Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It's the austerity, stupid: The cherry-picked data behind the biggest lie since WMDs

It's the Austerity, Stupid: How We Were Sold an Economy-Killing Lie
Once again, the Beltway fell for cherry-picked data—and you paid the price.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Things to know if you debate GOP buffs

The 7 Types Of Republicans And How To Debate Them

If you’ve ever spent time trying to discuss politics with a Republican you’ve probably noticed that there are several different types of Republicans, all with their own unique debating style. In this article I’m going to attempt to break down the seven types of Republicans, what’s wrong with their views, and how you should debate them. I’ll start with the most intelligent, and work my way down.

The Educated Republicans:
These are the rarest of all Republicans. Occasionally you will run into one in public or in a public forum online. These Republicans can be the most difficult to deal with. They have learned everything there is to know about their position… from a Republican perspective. They’ve educated themselves on all the reasons why their position is correct, and are not concerned with anything that contradicts their beliefs.

The problem with this type of Republican’s views:
Anyone with the Internet and five minutes can find something that thoroughly discredits their version of the “facts.” Even when confronted with contradictory facts, they continue to fall back on their original arguments; try to change the subject to something they are more comfortable talking about, or start expressing opinions with no factual merit.

What to remember when debating them:
Keep them on-topic. Don’t let them ignore your counterpoints and then change the subject on you. They’re masters of that, but if you can keep them on topic, eventually they will just start expressing opinions to which you can say “do you have any facts to back that up?”

Fox News and Conservative Talk Radio Republicans:
This is one of the angriest groups of Republicans. They watch Fox News or listen to conservative talk radio and they think it makes them an expert on politics. The only knowledge they have of politics are parroted talking points without any facts to back them up. When you defeat them in debate, they will resort to calling you names like “liberal,” “commie,” “socialist”; “baby-killer,” etc. They think all liberals are socialists who want to take their money and give it to people who don’t deserve it. 

The problem with this type of Republican’s views:
They have no idea what they are talking about. Usually they’re just repeating things they’ve heard from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. They think that liberals want to take away their freedoms and they clearly don’t know what the word “liberal” means, or what liberals have contributed to our country and our freedoms. They think President Obama is comparable to Hitler for passing healthcare reform. They accuse you of watching MSNBC if you don’t agree with them. They call you a sheep but expect you to blindly believe everything they tell you, without question.

What to remember when debating them:
Keep demanding facts from them to back up their assertions until they break down and call you any of the aforementioned names. Ask them to name specific freedoms that liberals have taken away from them. They have a tendency to become violent so watch their hands if you are debating them face to face.
Christian Republicans:
These Republicans are hypocrites. They do everything in the name of Christ, while simultaneously acting as un-Christlike as humanly possible. They support the right to carry assault weapons, are pro-war, and completely ignore the fact that the Bible depicts Christ as a liberal who was opposed to capitalism and violence. They sincerely believe that this is God’s country and that God loves us Americans more than anyone else in the world. They think that anyone who is not 100 percent pro-Israel is anti-Semitic. They hate everyone who doesn’t agree with them and think the Bible tells them to… and they hate gay people because they think they are sinners. 

The problem with this type of Republican’s views:
They do terrible things in the name of their Lord. They think that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is damned to hell or hates America. They believe that we are a Christian nation even though the Founding Fathers made sure they did not brand this country as a Christian nation. The Founding Fathers wanted a country of religious freedom, free from religious persecution, but these Republicans will never admit that.

What to remember when debating them:
There’s a list of all the quotes that prove our Founding Fathers wanted a country of religious freedom. The link is HERE.   Another thing to remember is that the Christian Right is neither. Start asking them questions like “how would Jesus feel about war?” “how would Jesus feel about assault rifles?” or “do you REALLY think that America is God’s favorite country, in the ENTIRE universe?” And, of course, these questions should yield a response that thoroughly proves that they are hypocrites, and continuing to argue with them would be a waste of time.

Tea Party Republicans:
These Republicans are a dumbed-down combination of the previous two groups of Republicans. They think Sarah Palin is intelligent and it’s the media filter’s fault that she looks so stupid. They think Reagan was fiscally conservative even though he tripled the deficit. They watch Fox News religiously, and think Glenn Beck is credible. They don’t understand why people think they’re racist while they’re standing next to people holding racist signs. They protest higher taxes even though taxes have gone down for 95 percent of working families since President Obama took office.

The problem with this type of Republican’s views:
They parrot Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin talking points. When you discredit one thing they say, they immediately move on to the next subject. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a socialist, even though they can’t give you the actual definition of socialism. Many of them are on Medicare while protesting “socialism.” They have never met a socialist, so they have no idea what socialists believe. They think liberals are socialists and socialists are Nazis.

What to remember when debating them:
They have no idea what they’re talking about. Ask them to prove what they are saying. If you ask them a question and they respond with another question, refuse to answer their question until they answer yours. Don’t back down. Remind them that taxes have actually been lowered for 95 percent of working families. If debating them in public, be careful because they are known to carry guns in places they don’t need them, like public parks and bars and churches.
Birther Republicans:
The birthers think that Obama was born in Kenya. No matter how much evidence you present that is contradictory to that thesis, they will continue to insist that he is not the legitimate president. They are sore-losers because McCain lost the election in 2008 – even though President Obama has won reelection since then. They will never support Obama, even if he paid off the entire national debt.

