Ineffective Government, an outcome of our definition of "Freedom"?

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Seattle, Jan 28, 2023.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    On Priorities and Efficacy

    It is a tragically unsurprising lede from the Los Angeles Times:

    Officials had known for decades that the Pajaro River levee that failed this weekend — flooding an entire migrant town and trapping scores of residents — was vulnerable but never prioritized repairs in part because they believed it did not make financial sense to protect the low-income area, interviews and records show.
    "It was pretty much recognized by the early '60s that the levees were probably not adequate for the water that that system gets," Stu Townsley, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' deputy district engineer for project management for the San Francisco region, told The Times on Sunday.

    And despite having studied it on and off for years, in terms of "benefit-cost ratios," it never penciled out, he said.

    "It's a low-income area. It's largely farmworkers that live in the town of Pajaro," Townsley said. "Therefore, you get basically Bay Area construction costs but the value of property isn't all that high."

    The levee was built in 1949 and, according to a 2021 Army Corps webpage summary of the system, "no longer provides the designed level of protection."

    Let's make a joke: The only real surprise is that anyone came right out and said it.

    It's not funny. And, besides, it's probably been said and recorded more than anyone would want to acknowledge, and is often buried in obscure records. As Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo put it, "Low-income neighborhoods and communities have always historically been ignored by state and federal governments."

    And here is something that sounds like a joke: Take the note on what wokeness gets in politics. Or, at least, social justice. Consider that it was only "three years ago …"

    … "as part of the overall environmental justice resetting of the federal government Corps of Engineers, OMB, Congress, all recognized that if you exclusively looked at benefit-cost ratios you wouldn't fund projects in areas that were typically lower-income," Townsley said.

    So the Corps initiated a study that resulted in a report demonstrating "there would be some value for life safety, even though the project benefit-cost ratio was pretty close to unity for the costs to equal the benefits," he said.

    At this point, the Corps hopes to start construction within the next two years, per funding from the Infrastructure Recovery Act passed in November, 2021, and California Dept. of Water Resources pitching in state costs. Townsley said it was "tragic" that the Pajaro breach occured "just before we're starting construction". State Sen. Johnn Laird (D-Santa Cruz) helped wrote the bill to cover California's contribution, and told the Times, "I said some version of, 'I hope to God it doesn't rain before this gets done'."

    To the other, it took a notion of "environmental justice" and a large-scale "resetting of the federal government" in order to overcome the obvious question dogging the American way: "So you're saying," asks the short form↱, "that officials chose to not repair the levee because poor people lived there?"

    And no, nobody is kidding about this; block-capped outrage about, "ARE. YOU. KIDDING.", only perpetuates the pretense that these decisions are in any way surprising. Pretending it isn't happening, or that it's rare and the result of a few bad seeds, is how we find our way into these ridiculous problems. What Townsley and Alejo describe isn't new. What the records show isn't new. This is part of our American Way, the formula for our societal success. Remember, this only required someone to look and do the legwork; there isn't much of anything to suggest any conspiracy to hide the records. After all, state and local governments "have a historic, you know, a long track record of discrimination when it comes to levees", and "are a good example of infrastructure equity issues that we have been dealing with for decades", Farshid Vahedifard, told the Times; the professor at Mississippi State University recently published a paper observing the effects of inland flooding, which "disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities".

    Alejo said both communities are economically disadvantaged, which is why historically so little effort was made to reinforce the levee. Per-capita income in the two communities is less than half the state and national average.

    He said that also made it difficult for the cities to pay for the levee repairs.

    Although the Army Corps had close to $150 million in federal funding, state and local communities were required to foot 50% of the cost, of which up to 70% was the state's responsibility. The rest fell on local communities.

    "That was difficult, because that's tens of millions of dollars that local, low-income families could never afford," Alejo said.

    And when people wonder about crumbling infrastructure and American government, this is how we've set it up. There is a certain inevitability about the priorities of return on investment, but nothing guarantees those conditions are in effect; historically speaking, there is more to it than undefined matters of necessity.


    @Public_Citizen. "So you’re saying that officials chose to not repair the levee …because poor people lived there?! ARE. YOU. KIDDING." Twitter. 13 March 2023. 21 March 2023.

