Mr. Blow has a question in “CPAC: Hackneyed and Hollow:” Where were the grand conservative thinkers? Where was the philosophical heft? Mr. Blow, they know the answer to that even in Paris, where “HeyNorris” commented: “Mr. Blow, I do admire your optimism. As Oscar Wilde noted, “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”. The trouble is, the sky at CPAC is as dark and foul as the gutter. It’s nothing but an audition stage for presidential hopefuls to out-conservative one another. The “thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky” have been extinguished by the bigotry, hatred and small-mindedness of the ultra conservatives controlling the Republican party. That’s not an environment from which could spring any kind of intellectual engagement.” Prof. Krugman, in “Walmart’s Invisible Hand,” says a pay raise by America’s largest employer shows that low wages are a choice, and that we can and should choose differently. Here’s Mr. Blow (who I hope has recovered the brain cells lost by attending CPAC):
I never know how to set my expectations for the Conservative Political Action Conference, also known as CPAC.
I try to approach it with as much of an open mind as I can muster, understanding that I am at odds, fundamentally, with many conservative principles and conservatives’ views about the role, size and scope of government, but also realizing that apart from a debate setting, this may be the best place to take the temperature of, and hear from, the broadest range of conservative leaders.
I still think, perhaps naïvely so, that people can be ideologically opposed but intellectually engaged, that a good idea makes the best bridge.
So I do my best to follow the speeches — from afar (thank you, live streaming!) — and wait to hear something that jolts my consciousness or challenges my sense of things.
But once again this year, I was disappointed.
There remains in the Republican Party, as evidenced by the speakers at this event, a breathtaking narrowness of vision and deficit of creative thought.
The confab, for the most part, felt to me like a revelry of contrarians. Rather than presenting the party as one with a plan, many of the speakers seemed determined to cement it as the party of resistance and opposition.
Where were the grand conservative thinkers? Where was the philosophical heft? Where was the vision of a future not built on a transporting to the past?
It was largely absent. In its place was too much rhetoric about defending, defeating, defunding, deauthorizing. There was so much anti-Obama and anti-Hillary obsessing that the “pro” alternatives — to the extent that a case could be made — were obscured.
Furthermore, it was hard to skip over all the missteps.
Scott Walker, the leader in a new and oh-so-early Quinnipiac University poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus participants, compared union protesters in Wisconsin to the savage members of the Islamic State.
Rick Perry still couldn’t get his facts straight. He said the president “says that ISIS is a religious movement. Again, he’s simply wrong.” No, sir, you are wrong. The president has taken pains to make the opposite argument, and has taken some shots for that. Perry also said that “ISIS represents the worst threat to freedom since communism.” Really? Calm down, cowboy.
Chris Christie hung much of his question and answer presentation onbemoaning his coverage in the media, skirting the obvious fact that previous media fawning is a large part of the reason he rose to national prominence. Live by the pen; die by the pen.
Jeb Bush did his best before a somewhat hostile crowd — there were boos and hisses and some folks walked out (some in costume, of course) and reportedly shouted, “No more Bushes.” It must be noted here that CPAC is a particular kind of crowd: not exactly like the Republican electorate, and not at all like the national electorate as a whole. (Rand Paul has won the last three CPAC straw polls.)
But Bush seemed awkward and uncomfortable, trying to set up camp on both sides of the ravine on some issues like immigration and the Common Core.
At least he made the point that conservatives “have to start being for things again.”
This is where the Republican Party continues to falter. The cavalcade of contra nothingness at CPAC barreled forward with more speakers who lacked vision and brio.
I guess one could make the argument that if the Republican pool of candidates is wide but shallow, that’s good for Democrats. Indeed, it is.
Republicans have done exceedingly well in the recent midterms — in part because of anti-Obama Tea Party animus in 2010 and the fact that voter turnout for the 2014 midterms was the lowest of any election cycle since World War II. But presidential election years are a different story: They are national elections with a different electoral profile and greater participation.
And nationally, the Republican brand remains tarnished.
A Pew Research Center report released last week found that “majorities say the Democratic Party is open and tolerant, cares about the middle class and is not ‘too extreme.’ By contrast, most Americans see the G.O.P. lacking in tolerance and empathy for the middle class, and half view it as too extreme.”
