Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Class War Gaslighting

This just in.... 

Inequality is all in your head, proles! And not only that -- the rich are getting poorer. Or at least not getting as rich as they would like. Pity the poor rich, and stop your kvetching.

This also just in:

Danger: rich plutocrat-serving propaganda ahead. Cross at your own risk.

Today's New York Times and Washington Post, among others, are absolutely orgasming over a new study claiming that income inequality is a crock, and that the fortunes of the obscenely wealthy have actually been reversed since the Great Meltdown of 2008. The journalists, of course, don't bother to tell us who funded the miraculous conclusions behind cherry-picked data purporting to vindicate the malefactors of great wealth.

 All it takes is a Google and a functioning brain to discover that all winding, snaking roads lead back to the same place.

 Here are a few hints: What presidential candidate and failed memoir-seller took flack for claiming that she was "dead broke" when she left the White House? What presidential candidate recently hired 200 economists to help her walk the fine line between serving her wealthy Wall Street masters and running a populist campaign?

Now that you've guessed the answer, let's move on to the propaganda.

"Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis" proclaims the Times' David Leonhardt in the headline of his front page stenographic effort. Quoting George Washington University economist Stephen J. Rose, he soothingly reassures the disgruntled enviers of great wealth that the incomes of the top earners have gone down since the crisis. And, adding insult to injury, the rich were even excluded from the temporary food stamp bonanza and unemployment bennies!
The wealthy have indeed received the bulk of the gains since the recovery began, but they still haven’t recovered their losses. Meanwhile, the steps that the federal government took in response to the crisis, including tax cuts and benefit increases, have mostly helped the nonwealthy.
 Fascinatingly, Mr. Rose’s case is not based on a new or previously undiscovered data set. It’s based on the same statistics most commentators have been using to discuss inequality. The most up-to-date numbers come from the pathbreaking analysis of tax records by Emmanuel Saez, the University of California, Berkeley, professor who often collaborates with Thomas Piketty. A second set of statistics comes from the Congressional Budget Office.
So the "truth" that the rich are not only being unfairly maligned by Piketty and Saez, but they are suffering unimaginable agony, has been hiding in plain sight all this time. And there are charts, charts, by golly, to prove it. So much for those nasty conservatives claiming that the economy is getting worse. If it weren't for meager food stamp stipends and temporary unemployment benefits, regular people would be dead. You regular folks might have lost a third of your incomes, but the rich lost millions and millions from their billions and billions. Therefore, you have no right to complain. You are fortunate without even realizing it.
The average income of the top 1 percent, by comparison, fell 21 percent over the same span. For the top 5 percent, the drop was 15 percent. For the bottom 90 percent of earners, it was 13 percent.
If anything, these pretax data exaggerate the level of inequality, as Mr. Rose notes in his paper, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington research group. The rich pay a higher average federal tax rate than the middle class and the poor. (The stories you hear about wealthy investors paying little in taxes are real but not the norm.) And unemployment-insurance payments and other federal benefits help the middle class and poor more than the rich.
What Leonhardt doesn't see fit to mention is that the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is pro-plutocracy neoliberal 501(c) (3) founded in 2006 with corporate money, just as Hillary Clinton was gearing up for her first presidential campaign. Its president, economist Robert D. Atkinson, was previously vice president of the New Democrat Coalition's Progressive Policy Institute, the Wall Street think tank instrumental in orchestrating Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, electing him to office, and helping move the Democratic Party to the right through such achievements as the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the end of direct cash aid to the poor. The New Democrat Coalition (of which Barack Obama himself is a self-described proud member) and its subsidiary, the ITIF, are also proponents of free trade deals like NAFTA, and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

That's what this Poor Rich People campaign is really all about. Granting Barack Obama fast-track authority to ram through a deal so unfriendly to regular people that even members of Congress are barred from seeing the details before voting on it. Oh, and promoting Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy by tamping down all that class war rhetoric and gaslighting the struggling voters into thinking that times really aren't as bad as we imagine them to be.