The problem with this type of Republican’s views:
They think Obama was born in Kenya. They think that Orly Taitz, who grew up in a communist country, is credible, and that Obama is a socialist. They think Donald Trump is a smart guy. They think that Obama’s birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers were propagated over 40 years in advance of his election, just so that he could be elected someday.

What to remember when debating them:
Don’t waste your time. You could wave Obama’s actual birth certificate in their face and they would still say it’s a fake. They are sore-losers and they will never be happy as long as Obama is president. Make jokes asking to see their birth certificates, or Sarah Palin’s birth certificate. This is the best way to get them to go away.

Racist Republicans:
[DISCLAIMER: I am putting this one almost last for a reason. I do NOT think all Republicans are racists. I have Republican family members who are not racist. This section is only about the small percentage of Republicans who are ACTUALLY racist, because they do exist. I'm not "playing the race card" or "race-baiting," I'm just describing a small group of racists who also affiliate themselves with the Republican Party]
Racist Republicans hate Obama because he’s black. They think that all Muslims are terrorists. They think Obama is a terrorist Muslim. They think anyone with a name like Obama’s is a terrorist.

The problem with this type of Republican’s views:
They’re racist, but they think Obama is a racist. They can’t understand why people call them racists when they post racist pictures or racist comments and then claim not to be racist. Whenever they possibly can, they will call you a racist, to hide the fact that they are actually racists.

What to remember when debating them:
They’re racists. Racists are uneducated bigots. You would have a much easier time convincing an apple tree to start growing oranges.

Extremely Uneducated Republicans:
These Republicans are Republicans because they think it’s cool. They have a Republican friend in one of the other groups listed, so they think they know what they’re talking about. They have terrible spelling and grammar but they expect you to believe whatever they say because they are saying it to you.

The problem with this type of Republican’s views:
It’s hard to tell if they ever made it past the 4th grade. Most of their posts are illegible. They don’t know anything about their position other than what they have heard their friends say. They think Republicans are fiscally conservative because they say that they are, and call anyone who doesn’t agree with them “sheep.” They ignore all historical information that is contradictory to what they say. They are 100 percent blind to facts.

What to remember when debating them:
No amount of facts or logic will ever convince them that their buddies are wrong. You could be a college professor and they will still think your facts aren’t credible. Instead of trying to argue with them, try explaining algebra to your dog. I’m sure it will be much more productive.

Hopefully this has been an informative resource for you. I hope you will remember some of the things I have said the next time you are engaged in a debate with a Republican. There’s definitely an overlap between several of these types, so you may have to utilize several different tactics to debate them.

You can find my facebook fan page HERE. I’d be delighted if you would follow me on facebook, or you can just let me know what you think of this article.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Private insurance is a parasite in the system."


Health law's ailments can be cured by single-payer system

All the shortcomings of the healthcare restructuring result from the decision to leave it in the hands of private insurers.

Michael Hiltzik

6:12 PM PDT, September 10, 2013

With the Oct. 1 rollout of a major facet of the Affordable Care Act on the horizon, you'll be hearing a lot about the glitches, loopholes and shortcomings of this most important restructuring of America's healthcare system in our lifetimes. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

First, the vast majority of these issues result from one crucial compromise made in the drafting of the 2010 law, ostensibly to ease its passage through Congress. That was to leave the system in the hands of private health insurance companies.

Second, there's an obvious way to correct this flaw: The country should progress on to a single-payer system.

The idea that the ACA is a logical precursor to single-payer, in which the government would be the source of all medical reimbursement, has been gaining traction as key thresholds for healthcare reform approach. The biggest milestone is the Oct. 1 launch of open enrollment for the health insurance exchanges that will offer individual insurance starting Jan. 1.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made that point in a Nevada news broadcast, calling the ACA "a step in the right direction" but adding that the U.S. would have to "work our way past" private insurance-based healthcare. "We're far from having something that's going to work forever," he said.

"There isn't a popular groundswell yet" for a single-payer plan "because most people haven't seen the ACA at work in detail yet," says David Himmelstein, a professor of public health at the City University of New York and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, the leading advocacy group for single-payer healthcare. But he anticipates that discontent will start in October "and accelerate through the winter."

Among the law's shortcomings, he says, are the lack of effective provisions to control healthcare costs and insurance premiums. Premium regulation remains in the hands of the states, and many don't have strong regulatory oversight of health insurance. In California, health insurance premiums are exempt from prior approval by the insurance commissioner, unlike home and auto insurance. (An initiative to remove the exemption will appear on the November 2014 ballot.)

That's not to say that the ACA won't make health insurance more affordable and accessible to millions of Americans now excluded from the market. Published exchange premiums in 18 states have generally come in below expectations, and the federal subsidies available to most buyers will make them cheaper still.
In some cases the premiums may be higher than those of plans on the market now. But because of exclusions for preexisting conditions — which will no longer be legal — they're actually unavailable at any price to people who will have no trouble qualifying for the exchange plans.

The ACA's critics observe that a plurality of Americans still view the ACA unfavorably (43%, according to an opinion poll released in June by the Kaiser Family Foundation). They rarely acknowledge, however, that nearly 1 in 5 of those critics think the law doesn't go far enough — that is, further toward single-payer.
In its earliest incarnation, the Affordable Care Act included a prototype government single-payer provision — the "public option," a government-sponsored plan to compete with commercial insurers in the exchanges. The public option was deleted at the insurance industry's insistence.

