In the Arena

In A Rut

There are three components to America's growing income inequality.

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My print column this week welcomes Jeb Bush back into the fray–and wonders why intelligent politicians like Bush and President Obama keep getting snared by small, tawdry tactical issues. 

One clarification: Bush talks about social mobility rather than inequality. This is an important distinction. I don’t think there ever could, or should, be income equality in a free market society. But there should be open pathways toward success from the bottom end of the spectrum–and toward failure from the top.

Bush has spent a lot of his time working in the field of education. He also said on Morning Joe that we need to be willing to spend the requisite money so that poor children gets as good an education as wealthier kids do. This is very encouraging talk from a Republican. Bush has, in the past, also been candid about the social problems that lead to intergenerational poverty.

Our growing income inequality has three components:

1.The rich are getting richer. There is the so-called “Michael Jordan” effect, which has made it inevitable that stars be lavished with stratospheric salaries even when–in the case of more than a few corporate leaders–they’re not very successful. And the wealthy have been able to use their power to create a tax code and government subsidies that coddle them. (And, if they’re big enough, bailouts if they really screw up).

2. The middle class is waning. This is the most serious problem, the most difficult to crack. The great industrial labor jobs of the past are gone. Manufacturing is coming back, but it will require fewer workers, often with greater skills. The middle-management white collar jobs of the past are gone, too–computers have taken over many of those functions. Democracy requires a strong, informed middle class. How are we going to rebuild ours?

3. The poor are getting poorer. This is part of the equation that the left seems unable to acknowledge: there is a culture of poverty. As the liberal Brookings Institution has pointed out, if you graduate from high school, wait until marriage to have children and hold a regular job, the chances of your living in poverty are 2%. This cuts across all ethnic groups–the rate of out-of-wedlock births among whites is sky-rocketing. (And yes, it has been harder to find work in this recession, which is one reason why we need an aggressive infrastructure program to provide more jobs.)

In 1992, Bill Clinton ran on a tri-partite slogan: Opportunity. Responsibility. Community. The brilliant prescience of those values resonates–indeed, they seem even more crucial now. They represent the best way to transcend the silly, nonessential debates of the moment, a way to transcend the ancient, and now less relevant, political categories–liberal and conservative–that have strait-jacketed our ability to think in new, creative ways.

I remain optimistic that we can find a new, moderate consensus that will lift us out of the current petty, boring and unproductive public policy rut.

57 comments
ZacPetit
ZacPetit

The infrastructure idea is a non-starter, not because we don't need infrastructure, but because we consider infrastructure to be only things like roads, plumbing, public buildings, and electrical wires, all of which we have already.

What this country really needs in terms of infrastructure is a better information highway. The government needs to contract someone who knows what they're doing (hint: Google) and tell them they need Kansas City done to the whole country. Our level of productivity and competitiveness on a global scale would rise dramatically. It would employ all manner of skill sets (construction, mechanical, engineers, administrative, etc.) and would require maintenance and oversight on a constant basis (ongoing, non-temporary employment).

There are really so many new ideas on how government spending can spur the economy (guarantee loans for new power plant construction (nuclear), guarantee loans for small businesses, contract/create a task force to reform voting, etc.) that an infrastructure or typical jobs bill is really wasteful by comparison.

sonsofaureus
sonsofaureus

The problem with an aggressive infrastructure program is that this country already has most of its infrastructure built.  Our roads, railroads and airports are dingy, sure... but they already exist where they are needed most.  The economic impact of infrastructure comes when roads are built where there weren't any but were needed, not from filling in the potholes and reinforcing roads that are already there.  The other problem with infrastructure investment is that constructions end, leaving those temporary workers once again out of jobs.  Our roads are so old that they need reinforcement or they will start breaking down in ways that make them unusable.  That's more like fixing the transmission on your old car, not getting a car for the first time, in terms of impact.


ilikechips
ilikechips

Joe Klein the liberal shill. Join the rest of your Obama worshipping media who constantly run interference for him. No wonder why confidence in the media is so low. The press are scared to press Obama Obama on anything. Loved how Obama Played the liberal MSM last week and made them look like fools. " doomsday..schools shutting down, janitors losing their jobs, prisoners going free..all because of sequestration" Liberal MSM looks like fools now for pushing Obamessiah's message

La_Randy
La_Randy

"I remain optimistic that we can find a new, moderate consensus that will lift us out of the current petty, boring and unproductive public policy rut."

Given the gist of your article, I am left wondering which party has put us in this "petty, boring and unproductive public policy rut".

