Monday, May 19, 2014

The New Populism conference on May 22, 2014

Populism is probably the most misused political term extant.  But it really does have an actual meaning because it is a term that people applied to themselves as the result of the founding of the Peoples Party in 1891-2.  The 1892 convention adopted a platform that is short and easy to read so there is primary evidence as to what the Populists believed.  Unfortunately, none of this evidence is enough to keep lazy writers, politicians, and academics from applying the term "populism" to almost any political position taken by folks who they perceive as ignorant and uneducated.  This sloppiness is especially acute in Europe.

Fortunately, here in USA, there ARE people who know what the Populists historically believed, who use the term correctly, and understand just how important that political party was.  And because the People's Party of 1892 addressed many of the same political problems that have infected and corrupted today's political parties, you will still see important politicians proudly calling themselves Populists.  And so on May 22, 2014, The Campaign for America's Future is holding an all day New Populism Conference which will feature Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as the keynote speaker.

As someone who has made the history of agrarian political political movements a serious avocation, I am tempted to be a little critical about anyone who describes themselves as populist who isn't a real farmer.  But of course, that is absurd because farmers now comprise one of the smallest occupational categories in the country and there are plenty of non-farmers who have been excellent Populists over the years.  (My descriptions of Populism can be found at this link.)  This current effort looks like a damn good approximation of the original movement so I will withhold judgement until I see the results.  In the meantime, here are a couple of excellent essays by RJ Eskow and David Johnson explaining why Populism is still one of history's better political ideas.

Look Out, Wall Street, the New Populism Is Coming

05/13/2014  Richard (RJ) Eskow

Even as the Campaign for America's Future prepares for its May conference on the New Populism, attacks on populism keep coming from all directions. One of the latest salvos to be publicized comes in the form of an anecdote about Bill Clinton. As Tim Geithner told Andrew Ross Sorkin, Clinton sarcastically told the Wall Street-friendly Treasury Secretary how to "pursue a more populist strategy":
"You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley," Clinton said, "and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again."
Clinton was always effective at belittling people with whom he disagrees -- even when, as in this case, his own position is morally indefensible. The president and his economic team deregulated Wall Street to disastrous effect, then became very wealthy there after leaving office.

The "them" in Clinton's quote is us. And the only people who confuse a cry for justice with "blood lust" are those who have become too close to the unjust.

It is precisely this sort of sneering insider indifference to public opinion -- not to mention good governance and fair play -- which has given rise to today's populist mood. And make no mistake about it: the public's mood, despite years of attempts by most Republicans and many Democrats to placate them, is distinctly populist. And much of that populist sentiment is directed toward the financial institutions which have so badly damaged our economy.

The fear triggered in some circles by a figure like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who is the keynote speaker at the New Populism) conference is based, not on concerns about "blood lust," but on an understanding of the politics involved. Washington insiders can protect Wall Street -- and themselves -- only so long as nobody represents the majority on the political stage. Once a populist alternative appears, like that represented by Sen. Warren and like-minded politicians, this "bipartisan" tilt toward bankers becomes much harder to maintain.

Why? Because these populist leaders aren't just proposing the right policies toward Wall Street. They're also offering very popular policies, policies with much deeper and broader support than those of the Clinton, Bush, or Obama administrations. Polling results compiled in CAF's website show, for example, that
  • More than half of those polled last month think the problems with banks which led to the 2008 financial crisis haven't been fixed (to a large extent, they're right);
  • Two-thirds of those polled believe that Wall Street financial institutions make it harder to find good jobs in the United States than was true in the past (again, there's a lot of truth to that, given the increasing share of national profits being captured by the nonproductive financial sector);
  • Two-thirds believe there should be more government oversight of financial institutions such as banks and credit card companies;
  • More than nine out of 10 people polled believe it is important to regulate financial services in order to ensure fairness toward customers;
  • 80 percent of those polled supported the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) after learning about Wall Street's role in the economic crisis of 2008;
  • 83 percent believe that new rules should be implemented for Wall Street, and that bankers should be held accountable for the actions which caused the financial crisis.
Most Americans are equally disturbed by the Wall Street- and billionaire-friendly economy which government policies have forged. Nearly 8 out of 10 Americans polled last month, for example, believe inequality is a problem - and more than half think it's a major problem. Two-thirds of those polled in March believe it's important for the government to implement policies that reduce inequality. 71 percent think the government believes it's more important to help major corporations than to help the poor.

What's more, Americans correctly perceive that bankers broke the law and got away with it -- that, in fact, they were bailed out rather than punished. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last September showed that only 15 percent of the public agreed that "The government has sufficiently prosecuted bankers for their role in the financial crisis," while more than half disagreed with that statement.

These populist trends are powerful enough to capture the attention of many politicians, including some Republicans. Public opinion, and presumably the free-market side of the conservative spectrum, have led several Republican politicians to take surprisingly populist positions on Wall Street issues. Last year, for example, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter joined with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (who is also speaking at the conference) to introduce a bill which takes aim at "too big to fail" banks. And earlier this year Republican Rep. Dave Camp proposed a bank asset tax designed to offset the market advantage held by large financial institutions.

But most of the populist financial action is taking place on the Democratic side of the aisle, perhaps to the consternation of the party's Clinton/Obama wing. Sen. Warren's brilliant campaign against Wall Street's political privileges has been reinforced by proposals like Sen. Brown's and has received the enthusiastic backing of independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

(Sen. Sanders and several key congressional progressive leaders, including Representatives Keith Ellison and Jan Schakowsky, will also be speaking at the conference.)

