An Update And An Opinion

In a minute, I will share a piece by Robert Reich, but first I have an update on this morning’s post, King Donnie.  You may remember that I wrote about Trump claiming “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” and saying that it would be entirely up to him, not the states’ governors, when the country would re-open for business.  Well, it seems that mine were not the only feathers he ruffled with his rhetoric …

“I don’t know what the president is talking about, frankly. We have a constitution … we don’t have a king … the president doesn’t have total authority.” – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

“I am not running for office to be King of America. I respect the constitution. I’ve read the constitution. I’ve sworn an oath to it many times. I respect the great job so many of this country’s governors – Democratic and Republican – are doing under these horrific circumstances.” – Former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden

“Nope. That would be the literal definition of a totalitarian government – which our traditions, our constitution, and our values all rightly and decisively reject.” – Steve Vladeck, Professor of Law at the University of Texas

“How & when to modify physical distancing orders should & will be made by Governors. But the Constitution & common sense dictates these decisions be made at the state level.” – Republican Senator Marco Rubio

I’m thinking maybe it’s about time for Trump to listen to the people who have actually read and understand the U.S. Constitution.  And now, I bring you Robert Reich on an entirely different topic and one of my own pet peeves …

America’s billionaires are giving to charity – but much of it is self-serving rubbish

Well-publicized philanthropy shows how afraid the super-rich are of a larger social safety net – and higher taxes

Robert Reich-4As millions of jobless Americans line up for food or risk their lives delivering essential services, the nation’s billionaires are making conspicuous donations – $100m from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for food banks, billions from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates for a coronavirus vaccine, thousands of ventilators and N95 masks from Elon Musk, $25m from the Walton family and its Walmart foundation. The list goes on.

On Wednesday, Forbes released its annual billionaires list, happily noting that “the planet’s wealthiest are helping the global effort to combat the Covid-19 outbreak”.

I don’t mean to be uncharitable, but much of this is self-serving rubbish.

First off, the amounts involved are tiny relative to the fortunes behind them. Bezos’s $100m, for example, amounts to about 11 days of his income.

Well-publicized philanthropy also conveniently distracts attention from how several of these billionaires are endangering their workers and, by extension, the public.

With online sales surging, Amazon is on a hiring binge. But Bezos still doesn’t provide sick leave for workers unless they test positive for Covid-19, in which case they get just two weeks. On 20 March, four senators sent him a letter expressing concern that the company wasn’t doing enough to protect its warehouse workers.

Walmart’s booming sales have caused it to hire more than 100,000 workers over the past three weeks. But the firm failed to implement social distancing for two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced guidelines on 16 March. Several workers have died. Most still don’t have access to gloves, masks or hand sanitizer. They don’t get paid sick leave, not even at stores where employees have contracted the virus.

Musk initially dismissed sheltering as “dumb” and defied a sheriff’s order to shelter-in-place by keeping open Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, telling employees the factory was an “essential” business.

The third way conspicuous philanthropy is self-serving is by suggesting that government shouldn’t demand more from the super-rich, even in a national emergency. As Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page put it, if we had a wealth tax like Elizabeth Warren proposed, “it’s unlikely [Bill Gates] would have the capacity to act this boldly.”

That’s absurd. Warren’s tax would have cost Gates about $6bn a year, roughly his annual income from his $100bn.

Besides, all the billionaire charity combined is a tiny fraction of the trillions the government has already spent on the coronavirus crisis. How does the Journal believe we’re going to pay down this added national debt if the wealthiest among us don’t pay more taxes? Even when this nightmare is over, most Americans will be hard pressed.

And why should we believe that Gates or any other billionaire’s “boldness” necessarily reflects society’s values and needs? Oligarchies aren’t the same as democracies.

The worst fear of the billionaire class is that the government’s response to the pandemic will lead to a permanently larger social safety net.

“Once the virus is conquered – and it will be – the biggest risk will be the political campaign to expand government control over far more of American economic life,” warns Murdoch’s Journal.

After all, the Great Depression of the 1930s spawned social security and the minimum wage, as well as a widespread conviction that government should guarantee a minimum standard of living. The second world war yielded the GI Bill and then the National Defense Education Act, enshrining the government’s role as a financier of higher education.