Which party has vehemently opposed any spending for infrastructure?

Which party has opposed its own healthcare policies of yesteryear?

Which party has opposed its own cap and trade solution to climate change and opposed government investment in green technologies while protecting tax subsidies for the biggest corporations on the planet?

Which party insists on austerity during an economic downturn when they simply can look at Europe for its consequences there?

Which party insists that revenues are off limits for budget control?

The list goes on.

Who?  Who can they be Mr Klein? 


AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

" 3. The poor are getting poorer. This is part of the equation that the left seems unable to acknowledge: there is a culture of poverty. As the liberal Brookings Institution has pointed out, if you graduate from high school, wait until marriage to have children and hold a regular job, the chances of your living in poverty are 2%. This cuts across all ethnic groups–the rate of out-of-wedlock births among whites is sky-rocketing. (And yes, it has been harder to find work in this recession, which is one reason why we need an aggressive infrastructure program to provide more jobs.)"

What on God's Green Earth are you talking about?  The left seems unable to acknowledge the poor are getting poorer?  WHAT?  The so-called "left" keep screaming that very fact from on high while the Reps keep recycling the old welfare queens driving Cadillacs trope from the Regan era and talking smack about how unemployment checks deter people from getting jobs.  Seriously, a vein burst in my brain when I got to this part.

There IS a culture of poverty, but it's not the "hey, being poor is cool, we're all lazy, come over to the dark side' culture the Right makes it out to be.  It is a culture of immobility and people being trapped by circumstances that our governments, (federal, state and local)  are actively making intractable.  Heaven for-fracking-bid birth control just be free to everybody (paid for by the tax equivalent of pocket lint as an investment in social stability and preventing unintended children) to start addressing this.  Remind me again, which side was against the birth control?  Which side keeps pushing abstinence only programs?   

How about figuring out new ways to keep kids in high school? Give at risk kids more options like online equivalents to the traditional 4 year HS and more community schools (that's what alternative HS's are called around here.)  Which side cuts education budgets again?

As for the "liberal Brookings Institutions", Jesus Tapdancing Christ Joe!  (Can I say that Livefyre?)  I need a drink. 


grape_crush
grape_crush

> Bush talks about social mobility rather than inequality. This is an important distinction.

a) Yes, in that it allows politicians and pundits to use that idea as cover in addressing their pet concerns instead of actually dealing with the real problem, which is that...

b) The growing disparity in where wealth and income is concentrated is driving the correctly identified deficiency in social mobility.

It's good to hear that someone on the Republican side is willing to spend the money on education, but I'd like to hear more detail on how the funds would be spent. If it's anything like the school privatization schemes his foundation keeps pushing, I am less than enthusiastic.

> The middle class is waning. This is the most serious problem, the most difficult to crack.

The difficult nature of solving this problem is more due to a lack of collective will than anything.

> The poor are getting poorer. 

Yes. You got that much right, Joe.

>This is part of the equation that the left seems unable to acknowledge...

Oh, completely. That's why we never, ever, ever advocate for increased access to birth control and reproductive education, paying for education and lowering the entry barriers to college or trade school, eliminating tax breaks for companies that ship jobs out of the country, so-called 'free trade' agreements that don't protect American jobs...need me to continue?

If you're going to engage in hippie-punching*, at least try to be smart about it.

> ...there is a culture of poverty.

And here you've stepped into Romney's "47%" territory, Joe; poor people want stuff. Poor folk are just fools who continue to make bad choices because they know the system will shield them from the most negative consequences of their failures and unwise decisions. 

Just like it does for the wealthy, as you indicated in your first point. 

It's not that people like me are unable to acknowledge that there's a problem, it's that the problem's nature isn't what you're making it out to be. You can't claim that there's a culture of entitlement and limit it to just people living in poverty. You can't even claim that what we think that we are entitled to as Americans is all bad. We hold things like clean air and safe products and and access to education and help when disaster hits to be good things to which we are entitled.

If there is a 'culture' of anything, it's one of irresponsibility, unaccountability, extreme self-interest, and lack of honor. That - not poor people living on the dole - is the problem. As it requires a change in thinking, in our collective will, that is the most difficult problem to crack.

> As the liberal Brookings Institution...

'Liberal.' Yeah. Right

If that's the extent of your examination of the liberal ideas floating around, then no wonder you're not seeing much worth seeing.