    Rust, Susanne. "Before disastrous flood, officials knew Pajaro River levee could fail but took no action". Los Angeles Times. 12 March 2023. 21 March 2023.
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  3. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    On Poverty

    Previously, we had taken a moment to consider definitions of poverty, and it's one thing if "poverty is relative"↑, but political truism is merely that until given some direction and momentum. And as truism, the idea that poverty is impossible to eradicate is not so much surrender as an act of belligerence. To the other, if it seems well enough to suggest↑ that a reasonable and functional definition of poverty is dynamic and describe living circumstances, that does not resolve the question. Our definitions of poverty include living circumstances of poverty among those who are not included in the poverty statistic.

    Politically speaking, proposals that people just need to grow up, be responsible, and make better decisions are easy and sometimes even popular, but their greatest benefit is an internalized perception of empowerment, that feeling of sticking it to someone, an ephemeral fulfillment of a desire to inflict. More directly, for the most part, it's just clueless feelgood trash.

    And what actually goes on in society wrecks that trash on the rocks.

    Over 11% of the U.S. population — about one in nine people — lived below the federal poverty line in 2021. But Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond says neither that statistic, nor the federal poverty line itself, encapsulate the full picture of economic insecurity in America.

    "There's plenty of poverty above the poverty line as a lived experience," Desmond says. "About one in three Americans live in a household that's making $55,000 or less, and many of those folks aren't officially considered poor. But what else do you call trying to raise three kids in Portland on $55,000?" ....

    ... Desmond's 2017 book Evicted, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, examined the nation's affordable housing crisis through the lens of those losing their homes. His new book, Poverty, by America, studies various factors that contribute to economic inequality in the U.S., including housing segregation, predatory lending, the decline of unions and tax policies that favor the wealthy. Desmond says that affluent Americans, including many with progressive political views, benefit from corporate and government policies that keep people poor.

    "Most government aid goes to families that need it the least," Desmond says. "If you add up the amount that the government is dedicating to tax breaks — mortgage interest deduction, wealth transfer tax breaks, tax breaks we get on our retirement accounts, our health insurance, our college savings accounts — you learn that we are doing so much more to subsidize affluence than to alleviate poverty."


    Here we find a question of ineffective government; in addressing it, we will encounter much talk of "freedom". One of the interesting things about talk of how to run a government is that balanced-budget chatter looks at certain discounts and nonpayments as some other discussion. For instance, $190 billion in revenues the government waives in the form of a mortgage interest deduction, compared to $50 billion for housing assistance. "If we didn't have so many evictions and so many families paying 50, 60, 70% of their income on rent today," says Desmond, "maybe we could live with that inequality."

    And I guess what really angers me even about this conversation is that a lot of times when we put forward a proposal to stabilize people's housing situation or cut child poverty in half, we hear over and over and over again, how can we afford it? How can we afford it? And the answer staring us right in the face like we can afford it if many of us took a little less from the government.

    This is kind of like arguments about "economic illiteracy"↗, which might sound good to a hack but do not necessarily attend history.

    In the last forty years, superstitions about liberal economic illiteracy have been ground underfoot largely by conservative fulfillment. We can't afford poverty relief, but we can afford the debt for a space laser. We can't afford poverty relief, but we can afford tax cuts for the upper brackets. We can't afford poverty relief, but we can call off the balanced budget agreement to hand out one-time small checks while cutting taxes for the upper brackets. We can't afford poverty relief, but we can afford twenty warring years on credit. We can't afford poverty relief, but we can afford bailouts for corporations and executives. We can't afford poverty relief, but we can afford more tax cuts. At some point, it occurs to people that we always could afford poverty relief, but chose otherwise. And given generations to reiterate this cycle of saying we can't afford basic human decency in our society, it becomes clear that Reagan-era imaginings of liberal economic illiteracy never were anything more than make-believe for petty dullards. And, again↗: In the time of economic voodoo, circumstance has made clear that certain domestic spending, ranging from infrastructure as jobs programs to even some so-called handouts actually come with domestic economic benefits not necessarily found in warring expenditures, or tax cuts forsaking revenue.¹ Desmond explains:

    When you have a country like ours, where there are millions of poor people living alongside millions of people with considerable means, a system locks in — a system for private opulence and public squalor ....

    .... And it goes a little something like this: If you are a family of means, you have the incentive to rely less and less on the public sector. So we used to want to be free of bosses, but now we want to be free of bus drivers. We don't want to take the bus. We don't want to often enroll our kids in the public school system. We don't need to play in the public park or swim in the public pool. We have our own clubs, our own schools. We have our own cars. And as we withdraw into the private opulence, we have less and less incentive to invest in public services.

