the WLB for voting Trump. They are as much victim as they are aggressor.

The religious fundamentalist is another slice. A complicated slice. For some religion is a shallow facade they may assume or discard as needed. Others have a deep conviction that to me shades into delusion -- but I respect delusion. The universe is a vast and terrible place dominated by violence and entropy -- we all need some delusion. If you believe that every terminated ovum is a murder, and you know Trump will suppress abortion, then that outweighs all his other crimes. You might even decide to worship him. 

I don't much blame the religious fundamentalist for voting Trump. They may be rationally choosing based on their fixed belief.

That leaves those who are not dominated by religious belief and who won enough of the cognitive lottery to be able to read newspapers, to remember what happened weeks or months or even years ago, and to make an informed decision.  They may feel that democracy is hopeless, that authoritarian rule is inevitable, and they want to be on the side of the winner. They may care only about their wealth and privilege and feel Trump will best defend them. They may be fully racist -- generally anti-Black racist rather than pan-racist. (Anti-Black racism is far from a White-only thing.) They may enjoy living in an authoritarian society where they are commanded by superiors and able to command the inferior.

They are the elite Trump voter. I blame them. They have chosen a wrong path. They can redeem themselves in future, but for now I cannot be their friend.

* As of 2020 American "White" may include Latino/Hispanic. That boundary has long been fluid.

Friday, November 06, 2020

The Trump I remember

It's Nov 6, 2020 and I believe Trump's presidency is ending. I look forward to forgetting him, but one day I'll be asked what all the fuss was about.

For that day, to remind me, here is what I know of him know:

  1. The crimes for which he was impeached -- extorting a foreign power to attack a political opponent.
  2. The crimes for which he was not impeached -- the collusion with Russia against HRC.
  3. The obstruction of justice.
  4. The personal corruption.
  5. The corruption of government and of industry, including running a protection racket against businesses.
  6. The casual racism.
  7. The people who worked for him.
  8. The anti-science -- from CO2 to COVID to the environment and beyond.
  9. Inserting Christian fundamentalism into American government.
  10. The constant lying. (He was paradoxically transparent however. An accusation was invariably a confession.)
  11. His mockery of persons with disabilities.
  12. The threats and the cruelty. Not least the separation of migrant children and parents.
  13. The stupidity. He really didn't seem to know very much about anything beyond corruption and real estate.
  14. The propaganda.
  15. The destruction of the ACA without a replacement.
  16. The complete disinterest in art, culture, and the humanities.
  17. The destruction of government agencies.
  18. A complete lack of honor, compassion, or decency.
  19. COVID mismanagement.
  20. QAnon.
  21. The authoritarianism.
  22. The pardons. (Remember Al Kinani)
  23. The post-election conduct.
  24. The record-breaking federal executions.
  25. The Gallagher war crime pardon
  26. The illegal destruction of government records. 
...he has divided our people; he has pitted race against race; he has corrupted our democracy; he has shown contempt for American ideals; he has made cruelty a sacrament; he has provided comfort to propagators of hate; he has abandoned America’s allies; he has aligned himself with dictators; he has encouraged terrorism and mob violence; he has undermined the agencies and departments of government; he has despoiled the environment; he has opposed free speech; he has lied frenetically and evangelized for conspiracism; he has stolen children from their parents; he has made himself an advocate of a hostile foreign power; and he has failed to protect America from a ravaging virus"
Was there anything he did that was good?
  1. Accepting North Korea as a nuclear power. It was the only viable choice, but I'm not sure HRC could have taken it (esp. with a GOP Congress).
  2. He understood the Left Behind -- the majority of Americans who will never be knowledge workers. I don't think my team gets this. He didn't know what to do for them, but he knew what they wanted.
Update 1/18/21 - adding Unthinkable from The Atlantic.