But the U.S. does offer a healthcare program that resembles single-payer. It's Medicare, the broadly popular health plan that covers all Americans over 65. Medicare's administrative costs are only about 2%, and its size gives it the clout to extract large discounts from doctors and hospitals. That's why one oft-proposed version of single-payer is "Medicare for all" — simply expand its coverage beyond the 65-plus.
Canada's single-payer system is another model. It's popular and efficient and costs about one-third of America's system to administer. Don't believe the myths purveyed about Canada's healthcare by the U.S. insurance industry's minions.

As health economist Aaron Carroll has documented, Canadian patients and doctors are satisfied with the program. As for the contention that it "rations" care, he points out that care in the U.S. is rationed by cost: one-third of adult Americans surveyed by the Commonwealth Fund in 2010 said they had put off important treatment because of the cost. In Canada, the figure was 15%.

There's little question that taking private insurers out of the American healthcare system would save hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Dozens of studies of federal and state single-payer proposals have found that single-payer plans could provide universal coverage — not even the ACA does that — and still save money.
Estimates of the administrative costs of commercial health insurers exceed 10%. That doesn't include the costs to doctors and hospitals of maintaining billing staffs to deal with insurers and keep all their rules and peculiarities straight, or the time lost to individuals and their employers of navigating this unnecessarily byzantine system.

Add those, and the overall administrative costs embedded in the U.S. healthcare system come to 31% of all spending, according to a 2003 article co-written by Himmelstein for the New England Journal of Medicine. Administrative and clerical workers accounted for nearly 44% of all employees in doctors' offices, they calculated.

What do Americans receive in return for all this overhead? Practically nothing. The insurance industry says its role is to hold down costs by negotiating for preferential fees from doctors and hospitals and trolling for abuses, but the truth is they're totally ineffective at cost control.

Just last year I reported on an admission by Aetna and United Healthcare, two of our biggest insurers, that they had been snookered to the tune of $60 million by one chain of small surgical clinics in Northern California. That happened because the insurers didn't hire enough staff to give the claims from those clinics decent scrutiny — in other words, their administrative costs, high as they were, didn't buy adequate oversight.

The result, to cite just one example, was that United paid the chain more than $97,000 for a kidney stone operation that it usually covers for $6,851.

"Private insurance is a parasite in the system," says Arnold S. Relman, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and an advocate of healthcare reform. "It adds nothing of value commensurate with its cost."

Relman believes that fixing the healthcare system will require more than single-payer. The delivery of care needs to be reorganized by promoting the formation of more "accountable care organizations" — medium- and large-scale group practices with hospital affiliates whose physicians would be salaried to discourage the overuse fostered by the fee-for-service system.

What's really needed is political will. It would help if big companies, which grouse incessantly about the rising costs of covering their employees, would throw their weight behind a system that would relieve them of that burden.

The forces of opposition won't lie down; the insurance industry won't give up its central role in the healthcare system without a costly and bruising fight, as it showed in Congress and in numerous states, including California, where single-payer plans were on the table.

"It's going to be a slow and painful process," Relman says. "But sooner or later we'll have to turn to single-payer. It's the only logical solution."

Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at mhiltzik@latimes.com, read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik, check out facebook.com/hiltzik and follow @hiltzikm on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

“Of all developed nations, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income, and we’re surging towards even greater inequality.”

From ‘Inequality for All,’ a challenge for America

By Tuesday, September 10, 7:06 AM

That’s how one reviewer describes the experience of watching Harvey Weinstein’s latest film. Only the movie in question isn’t “Erased,” Weinstein’s pulse-pounding thriller about an ex-CIA agent on the run. Nor is it “Only God Forgives,” in which Ryan Gosling finds himself caught up in a gritty underground world of Thai drug smuggling, prostitution, rape, and murder.

The movie is, in fact, a documentary, but one more disturbing than international criminal conspiracies and more devastating than any “Sharknado.” It’s about income inequality. As Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich intones in the film, “Of all developed nations, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income, and we’re surging towards even greater inequality.”

“Inequality for All,” directed by Jacob Kornbluth and set to be released nationwide on Sept. 27, comes at a critical moment for America. Sept. 15 marks the five-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers — fueled by a toxic combination of deregulation, subprime lending and credit-default swaps — that precipitated the 2008 global economic crisis and laid bare the rot at the heart of our economic system. It was largely this orgy of greed that led the first Occupy Wall Street protesters to Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17, two years ago next week.

In the half-decade since Wall Street’s self-induced crash, the country has hovered between outrage (that the perpetrators walked off scot-free and bonus-laden) and apathy (that anything will ever break the iron bond between Congress and the financial industry).

Until now, hopefully. Following the diminutive Reich on his “statistics-driven and impassioned” crusade, “Inequality for All” throws into sharp relief the numbers and stories we hear. Combining footage from Reich’s electrifying Berkeley lectures with interviews, news clips and rich graphics, the film weaves a compelling narrative about how and why, since the late 1970s, income inequality has risen to crisis levels.
The facts are breathtaking. In 1978, according to Reich, a “typical male worker” made $48,302, while the typical top 1 percenter earned $393,682, more than eight times as much. In 2010, even as overall gross domestic product and productivity increased, the average male worker’s wage fell to $33,751. Meanwhile, the average top 1 percent earner was making more than $1.1 million — 32 times the average earner.
Reich cleverly illustrates how the graph of American inequality over the past century looks like a suspension bridge — peaking in the 1920s, leveling out because of strong, progressive policymaking in the 1950s and 1960s, and spiking again from the Reagan years through the present. We see the consequences in middle-class families that have fallen off that bridge and are struggling to stay afloat.