    Moreover, "If the top 1% of Americans just paid the taxes they owed, not paid more taxes, we as a nation could raise an additional $175 billion every year." And that sum, says Desmond, "is just about enough to pull everyone out of poverty, every parent, every child, every grandparent." It's not really a question of whether or not we have the resources: "We clearly have the resources to do this."

    And if we look at the behavioral economics, Desmond suggests, "the weight of the evidence, I think, suggests that the reason people aren't accessing aid is because it's confusing [and] hard to apply for." And intentionally complicated aid systems in which "people often lose their aid just because they couldn't make the appointment or forgot to reapply". Desmond suggests "small, tiny interventions" that "see massive, returns on people accessing aid that they need", and if so much of it is an otherwise straightforward question of choosing facilitation instead of disruption and discouragement, then perhaps the would-be responsible grown-ups, such as politicians and the voters who send them to office, ought to grow up and be responsible enough to make better decisions.


    ¹ Remember, for instance, that the Laffer Curve is validated, according to Arthur Laffer, by the fact that people in Kansas elected a Republican who broke the state's finances. That is, the trickle-down of the Reagan-Bush years through the 1980s and into the '90s, is validated not by its actual result, but the fact that voters in Kansas gave Gov. Sam Brownback a second term.​

    Davies, Dave. "Private opulence, public squalor: How the U.S. helps the rich and hurts the poor". Fresh Air. 21 March 2023. 21 March 2023.
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  5. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Calling someone a "hack" would get me "warned" however that seems to be a one-way street around here. Nevertheless, how does giving everyone below the poverty line $5,000 eliminate poverty? That's what would be left using your suggested increased expenditure divided by the 11% in poverty (your numbers).

    Regarding the family of 5 living in Portland on $55,000 a year resulting in "financial insecurity" do you really think the solution there is more money provided by the government? What if the family had 10 kids?

    Are most poor people poor simply because the government didn't give them enough? Talking about a hack...
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  7. billvon Valued Senior Member

    That would be great, and would not require any changes of laws or additional approvals for spending. Social workers do this right now, and local funding of social workers would let the poor access the much-larger reserves of the federal government.
  8. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    Sure, whatever you say.

    Depends on how it's distributed. For instance:

    What else could we do with $175 billion? We could more than double our investment in affordable housing. We could reestablish the extended child tax credit that we rolled out during COVID. ... [That] was basically a check for middle and low-income families with kids. That's all it was. And that simple intervention cut child poverty almost in half in six months. We could bring that back again with $175 billion and still have money left over.


    Like he said, it's a rough estimate.

    Well, it can be. Averages coming up in a quick search suggest $55k might either barely or fails to qualify for a one-bedroom in Portland, ($1,500-1,752); the average for a four-bedroom place looks to be $3,195. $55k doesn't qualify; neither would $60k. In that case, maybe the money would be better spent on affordable housing.

    Affordable housing, subsidized birth control.

    Yeah, that was some hackery: This far into a discussion including questions of wage, rent, and business, what you're coming up with is, "because the government didn't give them enough"?

    So, right: "Market wages"↑, not living wages, including the fallacy that employers "aren't responsible for matching an employee's needs to the job", and wondering whether a job at McDonald's is supposed to make rent. Well, the key there is living wages, not matching needs; nor is it whether a job here or there should make rent, but why a full-time job should not. And then, "Market rents"↑, which rise faster than cost of living. Wage stagnation, wage theft, executive follies, and the opioid crisis, at least. And all that for "freedom".

    "Sometimes it's best," you said, "to have a little less 'freedom' for the sake of society." Just try to bring the landlords and employers and industrial interests to heel, and when they complain about having their "freedom" taken away, go ahead and explain that it has nothing to do with "freedom".

    It's like when you said↑, "Capitalism isn't about 'freedom'." If we look at the relationship between ineffective government and defintions of "freedom", no wonder you want to shield free enterprise.

    "Because the government didn't give them enough?" I'm pretty sure I mentioned, somewhere↑ along the way, something about what passes for a success when full-time employees cannot make a living without taxpayer assistance, and our civic duty to wonder about a business model that relies on the public trust to carry its employees. Oh, right↑: Think about the idea that Walmart and McDonald's are long known to prefer public assistance for their employees over paying better wages—i.e., employee "'profits'"↑.

