Hillary Clinton

$15 Then! (Yet Another Reason Why a $15 Minimum Wage Isn’t as “Insane” as You Think)

15Now.org

Last night during the Democratic debate, when asked if she would sign a $15 an hour federal minimum wage should the bill come across her desk, Hillary Clinton snapped back, “Of course I would … if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15.” Clinton has previously backed state and city efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15, but this is the first time she’s on the record supporting that number at the federal level.

My, how far the $15 movement has come. And yet, not quite so far as it first appears.

Back in 2012, when New York City fast food workers first walked off the job demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to organize, the political and media establishment collectively rolled its eyes at such an “insane” demand. But that was back when $15 was still worth, well, $15 — at least in 2012 money. Four years later, adjusted even for our current anemic rate of inflation, those same three five-spots are only worth about $14.46. And not even Bernie Sanders is talking about jumping to $15 now. He proposes a gradual phase-in through 2022 (a full decade after that first fast food strike!), when $15 will only be worth about $12.80 in 2012 dollars.

That’s not nothing. But in today’s money, it’s about $4,600 a year less than what those fast food workers were striking for. Because inflation!

So yeah, the rapid progression of $15 from fringe idea to the most loudly shouted about point of agreement in the Democratic debate is nothing short of amazing. Still, whatever your first impression of the proposal, it’s important to remember that $15 now isn’t the same thing as $15 then.

Hillary Clinton Refuses to Evolve on Marijuana

Hillary Clinton is a self-confessed pragmatic progressive. In everyday parlance, that means she’s the type of person that likes to dip her toe in the pool before jumping in. There’s a lot to admire in a deliberative person like that. There’s also a lot to despise in someone that uses “pragmatism” to veil their political cowardice.

Unfortunately, Clinton continues to exhibit the latter when talking about marijuana. This is what she had to say on the subject last week on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

What the states are doing right now needs to be supported. And I absolutely support all the states that are moving toward medical marijuana, moving toward absolutely legalizing it for recreational use. But I want to see what the states learn from that experience, because there are still a lot of questions we still have to answer on the federal level.

There’s some great evidence about what marijuana can do for people who are in cancer treatment, who have other kinds of chronic diseases, who are suffering from intense pain…

I’m accepting information from everybody.

At the risk of mansplaining to the Secretary of State, here is some information which illustrates why she should reconsider her hesitant position on marijuana legalization:

Supporting legalization could tick the following political boxes then for Clinton:

  • Energize young people to vote for her. Which is something she could use going into the general election, as right now she only enjoys 37 percent of Democratic millennial support. She needs to give young people a reason to show up and vote for her – beyond telling them that they can refinance their student loans from 8% to 4%. YES WE CAN!
  • Cut down on a huge amount of unnecessary public money on the drug war
  • Confront racial injustice head on
  • Start to dismantle our prison-industrial complex
  • Show that she has the capacity to get out in front of a progressive issue

Clinton is right that weed needs to be removed from the list of Schedule I substances. Yet this move isn’t going to address the criminal elements of the issue. While scientists will spend years studying marijuana, millions of our people will continue to be put behind bars for a relatively innocuous drug. That comes at a cost. Not only through a loss of human capital, but also through our tax dollars. Our public infrastructure is crumbling and our government is deciding to spend our hard-earned dollars by locking up people over marijuana? This is insanity.

If this is what “pragmatism” yields, then color me disappointed. Hillary, please reconsider legalization. I know you’re not afraid of dramatically changing your position on tough issues. And this actually has the benefit of not only being popular, but also morally and politically correct.

Legalize it.

Louis CK’s Call For ‘Balance’ Is A Position of Privilege and Fantasy

louis CK trump hitler

As you probably have heard, over the weekend, comedian Louis CK called Donald Trump “Hitler.” Literally, he wrote in an email (which was to promote his new show, but it was the addendum that’s gotten all the attention), “the guy is Hitler.” Immediately, the email was dubbed “epic” and “compassionate” and “scathing” and myriad other things.

What it was not, however, was a.) revolutionary or b.) inclusive. In fact, I’d argue that CK’s email—which few people seem to have read past the “Hitler” part—is actively harmful to a whole lot of people in this country.