(*thanks everyone, for that phrase in the earlier comments, as it's entirely applicable here)

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Not only does Joe take a predictable jab at hippies with item 3, but he totally misses how tightly tied to number two the problem he's trying to describe is. He say's there's a 'culture of poverty' How does that differ from a "crisis of opportunity"? The short answer is, it doesn't.



kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

In keeping with the tradition of "No Feeding Thursday", I will not respond to Joe's obvious trolling.

(Not that he doesn't need a serious rebuttal. As Sue_N notes below, Joe's "Hippy-Punching Reflex" appears to be in overdrive these days.)

Sue_N
Sue_N

we need to be willing to spend the requisite money so that poor children gets as good an education as wealthier kids do

Maybe pundits, too.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

I have read, reread, and re-reread point three and still am not getting the point. I assume it's me so would someone please explain what "the left" (whatever JK means by that) is not acknowledging?

fitty_three
fitty_three

I know what three components are, Joe:

1. The GOP

2. The GOP's policies

3. The GOP's attitude toward income inequality

TyPollard
TyPollard

The "free market" is a figment of the imagination by winners in a rigged game.

MrObvious
MrObvious

 This is part of the equation that the left seems unable to acknowledge

That's a pretty astounding statement since almost every bill and conversation the 'left' have about this is MORE investments in things like education and jobs. Whereas everything dies on the right 'cause austerity is good and people need more tax breaks.
So what is it that the 'left' seems unable to acknowledge?

destor23
destor23

"The liberal Brookings Institution..."

What planet are you on?  Brookings is not a liberal institution.  It's barely left-leaning.  Its major policy recommendations since 2011 have been to the right of Simpson Bowles and were devised by Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici.  This might seem like a minor issue to you and maybe even just a bit of Internet commentator pedantry, but if you let Brookings define the liberal argument, then real liberal arguments can never be made in the mainstream press.

sonsofaureus
sonsofaureus

@ilikechips Joe Klein gets attacked routinely by the left and the right.  That tells me he's probably reasonable and right more often than he's wrong most of the time.  I've always found him to be thoughtful and fair.  

Even in this post, Joe Klein speaks of the need to "transcend the ancient, and now less relevant, political categories–liberal and conservative–that have strait-jacketed our ability to think in new, creative ways."  

Here's a real problem (of the shrinking middle class, of the lack of social mobility) being discussed thoughtfully, and you bring up a very unreal, made-up problem of Joe Klein being a liberal shill in your eyes.  

My only disagreement with Joe Klein in this article is that I don't welcome Jeb Bush back into the fray.  I can't stomach another Bush, even if he's right about the social mobility.  

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ilikechips At what point do you look in the mirror before slinging mud at everyone else. Last time I looked the biggest bubble chamber is still on the right which was why America's choice at re election time came as such a surprise to Fox News and Karl Rove.

bobell
bobell

@ilikechips It's a lot easier to complain about a blog post if you don't read it, right?  I don't suppose you've noticed that almost every comment in response to Joe's post criticizes him for blaming on Obama a mess the Republicans made.  If Joe's a shill for Obama, Obama's in real trouble.

retiredvet
retiredvet

@AlistairCookie Here's a toast to that. Just water but it's the thought that counts. Especially the infrastructure is rotting badly and needs work. That would be jobs on top of jobs!

bobell
bobell

@AlistairCookie Well said.

The defining characteristic of poverty is a lack of wealth and income.  The obvious cure for poverty, then, is to give money to the poor -- or goods and services in kind.  We do a terrible job of that and of all that goes with it. I'm not so crazy as to think we can just hand over paychecks to the poor for doing nothing and expect them to manage their lives well and lift their children out of poverty.  The problem is close to intractable, because they have to learn how to live lives appropriate to people with income, and then how to get the income without relying on the state.

If it was ever the goal of government to lift people out of poverty with a combination of financial incentives and training in how to live and work, government seems mostly to have abandoned that goal -- and the poor with it.  The Demos are at least trying to dent the problem; the GOP is looking for a rug big enough to sweep it all under.  This is perhaps our society's number one failing, and it's not clear at all that we can fix it.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@grape_crush You also can't talk about a "culture of entitlement" without getting into the fact that the biggest adherents to that culture in this country are corporations and the wealthy. The big corporations, like oil and gas and the agro-giants, are entitled to their "welfare" (via subsidies despite massive profits), while the wealthy are entitled to their tax cuts and tax breaks. The poor and middle class constantly live with the threat of having their "entitlements" cut or taken away (see: budget, Paul Ryan), but we all know the earth would simply stop spinning on its axis if Exxon-Mobile or Willard Romney had to give up theirs.

The poor and middle class and their "entitlements" (aka, earned benefits) are merely sacrifices to be burned on the altar of wealth and privilege.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@grape_crush 

Did Joe's last stupid post disappear? 

