If you think that a ban on large sodas is somehow an affront to America freedom, I have news for you: You don’t live in a free country. You never have and you never will. That’s an illusion. You are not free to murder people in America. You are not free to stand in the middle of an intersection and block traffic like an asshole. You do not have the absolute freedom to do anything you want in America, and that’s a good thing, because living somewhere with absolute freedom means you live in fucking Deadwood. There are a million different laws and rules that come with being an American, and we, as a collective, put all those annoying rules in there of our own accord. Democracy doesn’t mean “Hey you, go do whatever the fuck you want.” It means that you get to choose the people that represent you in government, and hope that they create and enforce the laws that help us function as a civilized society.
… SODA IS SHIT. It’s absolute shit. I love Coke more than anything, but I know full well that it’s poison. It destroys your teeth. It increases your appetite. It turns children in evil rage Gremlins. It offers nothing in the way of nutritional value. I have a cousin who used to work for UPS and whenever they had to clean the inside of the UPS truck, they doused the inside with Coke because it acted as a corrosive agent. That’s how fucking horrible soda is for you. It has no business being sold in public schools. Any soda lobbyist telling you about the benefits of drinking their product is a liar and a fucking scumbag. We all know it’s bad for us, and yet we continue drinking it (take it from someone who is currently unable to stop drinking Coke Zero).
So maybe it’s not such a bad thing if a city official, who was freely ELECTED by his own constituents, tries his best to curb its influence. It doesn’t make this country a member of the Warsaw Pact if that happens. And if you want to go crying about a NANNY STATE or whatever other dipshit talking point Politico fed you, go right ahead. Sometimes, voters like being nannied. In this country, you are FREE to vote for a little nannying if you like. Now go buy a cold can of Dr. Pepper and jam it up your butt.
… as more money becomes concentrated at the top, aggregate demand goes into a decline. Unless something else happens by way of intervention, total demand in the economy will be less than what the economy is capable of supplying—and that means that there will be growing unemployment, which will dampen demand even further. In the 1990s that “something else” was the tech bubble. In the first decade of the 21st century, it was the housing bubble. Today, the only recourse, amid deep recession, is government spending—which is exactly what those at the top are now hoping to curb.
… In a broad sense, “rent seeking” defines many of the ways by which our current political process helps the rich at the expense of everyone else, including transfers and subsidies from the government, laws that make the marketplace less competitive, laws that allow C.E.O.’s to take a disproportionate share of corporate revenue (though Dodd-Frank has made matters better by requiring a non-binding shareholder vote on compensation at least once every three years), and laws that permit corporations to make profits as they degrade the environment.
The magnitude of “rent seeking” in our economy, while hard to quantify, is clearly enormous. Individuals and corporations that excel at rent seeking are handsomely rewarded. The financial industry, which now largely functions as a market in speculation rather than a tool for promoting true economic productivity, is the rent-seeking sector par excellence. Rent seeking goes beyond speculation. The financial sector also gets rents out of its domination of the means of payment—the exorbitant credit- and debit-card fees and also the less well-known fees charged to merchants and passed on, eventually, to consumers. The money it siphons from poor and middle-class Americans through predatory lending practices can be thought of as rents. In recent years, the financial sector has accounted for some 40 percent of all corporate profits. This does not mean that its social contribution sneaks into the plus column, or comes even close. The crisis showed how it could wreak havoc on the economy. In a rent-seeking economy such as ours has become, private returns and social returns are badly out of whack.
In their simplest form, rents are nothing more than re-distributions from one part of society to the rent seekers. Much of the inequality in our economy has been the result of rent seeking, because, to a significant degree, rent seeking re-distributes money from those at the bottom to those at the top.
… While people will always disagree over the precise meaning of what constitutes “fair,” there is a growing sense in America that the current disparity in income, and the way wealth is allocated in general, is profoundly unfair. There’s no begrudging the wealth accrued by those who have transformed our economy—the inventors of the computer, the pioneers of biotechnology. But, for the most part, these are not the people at the top of our economic pyramid. Rather, to a too large extent, it’s people who have excelled at rent seeking in one form or another. And, to most Americans, that seems unfair.
… When corporate C.E.O.’s argue that wages have to be reduced or that there must be layoffs in order for companies to compete—and simultaneously increase their own compensation—workers rightly consider what is happening to be unfair.
… One of the puzzles in modern political economy is why anyone bothers to vote. Very few elections actually turn on the ballot of a single individual. There is a cost to voting—no state has an explicit penalty for staying home, but it takes time and effort to get to the polls—and there is seemingly almost never a benefit. Modern political and economic theory assumes the existence of rational, self-interested actors. On that basis, why anyone would vote is a mystery.
The answer is that we’ve been inculcated with notions of “civic virtue.” It is our responsibility to vote.
… Widening inequality is corrosive of trust: in its economic impact, think of it as the universal solvent. It creates an economic world in which even the winners are wary. But the losers! In every transaction—in every encounter with a boss or business or bureaucrat—they see the hand of someone out to take advantage of them.
… Many, if not most, Americans possess a limited understanding of the nature of the inequality in our society. They know that something has gone wrong, but they underestimate the harm that inequality does even as they overestimate the cost of taking action. These mistaken beliefs, which have been reinforced by ideological rhetoric, are having a catastrophic effect on politics and economic policy.
There is no good reason why the 1 percent, with their good educations, their ranks of advisers, and their much-vaunted business acumen, should be so misinformed. The 1 percent in generations past often knew better. They knew that there would be no top of the pyramid if there wasn’t a solid base—that their own position was precarious if society itself was unsound. Henry Ford, not remembered as one of history’s softies, understood that the best thing he could do for himself and his company was to pay his workers a decent wage, because he wanted them to work hard and he wanted them to be able to buy his cars. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a purebred patrician, understood that the only way to save an essentially capitalist America was not only to spread the wealth, through taxation and social programs, but to put restraints on capitalism itself, through regulation. Roosevelt and the economist John Maynard Keynes, while reviled by the capitalists, succeeded in saving capitalism from the capitalists. Richard Nixon, known to this day as a manipulative cynic, concluded that social peace and economic stability could best be secured by investment—and invest he did, heavily, in Medicare, Head Start, Social Security, and efforts to clean up the environment. Nixon even floated the idea of a guaranteed annual income.
So, the advice I’d give to the 1 percent today is: Harden your hearts. When invited to consider proposals to reduce inequality—by raising taxes and investing in education, public works, health care, and science—put any latent notions of altruism aside and reduce the idea to one of unadulterated self-interest. Don’t embrace it because it helps other people. Just do it for yourself.