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.
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.
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?
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.
As discussed here previously, the distribution of income has changed in the US since 1970, or about the time that income inequality started to grow. In that year about half of all income was earned from wages, the other half from income came from investments (routed through corporate profits). Since then it has fallen steadily by year to 42.6% overall by wages, a difference of about $11k per household per year.
That suggests that the basic social agreement about what “work” is has changed. In the postwar period, through the 1960s, a fair day’s labor was supposed to be rewarded by a fair day’s pay. How does that work now? It turns out that Gallup has been polling people about this since 2001, and the trend shows that there is little faith in this basic arrangement of our economic “golden era”. The social agreement has, in fact, broken down.