Tag: Economic Justice

“Identity Politics” and the Struggle to Realize the Promise of July 4th

George S Ledyard“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

One of the things for which conservatives have criticized liberals and Democrats is what they call “identity politics”. Some maintain that “identity politics” rather than a focus on the economic realities of the heartland is what cost the Dems the election.

But the fact is,”identity politics” is the on-going struggle for our nation to realize in reality what the Declaration of Independence stated in principles. When the document was written, it didn’t cover women, it didn’t include blacks or native peoples. Over time we have as a society recognized that other groups were not included. LGBT communities weren’t even acknowledged to exist when that document was written. Hispanics didn’t factor in. Large numbers of indentured servants were not equal participants.

When this document was authored, its provisions largely meant white men of property. In the next almost 250 years we have steadily enlarged our notions of who is included in “all men” to actually mean “all people”. At every step, some portion of the previously “included groups’ resisted the addition of other new groups as belonging to “all men”. The have, at every step, have tried to keep the club small and exclusive.

The fact that we, in 2017 are still grappling with women’s issues, racism on a large scale, an anti-LGBT backlash, anti-immigrant hysteria, and so on simply makes “identity politics” inevitable and essential. It is the on-going battle to realize the promise of that original document.

What does the unalienable right to liberty mean in a society which imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world?

What does the right to the pursuit of happiness mean when economic class division condemns a significant proportion of our society to stultifying poverty with little or no opportunity to move up the economic ladder?

The Declaration of Independence set out the ideals of the nation, however imperfectly realized at the time. Later, the Constitution of the United States delineated the legal framework upon which this dream would be based. The provision for amendments recognized that this was a living document, that the future would require that we update the document to deal with realities not envisioned by the framers.

But the dream remains the same. And it is an unrealized dream. The unalienable rights defined in the Declaration of Independence are unequally available to our citizens. Vast economic inequality simply makes anything like an “even playing field” that affords equal opportunity a bad joke in our society.

So while conservatives try to pretend that we are in a post racist society, that no special protections should be afforded vulnerable groups within the larger society, “identity politics” will continue to be an essential part of the on-going fight to realize the original promise of our formation as a nation.

The conservative point of view:

The Declaration of Independence and the case for a polity based on universal principles

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“Merit Based Immigration” Ignores the Needs of Regular Americans

George S LedyardMerit based immigration” is a disguised “class-ist” system. Right now the US is allowing highly skilled workers to come from overseas and take positions in American companies. We benefit from their expertise and that seems like a good thing.

But the fact is that we need to bring in high level expertise from overseas because our own schools are not turning out sufficient numbers of skilled workers to fill the openings we have. Importation of foreign expertise removes market pressures to fix our education system. If we didn’t allow H1B workers to satisfy the demand for skilled workers, our corporations would be pressuring Federal and State government to fix our educational system to produce the educated work force they require.

 H1B visas, merit based immigration
We have a massive income divide in the US and a middle class that is under pressure. Current debates about jobs, bringing manufacturing back to the US, etc largely ignore that robotics / automation is a revolution on the scale of our industrial revolution. It will not be too long before most of the jobs performed at the low income level of the economy will be performed by machines. Even now, the jobs being created via economic growth are jobs that require higher education or at the very least, extensive vocational training.

Who are the H1B Visa recipients? More often than not, these people represent the elite of the countries from which they come. They come from the top strata of society that could afford to send their children to the very best lite schools. They can then come to the United States and gain valuable work experience. Some choose to stay here and other return home, taking that valuable experience with them and many end up in businesses that directly compete with our own companies.

