Labor Day Links

The theme of the past week has been “the road to serfdom.” Most of us would rather not be serfs, I assume, but it seems there are exceptions.

The Associated Press reports today that American workers are the most productive in the world —

American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.” …

… The U.S. employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French.

Here in America, “a manufacturing employee produced an unprecedented $104,606 of value in 2005,” it says. What the AP doesn’t tell us is since 2005 he was laid off without health care or a pension, his job went overseas, and CEOs grew wealthier.

Even so, you can count on finding a happy rightie blogger: “So, still think everything is gloomy in the US? Really?”

Gary Younge seems a tad gloomy:

There are moments when things really are the way they seem and facts really do speak for themselves. Bad as the facts may appear, attempting to rationalise them only makes matters worse. Trying to convince people otherwise only insults their intelligence.

So it would have seemed last Tuesday when the US census bureau revealed its latest findings on income, poverty and health. The report showed that since George Bush came to power the poverty rate had risen by 9%, the number of people without health insurance had risen by 12%, and real median household income had remained stagnant. On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we learned the racial disparity in income and the gap between rich and poor show no sign of abating.

Bush declared himself “pleased” with the results, even if the uninsured presented “a challenge”. He pointed out that over the past year poverty had declined (albeit by a fraction, and from the previous high he had presided over) and median household income had increased (albeit by a fraction and primarily because more people were working longer hours). Maybe he thought Americans would not realise that five years into a “recovery” their wages were stagnant, their homes were being repossessed at a rate not seen since the Depression, and their pension funds were on a roller coaster.

Having beckoned ordinary Americans with the lure of cheap credit and stock market gains, the invisible hand of the market has now grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and is shaking them mercilessly.

Steven Thomma reports for McClatchy Newspapers that Americans generally are a tad gloomy:

A year before they choose a new government for the post-Bush era, Americans are desperate to change the country’s course.

According to opinion polls and interviews with political experts and voters, the U.S. population is more liberal than at any time in a generation, hungering to end the Iraq war, turn inward and use the federal government to solve problems at home. …

… The surveys point to one thing almost all Americans tend to agree on: They’re deeply unhappy with the way things are going in the United States and eager to move on. There’s virtually no appetite to extend the Bush era, as there was at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1988 or Bill Clinton’s in 2000.

  • Just 1 in 5 Americans think the country is going in the right direction, the worst outlook since the Reagan-Bush era ended in 1992.
  • Less than one-third of Americans like the way the current President Bush is handling his job, among the lowest ratings in half a century. The people had similarly dismal opinions just before they ended the Jimmy Carter era in 1980, the Kennedy-Johnson years in 1968 and the Roosevelt-Truman era in 1952.
  • The ranks of people who want the government to help the poor have risen sharply since the early 1990s — dramatically among independents, but even among Republicans.
  • Daniel Gross writes at Newsweek about how the mortgage bubble burst is dragging the rest of the economy down with it. (BTW, Paul Krugman predicted this more than two years ago.) See also Hale Stewart, who thinks the next few months will be very dicey for the markets.

    Let’s go back to Gary Younge:

    In 1991 Clinton’s chief strategist pinned a note on the wall of his campaign headquarters to remind the team of its core message: “the economy, stupid”.

    A similar focus may once again be necessary, although translating that maxim into votes is not straightforward. Paradoxically, the states with the highest levels of poverty and lowest incomes are staunchly Republican. Poor people tend not to vote, and candidates tend neither to appeal nor refer to them. However, economically they are a glaring and shameful fact of American life; socially and culturally they dominate the centre of almost every moral panic – but politically they do not exist.

    The poor aren’t the only invisible Americans:

    Most Americans identify themselves as “middle class” – but in the middle of what is not clear. Anything that would identify working people as a group with a collective set of interests that are different from and at times antagonistic to the interests of corporations has pretty much been erased from public discourse. People will refer to “blue collar workers”, “working families”, “the poor”, the “working poor”. But the working class simply does not exist.

    Anything that would identify working people as a group with a collective set of interests that are different from and at times antagonistic to the interests of corporations has pretty much been erased from public discourse. And we know who controls public discourse.

    None the less, class does play a role. It is most often used by the right to cast liberals as cultural “elites”. The price of Edwards’s haircut, John Kerry’s windsurfing, Al Gore’s earth tones – all are exploited as illustrations of the effete mannerisms of those who claim to speak for the common man and woman. Class is not elevated to politics but reduced to performance: that is how the fact that Bush has made so little of his elite upbringing has become an asset.