    No wonder you're going with, "Because the government didn't give them enough?" As the needs of private enterprise demand more and more of people and the public endeavor, you would exclude them from your consideration of ineffective government.

    All of these private-sector interests contributing so significantly to the very problems you lament, and you're going with, "Because the government didn't give them enough?"


    Davies, Dave. "Private opulence, public squalor: How the U.S. helps the rich and hurts the poor". Fresh Air. 21 March 2023. 21 March 2023.
  9. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Do you think that most people who go to McDonald's and Walmart are wealthy? I think most are on the poorer side and that's why they go there. Raise wages to above market wages and prices will go up and Walmart will not longer provide any special benefit and people might as well go to Nordstroms.

    Can you start a business, pay unskilled people with a family of 5 these wages that you are suggesting? No, of course you can't.

    If someone can't make enough to support their family they can either have smaller families to support or improve their skills, just like everyone else.

    Or if you want to bring the economy to a screeching halt, we can try your way.
  10. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    Poe Nominee

    Okay, now that I've finished laughing, I might point out how much weight the phrase, "I think" is carrying in that bit.

    Depends on the business. Still, fallacies don't help. Living wage numbers suggest an adult in King County needs $22.77/hr. on a forty-hour week to achieve living wage. For reference, a hiring website suggests a Seattle average equal to $21.84 for salaried McDonald's offerings; another suggests the average hourly crew wage is $15.23. Meanwhile, a family of five needs about seventy-five dollars an hour.

    Look, family planning is one thing, but the post hoc version is even more complicated and at least a little bit unrealistic.

    Between Walmart as Nordstrom's and family reduction, maybe it's best if we just wait for you to tell us when to take you seriously. The whole screeching halt screech has sounded like Galtian fancy since before Galt.
    pjdude1219 likes this.
  11. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Great, a McDonald's employee with 4 to support "needs" "$150k" or so a year according to your numbers. Good luck with that.
  12. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    There's a whole other discussion that could be had about the problems that monopolies and near-monopolies cause. Microsoft, Google, Facebook - all made the men who started them far more money than they needed to buy their first yacht.

    Was anything taken away from anyone due to the growth of these companies, to the near-monopoly status that enjoy today? Is it good that these near-monopolies continue to exist and become even more monopolistic?

    I don't know about you, but I can think of lots of ways in which Bill Gates' yacht might be related to taking stuff away from other people.

    But maybe this thread's not about that.

    It's just interesting to see how jung-ho capitalists-to-the-max think about some of this stuff. For them, "socialism" is the dirtiest word. I think it's because companies are more important, to their minds, than people. It's as if making one's stock go up is the only thing that matters. Certainly, in the "ideal" capitalist model, it is the only thing that matters.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, resources are finite and people are not fungible. The byproducts of making the stock go up often become important - not to the company's bottom line but to the environment (including its people) in which the company carries on its business.

    For those who are interested in exploring this further, you might like to start an investigation into the side-effects of making stock in cigarette companies go up, or fossil fuel companies. Their CEOs and board members all have yachts, too, no doubt. Maybe all this "growing the pie" stuff isn't so great, after all.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2023
  13. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Capitalism (market pricing mechanism) is just an efficient way to allocate scarce resources. Stock prices, generally, go up as a byproduct of that. A "near" monopoly isn't a monopoly and even natural monopolies aren't illegal and those mentioned are natural in their "nearnest".

    The alternative is to take a good idea (as registered by the market) and tear it apart? Talking about cigarettes is off point. You can buy cigarettes in socialist economies as well. You can also make them illegal in capitalist economies.

    In other words, you're getting off point.

    An expanding pie isn't at someone else's expense. There's also no need to interject that "some" view socialism as a bad word and then when you talk about socialism you are talking about what services the government provides that we all use.

    I didn't say anything about socialism and I don't have a problem with the government being 1/3 of our economy. I just don't think we can afford to have it be 2/3's of our economy.
  14. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Nope. Mercantilism is government control of an economy for purposes of dominating the economy of nearby countries. Slavery was not implemented by the government in the US; it was implemented by plantations who wanted cheap labor. The plantations that could get the most slaves and use them more effectively out-competed the plantations who did not use slave labor and/or implemented it less effectively. Thus purely capitalistic forces drove slavery as the dominant source of labor in the South.