The film’s most refreshing figure may be Nick Hanauer, a millionaire pillow company CEO who made a fortune as an early investor in Amazon.com. Hanauer acknowledges that he earns 1,000 times the average American but that he will never generate a proportionate amount of economic activity — because he will never need 1,000 Audis or 1,000 pairs of jeans. As he puts it, “Even the richest people only sleep on one or two pillows.”

That’s why this mind-boggling income gap isn’t just bad for families — it’s terrible for the whole economy. Research shows that the increasing chasm between the top 1 percent and everybody else has slowed our nation’s economic growth.

Reich breaks down the passel of complex factors — from the rise of globalization to the decline of union membership, from stagnant middle-class wages to reduced tax rates for the richest, from deregulation to de-funding education, from Wall Street lobbyists to their friends on the Supreme Court — that have converged to squeeze the middle class dry. With his signature heart and humor, he breaks through the cynicism fomented by an intransigent political class, offering some measure of hope to a worn-out electorate.

Indeed, what makes “Inequality for All” unique even among social-issue documentaries is that it aims not just to educate and entertain but also to empower. Kornbluth and his team are launching a grass-roots mobilization effort, complete with a team of field organizers, to coincide with the film’s release. Labor unions, campus groups and a range of progressive organizations will host viewing parties to connect moviegoers with opportunities to fight income inequality. For example, student groups might hold watch parties and then organize participants to focus on college affordability issues, while unions might galvanize people to advocate for a higher minimum wage.

In short, this is a motion picture designed to put people in motion. From an interactive Web site to a teacher toolkit to a “Save the Middle Class National Tour” that will launch in January on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, “Inequality for All” intends to engage ordinary people to advocate for pro-middle-class policies in all 50 state capitals.

Reich concludes his Berkeley course on wealth and poverty by stressing the power of his students — and all citizens — to make change. Free and fair markets don’t just happen; governments, elected by voters, set the rules by which they work. For all of Washington’s gridlock, then, it is still up to the American people to stand up and fight to make the market work better — not just for some, but for all.

Democracy is not a spectator sport, this film reminds us. And in this case, neither is movie-going.

Read more from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s archive or follow her on Twitter.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The wealthy 'make mistakes', the poor go to jail

The wealthy 'make mistakes', the poor go to jail

I left my Wall Street trader job and began photographing drug addicts in NYC. These two worlds have entirely different rules
Prostitute v banker NYC
Takeesha, a drug addict and prostitute, on the left and a Wall Street trader on the right. Photographs: Chris Arnade
I knew him as "Mr one-glove". The origins of his nickname were cloudy, but had to do with his legendary stinginess. He had just lost his company close to $1bn betting on mortgages. That company, facing massive losses from him and other traders, had only staved off bankruptcy because of the grace of the government.
It was late in 2008 and Mr one-glove had joined us at a bar, a group of disparate Wall Street traders united in an attempt to drink away a bad year. Near the end of the night, Mr one-glove leaned into the table of beers, and asked,
Do you think we will get paid well this year?

Mr one-glove was not somebody who trafficked in irony. Despite the massive loss, despite his company being bailed out, Mr one-glove didn't get fired, nor did he lose any of his wealth. No, Mr one-glove got paid well. Not by his standards, since he did not get a year-end bonus, just his salary of around $300,000. Mr one-glove was unhappy with that.
Nearly five years later, my life was very different. I left my Wall Street job to start a photo project documenting the lives of addicts in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, New York City's poorest neighborhood.
A year ago I sat with one my new friends, Takeesha, at a small table in a visiting room in Rikers Island jail. Takeesha was in Rikers for possession of a needle and for intent to sell. Or maybe this time it was for prostitution. Takeesha is often in Rikers. Near the end of our conversation, Takeesha leaned into the table and asked,
Do you think I will get out this year?
Takeesha drug addict NYCTakeesha in her apartment in the Bronx section of New York City. Photograph: Chris Arnade
Takeesha did not end up getting out; she spent another two months, held a total of four months, for a variety of charges that almost all ended up being dropped.
Takeesha was raped at 11-years-old, by a family member, and pimped by another family member at 13. She ran away at 15. She has worked the last 25 years as a prostitute in Hunts Point and is addicted to both heroin and crack. Her story is not different from many homeless addicts I have gotten to know: childhood trauma, often sexual abuse, followed by rejection by the family, followed by addiction, and then, almost always for the women, followed by prostitution.
Mr one-glove is not that different from many whom I met on Wall Street over my 20 career. He had upper middle class parents, was college educated, got an MBA, followed by a demanding high-paying job that became his identity.
What have I learned from knowing both Mr one-glove and Takeesha? Here's my one-line answer:
When you're wealthy you make mistakes. When you are poor you go to jail.
Yes, it is like comparing apples and oranges. That is the point though. We have built two very different societies with two very different sets of values. Takeesha was born into a world with limited opportunities, one where the black market has filled the void. In her world transgressions are resolved via violence, not lawyers. The law as applied to her is simple and stark, with little wiggle room.
Mr one-glove was born into a world with many options. The laws of his land are open for interpretation, and with the right lawyer one can navigate in the vast grey area and never do anything wrong. The rules are often written by and for Mr one-glove and his friends.
No, Mr one-glove did not break any laws. Not explicitly, although in 2008, he helped to bankrupt a company that helped to almost bankrupt the global economy. Rather, he spent his adult life moving numbers around on spreadsheets and betting on other numbers. Over his entire career, he has probably lost more money than he made, with the hole from 2008 swallowing any prior profits. For that he has been very richly rewarded. Tens of millions of dollars rewarded.
Takeesha has broken many laws, none open for interpretation. You use drugs (well, not prescription drugs), you go to jail. You sell your body for sex, you go to jail. You can paint a narrative where young Takeesha shakes off her rape at 11, shakes off being sold on the streets at 13, and rallies. She finds the right foster family, takes advantage of the social services offered, and graduates from high school or at least gets her GED equivalent, then goes to college and moves well beyond her past.
Maybe she even ends up in banking, with her juvenile record forgiven. You can paint that story, but it's a fairy tale.
Mr one-glove would probably not approve of Takeesha. He felt everyone makes his own path in life, that raising his taxes to help the poor was encouraging a lifetime of sloth. To him, poverty was because of a lack of trying, a lack of working as hard as he had. Many successful professionals, who forget their benign youth, share that attitude.
Poverty and addiction have a thousand mothers, none of them sloth. Surviving the streets and hustling for the next fix is some of the hardest work around. Takeesha would probably say about Mr one-glove what another addict said with admiration, when hearing about my Wall Street life: "You made tricky money in a tricky world."
Mr one-glove eventually left his company. He is still working somewhere in finance, putting together another portfolio of mortgages using borrowed money.
Takeesha is still out on the streets, charging $50 for men to have sex with her. Or maybe she is in jail. I have to check weekly to see which it is.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Excerpt from "Rich People’s Movements: Grass-roots Campaigns to Untax the 1 Percent"