    The conservative columnist Cal Thomas said of Edwards: “His populist jargon is nothing but class warfare.” If only. Long ago the wealthy declared war on the poor in this country. The poor have yet to fight back.

    Yet there is a ray of hope.

    None the less, in recent years the conditions associated with poverty have spread far beyond the poor. Almost two-thirds of those who lost their health insurance last year earn $75,000 or more. Homeowners are also not so easy to write off, not least because those hardest hit happen to be in politically sensitive areas. Of the 10 states that have suffered the most from foreclosures, six – Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Michigan – are swing states.

    Will the middle class surrender to serfdom, or will it fight back? The 2008 elections may provide a clue.

    Elsewhere — For some interesting historical perspective on Labor Day, see “The labor day that wasn’t” in the Boston Globe and a retrospective at the Los Angeles Times.

    And let us not forget what Theodore Roosevelt said in 1910:

    We cannot afford weakly to blind ourselves to the actual conflict which faces us to-day. The issue is joined, and we must fight or fail.

    In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. …

    … At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.

    Of course, if some Democrat were to say the same thing today, every rightie pundit and blogger in the Hemisphere would scream about class warfare.

    Underside of “the American Hologram”

    I haven’t read Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War by Joe Bageant, but it looks interesting. The “American Hologram” is his term for “the televised, corporatized virtual reality that distracts us from the insidious realities of American life”. From Alternet:

    Bageant grew up in a fundamentalist Christian, ultra-working-class family in a claustrophobic little Virginia town named Winchester. Then, in his own terminology, he made his escape. He moved west and made a pretty decent career for himself in the world of journalism. A few years ago, though, he felt a craving for his childhood home and, now deep into middle-age, decided to relocate once more.

    So the self-proclaimed socialist, atheist, heavy-drinking, three-times-married Joe returned home, to a landscape dominated by rabid, demon-battling fundamentalists (including his younger brother, a fire-and-brimstone preacher); NASCAR; overpriced mobile homes; greasy food; depressing, dead-end, anti-union workplaces; and gung-ho patriots whose pick-up trucks boast bumper stickers such as "Kick their ass. Take their gas."

    Bageant :

    “The working class here in what they are now calling the ‘heartland,’ (all the stuff between the big cities) exists on a continuum ranging from complete insecurity to the not-quite-complete insecurity of having a decent but endangered job. It is a continuum extending from the apathy of the poorest to the hard-edged anger of those with more to lose. Which ain’t a lot, brother, when your household income hovers around $30,000 or $35,000 with both people working… Until those with power and access decide that it’s beneficial to truly educate people, and make it possible to get an education without going into crushing debt, then the mutt people here in the heartland will keep on electing dangerous dimwits in cowboy boots.”

    Alternet continues:

    Part ethnography, part sociology, part just good, old-fashioned storytelling, Deer Hunting With Jesus uses an insider’s perspective to explain, generally successfully, why parts of rural America, especially in the South, are so conservative, so suspicious of “big city liberals,” and so willing to cast their lot with right-wing politicians who swiftly turn around and bite these working class supporters in their collective ass.

    Imagine a cross between Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?, Hunter S. Thompson’s booze-and-dope fueled meditations on Nixon’s political potency, and C. Wright Mills‘ understanding of the durability of the power elite… put ’em all into the hopper, mix them around at high speed, and you end up somewhere about where Bageant did. In other words, it’s informative, infuriating, terrifying, scintillating, and, at the end of the day, when HST’s ghost finally emerges triumphant, it’s just downright fun.

    Alternet, on the centrality of fraud to all of this:

    A common theme throughout his book is fraud, and the peculiar vulnerability to fraud of closed-in, under-invested-in communities such as Winchester: religious charlatans pushing dodgy theories into the heart of the political process; wealthy, educated men and women deliberately curtailing the educational opportunities of the poor, giving them just enough schooling to know how to dream the American Dream, but not nearly enough to ever be able to challenge their poverty and make that dream a reality; workers "encouraged" by companies like Wal-Mart to be hostile to the "special interests" represented by trade unions.

    Bageant’s fraud of "the American Hologram", is the fraud at the heart of conservativism.

    The Republican War on Workers

    Yesterday some Senators attempted to eliminate a federal minimum wage entirely. Not just keep it at its current levels; they wanted to cut it loose and leave workers to the mercy of their states.

    Talk about being on the wrong side of history; according to a recent Associated Press-AOL News Poll, 80 percent of Americans are in favor of increasing the minimum wage.