But that isn’t the real issue. The real issue is that the American middle class has been in decline for decades. It is increasingly difficult for the average American worker to find jobs that actually pay enough to maintain that middle class status. The opportunities for movement up the economic ladder for most of our middle class folks is decreasing all the time.
We have a country in which the average citizen reads at around an 8th grade level. These people simply do not have the education or the skills needed to fill the new economy jobs which are opening up. Even if Donald Trump succeeds in bringing back manufacturing to the US, these people will not be getting those jobs that return.
A merit based immigration program allows American business to get the expertise it needs without the country making the investment in its own citizens required to meet these corporate requirements. It is a system in which we let someone else shoulder the burden of creating an educational system that produces these highly trained people and then we bring them in and put them to work. All the while, our own citizens are struggling. We are not investing in getting them ready for the jobs of the future.
H1B, merit based immigrationWe have allowed an income divide to develop over time that simply leaves most Americans behind. A huge percentage of our citizens are underemployed, which means that they are working very hard at one, often two jobs, but are still barely able to survive. This income divide exists all over the world. Now the children of the economic elite of one country can come to the US and be a part of the economic elite of our country while no effort is made to better the lot of the folks already here who exist at the bottom.
So, while I am at pains to say that I am not at all anti-immigrant, the so-called “merit based” immigration system obviates the need to do something about our school system’s failure to produce enough skilled workers to ensure decent wage paying jobs for our own citizens. The jobs may be there but our own people aren’t prepared for them. It produces an upper middle class of technical elites that actually makes upward mobility for the rest of our citizens more difficult.

Why Class War?

This article was posted on my Facebook timeline. I responded but then decided I should share it via my Blog. So, read the article and then read my response below.

Know Thy Enemy: a Classier Take on Class Warfare by Sable Levy In case you didn’t know it, the ultra-rich are widely vilified—particularly within movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the political campaign of Bernie Sanders, which has captured the…Read more ›

Source: Know Thy Enemy: a Classier Take on Class Warfare – Texas Millennial Institute

George S LedyardMy Response:

Well , it all depends on what battle we are talking about. Class warfare is only one of the many battles we all are engaged in. There’s the battle between good and evil… and that can be described as existing on different levels in itself. There is the battle against evil out in the world. Rape, murder, enslavement, ethnic cleansing, and so on. This is the realm of politics, diplomacy, and the military.

There is also the battle between good and evil in ourselves. This is largely the realm of religion. It is the jihad that Islam speaks of, the battle with our lesser selves, the struggle to be good people. Or as Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

Karl Marx , Class Warfare, Clas war, Social JusticeThere are lots of battles. But few of these battles are not impacted by the class battle. Marxism may not have been a great way to run an economy… Capitalism, at least in some mixed economy form, has proven to result in better economic results. But if you want to understand who is getting screwed in a society, then Marxism is pretty good about telling you that. That’s why the Right never wants the dialogue framed this way. because if people really understood how the deck is stacked against them, they’d throw those suckers out (which of course has happened a number of times in history).

Of course poor people can be both good and bad, just like rich people. Domestic abuse, rape, theft, and so on are not at all defined by class lines. Rich folks commit them just as frequently as poor folks. But if you want to understand who is more likely to get a fair trial when accused, you better understand how class divides effect that. A rich executive is likely to get a lighter sentence for a more serious crime than a poor one for a less serious crime, especially if he or she is a minority. That’s just a fact.

Militarism - Spanish American WarIf you want to understand how our military adventurism around the world affects our own society, you damned well have to consider class. The rich get richer when we fight these wars. It is the poor and working classes who fight them. That is also just plain fact. The only really democratic war in US history was WWII in which the sons of the rich, like George Bush senior, JFK, and Teddy Roosevelt III, fought out on the front lines. All of the rest of our wars were fought by the poorest of our poor, all the way back to the Revolution.

If you want to understand why, when we have already agreed that both rich and poor can be good and evil, that they each commit crimes, that neither group is more or less moral than the other, we have the largest percentage of our population imprisoned than any other country in the world and that these people are largely poor and dis-proportionally minority, well, class warfare addresses that and your model above does not at all.

Income Inequality - class warWhile it is certainly a mistake to impute some sort of Rousseau-ian romanticization to the lower classes it is also a mistake to not address the fact that any given society is largely set up to benefit the wealthiest members at the expense of the poorest members. While we should all remain cognoscente of the fact that rich folks are both good and bad, some mean well and do great things with the wealth and others are not much better than pimps and predators and do huge harm, they still tend to vote along with their own self interest.