The Wall Street Democrats cynically characterize widening wealth disparity as an evil Republican talking point, the sole purpose being to discredit Barack Obama. Ergo, if you persist in believing that this inequality is for real, then you must be a Ted Cruz fan and an Obama hater. The plutocratic propaganda appeals to the limbic brain, where tribalistic instincts dwell, and thus do facts become unnecessary, even when your target audience consists of educated liberals.

Rose's "poor rich" study being touted by the corporate media is also published by the New Democrat Coalition house organ known as Republic 3.0, whose motto is "Where the Center Holds."

The big problem facing this country, they say, is not wealth disparity. It's Congressional Gridlock(TM) -- a mythical disease existing only in the minds of the media-political complex. The main symptom is the pretense that Democrats and Republicans just can't get stuff done (excluding, of course, starting and funding wars, spying on Americans, rewarding Wall Street and always finding ways to dismantle the New Deal after the manufacture of phony crises). Republic 3.0 (Third Way, get it?) describes its mission thusly:
Public trust in government has ebbed to all-time lows. But practical policy innovations – ideas that are pro-growth, pro-opportunity, broadly appealing and fiscally responsible – are still flourishing across the country. We want to bring those ideas to you and to inspire the kind of change that can only come from the broad center.
The broad center: defined by yours truly as the pathologically self-centered radical self interest of the obscenely rich.

The editor of Republic 3.0 is Anne Kim, another alumnus of the Progressive Policy Institute and Pete Peterson's Third Way. You might remember Pete Peterson as the Wall Street billionaire who funded President Obama's deficit reduction Catfood Commission and its evil stepchild, "Fix the Debt," both of which have called for cuts to Social Security and the social safety net.

In a previous article published in Republic 3.0, inequality skeptic Rose says if we were suffering as much as we claim, we'd be subsisting on off-label coffee.The fact that Starbucks is doing so phenomenomally well is proof that the middle class has money to burn.  Says Rose:
A middle-brow commodity that has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding in 1971 is the Starbucks coffee chain, which now has nearly 12,000 stores in America (and another 9,000 around the world). Before the coffee craze took off, most consumers spent between the equivalent of 50 cents and one dollar for a cup of coffee. Now, a cup of Americano goes for nearly $3 and other options can run to close to $6 a serving. The mass consumption of this kind of coffee is a sign of economic growth because otherwise people would be spending their money on bargain coffee.
Oh, and how can we be poor when we have cars and refrigerators? Rose, the suave Charles Boyer of economists-for-hire, is spewing the exact same gaslighting nonsense as Paul Ryan and the vicious blame-the-poor misanthropes on the other side of the Money Party aisle.

What Inequality? You Drink Coffee, Don't You?

Fortunately for the unfortunates, though, New York Times readers don't seem to be swallowing the Wall Street-funded propaganda as enthusiastically as they swallow their coffee. The biggest complaint among commenters is that Rose is only measuring income inequality, not wealth inequality. The rich, unlike the rest of us, don't draw a regular hourly wage or salary. They live off their investments, their assets, their rents, their inheritances, their various financial instruments, their fraud... and the blood, tears, toil and sweat of all the rest of us.

Sorry, rich people. Sorry, Hillary. Call us crazy, but no sale. We've woken up and smelled the coffee. Your ladders of opportunity are full of dry rot.


Cirze said...

The so-called ladders of opportunity that I've noticed being provided by this crowd only lead down. (Down, down, down.)

But not to worry because they believe the U.S. population is terminally geographically challenged.

And they may be right if the citizens don't catch on en masse soon.

Thanks for your brilliant reportage, K!

Denis Neville said...

Karen, nice investigative work!