    Just more proof the Republican Party ain’t workin’ for the people.

    Bob Geiger is all over this story; you can read about it here, here, and here.

    Along these lines — in his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman says the only way to rekindle true “bipartisanship” is to reverse economic polarization.

    You see, the nastiness of modern American politics isn’t the result of a random outbreak of bad manners. It’s a symptom of deeper factors — mainly the growing polarization of our economy. And history says that we’ll see a return to bipartisanship only if and when that economic polarization is reversed.

    After all, American politics has been nasty in the past. Before the New Deal, America was a nation with a vast gap between the rich and everyone else, and this gap was reflected in a sharp political divide. The Republican Party, in effect, represented the interests of the economic elite, and the Democratic Party, in an often confused way, represented the populist alternative.

    In that divided political system, the Democrats probably came much closer to representing the interests of the typical American. But the G.O.P.’s advantage in money, and the superior organization that money bought, usually allowed it to dominate national politics. “I am not a member of any organized party,” Will Rogers said. “I am a Democrat.”

    I wrote about the “Republican era” of the 1920s in A (Pretty) Short History of Wingnutism. The longer one looks at America in the 1920s, the more familiar it seems — corporate profits rising faster than worker earnings; a crackdown on immigration; culture wars led by an aggressive Christian fundamentalist movement; and tax cuts galore. If they’d had iPods back then, you’d hardly know the difference.

    As historian Eric Siegel wrote,

    According to what came to be known as “constitutional morality,” legislation supporting the right to unionize or limiting children’s working hours was an un-American form of group privilege. Laissez-faire conservatism reached its intellectual apogee in the 1920s. A critic complained that by 1924 you didn’t have to be a radical to be denounced as un-American: “according to the lights of Constitution worship you are no less a Red if you seek change through the very channels which the Constitution itself provides.”

    In Europe conservatism was based on hereditary classes; in America it was based on hereditary religious, ethnic, and racial groups. The GOP, a largely Protestant party, looked upon itself as the manifestation of the divine creed of Americanism revealed through the Constitution. To be a conservative, then, was to share in a religiously ordained vision of a largely stateless society of self-regulating individuals. [The Reader’s Companion to American History, edited by Eric Foner and John Garraty (Houghton Mifflin, 1991), p.222]

    But the accumulative effect of all this Republicanism was the Stock Market Crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression, followed by the New Deal, as explained in the (Pretty) Short History. But then, Krugman says,

    It was only after F.D.R. had created a more equal society, and the old class warriors of the G.O.P. were replaced by “modern Republicans” who accepted the New Deal, that bipartisanship began to prevail.

    Eisenhower accepted the New Deal. Even Nixon accepted the New Deal. It was the Goldwater-Reagan wing of the GOP, which came to power in 1980, that opposed the New Deal.

    Krugman continues,

    The history of the last few decades has basically been the story of the New Deal in reverse. Income inequality has returned to levels not seen since the pre-New Deal era, and so have political divisions in Congress as the Republicans have moved right, once again becoming the party of the economic elite. The signature domestic policy initiatives of the Bush administration have been attempts to undo F.D.R.’s legacy, from slashing taxes on the rich to privatizing Social Security. And a bitter partisan gap has opened up between the G.O.P. and Democrats, who have tried to defend that legacy.

    What about the smear campaigns, like Karl Rove’s 2005 declaration that after 9/11 liberals wanted to “offer therapy and understanding for our attackers”? Well, they’re reminiscent of the vicious anti-Catholic propaganda used to defeat Al Smith in 1928: smear tactics are what a well-organized, well-financed party with a fundamentally unpopular domestic agenda uses to change the subject.

    Bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship means Dems lose.

    Krugman recalls something FDR said in 1936 about his struggles “with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. … Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” And he concludes,

    But politicians who try to push forward the elements of a new New Deal, especially universal health care, are sure to face the hatred of a large bloc on the right — and they should welcome that hatred, not fear it.

    Now is the time. We’re seeing signs that the distractions are losing their power to distract; the threats of married gay people and wantonly unthawed blastocysts just didn’t seem to rally the voters in 2005 the way Iraq and economic fairness issues did. As Bob Geiger wrote,

    Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), evidently convinced that he was beating a dead horse by continuing his quest to ban flag-burning and discriminate against gay people, announced this month that he would not seek reelection in 2008 and the thought of having so little time left to screw the working poor from a comfy U.S. Senate seat must have just been eating him alive.

