What’s Your Connection to Mountaintop Removal?

Published by Yes! Magazine on November 10, 2009

Power plants across the country use coal from destroyed mountains. Search your zip code to meet the communities and landscapes to which you’re connected.

Not In My Backyard?

Click here to find out if your power company uses coal from destroyed mountains.

Mountaintop removal—the literal toppling of mountains in order to mine the coal underneath—is a shocking assault on the ecosystems, communities, and landscapes of the southern Appalachian Mountains. For many Americans, though, its impact seems a world away: an atrocity, yes, but one confined to Appalachia.

But the coal that’s removed forms a direct connection between the millions of Americans whose homes it powers and the communities that suffer most directly from its extraction.

By searching your zip code, you can find out not only whether coal from mountain top removal sites is helping to power your home, but where it’s coming from. The zip code of the White House, for example, benefits from coal extracted from Glen Alum Mountain, West Virginia.

What’s your connection to mountaintop removal? Click here to find out.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Will the Citizens United Ruling Let Hugo Chavez and King Abdullah Buy U.S. Elections?

This post was originally published on January 22, 2010 on the website of the Center for Public Integrity and is reprinted on Sierra Voices with CPI’s permission.

Supreme Court Ruling May Open Door to Foreign State-Owned Corporate Political Spending

By Aaron Mehta and Josh Israel

Some legal observers fear the ruling would open up the floodgates for any corporation operating in the United States, no matter who owns them. J. Gerald Hebert, executive director and director of litigation at the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, told the Center for Public Integrity that the existing prohibition on foreign involvement does not refer to foreign controlled domestic corporations. “With the corporate campaign expenditure ban now being declared unconstitutional, domestic corporations controlled by foreign governments or other foreign entities are free to spend money to elect or defeat federal candidates,” he believes.

While political observers have dissected much of yesterday’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, one potentially huge (and probably unintended) consequence has gotten little notice: the impact the decision could have on foreign government spending on federal campaigns.

The ruling essentially gives corporations the same rights as individuals in their ability to spend freely on political advertising, even if those advertisements explicitly advocate the election or defeat of a federal candidate. This means that candidates who support, say, increased restrictions on tobacco products could find themselves up against the corporate treasury of say, a major American tobacco company. And even the fear of $10 million in attack ads blanketing the airways come re-election time may give sitting legislators pause before taking on moneyed industries.

But it’s one thing for U.S. firms to have their say. What about foreign companies that operate U.S. subsidiaries? Many of these, like American businesses, are owned by ordinary shareholders — but a host of others are owned, in whole or in part, by the foreign governments themselves.

One prominent examples is CITGO Petroleum Company — once the American-born Cities Services Company, but purchased in 1990 by the Venezuelan government-owned Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. The Citizens United ruling could conceivably allow Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has sharply criticized both of the past two U.S. presidents, to spend government funds to defeat an American political candidate, just by having CITGO buy TV ads bashing his target.

And it’s not just Chavez. The Saudi government owns Houston’s Saudi Refining Company and half of Motiva Enterprises. Lenovo, which bought IBM’s PC assets in 2004, is partially owned by the Chinese government’s Chinese Academy of Sciences. And Singapore’s APL Limited operates several U.S. port operations. A weakening of the limit on corporate giving could mean China, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and any other country that owns companies that operate in the U.S. could also have significant sway in American electioneering.

Federal election law has long prohibited any foreign national from directly or indirectly making “an independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication.” And the Supreme Court’s ruling does not explicitly address the issue of foreign corporations. However, in his dissent in Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens cautioned that the decision “would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.”

Other observers are not so sure. Stephen Spaulding, a law fellow at Common Cause, believes that in the absence of any explicit Supreme Court comment on this area, the issue of foreign-owned corporations spending on federal campaigns is “still an open door question.” He adds, “it may very well be a new path in campaign finance litigation.”

The Federal Election Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Even if the Supreme Court, the FEC, or Congress decide that the right of corporations to engage in electioneering does not apply to foreign-owned corporations, with significant foreign investment in even American-based companies, it could prove quite difficult to determine who may spend and who may not.