Class-ism is almost impossible to avoid in any society. So, in any attempt to have a society which is a just society, in which equal opportunity exists for all, in which the playing field is actually close to being level, then you had better be using the class war model to evaluate what is going on because the other models for the battles we face will not tell you anything about how a society falls short of its stated values and how to go about addressing that.

The $15 Minimum Wage – Refuting the Critics

A Facebook friend posted an article from a Right wing publication supposedly demonstrating the predicted disaster for our lowest wage workers if we institute the $15 minimum wage. I felt a detailed response was called for.

To the folks that think that the lay off of these workers is the result of an unsustainable minimum wage:

The Berkeley Layoffs
First, I will point out that the requirement to cut the work force was a university wide mandate to cut the budget by ten percent. It was not specifically targeted at the minimum wage earners. And I would maintain that this is the result of our chronic under-funding of education not a demonstration that the minimum wage is untenable. But that is the subject for other Blogs.

The question here is who will do those jobs. Has the University decided not to have clean floors? Will they not have people serving food at the dining halls? I strongly suspect that, with some budgetary re-prioritization, that these jobs will be replaced soon. Or are they going to have the grad students cleaning the floors?

The $15 minimum wage effects only the most low level jobs. These are jobs that the folks who can’t do any better do. It is a fact that, in most urban ares in the US, one can work two full time minimum wage jobs and still not cover what would be considered the most essential expenses of a family.

slavery and economic growth
Much of our wealth was dependent on slave labor.

Much of our country’s original growth was based on unpaid labor in the form of slavery. We abolished slavery but managed to set up relationships between owners and workers, both in the agricultural sector and in the newly developed industrial sector that left the workers as virtual slaves. The tenant farmer system in the South, the company owned mill and mining towns in the industrial heartland are good examples.

Child labor
Families needed their youngest children to work just t survive.

It wasn’t until the successes of the Labor Movement that we, as a society, began to establish the idea that there was a basic standard of living, under which no one should have to live and work. Our history has been one of continuous movement towards better protections for our workers until the backlash against the New Deal occurred in the Reagan years. The Right has attempted to roll back the gains made ever since.

The Chancellor of US Berkeley makes a salary of just under half a million dollars a year as a base salary. The football coach makes 1.81 million! Yet, rather than pay a wage that would only provide a worker with the most margin standard of living in a city like Berkeley. they decide to lay off those workers. It is just another example of our society’s obscene wealth divide, our tendency to treat those at the bottom as virtually sub-human, our vastly misplaced priorities.

Sweatshops
The sweatshops – virtually “paid” slavery

We are in serious trouble as a society… the robotics revolution is just around the corner. It will be upon us before I even pass away at the pave it is developing. Soon, most of these jobs will not be done by people, they will be done my machines. We need to be acting in anticipation of this revolution by investing heavily in education and providing enough financial support to the folks at he bottom that, at least their children will be ready for this new economy which is coming.

robotics and job loss
Robotics will eliminate most of these jobs.

Robotics will eliminate most of these jobs.A failure to invest right now in the mass of folks who exists at the bottom rungs of our society, a continuance of the path that we have been on in which they fall farther and farther behind the rest of the country in terms of standard of living will result in the near future in an unemployable class of non-workers. The jobs that used to exist for the least educated and most unskilled will not even exist. They will be done by machines. If we don’t want a revolution, we had better start preparing these folks for the future, not letting them fall farther and farther behind.

The $15 minimum wage is just a stop gap measure to help people survive. This is the subsistence level of our society. Most of these folks already need public assistance to survive. It is a matter of where you choose to pay, not whether you pay or not. The next step down is living on the streets and starving. One has to ask the question whether it is morally justifiable for the rest of our society to depend on jobs being done that require workers to live a sub-standard life?

Original article:
The $15 minimum wage hike in California has sent financially troubled UC Berkeley into decision making mode, and “the people who clean buildings, who work in food services or health clinics, says Todd Stenhouse, will be the ones without a job.

Source: UC Berkeley Forced to Cut 500 Jobs After $15 Minimum Wage Hike – Justin Holcomb