    Allard, who has voted against a minimum wage increase more often than Fox News smears Barack Obama, went for broke this week and introduced a bill that would have eliminated the Federal Minimum Wage entirely and left the wage rate for the lowest-paid workers to each state.

    In Kansas, this would mean that workers would revert to the state-mandated minimum wage of $2.65 per hour, which is currently superseded by the federal minimum of $5.15.

    This is the last, desperate growl of a dying animal. Now’s the time for the Dems to kick Joe Lieberman aside and mount an openly partisan attack on wingnutism. It’s the only way Washington will ever see bipartisanship again.

    See also: Philosophers’ Playground.

    Labor Day

    More Labor Day reading:

    David Sirota: “Republicans are waging a war on the very workers they purport to care about.”

    Editorial from today’s Los Angeles Times

    The problem is that a country with such stark divides between rich and poor is in deep trouble. Especially when that country is a democracy.

    Paul Krugman

    Some still think of the V.A. as a decrepit institution, which it was in the Reagan and Bush I years. But thanks to reforms begun under Bill Clinton, it’s now providing remarkably high-quality health care at remarkably low cost. …

    … Not surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of veterans have switched from private physicians to the V.A. The commander of the American Legion has proposed letting elderly vets spend their Medicare benefits at V.A. facilities, which would lead to better medical care and large government savings.

    Instead, the Bush administration has restricted access to the V.A. system, limiting it to poor vets or those with service-related injuries. And as for allowing elderly vets to get better, cheaper health care: “Conservatives,” writes Time, “fear such an arrangement would be a Trojan horse, setting up an even larger national health-care program and taking more business from the private sector.”

    Think about that: they won’t let vets on Medicare buy into the V.A. system, not because they believe this policy initiative would fail, but because they’re afraid it would succeed.

    Meanwhile, the Bush administration is pursuing a failed idea from the 1990’s: channeling Medicare recipients into private H.M.O.’s. … Years of experience show that H.M.O.’s actually have substantially higher costs per patient than conventional Medicare, because they add an expensive extra layer of bureaucracy and also spend heavily on marketing. H.M.O.’s for Medicare recipients prospered for a while by selectively covering relatively healthy older Americans, but when the government began paying less for those likely to have low medical costs, many H.M.O.’s dropped out of the Medicare market.

    In 2003, however, the Bush administration pushed through the Medicare Advantage program, which offers heavy subsidies to H.M.O.’s. According to the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, Medicare Advantage plans cost the government 11 percent more per person than traditional Medicare. Oh, and mortality rates in these plans are 40 percent higher than those of elderly veterans covered by the V.A. But thanks to the subsidy, membership in Medicare Advantage plans is surging.

    On one side, then, the administration and its allies in Congress oppose expanding the best health care system in America, even though that expansion would save taxpayer dollars, because they’re afraid that allowing a successful government program to expand would undermine their antigovernment crusade and displease powerful business lobbies.

    On the other side, ideology and fealty to interest groups make them willing to waste billions subsidizing private H.M.O.’s.

    Remember that contrast the next time you hear some conservative going on about excessive spending on entitlements, and declaring that we need to cut back on Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

    Update: Via Steve GilliardThe historic 1936-37 Flint auto plant strikes.

    Darts and Dolts

    I hate to quibble with Anatole Kaletsky, who wrote this in the London Times:

    For the past five years, America has been led by a president who is clearly not up to the job — a man who is not just inarticulate, but lacking in judgment, intelligence, integrity, charisma or staying power.

    Who (with a brain) could argue with that? But then Kaletsky writes,

    While America has been run by one of the most doltishly ineffectual governments in history, it has forged ever further ahead of Europe in terms of wealth, science, technology, artistic creativity and cultural dominance.

    Why does America’s prosperity and self-confidence seem to bear so little relationship to the competence of its government? The obvious answer is that America, founded on a libertarian theory of minimal government, has always had low expectations of politicians. In America, it is not just business that thrives independently of government, perhaps even in spite of government. The same is also true of other areas of excellence which in Britain are considered quintessentially in the public domain — higher education, leading-edge science, culture and academic research. Because Americans expect so little of their government, they are rarely disappointed. They do not slump into German-style angst when their governments fail to find solutions to the nation’s problems.

    Kaletsky then tosses in some anti-Gubmint proverb from St. Ronald Reagan. But the attitude he describes has not been common throughout American history. Through most of our 225 or so years we have expected the government to work for us. And most of the time, it has. It’s only been in the post-Vietnam era that conventional wisdom said government can’t be expected to walk and chew gum at the same time, so to speak.

