Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

Resurrecting Henry George: The Case for National Housing Assistance

In Economics, Housing, New Deal, Politics of Policy, Social Democracy, Taxes on June 30, 2009 at 10:47 am

“The savage beasts in Italy have their particular dens, they have their places of repose and refuge; but the men who bear arms, and expose their lives for the safety of their country, enjoy in the meantime nothing more in it but the air and the light.They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the luxury and wealth of other men.They were styled the masters of the world, but in the meantime had not one foot of ground which they could call their own.” (Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, 133 BCE)

“The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air–it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.” (Henry George, 1879)

 

One of the truisms of studying social policy is the phrase “programs for poor people make poor programs.” Programs targeted at poor people (Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or “welfare” being the best example) tend to be underfunded, provide inadequate levels of benefits, have onerous application requirements, are socially stigmatizing, and are politically vulnerable to assault from the right. By contrast, programs that are universal in nature, including both the poor, the working class, the middle class, and maybe even the affluent, (here, the best examples are Social Security and Medicare) tend to well-funded, provide decent benefits, where eligibility is on the basis of tights, are socially approved of, and are politically inviolate from the right.

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In Defense of Partisanship: Part One, All Politics is Political

In California, History and Politics, Political Ideology, Political Parties, Politics, Politics of Policy on June 29, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Note: this is the first post from our new contributor, Daraka Larimore-Hall, late of Hoverbike.

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Americans love to hate political parties. From the founding of the Republic, parties have been seen as dangerous barriers standing between people and their government. Parties are left completely out of the design of the state as constructed by the Constitution, and early American writing on politics treated their inevitable formation as an almost pathological social problem. As we all know, President Obama plays this stream of public opinion masterfully, even if his “post-partisanship” looks a little strange in the face of Republican discipline in Congress.

Personally, I’m a big fan of parties, mostly because I’m a big fan of organizing as a tool for generally less powerful people to tip the scales in their favor. I certainly understand the allure of politics without parties. Watching cable TV news makes even hardened politicos like me wish for a world with less polarization and conflict. But this longing is a mistake.

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Week 5 Roundup!

In California, Economics, Education Reform, Full Employment, History and Politics, Housing, Living Wage, New Deal, Politics, Politics of Policy, Public Policy, Public Works, Social Democracy, Taxes, Unions on June 29, 2009 at 9:37 am

In a very encouraging sign, Week 5 has been the most successful week yet.

  • 193 hits, not only the highest yet, but also the third week in a row of triple-digits, indicating a clear shift from the first two weeks of TRP’s existence, which averaged about 50 hits a week.
  • A major source of this up-tick has been the expanding importance of social networking sites, from Facebook to Digg to Reddit to some sites I’ve never heard of (feedly and collecta). Many thanks to people who click one of the “share this post” buttons at the bottom of every post.
  • There’s also been an increase in the number of comments. Thanks also go out to Marko Budisic, who poses some puzzlers in the comment threads.

Posts this week if you missed them:

Enjoy!

“Reason Not the Need”: Housing Policy and Jobs

In California, Economics, Full Employment, Housing, New Deal, Public Policy, Public Works, Social Democracy, Unions on June 28, 2009 at 12:54 pm

“O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is as cheap as beast’s.” (Lear, II iv)

The Problem:

If there is any one area of American life that best expresses the adage “poverty in the midst of prosperity,” it must be housing. Even as thousands upon thousands of homes now stand empty, vast swathes of speculative suburban developments along the highways and hills of California turned into ghost towns, homelessness has increased. In Washington D.C, the number of homeless families has increased in the last year by 15%, with similar figures being reported in New York City and other metropolitan centers. Even when the sub-prime boom was spreading home-ownership wide and far and actually beginning to make headway against the unequal distribution of housing in America, in 2006, 8.8 million households were paying more than half their income in rent (I was probably one of them). Major systemic problems (the lack of affordable housing and workforce housing near where people work, the need to in-fill versus sprawl, racial and class discrimination) were not being addressed, even when the market was flush.

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Beyond EEP vs. Broader, Bolder: The Problem With Education “Reform”

In California, Economics, Education Reform, Public Policy, Social Democracy, Unions on June 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm

 

Background:

Yesterday, the Economic Policy Institute held an event, co-sponsored by the “Broader, Bolder” education reform group, on reforming No Child Left Behind. This fact was commented on in a post on Crooked Timber, and within eight posts, you could read that ” The goal of NCLB was not to improve education, it was to destroy the teacher’s unions and take away the hard won rights including tenure and the ability to act as professionals…One group sees education as a way to instruct the young with the essentials of the society and turn them into docile citizens who will provide the workforce and consumer base that the elite depends upon. This group favors an authoritarian, top down, approach to instruction,” and “the “Broader, Bolder Coalition”—whose manifesto openly embraces using education policy as a stalking horse for a broad political agenda…has little to do with educational standards.”

And there, in a microcosm, is the state of our current education reform debate: one group, loosely grouped around the “Broader, Bolder” coalition, and another group, loosely grouped around the Education Equality Project and they hate each other worse than Communists hate Trotskyists, and with the same sectarian flair. Apparently the Broader, Bolder folks are either your standard left-of-center education policy wonks and activists who emphasize the need to tackle the social environment of schools or a stalking horse for the teachers unions out to destroy education reform. Likewise, the Educational Equality Project people are either a very similar group of wonks who focus on the achievement gap between white students and students of color, or a neoliberal plot to destroy teachers unions, force students into becoming standardized-tested drones, and privatize the public education system. Oh, and they’re both the only true “reformers.”