SATURDAY, SEP 7, 2013 11:00 AM CDT

The 1 percent played Tea Party for suckers

When the super-rich feel threatened, they foment grass-roots uprising on their behalf. Here's why it always works

On Election Day, November 2, 2010, more than eight million Americans voted for congressional candidates who claimed to represent the Tea Party and its grassroots insurgency against the federal government. Most of the Tea Party candidates won. Their victory marked a sea change in American government. Even before the winners were sworn in, reporters began to refer to the 112th Congress as “the Tea Party Congress.” On the day of the swearing-in, the prominent Tea Party backer David Koch likened the electoral success of the Tea Party to the American Revolution. “It’s probably the best grassroots uprising since 1776 in my opinion,” he said.
The proposals of the new Congress had little in common with the revolutionary slogans of 1776, but many of them would be familiar to activists who had participated in the grassroots uprisings on behalf of the rich in the twentieth century.
On January 5, for example, House Republicans introduced a “balanced budget amendment” that was really a tax limitation amendment—modeled on the precedents that the National Taxpayers Union and the National Tax Limitation Committee had furnished in the 1970s. A flurry of other balanced budget amendment bills followed. On January 23, Senate Republicans, led by Orrin Hatch, introduced a tax limitation/balanced budget amendment bill of their own that was even more restrictive.
The next day, Representatives Steve King (R-IA) and Rob Woodall (R-GA) introduced a one-sentence proposal to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment. On March 15, 2011, Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced the Liberty Amendment, precisely as Willis Stone drafted it in 1956.
And throughout the session, Republicans introduced bill after bill to cut top income tax rates and make estate tax repeal permanent. Many of these tax proposals were regressive enough that they might have made even an Andrew Mellon blush. But they would have warmed the heart of J. A. Arnold if he could have lived to see them. They could almost have been copied from the 1927 program of the American Taxpayers’ League.
Thanks in part to proposals like these, the Tea Party Congress is likely to be remembered as one of the most conservative Congresses in American history. Scholars have described this rightward turn in Congress as “historic,” as “a new phase in the extreme ideological polarization of U.S. politics,” and as a “historically unprecedented development.” And they have pointed to unprecedented conditions to explain it. The historic segmentation of media markets is said to have allowed voters to surround themselves in closed and ideologically extreme social worlds. The influx of money into politics following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010), is said to have given an edge to ultraconservative candidates whose policy proposals flatter the pocketbook interests of the very richest Americans.
Some new conditions like these are surely part of the explanation for how such radically inegalitarian tax policy proposals came to dominate the policy agenda of Congress. But these new conditions cannot be the whole story, because so many of the proposals themselves are old: not founding-fathers old, but early-twentieth-century old. They are the harvest of a century of rich people’s movements.
Why Rich People’s Movements Now?
What can we say about the sources of this new radicalism, and how long it is likely to be with us? The answers depend on a proper understanding of the history of rich people’s movements.
Even commentators who recognize that the Tea Party has historical roots might be forgiven for thinking those roots do not go very deep. Social scientists have noticed other movements that share many of the hallmarks of rich people’s movements—including the use of protest tactics by relatively affluent people; the fact that the activists were already fully enfranchised participants in the political system; and the fact that these activists seem to demand the preservation of comfortable consumer lifestyles, rather than the realization of some utopian vision of the future—and have argued that these are distinguishing characteristics of late-twentieth-century social movements. An influential body of scholarship on “new social movements” argues that protest movements took on these characteristics in postindustrial economies of the late twentieth century because economic development had made earlier agrarian and industrial class conflicts passé. The rising incomes of even ordinary wage earners made the late-twentieth-century United States into a consumer society. It is small wonder, to this way of thinking, that some protest movements today consist of affluent consumers protesting their taxes, rather than wage earners protesting their poverty. Another body of scholarship argues that the professionalization of social movement organizations in the late twentieth century made possible a mainstreaming of social protest, by taming the more disruptive protesters and by standardizing tactics so that they became easier for ordinary citizens to learn and apply in new contexts. Some scholars have also credited, or blamed, the mass media for the spread of social movements to the middle classes. Television, for example, brought images of the 1960s protest movements to middle-class households around the country, and thereby taught a new style of politics to previously staid suburbanites. All of these scholars describe how the economic and technological transformations of the twentieth century made the social movement repertoire available to ever-more affluent people. It is tempting to see the rich people’s movements of our time as the endpoint of these transformations—the newest new social movement, the capstone on the social movement society, or the last ripple in the widening circle of people who have appropriated and repurposed the political techniques of the poor.
