It’s Not Socialism Unless We Say It Is

Antidisestablishmentarianism.

Yes, it really is a word. Back in the day we thought we were something because we could spell what we thought to be the longest word in the dictionary. Didn’t really know what it meant, but we had the spelling down.

It’s one of the many isms of little popularity today in contrast to those that never fade, but persist. Racism, for example, is our persistent shadow in Mississippi.

Then there are those isms that ebb and flow. Back in popularity today are capitalism and socialism. Ebbing somewhat are their cousins, fascism, communism, and totalitarianism.

My favorite word architect, conservative columnist George Will, wrote recently about Republicans and socialism.

He said that Senate Republicans voting to revive the not-dead-after-all Export Import Bank is an example of socialism. In so doing he defined the essence of socialism as “government allocation of capital.”

He claimed the bank “exists to allocate credit by political criteria rather than the market’s efficiency criterion.” He lamented that only 16 GOP senators, “mean what they say when praising free markets and limited government.”

Thirty-seven Republicans, now apparently neo-socialists, voted for reviving the bank.

This starts to expose the hypocrisy in today’s conservative consternation about socialism.

Will says Senate Republicans’ Export Import Bank vote “is a redundant reminder that the rhetorical discord between the parties exaggerates their actual differences.”

Republicans tend to rant against socialism with regard to programs that benefit the poor and elderly, e.g. welfare and Medicare, but stay quiet about it with regard to programs that benefit corporations and businesses, e.g. the Export Import Bank. Democrats tend to do the opposite.

Will calls this “politicizing the allocation of resources.”

We see this at play in Mississippi. For example, our Republican leaders thwart expanding Medicaid to benefit the working poor, then jump all over providing financial benefits to corporations like Continental Tire.

This business example is widespread in Mississippi. It forms the foundation of our economic development programs. Capital is allocated to companies through tax rebates, tax credits, tax breaks, the federally funded Community Development Block Grant program, and the state funded Mississippi Major Economic Impact Authority bond program and Small Municipal and Limited Population Counties grant program. All are among the 53 such programs listed on the MississippiWorks.org web site.

We don’t see conservative Republicans in Mississippi rail against socialism when a new, subsidized economic development project gets announced in their hometowns.

This headline on Will’s column tells the story – “On this policy, Republicans are socialists. They just don’t want you to know.”

The reality is a complex democratic republic like ours needs a mix of capitalism and socialism to function. Whether it is the allocation of capital to areas of human needs or to areas of employment needs, both have a role. The extent and cost of those needs should be the discussion, not to go all in on unrestrained capitalism or socialism.

The ism that describes this is pragmatism. That great socialist Ronald Reagan practiced this in his advocacy for expanding the earned income tax credit to aid the working poor.

The ism that describes conservatives’ current disingenuous position on socialism (see the 193 isms listed at https://ismbook.com/ism-list/) is “perspectivism.” It holds that “judgments of truth and value depend on an individual’s context or viewpoint.”

In other words, “it’s not socialism unless we say it is.”

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Debate Strategy Puts Lid on Issues

Important issues in the Republican primary for governor are getting short shrift.

The second Republican gubernatorial debate is scheduled for June 7th at Southwest Community College in Summit. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will again be a no-show. He skipped the first one held April 2nd at Mississippi State University too. His absence kept the first debate off television and, apparently, will keep the Summit one off too.

That appears to be a Reeves campaign strategy. His opponents, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller and state Representative Robert Foster, have little money to use paid advertising to increase their name identification and compare themselves to Reeves. So, why should Reeves give them free airtime in televised debates?

Meanwhile, Reeves has buckets of money with which he can dominate paid advertising. The latest campaign finance reports showed Reeves with $6.7 million in the bank, Waller with about $580,000, and Foster with $19,000.

Reeves even ignores his two challengers in his campaign ads. Instead of them he takes on Democratic candidate Attorney General Jim Hood, though that contest cannot occur until November and only if both win the primaries. Hood had $1.2 million in his campaign account.

There will be one exception to Reeves’ rope-a-dope strategy. No doubt to appear shrewd rather than fearful, Reeves has agreed to one televised debate with Waller and Foster on July 23rd, just two weeks before the August 6th primary. WJTV in Jackson announced last week it would live stream the debate on its channels.

The dearth of face to face debates that include the front runner gives short shrift to voters’ need to hear unedited discussion of important issues. It will be interesting to see how they react.  

Waller has raised enough money to allow him to buy limited advertising in key markets outside of Jackson where he already has good name identification. Will a limited buy be sufficient to gain voters’ attention? No doubt Reeves will try to drown out any Waller advertising with his own heavy ad blitz.

Foster is having to depend social media and news reports.

Meanwhile, voters appear disposed to hear issues debated. As reported in Mississippi Today, the latest Millsaps/Chism Strategies poll showed 37% of voters think the state is headed in the right direction while 35% think the opposite. And the gap between the two has been tightening in recent weeks.

