Expect little, and you will be rewarded: Part Deux

o-FUCK-THE-POOR-570Last Monday I promised a follow-up to Ask Little, and You Will Be Rewarded: Part One. The object of examination was a progressive platform originating in the political apparatus of New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio on the theme of reducing inequality. My interest is in considering what I take to be yawning substantive oversights in the platform.

I should repeat that I’m happy to see BdB breaking his own lance for this line of discussion, and others signing on. I don’t see anything in the list that I don’t like. What’s on point here is what is missing.

Lists like this are potentially endless, so I want to make clear I am not trying to edit at the margins. The frame is reducing inequality, so other good things, like eviscerating the defense budget, are not on point in this context.

If we’re talking about money, and aren’t we always, inequality could be reduced to tightening the distribution of income. This is not limited to raising the floor and lowering the ceiling, but to, for instance, reducing the distance between those at the 40th percentile and the 60th. I’d also note that the latter does not imply reducing the incomes of everybody above the median, though some haircuts will certainly be in order.

It is useful to start with the extremes, meaning floors and ceilings. On floors, the inevitable dilemma is that some people who aren’t working cannot. This will always be the case, not least in our current, slow-growth economy. I speak of the victims of welfare reform, those who fall through the holes of the safety net and never recover. Single persons without children, who are eligible for little in the way of public assistance. Those rotting away in barren institutional warehouses, the deinstitutionalized, the homeless.

Jesus would be interested in these people, even if our Christian loudmouths are not. What about our friends in the Big Apple? Not so much, I’m afraid. The two exceptions are references to supporting education, not prisons, and universal pre-K. The first is more of a cliché than a proposal, while the latter is very important but not immediately relevant to the least of thine. (And just to be difficult, some investment in prisons will be necessary to assist in the reintegration of our huge incarcerated population into society. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on mass incarceration had more bite than this platform.) In 2012, there were more than 11 million below half the poverty line, mostly adult and mostly non-hispanic white. Maybe it’s time to re-racialize poverty.


Between 1995 and 2005, while overall child poverty declined significantly, the safety net became less effective at protecting children from deep poverty. The share of children living in deep poverty rose from 2.1 percent in 1995 to 3.0 percent in 2005.

The elephant in the room here is the dismal travesty of welfare reform, in which some Democrats remain invested. Who will speak of transforming the infernal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant into a national guaranteed income for those without independent means or access to Social Security?

All the huffing and puffing about economic growth, jobs, public investment, and liberal yadda yadda yadda is not relevant to this end of the income spectrum. It would be nice if such people were not trapped in a political ghetto, considered indefensible and beyond help.

I understand the politics look to be somewhere between difficult and impossible. We need some political genius to weigh in; the least we could expect is some reference to the plight of the forgotten by the hip progressives of New York City.

When I began writing this, I thought I would wrap it up in a second post. But it turns out I’m just getting started. Stay tuned.


Expect little, and you will be rewarded: Part Deux — 4 Comments

  1. The best way to address inequality is to provide universal publicly financed programs that address basic needs. De Blasio’s progressive platform does this in one area, child care. We need a genuine health care reform; I’m the sort of socialist who wants a National Health Service, complete with home health visitors and the like, but expanded (e.g., vision, dental, and long-term care services) Medicare for all would suffice. It should not require co-pays so high that services are in reality unavailable for many people for financial reasons and should not impose the stress of uncertainty about subsidies that we have now. It should have a very large public health center component.

    Housing is another issue. At least expand Section 8, but I’d go for more public housing units scattered through a community. Which brings us to another cost — transportation. Not only should affordable housing be near jobs where possible, but there should also be cheap transit. Except for housing vouchers, these programs would be available to everyone.

  2. Is asking for what we want the way to get what we want?


    The way to get what we want is to take aim squarely at what the adversary fears most. How do we know what that is? Political economy tells us:

    “Political economy came into being as a natural result of the expansion of trade, and with its appearance elementary, unscientific huckstering was replaced by a developed system of licensed fraud, an entire science of enrichment.” -Fred., 1844.

    What we want: collective bargaining and full employment.

    How to get it: the Sandwichman knows.

  3. So long as the top mini-fraction at the top of our economic pyramid want to continuously increase their share of the pie, so to speak, there will not be enough to go around for all those at the lower depths. We routinely read of the increases in wealth going to the already wealthy. There seems to be no will amongst the political class to modify this continuous process of more for some at the top and less for the rest. Today on page one of the NYTs, “Public-Sector Jobs Vanish, Hitting Blacks Hard”. The phenomenon of Scott Walker. The power vested in Mitch McConnell. It’s nuts, but it’s the best political economy that money can buy. You just need to start with a great deal of money and everything else falls into place.

    That needs to stop and it won’t stop until the wealthy no longer control the political process. Read your French history. Those who had more than enough argued and bargained for as little change as possible until the suffering of those with little became unbearable due to a couple of really bad harvests. Finally those on the Mountain began to realize that those on the right had no real intention of changing the economic ills of the day. Robespierre got it right when he said, “When, then, will the people be educated? When they have enough bread to eat, and when the rich and the government cease bribing treacherous pens and tongues to deceive them; when their interests are identified with those of the people. When will this be? Never.”

  4. Krugman this morning, “But now the IMF is playing bad cop, declaring that it cannot release funds until Syriza toes the line on pensions and labor market reform. The latter is dubious economics — the IMF’s own research doesn’t support enthusiasm about structural reforms, especially in the labor market.” Is it ever likely that a recommendation from the IMF will substitute “pensions and labor market reforms” with tax reform, wealth accumulation reform, or some such reform that takes back from those who have avoided taxation and been allowed to accumulate what the lower 99% have had to give up in their favor?

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