    When you are dealing with big things, like a huge and prosperous nation, it takes a long time for momentum to stop. If the people of the world are still lining up for American movies and blue jeans, this is the result of many decades of momentum. Since Reagan, the Right has been trying to undo generations of progressive reform, and by now they’ve dismantled quite a bit of it. But a lot of us are still benefiting from The Way America Used to Be Before Reagan. Boomers like me are still benefiting from the fact that our fathers got free educations on the GI Bill and our newlywed parents got cheap housing and cut-rate mortgages from other government programs, for example. Our parents’ prosperity got us off to a good start and put us on the road to security, equity, and stock portfolios. In a very real sense, many of us today are living better lives because government in the 1940s and 1950s effectively responded to the needs of citizens.

    Each generation of middle-class, working Americans on the whole has been more educated and more affluent than the generation before. Even though we boomers bellyached a lot that our parents had it better than us, in the end we kept the momentum going. I wonder if the same thing will be true for my kids’ generation, though. The 20-somethings of today really are having it harder, I believe. Jobs are less secure, wages are stagnant, benefits are being cut, pensions are things of the past. Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but seems to me the momentum may be about to stop.

    Put another way, the full effects of having a dolt in the White House now may not be felt for another 20 years. I wonder what commentary the London Times will publish then?

    Dark as a Dungeon

    I come from a long line of stone cutters and miners, and I grew up in a small mountain mining town. I don’t know if this gives me any unique insight into the Sago mine tragedy, however. Our mines were lead mines, which are not nearly as hazardous as coal mines since lead is not combustible.

    As a small town girl, though, it’s not hard to imagine the impact of those 12 deaths on the small town of Sago. In small towns everybody knows everybody, so everyone in town will have known somebody who died. The impact of the disaster on Sago will be as heavy as the impact of 9/11 on New York City.

    Why are we still hearing about coal mine disasters? Surely by now technology exists that would minimize the dangers. And if not, why not? Is cheap coal more important than the lives of miners? Oh, wait …

    In small mining towns, everyone’s lives depend on the benevolence of the mine owners. Mining towns tend to be one-industry towns, and if you don’t work for the mining company you will have a sales or service industry job that depends on the mining salaries that flow through the community. Thanks to unions, most miners get decent wages and benefits and have something to say about working conditions. But unions aren’t what they used to be, and in a one-industry town the one industry gets cut a lot of slack.

    Joby Warrick reports in the Washington Post that the Sago mine had a history of safety violations. The current owners took possession of the mines only two months ago, but it seems the previous owners allowed conditions in the mines to deteriorate rather badly. And the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration wrote citations but was, apparently, helpless to force the company to actually do anything.

    In today’s Boston Globe, Peter Rousmaniere writes about the erosion of worker safety. He is writing about Massachusetts, but most of what he says applies to the nation.

    When they sustain a serious work injury they are less able to access the protections of our four-generations-old workers’ compensation system.

    It has become easier for employers to cut corners on their legal obligations. If Congress succeeds in criminalizing undocumented worker status, it will become even easier.

    This puts a wrinkle on mining safety that hadn’t occurred to me before. Mining jobs have tended to go to the children of miners; in one-industry towns, most young people go from high school to the mine company’s employment office. I haven’t seen a list of the dead, but I expect many of the names are British, and that many of the miners could trace their ancestry back to Welsh, English, and Scottish miners who immigrated in the 19th century. But after reducing the power of unions and weakening federal regulations, I guess the hiring of illegals to work the mines will be the next step.

    Although he wasn’t writing about mining, Harold Meyerson’s WaPo essay, “A Gentler Capitalism,” goes along with this story. Meyerson said one thing that pops out — “The American people have a lot more power as voters than they do as workers.” This correlates to what I was ranting about yesterday, that when righties talk about limiting the power of government to regulate business, what they’re really talking about is limiting the power of the people, otherwise known as workers or employees. Take that away, and workers will have no protection at all. Sweatshops and sharecropping, here we come …

    Update: See The Super at American Street.

    Party Time

    An editorial in today’s Boston Globe begins,

    THE EARLY DAYS of the Bush administration seem like another era: no Sept. 11 attacks; no war in Iraq; no Hurricane Katrina; no $317 billion deficit. The president’s chief ambition early in 2001 was to cut taxes deeply to soak up large budget surpluses. Yesterday, two sections of that law took effect, and will reduce taxes for the wealthiest Americans by about $27 billion over the next five years.