The right direction is where Reeves contends he and outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant have got the state headed over the past eight years. Waller, Foster, and Hood say hold on a minute and point to challenges Bryant and Reeves have not resolved.

The reality is both sides have strong points to make, which is why issue debates would be helpful to voters.

On the positive side, more people are working in Mississippi than ever, the unemployment rate is at a record low, and our business climate is favorable. On the negative side are issues in or near the crisis stage – funding for highways and bridges, teacher shortages, rural hospitals at risk of closing, and increasing distress in many rural counties.

There are nine weeks until the first primary. Can Reeves keep the lid on ’til then? Or will major issue discussion leak out? Stay tuned, if possible.

(Yes, I know the same is happening in the Democratic primary.)

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Study Shows Rural Mississippi Drifting into Distress

“What was once a country of disparate places that converged towards prosperity is now a country of places drifting further apart,” reports the bipartisan Economic Innovation Group (EIG). Rural areas are the most impacted.

This study corroborates my earlier column that population trends suggest declining prosperity in Mississippi’s rural counties.

The EIG study found population increasing in the better off counties while it was declining in the worse off counties. Population, however, was not used as a measure. The study used these criteria: 1) percent adult population with no high school diploma; 2) housing vacancy rate; 3) percent working age adults not working; 4) poverty rate; 5) ratio of county income over state income; 6) change in number of jobs; 7) change in number of businesses. 

From these criteria, EIG performed a county-by-county comparison using two distinct time periods, 2007-2011 and 2012-2016.

What the study showed was a “great reshuffling” following the Great Recession.

“In the years following the recession, top-tier places have thrived, seeing meteoric growth in jobs, businesses, and population. Meanwhile, the number of people living in America’s most distressed zip codes is shrinking as the nature of distress becomes more rural.”

The study further notes that the gaps in well-being between prosperous areas and other areas have grown wider.

Mississippi had nine counties rated better off in both periods analyzed while 73 rated worse off. DeSoto, Madison, Rankin, Lafayette, Lamar, Lee, and Jackson rated better off in both periods. Marshall and Tate replaced Harrison and George in the later period.

The study showed only 7% of Mississippians residing in prosperous zip codes (second only to West Virginia) while 41.9% resided in distressed zip codes (the highest proportion among all states).

Other findings included: 1) prosperous zip codes were home to lots of professional workers while at risk zip codes were home to lots of blue collar workers; 2) minorities were over-represented in distressed communities; 3) prosperous communities added more net new businesses than the other 80% percent of zip codes combined from 2012 to 2016; 4) Americans in marginal communities continued to fall out of work deep into the recovery; 5) the geography of well-being largely reflects the geography of college-educated workers.

Looking at changes since the Great Recession, EIG reported, “Amid the reshuffling wrought by the fractured recovery, educational attainment has emerged as the sharpest fault-line separating thriving communities from struggling ones. Urban areas are ascendant, rural areas are in flux, and suburbs retain their outsized claim on the map of U.S. prosperity.”

(Another study projected that by 2040 over 85% of the U.S. population will live in urban areas.)

The EIG study concluded with this message: “Positive national statistics must not blind us to these divergent local realities or breed complacency in our needed efforts to expand access to opportunity to new corners of the country.”

The same goes for Mississippi. Positive statewide statistics driven by a handful of counties must not blind us to distressing realities in our rural counties.

Note to conservatives: EIG sees capitalism as the means to revitalize worse off counties in three ways: 1) private investment; 2) entrepreneurship and the growth of new business; and 3) a more innovative and accessible U.S. economy.

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Can You Identify the Little Brother among the Candidates?

Two years after I first wrote about it, “doofus” remains an intriguing and timely word. The Oxford Living Dictionary says it likely originated in North America in the 1960s and suggests it is either an alteration of the word “goofus” or from the Scottish word “doof” meaning dolt. The Online Etymology Dictionary says it is “probably related to doo-doo and goofus.”

The only link to doo-doo I could find was this, from Darrin Bell’s “Candorville” comic strip (excuse the missing graphics):  “Dear ‘journalist,’ I am offended by your biased hit-piece condemning so-called ‘Fake News.’ You wrote ‘…some of these sites’ main sources seem to be their rear ends.’ Who are YOU to say what’s fake and what’s real? I don’t know that your ‘sources’ are any more ‘real’ than my rear end. I know my rear end. I trust my rear end. You, on the other hand, are a total stranger to me.”

No surprise that fake news and doofuses are related, but the rear end trust thing got me.