CK had a lot of not-nice things to say about Trump—calling him “an insane bigot” and some other things that probably sound a lot like what you’ve said about Trump with your friends—but none of them were actually particularly new or novel. People have been comparing Trump to Hitler for months. Seriously, it’s a very populated Google search.

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Not exactly leading the conversation, then.

Beyond the lack of novelty in CK’s critique, though, is a much more dangerous problem: That he seems to believe the right is a lot less harmful than it actually is. From the email:

I’m not advocating for Hillary or Bernie. I like them both but frankly I wish the next president was a conservative only because we had Obama for eight years and we need balance. And not because I particularly enjoy the conservative agenda. I just think the government should reflect the people. And we are about 40 percent conservative and 40 percent liberal. When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren’t enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while. But it only works if the conservatives put up a good candidate. A good smart conservative to face the liberal candidate so they can have a good argument and the country can decide which way to go this time.

First of all, that’s not how democracy works; just because the country is divided, doesn’t mean we necessarily need to have equal representation within our elected officials—that’s pretty obvious from the blatant gender and racial imbalances in almost every office and governing body across the country.

Sure, it would be great if our electorate were perfectly representative, but as long as conservatives are in power and keep drawing congressional lines to ensure that doesn’t happen that’s just not a reality.

On Salon, Scott Timberg explained it as such:

People on the left, the center, and the center-right may agree that Trump is nasty, hateful, and all the rest. But voting for a “reasonable” conservative candidate is not going to make reactionary extremists any less likely.

These reasonable conservatives brought us the gerrymandering that has strengthened the Republican infrastructure, squashed minority voting, and allowed extremism to thrive. They’ve led to a relaxing of media ownership laws that allowed the right-wing echo chamber to grow and flourish. Non-crazy, pro-Wall Street Republicans helped destabilize the middle class and fueled Trump’s rise. Regular old conservatives opened the door to the appointment of judges that gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000; and with Scalia’s death, the next president is likely to shape the Supreme Court profoundly.

You can’t just decide that maybe four or eight years of someone who’s in opposition to Obama would simply move along, carrying the torch in a slightly different direction—instead, what every candidate on the right is promising to do is undo the work of the Affordable Care Act and the Family Leave Act and other hard-fought wins, effectively driving us backwards in a war of attrition every election season.

Second, it’s not just the reactionaries who are bolstering Trump’s success—to look at the primary numbers as they stand, there simply aren’t that many dyed-in-the-wool racist bigots in the country. Instead, Donald Trump’s rise should signal to anyone who’s watching that he’s not a fluke, he’s actually very much speaking to many, many voters. He’s not an aberration—he’s what they’ve got.

As much as we love the idea of “balance” in both politics and the economy, the truth is that there is one party in the United States where our Presidential debates contain salient conversation about race and gender equity, about economic stability and relief for the lowest earners, and another where the topic of penis size and carpet-bombing have been featured highlights.

Trump is the party’s “good candidate” according not to just to members of the KKK—he’s the favorite with the exact kind of “moderate” Republicans CK is dreamily getting nostalgic about. He’s also got the support of many of the “moderate” conservatives who have already been elected.

The reason the conservatives haven’t put up “a good candidate” is because the candidates they’ve put up, Trump included, actually do represent their party. It’s the party of believing the South should have won the war, of pushing for the deportation of Muslims, of passing laws that require doctors to lie or are based in lies. Trump is not some “outsider,” much as he’d like to claim—he is exactly the product of years of those “moderate” Republicans quietly whispering lies about “welfare queens” and “dangerous terrorists” and “lazy people” and “drug dealers” into the ears of voters.

If you plant Racism Seeds for decades, can you really be surprised if one day you walk outside and your garden is ripe with Racism Fruit?

Assuming that having a conservative in the White House would somehow restore balance is something that literally only someone who feels 100% comfortable regardless of the political climate can do. It is a position of privilege, pure and simple, because anyone from any kind of vulnerable population knows that it’s not just Trump who’s scary—it’s everyone on the GOP side.