Marianne Lavelle contributed to this story.

How to Donate to the Greg Diaz Campaign

I heard from Don Baumgart with the Greg Diaz campaign that yesterday’s fundraiser for Greg’s re-election as the Nevada County Clerk-Recorder was a great success:

“Last night’s Meet the Candidate gathering at Kane’s restaurant in Grass Valley was packed! An outpouring of support and donations. A very good start for the campaign.”

If you missed the fundraiser and still want to contribute, here’s how to do it.

Mail your check to:

Committee to Elect Diaz
15523 Wet Hill Road
Nevada City CA 95959

Or, if you’d prefer to donate online, go to http://www.gregorydiaz.com and click the Donate to the Campaign! link at the top of the page.

While you’re at his webpage, take some time to read about Greg’s background and accomplishments as Nevada County’s Clerk-Recorder.

And check out his avocation as an alpaca farmer!

Myth of the Center-Right Nation

There’s a small discussion going on about Obama’s State of the Union speech over on Jeff Pelline’s Blog. One of the commenters repeated the old canard about the United States being a “center/right-of-center nation,” and also made the claim that no one can successfully govern here from the left.

On the contrary, when US citizens are polled on issues, we are definitely a center-left — or liberal/progressive — nation.

Obama, if he hopes to win a second term, should study those who have successfully governed from the center-left, like FDR, and he should take a lesson from someone like Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a European-style social democrat — a liberal progressive socialist in our parlance — who (both as a congressman and as a senator) has won huge majorities in a mostly red state that also gave huge majorities to George Bush.

Obama should look closely at the kind of Democrats who are now in trouble. They are mostly of the center-right variety.

Obama should recall Harry Truman’s warning that “when given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat imitating a Republican, voters would not hesitate to vote for the real thing.”

What I was hoping — but not expecting — to hear last night from Obama was something more akin to the following sentiments, expressed by our most successful center-left president, Franklin Roosevelt (whom Obama purports to admire) in his famous 1936 Madison Square Garden speech:

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me … and I welcome their hatred.”

Here’s the audio:

Who’s Polluting the Climate Conversation?

Published by Yes! Magazine on December 1, 2009

Money, think tanks, and the scientists-for-hire behind the doubt and denial.

by James Hoggan

Scientists now warn that climate change is happening faster, and is a bigger threat, than they predicted just a few years ago. Yet the number of Americans who believe climate change is occurring at all is decreasing. That’s shocking—but not surprising.

It’s shocking because the stakes are so high and the science is so clear. A recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences carried an article reporting that sedimentary records from an Arctic lake show warmer temperatures in the last few decades than at any time in the past 200,000 years. At the same time, the Pew Research Center reported that the number of Americans who believe the Earth is warming has dropped from 71 percent to just 57 percent in the last 18 months.

How can that be unsurprising? Well, because the loudest voices in the U.S. climate conversation come not from scientists, but from dirty energy industries, with their paid experts and think tanks, who are promoting a view of science that serves their economic interests, regardless of what is actually true. This is not an idle assertion. It comes from four years of research on the climate website DeSmogBlog.com, which Richard Littlemore and I have compiled into the new book Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming.

Among our most disturbing discoveries were three instances in which corporate associations set out strategy and tactics for attacking the science of climate change—or science in general.

The coal barons went first. They recognized the strength of the science almost two decades ago. In 1991, the Western Fuels Association and the Edison Electric Institute crafted a plan to argue that global warming would be a good thing. They hired PR people, tested messages, and recruited compliant scientists to argue their case. They put out radio ads with messages like, “If the Earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis getting colder?” (Even though Minneapolis was, in fact, warming faster than the planetary average.) Then they paid scientists like the University of Virginia’s Patrick Michaels to write skeptical editorials for small town papers—publications unlikely to have the resources to check whether someone was being paid by industry.