This, of course, does not mean Democrats will have it easy in 2016 or thereafter. In fact, history tells us that politics swing like a pendulum.
But if this is the quality of candidates and discourse of the Republican side when that pendulum swings back, then that’s tragic. If the bulk of your message is about what you are against rather than what you are for, if it’s about dragging the country back rather than leading it forward, then we’ll all suffer.
But they’ve done such a SUPERB job of gerrymandering that they’ll continue to win… Here’s Prof. Krugman:
A few days ago Walmart, America’s largest employer, announced that it will raise wages for half a million workers. For many of those workers the gains will be small, but the announcement is nonetheless a very big deal, for two reasons. First, there will be spillovers: Walmart is so big that its action will probably lead to raises for millions of workers employed by other companies. Second, and arguably far more important, is what Walmart’s move tells us — namely, that low wages are a political choice, and we can and should choose differently.
Some background: Conservatives — with the backing, I have to admit, of many economists — normally argue that the market for labor is like the market for anything else. The law of supply and demand, they say, determines the level of wages, and the invisible hand of the market will punish anyone who tries to defy this law.
Specifically, this view implies that any attempt to push up wages will either fail or have bad consequences. Setting a minimum wage, it’s claimed, will reduce employment and create a labor surplus, the same way attempts to put floors under the prices of agricultural commodities used to lead to butter mountains, wine lakes and so on. Pressuring employers to pay more, or encouraging workers to organize into unions, will have the same effect.
But labor economists have long questioned this view. Soylent Green — I mean, the labor force — is people. And because workers are people, wages are not, in fact, like the price of butter, and how much workers are paid depends as much on social forces and political power as it does on simple supply and demand.
What’s the evidence? First, there is what actually happens when minimum wages are increased. Many states set minimum wages above the federal level, and we can look at what happens when a state raises its minimum while neighboring states do not. Does the wage-hiking state lose a large number of jobs? No — the overwhelming conclusion from studying these natural experiments is that moderate increases in the minimum wage have little or no negative effect on employment.
Then there’s history. It turns out that the middle-class society we used to have didn’t evolve as a result of impersonal market forces — it was created by political action, and in a brief period of time. America was still a very unequal society in 1940, but by 1950 it had been transformed by a dramatic reduction in income disparities, which the economists Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo labeled the Great Compression. How did that happen?
Part of the answer is direct government intervention, especially during World War II, when government wage-setting authority was used to narrow gaps between the best paid and the worst paid. Part of it, surely, was a sharp increase in unionization. Part of it was the full-employment economy of the war years, which created very strong demand for workers and empowered them to seek higher pay.
The important thing, however, is that the Great Compression didn’t go away as soon as the war was over. Instead, full employment and pro-worker politics changed pay norms, and a strong middle class endured for more than a generation. Oh, and the decades after the war were also marked by unprecedented economic growth.
Which brings me back to Walmart.
The retailer’s wage hike seems to reflect the same forces that led to the Great Compression, albeit in a much weaker form. Walmart is under political pressure over wages so low that a substantial number of employees are on food stamps and Medicaid. Meanwhile, workers are gaining clout thanks to an improving labor market, reflected in increasing willingness to quit bad jobs.
What’s interesting, however, is that these pressures don’t seem all that severe, at least so far — yet Walmart is ready to raise wages anyway. Andits justification for the move echoes what critics of its low-wage policy have been saying for years: Paying workers better will lead to reduced turnover, better morale and higher productivity.
What this means, in turn, is that engineering a significant pay raise for tens of millions of Americans would almost surely be much easier than conventional wisdom suggests. Raise minimum wages by a substantial amount; make it easier for workers to organize, increasing their bargaining power; direct monetary and fiscal policy toward full employment, as opposed to keeping the economy depressed out of fear that we’ll suddenly turn into Weimar Germany. It’s not a hard list to implement — and if we did these things we could make major strides back toward the kind of society most of us want to live in.
The point is that extreme inequality and the falling fortunes of America’s workers are a choice, not a destiny imposed by the gods of the market. And we can change that choice if we want to.