This apparent oversight didn’t go unnoticed by everyone, though; writer Lauren Hoffman quickly responded with a necessary criticism: That the idea of giving “each party their turn” is actively detrimental to a whole lot of vulnerable people, particularly women.

Access to reproductive care certainly hangs in the balance, particularly considering the Trump alternatives. CK’s letter refers to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who currently hovers around third or fourth, depending on how much the media has decided Marco Rubio can pull out the world’s greatest comeback.

“I mean that guy seems okay,” writes CK “I don’t like any of them myself but if you’re that kind of voter please go for a guy like that. It feels like between him and either democrat we’d have a decent choice. It feels like a healthier choice.”

Healthier for who, the women of Ohio may ask? After all, Kasich just weeks ago voted to defund Planned Parenthood, a move which would do little to nothing to cut spending on abortion (Planned Parenthood already can’t use most government money on abortion services). What it will do, however, is make it much harder for people of all genders to get necessary medical care, ranging from cancer screenings to STI treatment to general health counseling.

And it’s not just reproductive rights that Kasich has been anything but “balanced” on; his record on education is decidedly not good when it comes to poor schools and districts, his history on LGBTQ issues is abysmal, and as recently as a few weeks ago, he’s a union-buster. And despite touting his record on criminal justice reform—where, to his credit, he did champion addiction treatment services as a prison diversion—he’s still staunchly anti-marijuana legalization, a policy that is basically entirely rooted in racism. He was also instrumental legislation—both in DC and as the Governor of Ohio—which make it harder or impossible for families to qualify and access social services like food stamps.

All of which sounds great to Republicans, who are overwhelmingly represented by people a lot like Louis CK: Already in positions of economic, racial, gender, and generational power. However, to people who are disproportionately impacted by the laws passed by “moderates” like John Kasich—laws which restrict health care access and funding, which gut the funding for public schools in poorer areas, which reduce the collective bargaining power of unions (whose memberships are often more diverse than non-unionized private sector jobs), which make social services more difficult to get—know that “balance” simply means “policies that don’t benefit me and in fact may be detrimental to me.”

Calling out Donald Trump for being dangerous is important, because, well, he is. A Trump presidency would be a disaster for the economy, national security, and most of the residents of the country. And honestly, there’s a really good chance that CK’s audience has some overlap with conservative voters who may actually see Trump as a viable option, and this warning could be somewhat compelling.

What is not good, however, is throwing women, LGBTQ folks, poor folks, people of color, and basically any other vulnerable group of people under the bus in the name of “balance.”

If the GOP wants to field a “good candidate,” they need to clean up their own house and collect their own people—which will only happen when “moderate” conservatives stop supporting candidates who, in addition to tightening the purse strings, are actively limiting the rights of voters. Until then, there’s no such thing as balance—there are just two parties, one of which is only out for wealthy white guys.

Why Tip Crediting Should Be Hillary Clinton’s Next Big Issue

hillary clinton tip crediting

Image: Hillary for Iowa via Creative Commons

One of the challenges of the presidential campaign trail is knowing which issues and talking points will land with which audiences. During a debate, for example, a viewer can expect to see candidates spar over ideas that are relatively palatable for the masses—think national security and some top-level economic policy ideas. During rallies with supports, local stump speeches, and private fundraisers, though, a candidate may try a slightly different approach that’s more tailored to the room.

But sometimes, those ideas and policies that candidates research for small, targeted functions could actually have huge momentum on the national stage. Such is the case, I think, with tip-crediting which, this week, Hillary Clinton came out against—again.

In front of a crowd made up largely of union members at the Javits Convention Center in New York City yesterday, Clinton praised Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for a statewide $15 minimum wage. Then, she went a step further, decrying the practice of tip-crediting.

“It is time we end the so-called tipped minimum wage…We are the only industrialized country in the world that requires tipped workers to take their income in tips instead of wages.”

She called the practice—which is the law of the land in 43 states—”shameful.”

Which, to be fair, it is.

INFOGRAPHIC: Who are Tipped Workers?