If I was Joe I would delete it as well. 

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

@grape_crush Another brilliant rebuttal, grape. Bravo! The Hippies salute you. (In the regular way. Joe gets his own "special" salute. ;)

bobell
bobell

@PaulDirks He's also mistaking correlation for causation in his point 3.  It's not that waiting for marriage to have children causes economic success. It's that the sort of people likely to achieve economic success are also the sort of people who wait for marriage to have children.

The most likely cause of poverty for any given person is the poverty of his or her close family and the resulting weak socialization and education.  If we don't break into that vicious cycle, it will consume not only them but us.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@PaulDirks If only the left had spent any time talking about infrastructure and jobs …

grape_crush
grape_crush

> ...so would someone please explain...

Playing Klein Whisperer, I think he's saying that the left won't admit that lazy poor folk are taking advantage of the hard-working, tax-paying Real Americans who pay for their existence.

I dunno. With Time undergoing layoffs and restructuring, maybe Klein is angling for a regular pundit gig on Morning Joe.


Sue_N
Sue_N

@Paul,nnto It's Joe. Hippie-punching is a reflex with him.

Also too, entitlements. If we don't get rid of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the damn poors will never get off their butts and get a job. Or something.

fitty_three
fitty_three

Speaking of small bone maneuvers, this is another solo venture by Joe.

retiredvet
retiredvet

@TyPollard What frosts my lemons is that the right doesn't seem to get it that without a healthy middle class there's really no America.

ilikechips
ilikechips

@destor23  Ha HA. not Liberal..what planet do you live on. As a501(c)(3)non-profit organization, Brookings describes itself as independent and non-partisan. A recent U.S. News & World Report report on the political orientation of think tanks in the United States described it as "liberal."[23]The New York Timeshas referred to the organization as liberal, liberal-centrist, centrist, and conservative.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30]The Washington Posthas described Brookings as centrist and liberal.[31][32][33][34]TheLos Angeles Timesdescribed Brookings as liberal-leaning and centrist before opining that it did not believe such labels mattered.[35][36][37][38]In 1977,Time Magazinedescribed it as the "nation's pre-eminent liberal think tank".[39]Newsweekhas described Brookings as centrist[40]whilePoliticohas used the term "center-left".[41]In addition, the organization is described as conservative by the media watchdog groupFairness and Accuracy in Reporting.[20][22][42][43]




TyPollard
TyPollard

@destor23

"...then real liberal arguments can never be made in the mainstream press."

That is the point.

Morganne2133
Morganne2133

@ideawoman10 you've got some great posts! I was just reading another! I need to check your TL daily!

grape_crush
grape_crush

@Sue_N@grape_crush> You also can't talk about a "culture of entitlement" without getting into the fact that the biggest adherents to that culture in this country are corporations and the wealthy.

You're right, but I think I'm unclear about the point I was trying to make in that section. A company using an  R and D tax credit to develop a means of more efficient or cleaner energy production or preserving our domestic food supply via subsidization, I don't have a huge issue with. It's a means to a worthwhile end. 

It's that people and companies that continue to expect the provision of these means without it being really necessary or because they are greedy* that's really the cultural issue to me. And I don't know quite how to solve it, as it requires that we be more conscious citizens and better people.

(*a company taking a credit when it is already highly profitable, a person who's capable of work collecting disability, a vulture capitalist earning income while being taxed at a capital gains rate...like that)

bobell
bobell

@TyPollard No, the post is still there. It's up at the top in the pictures (I forget the exact caption -- Editors' Favorites?)

I used to sympathize with Joe's viewpoint.  Now I sympathize with TIME -- paying him all that money for unadulterated blather at a moment when every penny counts.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

"Klein Whisperer" That's a dark road to go down g_c, tread carefully.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

And unions. At least the teachers and police unions.

Seriously though-it's just poor writing.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@bobell 

He lacks self awareness to realize he is exhibit A of undeserving beneficiary of what is wrong with Washington. 

Sue_N
Sue_N

@Paul,nnto It is. I have no idea what point he was trying to make, other than his usual "the left doesn't get it" mush.

As Mr. Obvious points out below, just about every policy, program, idea or pipe-dream the left has put forward in just the past four years alone has been aimed at helping middle- and low-income families. Health care, jobs, education, even mandating that insurance companies pay for birth control – it will all have a direct and positive impact on the poor and middle class.

The left Joe writes about exists only in his mind. It bears no actual resemblance the to left that exists in reality.