    After you’ve digested the Globe editorial, take a look at this post by Hale Stewart discusses a Congressional Budget Office study that proves “supply side” doesn’t work, and cutting taxes does not stimulate the economy sufficiently to make up the loss of revenue. If the government cuts taxes, it loses revenue. Simple as that.

    At the New York Times, via True Blue Liberal, Bob Herbert shows us how Congress is attempting to pump federal revenues — by sacrificing the poor.

    Consider the budget that will soon be sent to the president for his signature. Members of the House and Senate have agreed on legislation that achieves something approaching $40 billion in savings over five years primarily by hammering the sick, the poor, the elderly and college students and their families.

    This is the same Congress that genuflects each time the president asks for yet another gift-wrapped tax cut for the wealthiest among us. The textbooks tell us that the U.S. is a representative democracy, but only the upper strata are truly represented.

    The nearly 800-page budget bill would allow states to jack up the premiums and co-payments of millions of low-income Medicaid recipients. It would also allow some Medicaid benefits to be rolled back.

    One of worst aspects of the Medicaid provisions is that large numbers of poor people, faced with the higher premiums and co-payments, will inevitably decide to take a pass on the health care they need. Some will die.

    But others are doing very well, of course, as described in this editorial in today’s NY Times, which begins:

    There is no shortage of numbers and studies detailing the widening gap between what American companies pay workers and the millions of dollars those same companies pay top executives. But just in case anyone hasn’t been paying attention, here enters David Brooks, chief executive of the bulletproof vest manufacturer DHB Industries Inc., to provide a fuller picture.

    Thanks to defense contracts, Mr. Brooks (not to be confused with Bobo, the Times’s famous keyboarding vegetable) is a fabulously wealthy man. He recently threw a $10 million private party for his daughter and her friends at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. Meanwhile, much of the body armor Brooks sold to the DoD has been recalled for being defective.

    The editorial continues,

    Meanwhile, the party came less than three months after the release of a report on ballooning pay for chief executives that singled out Mr. Brooks for making $70 million in 2004 compared with $525,000 in pre-Iraq-war 2001. The report said he made an additional $186 million in 2004 selling company stock.

    The same report, by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning research center, and United for a Fair Economy, a group seeking to narrow the gap between rich and poor, found that in 2004 the ratio of C.E.O. pay to worker pay at large companies had ballooned to 431 to 1. If the minimum wage had advanced at the same rate as chief executive compensation since 1990, America’s bottom-of-the-barrel working poor would be enjoying salad days, with legal wages at $23.03 an hour instead of $5.15.

    One of the conceits of winger philosophy is that people are rich because they deserve to be rich, and vice versa. Wealth naturally finds its way into the hands of the virtuous and hard-working. Another conceit is that markets must be “free” and business unregulated to allow “nature” to take its course; oversight and regulation interfere with the mandate of heaven, as it were, and cause wealth to flow to people who don’t deserve it. This is not just bad economics; it is immoral, they say.

    Republicans must think they are doing God’s work by tweaking law and public policy to be sure the wealthy get wealthier, and the poor are punished for being poor. Why this is any less “artificial” than regulations keeping business honest and preventing exploitation of labor isn’t clear to me, but then I’m not a Republican.

    In Republican World, war profiteers are God’s Chosen People. If Defense Contractor Brooks is making lots of money in spite of the fact that he sells defective products that put our soldiers at risk, it’s God’s Will. And blessed are them that inherit big bucks, because they are virtuous and wise and deserving by birth and don’t have to work at it real hard.

    And has anybody else noticed how many of the leaders and spokespeople of today’s conservatism are the children of the leaders and spokespeople of yesterday’s conservatism? Well, it worked for them, huh? Can’t argue with success.

    See also: Los Angeles Times series on how economic changes in the U.S. have shifted financial risks.

    Davis-Bacon Reinstated

    This is good news. From the Assocated Press:

    The Bush administration will reinstate rules requiring that companies awarded federal contracts for Hurricane Katrina pay prevailing wages, usually an amount close to the pay scales in local union contracts.

    The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans.

    Democrats and the moderate Republican group both claimed their pressure caused
    President Bush to reconsider his open-ended suspension of Davis-Bacon starting Sept. 8 in hurricane-affected areas.

    The Republican group originally sent a letter to the White House in September arguing that suspension of the wage law only leads to shoddy workmanship, reduces federal oversight and allows workers outside the region to undercut the local market.

    This will be good for the people of the Gulf Coast.