Whatever the uses of theories like these for explaining the emergence of new social movements in the late twentieth century, they would miss the mark in accounting for rich people’s movements, because rich people’s movements are not that new. When the Texas tax clubs under the leadership of J. A. Arnold mobilized for tax cuts in the top brackets, they were not expressing the demands of suburban consumers in a postindustrial economy; they were advocating for the interests of rural bankers in a predominantly agrarian economy. When Edward Rumely and Vivien Kellems first began to commit civil disobedience in protest against the federal income tax, television had not yet brought images of the Civil Rights movement into the homes of millions of Americans. For much of the twentieth century, these movements relied on tactics that were decidedly old-fashioned even for their times. In the 1940s, Rumely used direct mail techniques to bypass existing civic associations and recruit directly, because that was the model that he had learned in the Progressive Party. In the 1950s, Kellems organized through women’s clubs, argued on the basis of constitutional rights, and attempted to inspire imitators through civil disobedience, because those were the techniques she had learned from the fight for woman suffrage. In the 1960s, Willis Stone recruited supporters for the Liberty Amendment through fraternal organizations and veterans’ organizations, because those were the organizations in which he had acquired his own civic education after the First World War. The tactics of all of these activists hearkened to the early decades of the twentieth century because these social movement entrepreneurs acquired their skills and organizing experience in social movement organizations of that era.
Many activists in rich people’s movements know that their movements have deeper roots in the early twentieth century. In particular, they have often portrayed their movements as reactions to the so-called revolution of 1913. The ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, according to these activists, was a turning point in the history of the United States. It marked the end of limited government and the beginning of a new era of expanding federal power. If any great social change of the twentieth century paved the way for rich people’s movements, according to this story, it was not economic growth or the development of the postindustrial economy or the development of new communications technologies, but the growth of the federal budget; and that development, the story goes, was set in motion by the Sixteenth Amendment.
This activist story also gets the causal dynamics wrong. It is true that rich people’s movements would not have emerged in the absence of federal taxes on income and wealth. But such movements are not inevitable just because the Constitution authorizes progressive taxes. They did not emerge in direct response to the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment. To contemporaries, there was no “revolution of 1913.” It was not until after World War I that the dramatic consequences of the new federal income tax became clear. Nor did these movements grow in lock-step with the long-term expansion of the federal budget.
By comparing the campaigns described in this book, we can see instead that rich people’s movements arose episodically in response to immediate policy threats. The particular policies that provoked protest were heterogeneous. The top statutory tax rates on income and wealth nevertheless give us a crude but serviceable index of policy threats to the rich. By fixing our attention on the timing of new campaigns, the figure illustrates the simple point that activists started these campaigns in the wake of policy threats. It was not heavy taxes that caused protest. It was rapid tax increases on the rich that did.
Two late-twentieth-century campaigns look like exceptions to the rule, but these exceptions are more apparent than real. The campaign to revive a tax limitation amendment in 1978, for example, began at a time when top rates of federal income and estate tax were stable. However, activists launched this campaign at that time in order to capitalize on an influential movement for state and local property tax limitation; and that movement was triggered by policy changes that produced a rapid increase in local property taxes. The revival of a campaign for estate tax repeal in 1993, at a time when estate tax rates had not changed for almost a decade, also looks like an exception to the rule. However, the activists who inaugurated that campaign were responding to a proposed increase in the estate tax, and their movement gained adherents when a previously scheduled expiration of the top tax rate was revoked. Even these campaigns were triggered by policy threats.
History teaches us that policy threats are necessary conditions for the emergence of rich people’s movements. Such threats help to explain not just when people felt aggrieved enough to protest taxes on the rich, but also who felt aggrieved enough to support tax cuts for the rich. In every case, the pool of potential recruits extended well below the top tax brackets. The non-rich sympathizers, however, always had particular reasons to see top tax rates as threatening—from the farm mortgage bankers of 1924 who feared that high tax rates advantaged their competitors, to the married women of 1952 who saw that they were subject to higher marginal tax rates than their husbands, to the upper-middle-income taxpayers of 1978 who saw that inflation could push them into higher income tax brackets. Many people like these campaigned for tax cuts in the top brackets because they believed they were also protecting their own economic security.
These movements took advantage of the structure of political opportunities established by the American constitutional order, which may help to explain why they seem so distinctively American. In Western Europe, affluent people who feared taxes on the rich in the twentieth century sometimes started new political parties. But they rarely used the sort of populist tactics employed in the United States, and they never made the sort of constitutional arguments that characterized the American movement. Perhaps it is unsurprising that the American rich and their allies turned to social movement organizing and interest group lobbying instead of third-party politics; the combination of direct presidential elections, single-member districts, and the winner-takes-all electoral system make it difficult for small political parties to achieve anything in the United States. But there is more to the explanation than that. These political institutions merely create obstacles to founding new political parties. They do not dictate which alternative to party politics will be pursued by threatened people.
Why did policy threats to the rich provoke grassroots movements instead of conventional interest-group lobbying? Given the ease with which many rich people have secured selective tax privileges by back-room lobbying, the choice to pursue universalistic benefits for all rich people by means of public grassroots lobbying campaigns is puzzling. The solution to this puzzle is tradition. The rich and their allies joined grassroots social movement campaigns because that is what they were recruited and taught to do by experienced movement entrepreneurs. Those entrepreneurs were passing on tactical skills and lore that they had learned in other movements. To call this set of political practices a tradition is to say that it is more than merely a recurrent phenomenon. It is to say that similar patterns recur because people learn from and imitate the past.