Philip Morris joined the climate-change fight in 1993. They were already heavily invested in strewing confusion about science, having spent decades defending a product that is lethal when used as directed. But no one was taking them seriously anymore, so they established a fake grassroots organization—an “Astroturf group”—called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). They recruited other businesses, like oil companies, that had a stake in undermining public faith in science. Together, they started hiring and promoting willing scientists like Dr. S. Fred Singer, who was equally happy to argue for the safety of secondhand smoke or to deny that climate change was real.

A third denial campaign was started on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute in 1997 by spin doctors with experience denying everything from the dangers of tobacco (Steve Milloy, at the time the executive director of TASSC) to the hazards of ozone depletion (Candace Crandall, Fred Singer’s then-wife). The API’s “Global Climate Science Communication Action Plan” detailed how to take advantage of small newspapers and TV stations to spread disinformation. They recruited more scientists-for-hire and gave them media training and editorial support, promoted them as interview subjects, and distributed their skeptical articles widely.

The strategies are still popular, and many of the original players are still in the game. Industry pays more every year to promote climate confusion. An Astroturf group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), spent between $35 million and $40 million for a huge campaign during the last presidential election. Some of the propaganda was obvious. You couldn’t watch the presidential debates without seeing “clean coal” ads. Other activity was less transparent. For example, the Hawthorn Group PR firm recruited and paid young people to wear bright white “clean coal” T-shirts and baseball caps to electoral rallies. They offered bonuses to anyone who got their photo taken with a candidate and got it on the news.

For the debate over the Waxman- Markey climate change bill, ACCCE hired a Washington, D.C., Astroturf specialist called Bonner & Associates to generate fake grassroots opposition. Bonner employees got scripts directing them to hide who they were working for. (“Hi, I’m working with seniors/retirees to help stop their utility bills from doubling.”) They forged letters on purloined letterhead and sent them to Congress ahead of the vote. Congressman Markey’s office discovered the scripts and forgeries and continues to investigate.

In each of these cases, the funders actually admit their intent to confuse the public and undermine the credibility of legitimate scientists. They use Astroturf front groups because people know who not to trust: A recent poll showed that only 19 percent of people believe what corporations say about climate change.

The Greenpeace “Exxon Secrets” project, and similar groups, have documented other huge corporate investments in confusion and attacks on climate science. And the oil and gas industry keeps adding to the budget—in 2008, its expenditures on lobbying alone increased by 50 percent.

Neither the major media nor politicians are counterbalancing these campaigns. And that leaves a huge burden on you, the individual.

It also creates a great opportunity. People are crying out for leadership on this issue, and they would rather follow leaders they know. If you inform yourself and speak out, people will appreciate and emulate your example. If you call foul when you hear or see information being misused, your friends and colleagues will be grateful. And if you start demanding more from media, from business, and especially from government, others will applaud.

We can’t save the world from climate change with just a few lifestyle changes. We have to take back the public discourse. We could begin, for example, by demanding that think tanks like the Heartland Institute, which lobbies on behalf of tobacco companies and against climate-change legislation, have to declare the source of their funding. We could demand that companies like Bonner & Associates have to acknowledge their clients—that all Astroturfers should declare when they are operating on behalf of self-interested corporations.

Climate change can be beaten, quickly and affordably. It’s time we all insisted that it be done.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License
James Hoggan wrote this article for Climate Action, the Winter 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. James is owner of the international PR firm Hoggan & Associates, chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, and author (with investigative journalist Richard Littlemore) of the new book, Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming.

Help the Library Today: Pledge Now

You don’t need to wait for the Library Aid Telethon on February 20th to help relieve the library budget crisis.

You can pledge today by printing the pledge form and sending it to Friends of the Library (optionally with whatever you can afford). To print the pledge form, click on one of these two links:

Pledge Form (Word Doc) — OR — Pledge Form (HTML)

Notice that these links also appear above the replica of the telethon flyer on the rightside of this webpage.

10 Courageous Things You Can Do to Build Community

Published December 29, 2009 in Yes! Magazine

by Milenko Matanovic

Building strong communities is critical, hard work. I feel it’s one of the most courageous, important things each of us can do every day. We can speed up the realization good community building ideas if we live our lives consistent with community priorities. The good news: practically every activity and every moment grants us the opportunity to practice community-minded behavior.

