Closing an Independent Klaus With a Question Mark

Even days later, I find Klaus’s comments to my recent post dizzying. Sometimes — I’d suggest — the fact that every bit of evidence points to your conclusion, even those bits that are contradictory, is above all evidence that your conclusion is a priori.
In one breath, industrial manufacturing companies have it all over modern high-tech companies because they spread wealth more broadly:

And, did you realize that, at it’s peak, GM alone employed almost a million people? And each well-paid GM worker could support another 5-10 others (merchants, bankers, dentists, etc.) And there were how many large industrial employers like that? That’s a lot of $$ to spread around an economy.
Microsoft, OTOH, employs 40,000? Which situation creates more wealth for the whole economy?

In another breath, unions are the best thing since a hammer and sickle specifically for the reason that they enable workers’ children to exchange their blue collars for white:

Another reason union membership peaked in the 50s, and wages continued to increase is that the economy was transitioning from a manufacturing-base to a service-sector based economy. Those blue-collar kids who grew up on the Mickey Mouse Club didn’t go work in the factory like dad; they became white-collar workers.

In one breath, putting money in the hands of the government is a positive good:

Odd, though: there was a period in which the stagnation in wages was arrested and even reversed. During the Clinton presidency. You know, all those high taxes? But ol’ George W comes along and cuts them taxes and the median wage starting going right back down again. And, btw, gov’t revenues dropped. GWB is the only president who did not collect more in taxes than his predecessor.

In another breath, the unfair distribution of government largesse is mindblowing:

And the people looking for handouts could just as easily be corporations. Ever read the tax code? One hand-out after another. Ever hear of the sugar subsidy? Or the last agriculture bill? A $200B handout. It blows my mind that you quibble over a couple of bucks and swallow the billions given to corporations every year.

What’s missing from all of this recitation of factoids is any sense of practicality — of functionality. Give the government $200 billion, and those who run the government will hand it out to the powerful, not the downtrodden. Mandate that it be given to the downtrodden and observe as a new species of elite parasites creates an unnecessary industry of middlemen.
The entire point of my previous post was to address such declarations as this, from Klaus:

A better solution is to raise the wages of the taxpayers. And that means their wages.

How do Klausians propose to do that? (Please reread the previous post before you answer, if need be.) This is the question that they will not answer any differently than would a clueless emperor: “Just make it so.”
Klaus makes much of his comparison with the economic regime of the 1890s, but although I would never gainsay the importance of learning from history, such comparisons apply an antiquated lesson. For one thing, technology has vastly improved the ability of the working class to communicate, organize, and attract attention to their plight. For another, the equation of Microsoft with the industrial behemoths of the 19th century leaves me cold. As far as I’ve seen, nobody has suggested that Microsoft’s position has given it leeway to force employees into inhumane circumstances. If we’re talking human exploitation, I would have us keep a view of the fundamental differences between building a railroad and building the Internet.
But if we’re talking strategies to leverage our representative democracy to distribute wealth more fairly, then I’d have us ponder the forces — much greater than government economic policy — that created the different monopolies. The nineteenth century in the United States was in many ways a giant push for geographic expansion and industrial advancement. To put it in ugly terms, it was in the public interest to consolidate resources and exploit workers who facilitated those ends.
As I’ve said, the Microsoft-style monopoly isn’t remotely as oppressive, but the existence of underlying drivers beyond government policy still holds. Consider your own experience: why did you buy a Windows operating system (or Apple’s version for elites)? The dominant reasons can be summed up as standardization and reliability. The functionality and compatibility of a Microsoft operating system is the same on the home PC as on the office workstation, and both have been through decades of public development.
To translate this observation into the socio-economic discussion at hand, the most beneficial area of focus for folks who’d like to leverage our shared government to blow the IT windfall more expansively should be on the causes of the market forces that have led to the current situation — standardization and reliability — not on demands that we pour more resources, directly and indirectly, into the public finance shell game.
P.S., Klaus, if you’re measuring “full time” as 40 hours per week when you ask whether I’m “OK with the idea that someone can work full-time and not make enough to live on,” then I’d reply that I have no choice but to be OK with it. My standard week is, by that measure, full-time and a half, but the weeks that I can earn what I need — with a mixture of white and blue collar work — are those during which I work double time. That is the reality of heading a five-person (plus dog) household in a state in which the rich who dominate the power structure exorcise their guilt by legislating handouts rather than handing out from their own stockpiles.
Let’s boil it down, shall we? Isn’t the liberal/progressive prescription for inequities pretty explicitly universal dependency?

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17 years ago

“….Sometimes — I’d suggest — the fact that every bit of evidence points to your conclusion, even those bits that are contradictory, is above all evidence that your conclusion is a priori….” Or, could it be that all the evidence supports my conclusion is evidence that my conclusion is, oh, I don’t know…accurate? You dispute and throw things like this out because you cannot challenge the facts (not “factoids”) I’ve presented. My point is that the prosperity of post WWII America was based on demand. As Mr Morse kindly pointed out, WWII ended the Depression. WWII was nothing if not a huge gov’t purchasing spree. GM and Lockheed and all those companies had to hire lots of people to build all those tanks and planes. That put money in people’s pockets, which they then spent. And old industrial conglomerates did hire more people. Which did distribute wealth more broadly. Which meant more people had more money to spend. Which stimulated demand. Where’s the problem? What do you dispute about that? The lessons of history are valid. And clouding the issue by bringing in high tech is just that: obfuscation. Millions of people are still making billions of pieces of manufactured products; they’re just not doing it here in the US. And the lessons of economics, supposedly, don’t change. Or, if they do, then that sort of calls Adam Smith into question, doesn’t it? Talk about an antiquated system. You did realize he wrote in the 1700s, didn’t you? As in, Pre-Revolutionary War? So his “lessons” are 100 years more out of date than mine. If you toss my examples, you pretty much have to toss his. What galls me is that you bemoan the malign influence of a gov’t monopoly, without ever asking yourself what would happen if we lived… Read more »

17 years ago

klaus, can you explain the record housing sales in Massachusetts and elsewhere over the last decade? More people own their own homes today than ever before.
Also, the number of high school graduates enrolled in college grows at well…45% in 1960, 50% in 1980, 64% in 2002.
Does this indicate that wealth and opportunity are reaching far greater numbers of people?

Justin Katz
17 years ago

Well, Klaus, you certainly get the award for dodging actual points made. (For the record, I don’t believe in a capitalist paradise. Not believing in Earthly paradise — particularly when humans contrive to create it — is what makes me conservative. I get the impression that the opposite is true of your liberalism… progressivism… whatever.)
But I won’t despair of ever getting my very simple point across to you, so let me focus on a single sentence of your reply. Perhaps you’ll focus thereon, as well, and we can carry on a productive discussion from there. Here’s the sentence:

Wal-Mart refuses to allow unions.

And here’s a question for you to answer as plainly (without tangents or digressions) as you can:
What will happen when a unionized Wal-Mart workforce muscles the company into substantially increasing salaries/benefits?
Let’s keep things simple by putting aside repercussions beyond Wal-Mart itself. And note that I don’t intend to offer a loaded question. I am honestly interested in your opinion when your focus is not on the past but on the possible future.

17 years ago

” …your focus is not on the past but on the possible future”
That’s not fair, Justin. Don’t make someone analyze the consequences of their proposed policy.

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