Tip crediting, also called the “sub-minimum wage,” assumes that a worker’s tips, combined with extremely low wages, will bring their hourly pay to a level that is commensurate with the federal minimum wage. Put another way, it directly puts customers on the hook for ensuring that a worker makes an amount of money that can even be passably considered to be appropriate for a day’s work in the year of our lord 2016. If a worker is unlucky enough to pull down less than $7.25 per hour in tips, then and only then is their employer required to float them the extra cash through wages.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. From The Nation in 2014:

A unique economic relic, the base wage for tipped workers has eroded steadily since 1996, when it was unpegged from the already absurdly low federal minimum. The crumbling value of both wage tiers over the past decade,according to the calculation of advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), amounts to a yawning gap between tipped workers’ earnings today and what they would have made had the wage rates been adjusted equitably. All in all, the gap represents a net “loss” of more than $20 billion.

“Relic” though it may be, the war on wages is still being waged; just last year, Representatives in Minnesota, a state that previously did not have a two-tiered wage system, attempted to enact one.

This isn’t a new issue—nor is it the first time Clinton has brought up the idea of getting rid of it. She mentioned tip-crediting back in September at a Women for Hillary rally, and the restaurant workers’ union ROC United has used it as a talking point since that time. But why hasn’t Clinton, herself, flown the flag a little higher?

In part, I suspect it’s because this particular facet of the wages and middle-class economy conversation hasn’t been the most splashy; the bulk of the discussion around tip-crediting is by super-wonks, labor leaders, service workers who feel like they’re getting bilked, and businesses that are trying to compromise on raising the minimum wage. Despite its wide-reaching impacts, it’s just not an issue that’s at the top of mind for most voters.

But it is a policy that impacts millions of Americans—a Pew Research study from 2014 found that 1.8 million workers earn less than the minimum wage, many of them because they work for a tipped wage—and one that has deep roots in racial and gender equity. Much like sick leave, the tipped minimum wage has huge implications for women, non-binary folks, and people of color.

Tipped workers are disproportionately neither male nor white, which means they already tend to earn less than salaried workers; coupled with the low wages that are a result of sub-minimum wage, and tipped workers run a greater risk of ending up in poverty. The average tipped worker earns just barely above the federal minimum wage—slightly under $9/hr—whereas their peers earn $12 to $15 including tips. Add in the fact that tip crediting leads to an unreliable income, and that it basically ensures that customers are forced to accept even the worst behavior from customers to make a living, and it’s a pretty poor system all around.

It’s also a system that can be easily pointed to as both anti-worker and anti-business. Though the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association might disagree, paying workers such a drastically low raise is terrible for business, because it puts a drag on the local economy. Workers simply aren’t earning enough money to get ahead in tip-crediting states, which means they certainly can’t afford to eat in restaurants, buy new clothes, go to the movies, or even fill their gas tank.

As part of Clinton’s inclusive economic platform, getting rid of tipped credit makes perfect sense—and it’s an opportunity for her to get ahead with young people and those who may feel like her pro-labor platform is all talk and no action. It’s also a chance for her to speak up on an issue that, while he’s been quiet about it, Bernie Sanders has legislatively been active on, though surprisingly tame. In 2015, Sanders, who supports a federal minimum wage of $15/hr, introduced a bill to Congress called the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act. The act called for a raise for employees who are receiving tips and, eventually, a phasing-out. However, it was never a cornerstone of his $15 push.

This could be a brilliant opportunity for Clinton, if she opted to take it, because it would either force Sanders to get on board with getting rid of it, or paint him into a corner of being pro-worker but, potentially, not as strong on race and gender equity. If she wanted to set herself apart as uniquely on the side of all workers, this would be a good way.  This is a time when wage issues are bigger than ever, and eliminating tip crediting would be an easy talking point for Clinton if she chooses to take it for a walk on the national stage.

David Brooks, the CBO, and Conventional Economics Are Wrong

WA restaurant industry employment growth 1990s

If raising the minimum wage always costs jobs, you wouldn’t know it from history.

David Brooks’ latest column in the New York Times is annoying for the way it lazily accuses Hillary Clinton of advocating for something she’s not. She does not want government to tell companies how to “structure and manage themselves.” She wants government to do a better job of setting the rules by which companies fairly compete in the market.