These legislators cannot force the Department of Justice to pursue lawbreaking bankers. But if enough of them come together, they can pass legislation to protect our economy. And, perhaps even more importantly, they can use their Congressional exposure to shift the political debate.

Insiders may scoff, but populist views of Wall Street aren't driven by "blood lust" -- or any other kind of lust. They're driven by love -- love of justice, love of fair play, love of democracy, love of country. And that's giving rise to something which is already afflicting the comfortable and challenging the powerful.

Call it "the New Populism." more

New Populist Movement Driving Local Minimum Wage Reforms

by Dave Johnson | May 14, 2014

There is a new populist movement that is driving minimum wage and other reforms across the country. The public wants the minimum wage increased, and cities and states are acting on their own to bypass D.C. and get this moving.

Does It Matter What The Public Wants?

People want the minimum wage increased. Visit the website Populist Majority – “Exposing the gulf between American opinion and conventional wisdom” and you will learn that:
  • 80 percent of unmarried women support increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and indexing it to inflation (Voter Participation Center/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner).
  • 69 percent favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 (Bloomberg).
  • 58 percent are more likely to vote for a candidate that supports raising the federal minimum wage (NBC/Wall Street Journal/Hart).
  • 57 percent of small business owners support increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25 in three stages over two and a half years to $10.10, and believe that it should be adjusted annually to keep pace with the cost of living (Small Business Majority/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner).
People want the minimum wage increased, and are organizing and making it happen in cities and states around the country.
  • This month Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D) signed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018. At the signing ceremony, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said, “When you put money in people’s pockets, people spend it,” Perez said. “When people spend it, businesses have to hire more people. When businesses hire more people, everybody benefits. That’s why the minimum wage works.”
  • In New Jersey more than 50 percent of voters approved an increase in the minimum wage to $8 with a cost-of-living increase, even while re-electing Gov. Chris Christie by the same margin. (Looks like they should have tried for $9 or $10.)
  • Milwaukee is close to raising the wage to $11.33. A January Wisconsin poll found that sixty-two percent statewide want the minimum wage increased, while 35 percent are opposed.
  • Connecticut raised their minimum wage to $10.10.
  • Minnesota is increasing its minimum wage to $950.
  • 87 percent of Chicago voters recommended raising the wage to $15 in a non-binding vote.
  • Hawaii is raising their minimum wage to $10.10.
  • Seattle is finalizing a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15.
  • San Francisco is already at $10.74 per hour.
With all of these victories in mind, advocates in many more cities and states are working on new ballot initiatives and other efforts to raise the minimum wage locally, getting around Republican obstruction in the Congress. (Of course, in response to this widespread increase in local support for minimum wage increases, Oklahoma Republicans passed a ban on cities increasing the wage or mandating employee sick days — even if unpaid.)

The Effect Of Raising The Wage: No Job Loss, Better Lives For Low-Wage Workers

A March report by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at San Francisco and eight other cities that have raised their minimum wages in the past decade, along with 21 states with higher base pay than the federal minimum. It also looked at a number of other studies of the effect of increasing the minimum wage.

The conclusions include statements like, “no statistically significant negative effects on employment or hours (including in low-wage industries such as restaurants)” and “no statistically significant negative effects on employment or hours at an aggregate level or for low-wage industries such as restaurants and retail stores, or for specific groups of workers such as teens. These studies also do not find substitution effects (such as shifts in hiring away from black and Latino teens).”
In summary, our assessment of the research evidence indicates that minimum wage mandates raise the incomes of low-wage workers and their families, and that the costs to businesses are absorbed largely by reduced turnover costs and by small price increases among restaurants. That said, it is important to emphasize that existing research is necessarily limited to the range of minimum wage increases that have been implemented to date. While these studies are suggestive, they can not tell us what is likely to happen when minimum wages are increased significantly beyond current local, state, or general mandates.
An earlier 2010 UC Berkeley study had also found that, “Increasing the minimum wage does not lead to the short- or long-term loss of low-paying jobs.”

While there were no job losses found and low-wage workers had higher incomes, these studies did not also point out the obvious: raising the minimum wage:
  • lowers government safety-net costs,
  • increases tax revenue and,
  • gives million of people more money to spend,
  • which also boosts the economy.
The New Populism Conference

This minimum wage movement around the country forms part of a template for how we build independent movements to improve the economy for regular people. This is just part of a set of populist movements that are starting to transform our politics.
With a new wave of populism rising, the Campaign for America’s Future has announced “The New Populism Conference,” May 22 in Washington and featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Participants will discuss strategies for educating, energizing and mobilizing around an agenda for economic change that strong majorities of Americans already support, including:
  • Investing in good jobs to achieve full employment
  • Ensuring that anyone who works full time should not be in poverty
  • Breaking up the banks that are “too big to fail”
  • Increasing, not cutting, Social Security benefits
  • Recognizing that America is not broke; the rich and big corporations are not paying their fair share.
  • Rejecting the Supreme Court’s view that corporations are people, and refusing to let big money buy our democracy.
In addition, critical sessions throughout the day will be sharpening the progressive principles that will unite and galvanize America’s new populist majority. If you want to be a part of it, click here and reserve your place nowmore

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