Here are 10 ways you can start the courageous work of building community today:

  1. Take interest in other people’s passions as much as you want them to be interested in yours. We all have ideas for how life should be. The thing is that, unless we are unsurpassed geniuses, we only see a small part of the picture. Asking others what they see can only enhance understanding.
  2. Become a mentor to others less involved in their community. In every community there is a small, overworked group of leaders who try to figure out everything for everyone. They go to all the meetings and take on huge loads of work while others are silent…until it is time for them to complain. This will not do. If you are such a leader, mentor someone with less experience. If you are not, approach someone and ask them to mentor you.
  3. Support a cause with no direct personal benefit. We are involved with things we care about the most. That’s natural. My experience tells me, however, that the most interesting and possibly most important discoveries happen in the spaces between interests and disciplines and ideologies. Step outside your natural zone… it’s necessary for uncovering new solutions.
  4. Invite “them” to your meeting. It is convenient to show our importance by pitting “us” against “them.” But “they” may have insights that will help us better understand the problem and appreciate the marvelous tensions that form a healthy community.
  5. Reject the tendency to blame. Everyone plays a role in the problem and everyone must participate in the solution. Practice compassion towards those who, like ourselves, unwittingly contribute to the problem they wish to solve.
  6. Confront internal contradictions. Claiming the problem is someone else’s doing conveniently absolves us from doing our part. If I drive my car to a transportation meeting and complain about traffic jams, it’s necessary that I acknowledge my contribution to that traffic. At the very least, acknowledge the irony of the situation.
  7. Practice industrial-strength listening. Do not react until you’ve received.
  8. Render unto community… Shrink your home to what is necessary and conduct the rest of your life in the community. For example, resist a “theater” room and visit your local theater instead. Anytime you bump into others you make your community a tiny bit stronger.
  9. Clarify your image of the future. I find that most decisions we make are shaped by impulses so deeply ingrained we fail to be aware of them. Unexamined impulse is prejudice. Examined impulse, once confirmed, is guidance that leads to something better. Examine your embedded assumptions, embrace the relevant ones and discard the rest. What remains is a clear intuition, an image of a possible future. Then engage with others to make it a reality.
  10. Resist the temptation to choose between the ideal and the reality. Hold them both in your awareness. Learn to enjoy the creativity and humor this tension offers. It can be quite funny.

I would love to know what courageous community building acts you are doing. Please add your stories in the comments.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Milenko Matanovic is a community builder and a visual artist with an international reputation and a professional career of over 40 years. He is the founding director of Pomegranate Center. The non-profit Pomegranate Center facilitates the conception and construction of open-air gathering places, and integrates art into architecture, landscape and communities.

Interested? Practical Steps For Bridging the Political Divide. Organizing, building trust, taking direct action—this feature shows you how to get media attention, build a coalition, organize online, and reach out and communicate.

Library Aid Telethon to Air February 20th!


by Friends of the Library and NCTV


Lew Sitzer, Chair, Telethon Committee

Paul Minicucci, E.D. NCTV
478-6000 x249


Grass-roots effort to raise $100,000 to help County Library System

NCTV and Friends of the Nevada County Libraries are producing a 6-hour telethon to air on Saturday, February 20 between 3-9 pm.  It can be seen on Comcast channel 11, Suddenlink channel 16 or simulcast live at www.nevadacountytv.org.

The goal of the 6-hour telethon is to raise $100,000 to help the Nevada County Public Library system with its current budget deficit in order to keep library services local and intact.

Programming will include readings from the locally published book Open to All:  What the Library Means to Me, as well as interviews with locally known authors such as Gary Snyder, Steve Sanfield and Meg Palley.  Local musical groups including “The Anderson Family” will appear.  Premiums will be offered, challenges will be issued and segments highlighting various library programs will also be shown.

Volunteers are needed to put on this special event.  If you’re interested, please contact Lew Sitzer at 478-1174 or Paul Minicucci at 478-6000 x249.