But that’s not my biggest beef with Brooks’ column. No, the lazy assertion that really ticks me off is this:

Clinton displayed no awareness that most federal requirements involve difficult trade-offs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, raising the minimum wage to even $10.10 an hour would increase pay for millions of workers, but would cost roughly 500,000 jobs.

First of all, that’s not what the CBO said. It said raising the minimum wage “could” reduce employment, not “would.” Big difference. In fact, the CBO said the job losses could range from a high of one million to a low of near zero.

Second, the CBO’s models are clearly wrong.

How can I assert this with such confidence? Because despite the job losses that are always predicted by these neo-classical models, there is actually no empirical evidence to suggest that these job losses ever occur! Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “A review of 64 studies on minimum wage increases found no discernable effect on employment.” And we’ve been raising the minimum wage for 80 years!

Call me crazy, but when the economic model says one thing and reality says something entirely different, unlike Brooks, I’m going with reality.

The real battle in 2016 isn’t between right and left, Republicans and Democrats, or Bush versus Clinton. The real battle is between economic paradigms—the old paradigm that gave us models that wrongly predict that higher wages leads to fewer jobs, and that failed to predict the economic calamity of the Great Recession, versus a new, evidence-based paradigm that more accurately describes the real economy.

The conventional economic models are simply wrong. And we shouldn’t be shy about saying so.

Hillary Clinton on Growth and Fairness: “You Can’t Have One Without the Other”

 

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I guess it’s too much to expect from a US presidential candidate to give an actual economics lesson in a major economic policy speech, but Hillary Clinton got at least part of the way there this morning in a pre-hyped address focused on the theme of “strong growth, fair growth, and longterm growth.” For far more important than her three-part prescription for raising middle class incomes in America is the way she inextricably links growth and fairness together:

In calling for a “growth and fairness” economy, Clinton explains, “you can’t have one without the other.”

While many pundits will focus on a perceived leftward shift in Clinton’s policy agenda—a new “paleoliberalism,” as Matt Yglesias calls it—more interesting is the apparent shift in the economic thinking that guides it. This is more than a mere rejection of Trickle-Down Economics; Clinton’s linking of growth and fairness signals a profound break from some of the basic economic tenets that have guided our nation’s economic policy for almost half a century.

And no, I don’t think I’m reading too much into this one little line.

We all knew that Clinton was going to call for things like immigration reform, gender pay equity, parental leave, high-quality universal preschool, and affordable daycare. That was made clear from the many previews her staff gave reporters. And as Clinton acknowledges, not only aren’t many of her proposals new, some are downright “battle-scarred.”

But what is new is the confident assertion that these sort of policies are “are essential to our competitiveness and growth” by enabling more Americans to fully participate in our economy. What’s good for the middle class is good for America, Clinton declared today, but not just because a majority of Americans are middle class.

Alas, Clinton didn’t delve into the details, but the underlying principles are clear. Innovation is essential to growth in the highly competitive technological global economy of the 21st century, and it is workforce diversity and inclusion that drives innovation. That’s why most major corporations have offices of diversity and inclusion reporting directly to c-level management. So it’s not just fair to women to provide the support necessary to allow them to stay in the workforce and rise up the ranks on an equal par with men—it’s good for corporate America and our economy as a whole, because we all benefit from the innovation that comes from workforce diversity.

And it is this economic calculus that flips neo-classical economics on its head, by shifting our focus from financial capital to human capital. The old school of American liberalism was largely ameliorative, using government to rein in the excesses of market capitalism through regulation, and to address the market’s inevitable inequities through redistributive programs and a strong social safety net. And sure, a lot of what Clinton proposes does the same.

But by recognizing that these programs are not just fair, they “are essential to our competitiveness and growth,” Clinton transcends paleoliberalism to embrace a more modern understanding of how the real economy really works.

“I believe we have to build a ‘growth and fairness’ economy,” declares Clinton, because “You can’t have one without the other.”

You won’t find this principle stated in any of the usual Econ 101 textbooks. But you will find it in a major economic policy speech from the 2016 Democratic frontrunner. And that’s a huge first step toward crafting an economic agenda that fits the reality of our 21st century economy.