It may be that all social movements rest on a bedrock of tradition. For rich people’s movements, however, the existence of a social movement tradition was almost certainly indispensable. Short-term causes such as policy threats were necessary, but not sufficient, conditions to explain mobilization. Social movement tactics have a history; they must be passed down in order to become available to particular people at a particular time. It is doubtful whether rich people’s movements would exist at all today if activists did not have a long movement tradition to draw on.
Under What Conditions Do They Win?
The history of rich people’s movements may also tell us about their prospects for victory in the future. Even the wildest optimists in the Tea Party Caucus probably did not expect their proposals to become law, at least as long as the Democratic Party retained the presidency and the majority in the Senate. But the comparison of past rich people’s movements shows that such radical proposals may influence policies even when they are not enacted. Rich people’s movements in the twentieth century made extreme demands that made moderate groups appear comparatively reasonable. Sometimes they also used tactics that threatened public order—for example, by calling on businesses to disobey the Internal Revenue Service, or plausibly threatening to call a constitutional convention that could throw American politics into turmoil—and thereby permitted moderate conservatives to sell their own preferred policies as ways to co-opt an unruly movement and restore order. The Tea Party may have similar effects. Its activists have not won the war against the income tax, nor are they likely to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment. By keeping radical tax proposals on the policy agenda, however, they have positioned a radical flank for battles to come.
The history of rich people’s movements shows that the mobilization of a radical flank can indeed influence the shape of federal tax policy. Influential Republican politicians sometimes felt compelled to propose tax cuts in order to obviate the need for more radical proposals to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment. The Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Daniel Alden Reed of New York, made this argument explicitly to his collegues in 1944. “[T]he movement to limit federal tax rates by constitutional amendment should be noted,” he wrote; “One way to meet this issue is by voluntary Congressional action to establish moderate tax rate levels.” So did the presidential candidate Dwight David Eisenhower in 1952, when he wrote that “a prudent and positive administration should be able to approach the goal which the amendment seeks without the difficulty and dangers involved in the adoption or continuing operation of such an amendment to our Constitution.” There is no evidence that rich people’s movements had any direct influence on legislation under these leaders. But in a handful of other instances, including the Revenue Act of 1926, the ERTA of 1981, and the EGTRRA of 2001, there is evidence—in the timing of the laws, in the geographic distribution of legislators’ support, and in the statements of some members of Congress—that at least some provisions of the law were intended as responses to movement demands. These acts legislated some of the largest tax cuts in American history. So it is that rich people’s movements, through their influence on the ERTA and the EGTRRA, made a small but real contribution to the growing income inequality—the rise of the so-called 1 percent—that is one of the most important social changes of our time.
Sometimes rich people’s movements had an impact, but at other times, the radical rich found themselves isolated and powerless. Their failure to influence policy is most evident in the case of the Sixteenth Amendment repealers. The activists of the American Taxpayers’ Association and the Committee for Constitutional Government tried for two decades to bend federal tax policy toward greater inequality, with no measurable success. Their peak years of mobilization corresponded to the years when federal income tax rates were highest, and yet there is little evidence that they were able to pull top tax rates down. It is possible that these movements may have exercised a kind of diffuse cultural influence, and thereby helped to restrain policymakers by swaying public opinion against progressive taxation; perhaps federal revenues would have grown even more rapidly in the absence of their grassroots pressure. History does not give us a comparison case that would provide the critical test of this hypothesis. But it is clear that, in many instances, their efforts had no immediate impact. Consider the Liberty Amendment campaign. The peak years of the Liberty Amendment Committee coincided with one of the biggest income tax cuts in American history, but the activists could claim no credit for the Kennedy-Johnson tax cuts. Their radical posture condemned them to stand on the sidelines while liberal technocrats cut rich people’s taxes.
Why were these movements sometimes so influential and other times so impotent? The comparison of campaigns shows that geographically dispersed grassroots mobilization made a difference. Activists sometimes had particular influence when they were able to mobilize in congressional swing districts, as when the tax clubs swayed the votes of Representatives Green and Garner in 1926. As the comparisons across states have shown, policy crafting was also crucial for allowing these activists to get tax cuts for the rich on the policy agenda. Some tax cuts for the rich could not get a serious hearing because they were too politically costly. Activists had the greatest impact when they were willing to craft their policy demands to obscure these costs, and package their favored tax cuts with additional policy benefits for new allies.
But to move beyond agenda access to influence legislation required more than clever policy crafting. It also required a critical mass of ideological allies in Congress and the presidency. There were only three presidents in the last century who allied themselves openly with rich people’s movements—Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush—and it was during their administrations that these movements exercised the greatest sway over legislative outcomes. The late-twentieth-century movement for estate tax repeal provides a critical test of presidential influence. Activists managed to get the Death Tax Elimination Act through both houses of Congress, only to have it vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Estate tax repeal would become law the following year, when President Bush signed the EGTRRA. The support of the president made the difference.
