Okay – it was one more May Day with the usual foolishness. It was International Workers Day, and Ed Kilgore explained here how we don’t participate – we moved that sort of thing to the end of summer, our Labor Day:
President Grover Cleveland adopted the Knights of Labor’s proposal for a September Labor Day (in part, it is likely, to avoid commemoration of the Haymarket disturbances, the lethal bomb thrown by persons unknown, and the police massacre of protestors that followed).
Yes, workers once fought for what they thought were their rights – and many died, just for decent wages and an eight-hour day – but heck, even the Catholic Church created a May 1 feast for St. Joseph the Worker. What’s wrong with May Day? Well, all those massive May Day workers parades in the all the former communist counties have also soured us on the day. And Kilgore discusses a post at the conservative legal site the Volokh Conspiracy promoting the idea of renaming the day – making it “Victims of Communism Day” – as they’ve been doing each year since 2007 or so. Conservatives don’t like workers of course, and they certainly don’t want the workers of the world to unite. You know the drill – labor unions ruined America, driving up the cost of doing business by demanding what they said were decent wages and protesting unsafe working conditions and so on. Workers demanding fairness and a piece of the pie for their labor – that’s really communism. And communism was awful, and that’s what we should commemorate. Workers just whine and ruin everything. Teachers and cops and firefighters should work for free, damn it!
The whole thing is tiresome. We’ve heard it all before. It’s the battle Marx started long ago, and Scott Walker is continuing it, and no one is changing anyone’s mind, or their own. Kilgore handles it well enough and there’s little more to say about it. It happens every May Day, although things got a little hotter this year:
Tuesday marked a noisy return to the national stage for the Occupy movement, which had been dormant for much of the winter. Activists called it “A Day Without the 99 Percent.”
But as protesters across the country responded to the movement’s call for a general strike, the 99-percenters seemed to be everywhere: marching to the White House and through Midtown Manhattan; smashing windows in downtown Seattle; and forming picket lines at restaurants, banks and hospitals.
Marches and rallies in several cities drew thousands, and there were reports of violent clashes on the West Coast, where police arrested more than a dozen people in Seattle, Portland and Oakland. More than 35 people were arrested on a day of wide-ranging demonstrations throughout New York.
They’re back. Grover Cleveland would not be pleased:
May Day – a holiday that honors the international labor movement – is typically celebrated more boisterously overseas, and tens of thousands came out for marches in Spain, Turkey and Greece and throughout Asia. This year, the Occupy movement embraced May 1 as “A Day Without the 99 Percent,” urging students to skip school and employees to miss work to show their support for the movement’s goals.
In the District, Occupy D.C. protesters engaged in street theater – dumping a load of coal in the downtown branch of a bank that they say finances mountaintop coal mining – and rallied in Meridian Hill Park for a march to the White House on Tuesday evening. Downtown, a protester spray-painted the word “Foreclosed” on a Bank of America branch.
And there was this:
In New York, protesters first gathered in Bryant Park and later filled a block-long stretch of 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal. Some carried signs that said “Tax the Millionaires.” They formed picket lines in front of chain restaurants such as Chipotle and the Capital Grille and chanted “Stand up, fight back!” as drums and a marching band added to the din. A group of guitarists – including Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine – marched while strumming and singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
Later, hundreds of union representatives, Occupiers and immigrants rights groups massed near Union Square for the day’s big march to Wall Street.
Mercedes used to rent Bryant Park for Fashion Week – that over-the-top series of runway shows with the slinky models in impossibly expensive odd dresses, with all the celebrities in the front row. It’s a good thing they moved that up to Lincoln Center a few years ago. The times they are a-changing. Woody Guthrie lives, even if Joe Hill is dead.
And the media seemed to cover all of this as a curiosity. They may not know what to make of it, or they fear their sponsors. It’s probably best not to show how angry people are at big corporations. Those big corporations pay the bills – so just make it one of many stories that day. And it was just one day.