Click on flyer above for full-size image

If you want to make an early pledge, click on one of the pledge form formats below:

Pledge Form (Word Doc)

Pledge Form (HTML)

10 Ways to Stop Corporate Dominance of Politics

Published Jan 25, 2010 in Yes! Magazine

It’s not too late to limit or reverse the impact of the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

by Fran Korten

The recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited corporate spending in politics just may be the straw that breaks the plutocracy’s back.

Pro-democracy groups, business leaders, and elected representatives are proposing mechanisms to prevent or counter the millions of dollars that corporations can now draw from their treasuries to push for government action favorable to their bottom line. The outrage ignited by the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission extends to President Obama, who has promised that repairing the damage will be a priority for his administration.

But what can be done to limit or reverse the effect of the Court’s decision? Here are 10 ideas:

  1. Amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that corporations are not persons and do not have the rights of human beings. Since the First Amendment case for corporate spending as a free speech right rests on corporations being considered “persons,” the proposed amendment would strike at the core of the ruling’s justification. The push for the 28th Amendment is coming from the grassroots, where a prairie fire is catching on from groups such as Public CitizenVoter Action, and the Campaign to Legalize Democracy.
  2. Require shareholders to approve political spending by their corporations. Public Citizen and the Brennan Center for Justice are among the groups advocating this measure, and some members of Congress appear interested. Britain has required such shareholder approval since 2000.
  3. Pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which provides federal financing for Congressional elections. This measure has the backing of organizations representing millions of Americans, including Moveon.org, the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union, and the League of Young Voters. Interestingly, the heads of a number of major corporations have also signed on, including those of Ben & Jerry’s, Hasbro, Crate & Barrel, and the former head of Delta Airlines.
  4. Give qualified candidates equal amounts of free broadcast air time for political messages. This would limit the advantages of paid advertisements in reaching the public through television where most political spending goes.
  5. Ban political advertising by corporations that receive government money, hire lobbyists, or collect most of their revenue abroad. A fear that many observers have noted is that the Court’s ruling will allow foreign corporations to influence U.S. elections. According toThe New York Times, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) are exploring this option.
  6. Impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns. Representative Alan Grayson (D-Florida) proposes this, calling it “The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act.”
  7. Prohibit companies from trading their stock on national exchanges if they make political contributions and expenditures. Another one from Grayson, which he calls “The Public Company Responsibility Act.”
  8. Require publicly traded companies to disclose in SEC filings money used for the purpose of influencing public opinion, rather than for promoting their products. Grayson calls this “The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act.”
  9. Require the corporate CEO to appear as sponsor of commercials that his or her company pays for, another possibility from the Schumer-Van Hollen team, according to The New York Times
  10. Publicize the reform options, inform the public of who is making contributions to whom, and activate the citizenry. If we are to safeguard our democracy, media must inform and citizens must act.

The measures listed above—and others that seek to reverse the dominance of money in our political system—will not be easy. But grassroots anger at this latest win for corporate power is running high. History shows that when the public is sufficiently aroused, actions that once seemed impossible can, in hindsight, seem inevitable.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Fran Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Fran is publisher of YES! Magazine.

Democracy Unlimited :: In Humboldt County, California, non-local corporations are banned from politics.

Envision Spokane :: Communities around the country are using local law to promote the rights of citizens over those of corporations.

The Clintonites Were Wrong

Published in Salon, MONDAY, JAN 4, 2010

The “new economy” was an illusion. Neoliberals have to admit that before they can stop the bleeding

by Michael Lind

Is the American economy facing a lost decade? That is the wrong question to ask. The right question is this: Is the United States facing another lost decade? During the past 10 years, inflation-adjusted wages have stagnated or declined for working Americans; net job creation has been zero; and temporary, bubble-driven gains in the stock market have been erased.

This isn’t what Bill Clinton and the other “New Democrats” of the 1990s promised us.

Remember “the new economy”? In the second half of the 1990s, after years of stagnation, the U.S. economy briefly boomed. Members of the New Democrat wing of the Democratic Party, associated with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), made a number of claims.