The program of the party that controlled Congress mattered too. Both the Revenue Act of 1926 and the EGTRRA of 2001 passed Congress when it was united under conservative Republican control. The ERTA of 1981 does not quite fit this pattern. It was passed by a divided Congress, with the help of some Democratic votes in the House. Even in this case, however, it was near-unanimous Republican support that made it possible; and congressional Democrats were under extraordinary pressure from a popular Republican president and an assertive grassroots campaign that nearly called a constitutional convention.
Rich people’s movements, in short, may influence policy when their partisan allies have control of elected policymaking bodies. For this reason, the most important legacy of rich people’s movements for American politics may be the capture of the Republican Party by veteran activists of these movements in the twenty-first century. This also may be the most important lesson of rich people’s movements for students of other American social movements. Sociologists know that activists are most likely to win collective benefits from policymakers when those policymakers are their partisan allies. But our most successful theoretical models of social movements persist in treating the party in power as an external condition, like the weather. The lesson that social movement scholars have drawn from their studies is that a movement may be most influential when its grassroots campaign is timed to match a window of political opportunity opened by its partisan allies in office. The most astute activists in twentieth-century rich people’s movements saw the same historical pattern, but they drew a different conclusion. The lesson they drew was not that they should time their actions carefully, or wait for partisan allies to show up and open a window of political opportunity. It was that they should take over a political party.
The Century of Rich People’s Movements
The first century of rich people’s movements is over. Rich people’s movements emerged in response to big wartime increases in the progressive rates of income tax and estate tax; comparable tax increases are almost unimaginable today. The most influential social movement entrepreneurs who led these movements acquired their skills in social movement organizations of the Progressive Era, and those movements and organizations are mostly long gone too. Rich people’s movements have been thoroughly institutionalized and thereby tamed. Many former activists are now well entrenched in the Republican Party and its allied think tanks, and their tactics are now correspondingly oriented toward inside lobbying. Some movement goals remain unrealized only because they are nigh unachievable. The barriers to amending the Constitution are so high, for example, that the Sixteenth Amendment will almost certainly remain unrepealed. For all of these reasons, it is tempting to think that the story told here is at an end.
I think it is much more likely that the story of rich people’s movements is just beginning. The Tea Party may prove to have been a flash in the pan. The long-term trends, however, suggest that something like it will be back. The population of the United States is growing older. The cost of caring for our elders and our sick loved ones continues to rise. For these reasons, the pressure on the federal budget is unlikely to abate. Pressure on the budget means that pressure for tax increases is unlikely to go away; and the threat of tax increases, in turn, is likely to stimulate more protest. Even when a tax increase can be targeted to a narrow segment of the richest Americans, it is likely to provoke a broader backlash, if people lower in the income distribution believe that this policy change signals further tax increases to come. People need not be dupes in order to protest on behalf of others who are richer than they are. The activists and supporters of rich people’s movements were defending their own real interests, as they saw them. A tax increase on the richest 1 percent may be perceived by many upper-middle-income property owners as the first step in a broader assault on property rights. When it is so perceived, we can expect a movement in defense of the rich.
Knowledge of the history of rich people’s movements will not allow us to predict the date when these movements will arise, or who exactly will join them. Such movements do not arrive like clockwork, any more than tax increases do. What we can predict is that some people will be ready to protest when policy threats come. We can also predict that some skilled movement entrepreneurs will be ready to help them organize. The proliferation of professional tax protest organizations since the 1970s has given rise to a generation of skilled movement entrepreneurs whose experience in rich people’s movements equips them for future campaigns. When policy threats make people ready to protest, there will be no shortage of movement entrepreneurs who have the skills and the mailing lists to recruit them.
No doubt the rich people’s movements of the future will also surprise us. They will exploit new technologies and organizing techniques. They will draw on some very old arguments and policy ideas, but they will recombine them and thereby invent some new ones. They will craft their policy proposals to recruit strange-bedfellows coalitions, just as their predecessors did. We can be confident that they will also continue to have all of the characteristics that so baffled observers of rich people’s movements in the twentieth century. They will use the traditional tactics of the poor on behalf of tax cuts for the rich. They will behave like outsiders, but demand policies designed to benefit people who are consummate insiders in American politics. They will include many protesters who look unusually well heeled, and who will demand collective benefits for people even better off than themselves.
Rich people’s movements have a permanent place in the American political bestiary. As long as one of our great political parties is programmatically allied with the radical rich, it is safe to predict that rich people’s movements will continue to influence public policy in ways that preserve—and perhaps even increase—the extremes of inequality in America.

from “Rich People’s Movements” by Isaac William Martin : Oxford University Press, 2013