And something else happened this May Day, as Robert Reich explains:
The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 13,338 Tuesday, its highest since December, 2007. The S&P 500 added 16 points. Wall Street will remember May 1 as a great day.
But most of these gains are going to the richest 10 percent of Americans who own 90 percent of the shares traded on Wall Street. And the lion’s share of the gains is going to the wealthiest 1 percent.
Shares are up because corporate profits are up, and profits are up largely because companies have figured out how to do more with less.
This was not any kind of workers’ day:
Payrolls used to account for almost 70 percent of the typical company’s costs. But one of the most striking legacies of the Great Recession has been the decline of full-time employment – as companies have substituted software or outsourced jobs abroad (courtesy of the Internet, making outsourcing more efficient than ever), or shifted them to contract workers also linked via Internet and software.
That’s why most of the gains from the productivity revolution are going to the owners of capital, while typical workers are either unemployed or underemployed, or else getting wages and benefits whose real value continues to drop. The portion of total income going to capital rather than labor is the highest since the 1920s.
Increasingly, the world belongs to those collecting capital gains.
The massive demonstrations were impressive, and pointless, as the demonstrators had lost long ago, to those who collect capital gains:
They’re the ones who demanded and got massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, on the false promise that the gains would “trickle down” to everyone else in the form of more jobs and better wages.
They’re now advocating austerity economics, on the false basis that cuts in public spending – including education, infrastructure and safety nets – will generate more “confidence” and “certainty” among lenders and investors, and also lead to more jobs and better wages.
But Reich goes on to argue that their win may not lead to where they think it leads:
It’s not sustainable economically because it has resulted in chronically inadequate demand for goods and services. That’s meant anemic growth punctuated by recessions. Without a larger share of the economic gains, the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services an ever-more productive economy can generate.
It’s not sustainable socially because it has resulted in rising frustration over the inability of most people to get ahead.
Austerity economics in Europe is fanning the flames, as public budgets are slashed on the false crucible of fiscal responsibility. In the United States, an anemic recovery and plunging home prices are taking a toll: a large portion of the public believes the game is rigged and no longer trusts that the major institutions of society – big business, Wall Street or government – are on their side. In Europe and America, 30 to 50 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
There’s a reason folks are in the streets:
Public anger and frustration can ignite in two very different ways. One is toward reforms that more broadly share the productivity gains.
The other is toward demagogues that turn people against one another.
Demagogues use fear and frustration to advance themselves and their own narrow political agendas – scapegoating immigrants, foreigners, ethnic minorities, labor unions, government workers, the poor, the rich and “enemies within” such as communists, terrorists or other conspirators.
Be warned. The demagogues already are on the loose.
And you remember Paul Ryan’s 2009 Ayn Rand speech:
You know, it doesn’t surprise me that sales of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have surged lately with the Obama administration coming in, because it’s that kind of thinking, that kind of writing, that is sorely needed right now. And I think a lot of people would observe that we are living right in an Ayn Rand novel, metaphorically speaking.
But more to the point is this: The issue that is under assault, the attack on democratic capitalism, on individualism and freedom in America, is an attack on the moral foundation of America. And Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and this to me is what matters most. It is not enough to say that President Obama’s taxes are too big, the health-care plan doesn’t work for this or that policy reason, it is the morality of what is occurring right now and how it offends the morality of individuals working toward their own free will, to produce, to achieve, to succeed, that is under attack. And it is that what I think Ayn Rand would be commenting on, and we need that kind of comment more and more than ever.
I recently met Edward Conard on 57th Street and Madison Avenue, just outside his office at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he helped to build into a multibillion-dollar business by buying, fixing up and selling off companies at a profit. Conard, who retired a few years ago at 51, is not merely a member of the 1 percent. He’s a member of the 0.1 percent. His wealth is most likely in the hundreds of millions; he lives in an Upper East Side town house just off Fifth Avenue; and he is one of the largest donors to his old boss and friend, Mitt Romney.
