If you had to sum up 2014 in one short sentence, what would it be? Barataria is a blog of social commentary and observation in the largest sense, which naturally includes a lot of politics and economics – the places where the citizens of this great nation express their true values. So for the the purposes of this humble effort, one thing comes clearly to mind for this year:
The system largely works.
That may sound horribly pro-establishment, especially with the terrible failures of the system that made the news this year. Police brutality went unpunished as many people came to fear that there is an open season on their families simply for having the wrong skin color. The Republicans took the Senate easily with a record low turnout, an expression of apathy more than direction.
But this points to the power of the systems we have as much as the successes do, and why the goals looking ahead have to be about getting control so that these mechanisms do what we need them to. The systems work – as they didn’t at all in 2008 and sporadically after that – but for whom?
As is so often the case today, bad news is good news. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had a terrible loss when an important provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform was weakened over her very vocal objections, slipped into the critical budget deal when no one was supposed to be looking. But if you read the press, it was good for her because it increased her stature at a time when calls for her to run for President are only getting louder.
There are now two prominent calls for her to run, one by MoveOn and another independent one pushed by a group of major Obama backers. A true hero usually heeds the third call. The way the press is writing her story, that’s about to come. What does it all mean?
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.