First: The source of the boom was not a bubble associated with tech stocks, but rather a permanent increase in U.S. productivity growth produced by the information technology (I.T.) revolution. Second: Foreign money was pouring into the U.S. as a result of well-informed expectations that the U.S. would lead the world in economic growth for a long period to come. Third: Increased inequality in the U.S. was a result of the global market rewarding skilled Americans at the expense of unskilled Americans, and could be cured by more higher education.

Something like this was the cheerful and optimistic New Democrat party line in 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration. How do things look from the perspective of 2010?

It is now clear that the boom of the second Clinton term was driven by the temporary tech stock bubble. It did not mark the beginning of a “new economy” fundamentally different from the old.

It is true that official statistics showed a trend toward a higher level of U.S. productivity growth in the late 1990s and 2000s than in the period of prolonged slow growth from the 1970s to the mid-90s. But Michael Mandel and other economists (pdf link) have argued that government statisticians have exaggerated the rate of productivity growth in the Clinton and Bush years by mistaking the falling prices of imported ingredients from low-wage countries like China for gains in productivity on U.S. soil.

Between 1997 and 2007 U.S. productivity growth might have been overstated by as much as 20 percent. If this revisionist critique is right, then actual U.S. economic performance, when the stock and housing bubbles are factored out, has been much worse than anyone would have believed a few years ago. The illusory wealth generated by overpriced tech stocks and houses temporarily obscured the grim picture, but now its depressing outlines are becoming clear.

What about the claim of neoliberals in the 1990s that foreign money was pouring into the U.S. based on rational expectations of a permanent, technology-driven American boom? That pet theory of the New Democrats has been discredited by events (pdf) as well.

Investments in emerging markets have done better than investments in the U.S. in the 2000s. China and Japan have continued to buy U.S. debt, not because they are impressed with Silicon Valley’s growth potential, but in order to cripple American manufacturing by keeping the dollar artificially high and the yuan and the yen artificially low. Their debt purchases are part of their strategic industrial policies on behalf of their own export-oriented manufacturers, not a vote of confidence in future American economic dynamism.

Another New Democrat myth, endlessly repeated by Clinton in the 1990s and by President Obama today, is the theory of skill-biased technical change (SBTC). SBTC held that the growing polarization of U.S. society was the result of irresistible global technological forces, not local factors with political causes, like the de-unionization of the American labor force or the inflation-caused decline of the minimum wage.

The New Democrats and like-minded Republican conservatives told us again and again that the huge gains going to CEOs and investment bankers reflected the premium attached to skills in the global “new economy.”

Even in the 1990s, this explanation made no sense. After all, the skills of CEOs and investment bankers have undergone no significant change in the last half century. If the SBTC theory had been correct, you would expect scientists and engineers and office-tech specialists to be making the great fortunes, not bankers and corporate managers.

What’s more, you’d expect the same forces — technology, globalization — to produce the same explosion of incomes at the top in similar countries. But other industrial countries, apart from Britain (dominated, like the U.S., by its swollen, parasitic financial sector), have not seen anything like America’s growth in inequality.

As the economist Brad DeLong points out, “The big rise in inequality in the U.S. since 1980 has been overwhelmingly concentrated among the top 1 percent of income earners: Their share has risen from 8 percent in 1980 to 16 percent in 2004. By contrast, the share of the next 4 percent of income earners has only risen from 13 percent to 15 percent, and the share of the next 5 percent of income earners has stuck at 12 percent. The top 1 percent have gone from 8 to 16 times average income, the next 4 percent have gone from 3.2 to 3.7 times average income, and the next 5 percent have been stuck at 3 times average income.”

DeLong notes that this pattern does not fit the story of college-educated workers in general deriving a wage premium from the new economy. To make matters worse for the new economy school, from 1998 to 2007, earnings for Americans with B.A.s were practically flat after inflation while the youngest college graduates suffered a slight decline in real wages.

Here’s what the New Democrats of the DLC and PPI who chattered enthusiastically about the “creative class” of “knowledge workers” in the “new economy” failed to understand: The main jump in income inequality took place in the 1970s and the 1980s, before the alleged new economy created by the tech revolution.