In a 2009 New Yorker essay, Steve Coll lamented the death of the traditional model of investigative journalism - the professional, civil-service-style, relentless independent thinking, reporting, and observation:


Global companies have bought up think-tanks left, right and center. The world is littered with them. Neoliberal think tanks are our free-market al-Qaeda.

Think tanks and the reporters who heart them: David Leonhardt ‘s “front page stenographic effort,”

“…economist Stephen J. Rose [“the suave Charles Boyer of economists-for-hire”] in his paper, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington research group [“pro-plutocracy neoliberal 501(c) (3) founded in 2006 with corporate money”] “Its president previously vice president of the New Democrat Coalition's Progressive Policy Institute, the Wall Street think tank” [“New Democrat Coalition and its subsidiary, the ITIF, are also proponents of free trade deals like NAFTA, and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership”]; “Rose's "poor rich" study also published by the New Democrat Coalition house organ known as Republic 3.0,” “The editor of Republic 3.0 is Anne Kim, another alumnus of the Progressive Policy Institute and Pete Peterson's Third Way.”

Objective analysis?

Unadulterated (“Third Way, get it?”) propaganda!

Leonhardt is a tool and serves no other purpose than to undermine the work of Piketty and Saez.

Hugh, one of my favorite commenters @ nakedcapitalism, once said of Leonhardt:

“I am not a fan of David Leonhardt for much the same reason that I do not suffer fools gladly. He is a paler, dumber imitation of Krugman. Both sell the Establishment line. Krugman is somewhat more sophisticated in playing the critic before he ultimately lapses back into the Establishment group think. Leonhardt by contrast just sounds like he spent too long in the echo chamber. No doubt if Leonhardt were on the Titanic he would be praising the captain for doing so much to equalize the ship with the water. What is useful and a little frightening reading Leonhardt is that this is a fairly good representation of how the Establishment views itself. Yet even in the rose colored hoohaw that is David Leonhardt’s world there are a few blemishes. Inequality being one but it is quickly pushed to the side rather like indistinct sounds heard at a garden party of what might be distant thunder or the Paris mob coming.”

annenigma said...

Don't complain about ANYTHING or our imperial regime will label you an 'extremist' or 'radical'. This is now the expanded, new and improved definition of what used to be called a terrorist/sympathizer/supporter.

Everyone who is even remotely disaffected or marginalized is now suspect of being an extremist. I guess that would 99% of us. Only the 1% are considered to be true blue loyalists. Some things never change, except the name of the Empire.

Ste-vo said...

Leonhardt went to Yale, that explains everything.

Meredith NYC said...

All day at Krugman's blog, the comments link has disappeared, even for his past posts where there were already comments. I wrote to comments@nytimes about it. Not sure who that actually is there.

I thought the Times might restore the previous times for op ed columns, but no. I wonder if they got complaints.

Karen....I recall 1 commenter did complain about the new times, and mentioned you---asking, would Karen Garcia still post? -- or similar. That was Doug Broome--I recall him b/c he's from Canada and brings rare, interesting foreign perspective to posts.

Krugman is obsessed with Greece, over and over. This allows him to ignore the other EU countries which have a wide variety of financial situations and living standards, all better than Greece. He never talks about this even when he travels thru EU nations. Japan also. Not sure why.

Meredith, NYC said...

Karen, thanks for the heads up on the Leonhardt column. I have to keep up with the UPshot. Krugman, arch foe of inequality supposedly, should give his take on this report.

Gaslight indeed. Bergman's face might be the average manipulated US voter, anxiety ridden and confused. It's the US voter watching campaign commercials!

Have you ever seen the British version? With Diana Wynyard, and Anton Walbrook (from the Red Shoes) if you ever saw it, who was even more malevolent and dictatorial than Charles Boyer.

With a cold coming on, I'm too energy-less to read the column and the --it's too long. I'll rest up first. For this stuff you have to be in perfect health.

Didn't the Times tell us that all/most of the Recovery has gone to the 1 percent? I thought that was accepted. The gop can't let that go undisturbed.