Unlike his former colleagues, Conard wants to have an open conversation about wealth. He has spent the last four years writing a book that he hopes will forever change the way we view the super-rich’s role in our society. “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong,” to be published in hardcover next month by Portfolio, aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. This could be the most hated book of the year.
Mitt’s buddy thinks there’s not enough inequality:
A central problem with the U.S. economy, he told me, is finding a way to get more people to look for solutions despite these terrible odds of success. Conard’s solution is simple. Society benefits if the successful risk takers get a lot of money. For proof, he looks to the market. At a nearby table we saw three young people with plaid shirts and floppy hair. For all we know, they may have been plotting the next generation’s Twitter, but Conard felt sure they were merely lounging on the sidelines. “What are they doing, sitting here, having a coffee at 2:30?” he asked. “I’m sure those guys are college-educated.”
Conard, who occasionally flashed a mean streak during our talks, started calling the group “art-history majors,” his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life. In Conard’s mind, this includes, surprisingly, people like lawyers, who opt for stable professions that don’t maximize their wealth-creating potential. He said the only way to persuade these “art-history majors” to join the fiercely competitive economic mechanism is to tempt them with extraordinary payoffs.
Be bold, get rich, or just go away. That was another May Day perspective. And the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein asks an interesting question along those lines. “Has Team Romney forgotten that the Bush years were terrible?” Edward Conard liked those years, and maybe Romney did too. And Andrew Leonard digs into that:
That’s not the correct formulation. The right question is: “Is Team Romney hoping that Americans have forgotten that the Bush years were terrible?” Because there’s no possible way that Romney’s team has forgotten anything about the Bush years. Let’s single out the all-important subject of the economy. Romney’s top two economic advisors are men who served as George W. Bush’s top economic advisors: Glenn Hubbard and Greg Mankiw. If anyone can remember what happened to the U.S. economy under George Bush, it would have to be these two distinguished economists.
And there’s an added irony:
It seems appropriate, here, to recall Romney’s repeated put-downs of Obama’s Harvard connections. It’s not just that Romney has two Harvard degrees to Obama’s one. Look at his team. Mankiw is a Harvard economics professor. Hubbard got his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. Romney’s “policy director,” Lanhee Chen, has four degrees from Harvard!
But the main point here is the admission that these guys want us to go back to the Bush years:
Last week, a press secretary for the Republican National Committee, Alexandra Franceschi, provoked some Democratic chortling when she responded to a question asking whether the 2012 GOP agenda was any different from the Bush/Cheney agenda. “I think it’s that program, just updated,” she replied.
But Democrats shouldn’t laugh too hard, as she wasn’t really kidding at all:
Hubbard and Mankiw provide the evidence. Hubbard is famous for his role as a chief architect of the Bush tax cuts. If any single non-politician can be blamed for turning the budget surpluses of the Clinton years into the crippling deficits of the Bush era, thus leaving the United States woefully unprepared to deal with a disastrous recession, it’s got to be Glenn Hubbard.
And guess what. Romney is currently proposing to lower taxes even further on the richest Americans!
Hubbard was most proud of his work lowering the taxes on dividends and capital gains, which he described as the “the most pro-growth tax reform that anybody did since Kennedy.” However, as BusinessWeek pointed out, GDP growth under Bush averaged a paltry 2.7 percent from the end of the 2001 recession until December 2007 – the slowest growth, at that point, registered under any U.S. president since the end of World War II.
And there’s the other guy:
Greg Mankiw is famous for a little flap during the Bush reelection campaign when he annoyed the White House by declaring that free trade and outsourcing of jobs “was probably a plus for the American economy in the long run.” Mankiw’s views were certainly not exceptional for an economist, and didn’t actually contravene Bush administration priorities, but they were considered a little insensitive to actually say out loud while the economy was struggling during an election year – particularly in all-important Rust Belt states pounded by globalization.
