Here are the choices conservatives have on inequality
by David Atkins
Conservative hack Glenn Reynolds has a column in USA Today in which he attacks the President's focus on income inequality, with the usual bleating about government dependency and what not. Mickey Kaus agrees.
Reynolds' main thrust is that the nation should be more focused on fixing unemployment than on fixing income inequality. Now, the obvious progressive case can be made that we could have full employment rather quickly if we were willing to let corporations pay people $3 an hour, then watch then starve on the street despite being employed full-time in the service of their wealthy paymasters.
But let's ignore that argument for a moment. After all, Reynolds is right that human beings do crave the dignity of work to a certain extent and that too much idleness can breed social malaise. Fair point. More than that, unemployment represents at a certain level a waste of human potential (assuming that we count homemakers as employed, which is an important digression but not what I want to focus on at the moment.)
If Reynolds and his conservative brethren really want to emphasize work over welfare, then a government jobs program should be right up their alley. Lack of productivity is eliminated, as is any potential social malaise. A government jobs program would help distressed communities and wealthy communities alike, and reduce income inequality as a side benefit, particularly if the wealthy and corporations provide more in tax revenue-which they can certainly afford to do given record profits, stock markets, and inequality figures.
One of the big divides among some of the left's more forward thinkers right now is whether we push for a basic guaranteed income, or a basic guaranteed jobs program. One or the other will be essential as mechanization, deskilling and outsourcing continue to ravage the middle classes of industrialized nations, reducing the natural employment rate on a yearly basis. A guaranteed income would be the more traditional progressive approach, but that does run the risk of creating large social and political problems. A guaranteed jobs program would be a somewhat more conservative approach, but it would also be more sustainable in the long run.
Methinks that Glenn Reynolds and his friends wouldn't favor that approach, however. They would consider a guaranteed job to be just as artificially constructed a "giveaway" as a guaranteed income. Much of the right-wing already considers a higher minimum wage to be "welfare", even though it's nothing of the sort.
The problem for the Right is that the middle classes of industrialized nations are not going to be dragged into a hell pit of full-time labor that still doesn't put food, shelter, education and healthcare on the table. Decent food, shelter, education and healthcare will still be available one way or another, because these things are human rights. They're certainly not going to be taken away while corporations and the wealthy are living higher on the hog than ever. Most people understand that teachers provide more value to society than Wall Street traders do; we're willing to watch the Wall Street trader make ten times as much money only so long as the teacher can still pay their bills.
So the passive income crowd and their conservative and third-way backers have basically three choices as the number of jobs dwindles and wages continue to decrease:
1) Create a society of the wealthy few with good jobs, the poor many with bad or no jobs, and a hefty basic income to make up for it, similar to wealthy petro-socialist states in the Middle East;
2) Reorient the economy toward providing everyone decent employment with a decent wage, removing the incentive from the asset class to kill jobs in order to leverage more profit; or
3) Hope that the middle class accepts its impoverishment under the thumb of a security state designed to protect the interests of the asset class, rather than engaging in violent and bloody revolution.
If I were wealthy I probably wouldn't take the third bet. It would be dangerous, and history says I would probably lose. But history also suggests that's exactly what David Koch, Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus will attempt to do. I can't say I wish them good luck, because I don't.