The relative decline of wages at the bottom had little or nothing to do with technology or the global economy and everything to do with the weakening of the bargaining power of American workers vis-à-vis their employers thanks to declining unionization, an eroding minimum wage and the flooding of the low-end labor market by unskilled immigrants from Latin America, both legal and illegal.

Having misdiagnosed the problem, New Democrats, including Clinton and Obama, have consistently prescribed the wrong medicine: sending more Americans to college. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the occupations with the greatest number of openings in the foreseeable future require only a high school education or an associate’s degree, not a four-year B.A.

The most effective way to raise wages at the bottom would be to increase the bargaining power of workers, by unionizing the service sector and by tightening the labor market through restricting unskilled immigration. That would probably spur genuine productivity growth over time as employers substituted technology for more expensive labor.

But more widespread unionization is opposed by the corporate sponsors of the New Democrats. And while progressives spend oceans of ink on the effects of outsourcing on the small number of workers in the manufacturing sector, they are silent about the effects of mass unskilled immigration on the much greater number of low-wage workers in the domestic service sector.

The experience of the last decade discredits the claims of New Democrat neoliberalism. But it does not necessarily vindicate progressives. Many progressives assumed along with the neoliberals that the economy really was growing rapidly and that business in general was robbing labor of its fair share of what were believed to be huge gains.

One of the few progressives to question this orthodoxy was James K. Galbraith, who argued that most of the spike in inequality was explained by a small number of Silicon Valley and Wall Street tycoons. The crash made it clear that a significant amount of the wealth of the super-rich in the 2000s had in fact been imaginary all along.

The grim truth is that the new economy promised by the New Democrats never materialized. Yes, we have the Internet and iPhones, but the gains in productivity that have resulted so far from I.T. have been pretty minor compared to the results of the introduction of the steam engine, electricity and the internal combustion engine.

Yes, you can use Google to shop for items and order them via Amazon.com, but the factories that make them and the ships and the trucks that bring them to you would have seemed familiar to engineers in the 1950s.

The moment when much-hyped alternative energy sources like wind and solar become competitive with fossil fuels and nuclear energy seems to perpetually recede into the future. The all-renewable energy sector is 30 years away — and always will be. A decade ago, there was a national debate about outlawing germ-line engineering of humans, on the expectation that large-scale genetic engineering was imminent. Instead, progress in biotechnology has been slower than opponents feared and supporters hoped.

The glib New Democrats who chirped in the 1990s about the wonders of the new economy were dead wrong. If ever a school of political economy has been discredited by events, it is Clinton-era neoliberalism. And yet the Obama administration’s economic team is made up of recycled Clintonites, the very people who misunderstood the actual trends in the U.S. and global economy for the past 20 years.

An acknowledgement of their mistakes would be in order. But they would first have to recognize that they were indeed wrong about the central issues of our time.


Michael Lind is Policy Director of New America’s Economic Growth Program. He is the author, with Ted Halstead, of The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics (Doubleday, 2001). He is also the author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics (New America Books/Basic, 2003) andWhat Lincoln Believed (Doubleday, 2005). Mr. Lind has been an editor or staff writer for The New YorkerHarper’s Magazine, and The New Republic. From 1991 to 1994, he was executive editor of The National Interest. He has also been a guest lecturer at Harvard Law School. Mr. Lind has written for The Atlantic MonthlyProspect (U.K.), The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesThe Financial Times, and other leading publications, and has appeared on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, CNN’s Crossfire, and PBS’s The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Mr. Lind’s first three books of political journalism and history, The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution (Free Press, 1995), Up From Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America (Free Press, 1996), and Vietnam: The Necessary War (Free Press, 1999) were all selected as New York Times Notable Books. He has also published several volumes of fiction and poetry, including The Alamo (Houghton Mifflin, 1997), which the Los Angeles Times named as one of the Best Books of the year, and a prize-winning children’s book,Bluebonnet Girl (Henry Holt, 2004). His ground-breaking study of American grand strategy, The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life was published by Oxford University Press in October 2006.

Next Page »