And Happy May Day to all you unemployed workers out there in the Rust Belt states!
But wait, there’s more:
Eight years later, Mankiw’s role in the Romney brain trust suggest that we shouldn’t be counting on any fresh thinking about how to respond to the challenges of globalization.
More important, Mankiw was and is a critic of financial sector regulation. We all know where that got us during the Bush administration. But sure enough, today, Romney is campaigning on an agenda that includes rolling back Obama’s efforts at banking reform.
So it comes down to this:
Romney and his advisors haven’t forgotten what it was like under George Bush. They are campaigning with the explicit promise to return to the economic agenda of Bush. And if Americans vote for team Romney, they should not be surprised at what they get.
Ignore those people in the streets – nothing to see here, move along folks – happens every May Day – no big deal. But we’ll see about that.
Oh yes, there was one other odd May Day item:
Richard Grenell, the openly gay spokesman recently hired to sharpen the foreign policy message of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, has resigned in the wake of a full-court press by anti-gay conservatives.
And here’s a bit more from Talking Points Memo:
Just one week ago, The Atlantic heralded Mitt Romney’s hiring of an openly gay spokesman for foreign policy issues as “a breakthrough in the world of Republican presidential campaigns.” …
Richard Grenell told the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin in a statement. “I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.”
Romney made good on his word that “I don’t discriminate” on the basis of sexual orientation when he hired former Bush administration U.N. spokesperson Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, to be his foreign policy spokesman.
Unfortunately for Grenell, Romney’s support wasn’t enough.
And Josh Marshall adds this perspective:
The Obama campaign has spent days hammering the claim that Mitt lacked the fortitude to make the risky choice to launch a commando raid to kill Osama bin Laden. Either it was that he said it wasn’t sufficiently important or that he said he wouldn’t violate Pakistani sovereignty to launch such an attack. In either case, the core message was “I was right; he was wrong.” But as I’ve argued, the ferocity of the attack itself was meant to diminish Romney as weak and helpless, a man unable to properly defend himself.
This is “bitch slap politics” at its best or its worst, depending on your measure. Through the day, Romney struggled to find a way to say that the President deserved credit for his decision but that anyone else would have done just the same thing.
Against that backdrop, the sudden resignation of Romney’s new foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell came at just the wrong time since it told just the same story about Romney as the Obama campaign has been telling all week: Romney is weak.
Mitt had a bad May Day:
The Romney campaign is telling reporters that its top operatives tried to keep Grenell from resigning. And that may well be true. But the context is that anti-gay activists have been attacking Grenell for his homosexuality and Romney for appointing him from the day he announced the appointment. And the Romney campaign had been conspicuously silent in the face of those attacks.
“It’s going to be difficult for Romney to take other steps like this. And that’s what’s really frightening to me,” Fred Karger, openly gay Republican candidate for president told TPM. “It’s just too tough to stand up to these groups because they have a lot of money and power. You’ve got to be able to do that, that’s leadership.”
“Would a public statement of support from the campaign for Ric have made a difference?” Chris Barron of GOProud told Buzzfeed. “I don’t know, but it certainly would have been the right thing to do.”
And you know where this is heading:
In other words, Romney’s actions have spoken louder than his awkward replies to the original bin Laden smack-down. In the face of attacks meant to show he can’t stand up to Osama bin Laden, Romney shows he can’t stand down the far-right homophobes in his own party? The two things are worlds apart. Literally. But they put Romney in the same place.
And then there were all those people in the streets, some of them probably gay! And his old friend from Bain was telling that reporter that inequality is good, and greed even better. And the stock market hit a record high, making the very few even richer. And his people are saying sure, Mitt will bring back the Bush years, but amplified – in 3-D with surround-sound Dolby stereo. All together it was the wrong May Day message.
But it was another May Day in America, where we don’t celebrate such things.