    It was not until the North used force to end that practice - and then implemented socialist laws to prevent its recurrence - that slavery was ended.

    This process is not unique to slavery. Capitalism has one drive - profit. And in a free market, the companies that profit the most succeed, and the companies that do not profit fail. That means if a method to profit exists a company has to take it to survive. Some methods (slavery, dumping toxic waste in the river, nailing fire doors shut to improve productivity) are bad for society, so we pass laws that apply to ALL companies that prohibit those practices. Since the law applies to ALL companies* there is no competitive benefit in performing those more-dangerous methods any more.

    (* - of course companies continue to try, and occasionally succeed at circumventing the law.)
  15. billvon Valued Senior Member

    There are, of course, a whole host of negative consequences that arise from the growth of monopolies (or effective monopolies) - but those are somewhat different than potential negative consequences that arise from Bill Gates being rich.
    Well, I don't think anyone thinks like that, outside of a few sociopaths. But I do think that most people see a tradeoff between what is ideal for people and what is ideal for companies. And neither extreme is desirable. Pure capitalism is, of course, incredibly toxic even if the total wealth increases. (Slavery is just one example there.) Also, a policy that considers only the well being of people, and does not take into account the well-being of companies at all, would quickly find itself destitute - and THAT would end up being bad for people as well. The goal is to chart a course in between those two.
  16. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    As you see it, what laws aren't socialist?
  17. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Laws against murder, rape, armed assault etc. Those protect human rights but do not give government more power over the means of production and distribution.
  18. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    So what happens at the intersection of human rights and the means of production? Oh, right, being a slave was "economic in nature"↑.

    Please observe that you have arrived at the rightist border. Think it through. The people who will most appreciate your connection of ending slavery with socialism are those who hate socialism and are pissed off about the end of slavery.

    And all to separate "capitalism" from "freedom"; maybe that wasn't the best idea.
  19. billvon Valued Senior Member

    That's the intersection where those socialist laws are needed to prevent the abuses of unbridled capitalism.
    OK. All sorts of people appreciate and condemn all sorts of things. My comments are generally not predicated on anyone either appreciating or condemning them.
    Freedom, as applied to capitalism, is a free market.
    Freedom, as applied to individuals, is codified in civil rights.

    Both are based on freedom - but they are expressed very differently, and are not all that similar.
  20. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Valued Senior Member

    A novel definition of socialism, to say the least.

    Yeah, lots of people say stuff like that when verging into rightist fancy.

    Considering the novelty of your "socialism", though, the point that your application is better suited to opposition, and is better appreciated by the opponents of socialism, kind of stands out.

    That all sorts of people this and that, yeah, that's generic pabulum.

    Santa Clara.



    Remember, what we're on about has to do with excluding definitions of "freedom" from our consideration of government inefficacy. Or, at least isnofar as this thread was intended as an exercise in disdaining the poor people, the homeless, and addicts; it isn't hard to notice that our neighbor doesn't like considering what goes on in society that contributes to, creates, or sustains homelessness. He just wants to tell people to grow up and be responsible.

    And all that had to do with a local election ballot about social housing, a generally toothless thing with high hopes for the future. For the record, it passed.
  21. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Yep, Capitalism dovetailed with the industrial revolution with it's ability to more easily generate wealth on a larger scale.

    Before that was mercantilism, which focused on a favorable balance of trade (more exports than imports).

    Capitalism and Socialism are usually used to refer to the broad economic system. Capitalism needs regulation as does Socialism or anything else. Calling regulations "socialism" is just semantics, IMO.

    All arguments can be taken to extremes but that's really not on point. Everything needs regulating as well so that's not really the point either, IMO.

    Slavery ended by social and political movements but slavery wasn't really the point of this thread either.
  22. billvon Valued Senior Member

    That's not the definition of socialism. Socialism is government control of the means of production and distribution for products and services. Thus laws that control those means of production and distribution for the purposes of protecting individual rights or the public good are socialist - but that does not mean that socialism means only those laws.

    It's like defining "poor." Poor is defined as not having enough money to meet some minimum standard of living. Dave may be poor. But if Dave is poor, the definition of "poor" does not become "Dave."
  23. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Laws that control means of production aren't "socialist". Are laws that control food quality, "culinary"?
    By that definition, laws that control the means of production in a capitalist system could just as easily be "capitalist".

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