Labor Creates All Wealth

As Democrats contemplate the possibility of losing the Senate, there are many ways we can handle it.  We could all sit in the back and throw stuff, much as the Republicans did for the last few years.  We could turn on each other and rip our own guts out in a festival of shame and blame.  Or, if we’re intent on really standing up to our principles, we can use this time away from being the responsible ones and understand what it is that we, as a party really stand for.

We have a lot to offer if we can only get it together for once.  But I, for one, think it’s going to take a much deeper understanding of our core values and what is really happening around us before we can make it happen.

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When Great Force Becomes Easy

The still summer evening was suddenly ripped apart by the heavy THWUP!-THWUP!-THWUP! of helicopters. In this part of St Paul copters are common enough as small emergencies across the state hurry themselves to nearby United Hospital. But this sound was different. It was heavy, immediate, and amplified by three of them flying low enough to sneak up on the otherwise placid city.

Then there was the shape. Medivac copters are small and light, but these were large and olive drab. Several low passes later they were joined by another sound, a gentle whoosh that might have been less disturbing had I not had the knowledge that this is what a Blackhawk sounds like.

Last Tuesday St Paul was the host to an unannounced training mission in urban warfare that included Navy Seals. Why? No one has been told why they did it here. Before, after, and during we all know essentially nothing. Our cities are being militarized and shown tremendous force behind a cloak of secrecy that is inappropriate – and naturally falls on the most vulnerable citizens of our community. But Ferguson, Missouri is hardly alone.

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The Opportunity Cost

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.  It’s a silly old saying with a huge dollop of folk wisdom hidden in the middle of it.  But money spent is sometimes more than just money gone – in an integrated world it’s a choice to make one connection when another one might have been a better choice.

Rather than just measure how much money is going in and out, it might be better to understand what we could buy with the same money.  The technical term for this is “Opportunity Cost”, or what we give up by making the choices we do.

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Stability

As the crisis in Iraq worsens nearly daily, a quiet calm seems to have come over US politics. Republicans want to blame Obama for this, but know that they can’t. More to the point, there doesn’t seem to be anything proactive we can do, at least not anything different from what we tried twice before. There is simply far too much blame to go around for it to land squarely on anyone here in the US.

What is different this time? Apart from the horrible loss of life a decade ago, apparently for little gain, there is a big change in the US. Our energy independence makes any arguments based on “strategic resources” much thinner than the blood of American soldiers. Between this crisis and Ukraine it has become clear that we have limits and have to learn to be OK with that.

But there is more to it. It should be obvious by now that US foreign policy can no longer be about control but stability. And that, by itself, should be a pivotal change.

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Confidence In …. ?

How much faith do you have in the institutions that make up our world? According to a recent poll, people don’t have a tremendous amount of confidence in most of the somewhat organized systems that make up daily life in the US. That dissatisfaction is disturbing if you think about it, but it’s also perfectly natural.

The Barataria line of reasoning is that we are in an economic depression that won’t end until there is a significant restructuring in just about everything that we depend on – and a whole new economy and perhaps social arrangement takes the place of the one that failed. If nothing else, it goes without saying that we are living in a time of tremendous change and something as rigid as an institution or industry often changes much slower than the world around it.

Whatever the case, dissatisfaction points to more upheaval ahead – and perhaps opportunities for entrepreneurs who can re-imagine these institutions for a new world.

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Lines and Language

Eric Cantor’s primary loss may have been the shock that finally changes everything. That’s an awful lot to ask, but the early signs are that the various forms of establishment in politics and media were caught completely off guard. The response so far has been careful and even intelligent as the constantly wagging tongues have stopped long enough to give more thoughtful voices an opening.

Whether or not there is a permanent change remains to be seen. But the easy explanations quickly sank from their own weight while something that usually lurks much deeper is floating to the surface. If we can change the conversation, we can change the politics.  Crossies?

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Working Rich

There is no larger political issue in the US right now than the progress of income inequality. Polls show that most Americans think it is a serious problem, and more importantly that work does not create opportunities for advancement. Concern over this situation falls somewhat along party and generational lines, but when we talk about potential solutions that debate becomes much hotter. Should wealth actively be redistributed by government policy?

Into this debate comes Thomas Piketty, a French economist whose work has culminated so far with “Capital in the 21st Century”. His decades of research in the field is laid out to show that wealth is concentrating, and more to the point naturally will because return on investment outpaces wage growth. That argument has been called into question, but another central point has not – that this generation’s wealthy are not a “leisure class” but a “working rich”. They have a power beyond their own money in that they control corporations and funds – other people’s money. Taken properly, it’s political high explosive.

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