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Minimum Wage as Class Politics

In History and Law, History and Politics, Living Wage, New Deal, Politics of Policy, Public Policy, Social Democracy, Unions on June 24, 2009 at 11:17 am

As of this writing, the lowest that most workers can be paid is $6.55 an hour (approx. $12.5k a year), according to a piece of Federal law known as the Fair Labor Standards Act. Not all workers are covered under Federal minimum wage laws,  but most of these workers are also covered by their state minimum wage or possibly a local living wage ordinance. A month from tomorrow, the federal minimum wage will increase to $7.25 an hour (a 10.6% increase), the last in a three-stage increase passed in 2007.

While most people know of the minimum wage, and while most workers continue to benefit from its existence, few people really know the history of how it came about, how it changed, and why it stands as one of the few remaining pieces of “class politics” within the Democratic Party.

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Week 4/Month 1 Roundup!

In Budget Politics, California, Economics, European Politics, Full Employment, Health Care Reform, History and Law, History and Politics, New Deal, Politics, Politics of Policy, Public Policy, Social Democracy, Taxes, U.K Politics, Uncategorized, Unions on June 22, 2009 at 7:55 am

Ok, a full month has come and gone, so where does the Realignment Project stand?

  • 12 substantive posts, 3 a week
    • Three posts week (spaced out every other day) looks like a good, sustainable pace for my own essays;’
    • I’m waiting on some collaborators who can fill in the gaps and keep content flowing, so hopefully we’ll be moving to a new essay-post every day as soon as possible.
  • 411 hits, 120 in the last week alone
    • This is a very encouraging growth rate, pulling in traffic from other blogs, diaries on DailyKos, and social networking sites.
  • 18 comments
    • This I’m particularly happy about, getting some conversations going.

So, my “ask” for readers is twofold: first, continue to read but also comment, so that we can make The Realignment Project more of a dialogue and debate. Second, pass on the word – if you can put this site on your blogroll (if you have a blog), if you can forward it via the handy row of buttons at the bottom of each post, to help spread word-of-mouth, that would help.

So, the last month’s posts, arranged by topic:
Politics:

Health Care Reform:

Economic Policy:

Taxes and Budgets:

Law and Politics:

Enjoy!

After Detroit: Rethinking Industrial Policy for a New Era

In Economics, Full Employment, Politics of Policy, Public Policy, Unions on June 21, 2009 at 11:25 am

It may be the fastest and most unexpected revolution in political economy since the fall of the Soviet Union, but it is still startling to realize that the United States government currently owns the largest insurer (AIG), mortgage provider (Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac), multiple banks (Citigroup and Bank of America), as well as a majority stake in GM and a significant share in Chrysler. Contrary to some, I don’t think this heralds the emergence of American socialism – although it might begin to shift the Overton window in regards to the public/private divide. What I do think it does herald is the re-emergence of industrial policy in America. (For those who’ve never heard of this rather wonkish term, industrial policy refers to government intervention into the economy to promote or encourage not just industrial development, but particular industries: steel, railroads, textiles, or automobiles, and so forth.)

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Linking Taxation and Spending – A Progressive Imperative

In Budget Politics, California, Politics, Public Policy, Taxes on June 17, 2009 at 10:18 pm

budgety thing

In thinking through my recent post about the California budget mess, and in following the politics of what is now the second full round of budget negotiations this year, one of the frustrating elements of budget politics (at least for progressives) is the lack of connection in the minds of the electorate between taxes (which they generally dislike or can be persuaded to vote against, although as progressives have pointed out, this is not always true) and spending (which they generally like, in pretty much all cases). Even though it’s impossible to increase spending on public priorities, cut taxes, balance the budget, and decrease borrowing at the same time, voters apparently would like to do just that.

The problem for progressives, though, is that this makes it very difficult to raise taxes, even when it’s going towards public policies that are really popular. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see the California state legislature ‘s Budget Conference Committee increase the VLF (Vehicle License Fee) to save the state’s  parks from being shuttered. Not only was this good in and of itself – parks are a public good that people should be able to enjoy, closing the parks loses a lot more in tourist revenue than it saves n parks dept salaries and maintenance costs – but it was also a rare case of a tax increase that’s explicitly targeted to a public policy. Henceforth, the debate over increasing the VLF, which was one of the factors that brought down Gray Davis and brought in Arnold Schwarzenegger, is no longer just a debate over whether taxes should be higher or lower, as the Republicans would prefer. Now it’s a question of which is better, $15 less on your VLF or state parks – and that’s a debate we can win.

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Whither (Wither?) Social Democracy?

In Economics, European Politics, Full Employment, Politics, Public Policy, Social Democracy, U.K Politics, Uncategorized on June 16, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Background:

If you’ve been following international news, you’ll know that about a week ago, the E.U elections were held, and showed a substantial fall-off in support for those social-democratic parties allied around the PES (Party of European Socialism) whether or not the national party in question was in or out of government, a smaller fall-off for the more center-right EPP (European People’s Party) and ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), a worrying increase in fringe party representation (including the election of 2 BNP, i.e, fascist, members from the U.K), and a surprising increase in Green party representation.

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