Even programs that don’t enjoy wide popularity when first introduced, such as the Affordable Care Act, enlarge the nation’s sense of what is reasonable for the government to do for its citizens. The ACA lives on, more popular than ever, notwithstanding the GOP’s determination to repeal it and Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine it.

As the pandemic challenges the security and safety of all Americans, some conservative politicians are proposing things that would have been unthinkable – certainly unspeakable – only months ago.

The Missouri Republican senator Josh Hawley is calling for the federal government to “cover 80% of wages for workers at any US business, up to the national median wage” until the crisis is over.

“Workers will benefit from the steady paycheck and the knowledge their jobs are safe,” he says.

Indeed. Hawley’s logic would as easily justify national paid sick leave and universal basic income, permanently.

If the pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that America’s current social safety net and healthcare system does not protect the majority of Americans in a national emergency. We are the outlier among the world’s advanced nations in subjecting our citizens to perpetual insecurity.

We are also the outlier in possessing a billionaire class that, in controlling much of our politics, has kept such proposals off the public agenda.

At least until now.

Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now.

12 thoughts on “An Update And An Opinion

  1. from twitter and she has a very good point.
    “The absolute genius behind @realDonaldTrump yielding re-opening power to each state:
    We’ve spent the last 4 years listening to the Left claim Trump was an evil dictator.
    Now we get to watch who the aspiring dictators really are.

    …And they all just happen to be Democrats.”
    Look at which states are extending shelter-in-place orders.
    As I have always said, there is a balanced way to do this thoughtfully, oh and by the way, what gives governors the right to say which businesses are essential and which ones are not? It seems to me that if someone is running a small business, that business is essential to them and their family to be fed, clothed and have a roof over their heads, things that democrats are always saying we need more of in this country and on that point, they are absolutely right.
    big corporations like walmart and wallgreens can stay open but small businesses can’t?
    this is just another glaring example of the hypocrisy of these reprehensible politicians who give continual lip service to caring about you because those evil republicans don’t when all the time, it’s them who don’t give a damn about the little guy at all.
    These immoral, cowardly politicians infuriate me on a daily basis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robert Reich says what I, minus the eloquence and the statistics, have been saying these past weeks. At times I have been taken to task for not extolling the generosity of those with astounding monetary worth for their “selfless donations” to the less fortunate amongst us. Excuse me, but when the amounts given will not be noticed, much less missed by them…should they not give more, mayhaps even until it hurts them a bit…that is selfless giving, not self serving. Yes, I understand that none of these donors are required to do so and their charity is very needed and appreciated by the recipients. However that does not mitigate the fact that there is so much more that they could be doing, never mind what they should have been doing all along, without even touching or depleting their wealth. Thank-you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right. I have, in a few instances in the past, said that when a star athlete or actor who has a public persona donates to a worthy cause, it inspires others to follow suit. And, I’m not one to denigrate anybody for an act of kindness, no matter how small. But, when a billionaire gives away $1 million, he isn’t exactly making a sacrifice. Now, that said, there are wealthy people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who consistently do good, and I still think they are worthy of being called ‘good people’, but ’tis true that they aren’t really sacrificing themselves … they still live in mansions, eat steak and lobster, and jet about to whatever tropical island they choose when the urge hits them. While many go to bed hungry at night. Sigh. And this is what I so loved about Bernie.


  3. It was a very thought provoking article, Jill. What will our world look like? To prop up the economy, the Australian Government has had to really heavily intervene, including free child care (remember when that was a demand of Women’s Liberation way back in the 70s?). One stream of debate is how much of this intervention will, and should, stay in place when this is all over. For example, the woefully low unemployment rates have been beefed up. Many feel that it would be difficult for the rate to go back to paltry amount it was before. There is of course the moral argument that it should stay at the current rate, but our government is currently lead by the Liberal (= Conservative) Party, not know for its sympathy to those who fall through the cracks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A good question, my friend. I have no idea … for us here in the U.S., much will depend on the November 3rd election, I think. The one thing I do know is that for all the countries that have been hit hard by the coronavirus and had to shutter businesses, the world will never go back to quite the same as it was. Will we have become more aware of the struggles of the poor? Much depends on the leadership. I’ve been buried in U.S. politics of late and haven’t paid near as much attention as I would like to other nations, but I haven’t heard favourable things about Scott Morrison, and while I don’t think he’s quite as self-serving an egomaniac as Trump, I think he’s not trusted to do the right thing for the nation and its people. I just don’t know what any of us can expect, or when we can expect it, other than that there will be a global recession. Trump seems to believe that he can wave a magic wand and bring back the relatively stable economy of January, but … not going to happen. Many businesses will never reopen, some will take a long time to be fully functional, and many people will not have the money to spend at stores and restaurants, having lost their jobs or been furloughed for months. I hope that the average person will have come to realize that … at the end of the day, we’re all the same, all have the same needs … but, I’m not holding my breath. I hope you and your family are all well?


      • Maybe, just maybe, we will realize the difference .between needs and wants. I have no problem pursuing the necessities of life–they really should be human rights, free of charge. But too many people think wants are needs.
        Watching Gail’s renovation shows on TV, I hear all these people with high-cost homes saying they need swimming pools, or high ceilings, or huge kitchen islands, or media rooms, or master bathrooms bigger than my living room. Those are not needs, those are costly luxuries to broadcast their yearly incomes that most of the world take a lifetime to make, if then.
        It’s time for people to wake up. We are all in this life together. It is time to start sharing with those who do not even have the necessities of life.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I used to have to explain to my children when they were little the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’, but never did I imagine that half the adults in the nation still cannot distinguish between the two.


  4. Now is the time to make bold moves, and while some might consider raising the taxes for the wealthy a bold move, it really is just “common sense,” as Thomas Paine might have said were he alive today.
    And I agree with Reich that much of this “charity” is just for show. Reich only mentioned what some are making in a year, but that is but a smidgen of what they have stockpiled away, money that was never taxed in the first place.
    Having a social conscience does not mean giving away that which you will not miss. It means giving up part of yourself. MONEY DOES NOT DEFINE THE MAN. The man is defined by how much he is willing to help those less fortunate than he.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree! The fact that the wealthy pay less in taxes than the average worker is an abomination. Yes, when you think about it, a man with billions donating a million is like me donating a dollar … a drop in the proverbial bucket. I would like to see one … just one billionaire donate most everything he owns, leaving himself, say, enough to live in the same manner as the rest of us live for the rest of his days. THAT would be true charity. I will never understand why so many in this country seem to almost worship the wealthy! They are no better people than you or I … they just happen to have more money, most likely because they walked all over others to get it! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.


      • Money does things to people that we cannot understand. And it’s not like they spend it, unless it’s to make more. It sucks people’s spirits right out of them. Maybe they think they’re climaxing.


  5. Heck, who ever had doubts that Trump didn’t have total authority, I’m sure only his lawyers and most of his Senate believed that because he said so.
    Robert Reich has always seemed a reasonable man and not one to go off at a tangent with wild theories.I would always be tempted to take him at his word, especially if the theorise matched my own.Which in this case they do though I had to take his word that the States were responsible for setting their own start back dates when they felt it safe.The ACA is popular even with Republicans who don’t want to see it go, it’s a lifeline for many. The wealthy are going to have to adjust to a higher tax rate, the tax relief they;ve had recently.was obscene and started the last National Debt but the Coronavirus had increased it far beyond expectations.I hope this disaster eases down into a fairer system, sickness benefit from employers, paid holidays from employers, a proper minimum wage applied across all jobs including waitresses.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The ‘man’ is a complete moron who hasn’t even read his employment contract, the Constitution (I mean Trump, not Robert Reich).

      Yeah, you’d be wise to take Reich’s word, for he’s a Constitutional Law scholar and has a heap more experience in governance than does Trump. Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution outlines the limitations and rights of the states, and this falls clearly under the rights of the states, not the federal government. But, of course, Trump & Co have already shown us that they have no use for such a silly thing as rule of law, or the Constitution, so … I’m not betting that he won’t try to dominate and control in this case. It may end up at the doorstep of the Supreme Court, in which case … sigh … all bets are off. But, again, he cannot force any business to open, nor can he force We the People to go forth and spend our money at said businesses. You’re right … even many who were initially opposed to ACA came to see it as a lifeline. Since Trump began chipping away at it, though, some 20 million people are now without health insurance, and he’s trying hard to do away with the pre-existing conditions clause, which will hurt millions more.

      Sigh. I think that whether this disaster will lead to a fairer system, better healthcare benefits for all, and better pay & benefits for workers largely depends on what happens November 3rd. If Trump is re-elected, this nation is doomed. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

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