A blog called The Lunatic’s Asylum had another take on doofuses and news. Speaking of “political pundits” it said, “These people are put on the air because they have acquired, we’re led to believe, a certain expertise which is, sadly, all too obviously totally lacking. I cannot begin to count the number of times one of these professional pundits, paid attack dogs, campaign confederates, party hacks, the so-called ‘strategists’ are trotted out to examine every possible detail of even the least-interesting and least-pressing subjects in minute detail, and to put a political ‘spin’ on it all. What’s truly amazing, though, is that it’s often the SAME doofuses showing up all over the same networks, one day uttering what they consider an undisputed fact, and the very next contradicting themselves without ever a) seeming to notice, or b) making an admission that they have changed a position or assertion. This is Orwell’s Doublethink in action.”

In his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” author George Orwell defined “doublethink” as, “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed.”

Sounds so current.

In Orwell’s novel, Big Brother was the tyrannical Party leader behind the doublethinkers. Today, Big Brother doublethinking doofuses dominate the national political landscape. What’s perturbing is the proliferation of Little Brother offshoots at the state and local levels. Little Brother doofuses who mimic Big Brother doofuses tend to be coattail riders rather than serious-minded candidates.

With Mississippi holding local, regional, and state elections this year, voters will be challenged to identify the Little Brothers among the candidates.

Detecting them really isn’t hard. Match up what candidates say to real issues, not to what talking heads, blogs, and ardent followers on the left and the right proclaim. Peer through the rhetoric to see if candidates have a grasp of those issues and can offer solutions. Little Brothers crave power, not solutions.

Given today’s zealous politics, though, odds are a number of Little Brothers will prevail. Like Pogo said, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

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Senior Housing among Growing Needs for Affordable Housing

So, my conservative friends, what is the ideological difference between a tax subsidy for the wealthy and a financial subsidy for the poor?

We hear concerns from some conservatives about corporate welfare where the tax code benefits select corporate interests, but not so much about tax code welfare for the wealthy.

My question arises from a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Admittedly the Center is a left-leaning think tank, but its work is cited by Bank of America in ads touting the bank’s activities to finance affordable housing.

“The federal government spends nearly $200 billion per year on housing assistance programs, but the vast majority of it is allocated, via tax deductions, to households earning more than $100,000 per year,” reads the ad in Axios.com. A footnote points to the Center’s article entitled “Chart Book: Federal Housing Spending Is Poorly Matched to Need.”

The article counted as subsidies mortgage interest and property tax deductions, capital gains exclusions, Low Income Housing Tax Credits and other rental assistance programs such as Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and public housing. Based on 2015 data, it said 60% of these subsidies went to higher income households, “even though lower-income families are far more likely to struggle to afford housing.”

While tax subsidies for higher income households are somewhat restrained under the new tax laws, overall these subsidies are not capped. Rental subsidies, however, for lower income households are capped. Consequently, only about one in four low-income households eligible for assistance gets it while waiting lists grow across the country.

Demographic trends predict growing imbalance. Over a 10-year period, renter households grew by nearly 9 million, while homeowner households remained flat.

So, does all this have anything to do with Mississippi?

Yep.

The latest data show over 62,000 low-income Mississippi households get federal rental subsidies. That breaks out to 25,200 with Housing Choice Vouchers, 16,600 with Section 8 project-based assistance, 9,800 in public housing, 8,800 with USDA assistance, and 1,300 with elderly and disabled assistance.

The data further show pent-up demand for such assistance with an additional 96,000 low income renter households paying over 50% of income for housing.

That demand will surge as Mississippi’s elderly population surges (see last week’s column), especially from seniors on fixed retirement incomes.

While most of the financing for rental assistance is federal, there are policy options at the state level. For example, the Mississippi Home Corporation (MHC) controls the point system used to score applications for Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

While providing extra points for elderly developments in the past, the point system currently is not favorable to senior-only developments. Extra points generally go to projects serving larger families. However, the growth trend for our elderly population indicates more senior-only projects are needed.

Ironically, the MHC Facebook page touts the opening of Preservation Crossing, a seniors-only housing development in Hattiesburg it helped finance. The project revamped the historic Hattiesburg High School into 74 units for seniors ages 55 and older who earn between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income. (In this case, the project’s historic preservation feature boosted its points.)

So, where do Mississippi conservatives stand regarding tax subsidies for the wealthy and financial subsidies for the poor? For one, both, or neither? More and more seniors want to know.

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State Population Trends Make Healthcare Issue Big

Reckon conservatives will listen when two conservative, pro-capitalism columnists say healthcare is a big issue in Mississippi?

Both Wyatt Emmerich and Sid Salter have conservative views and come from the owner side of newspapers where capitalism prevails. Both recently wrote powerful columns about the need to address healthcare issues in Mississippi.

Emmerich wrote about Medicaid expansion and pointed to a Millsaps College poll that showed “‘making healthcare more accessible and affordable’ is the third most important issue to Mississippi voters, after fixing the roads and teacher pay raises.”

Salter wrote about his own healthcare challenges in a column entitled “Paying for public health care remains federal, state governments’ most vexing challenge.” He noted that “Aging Baby Boomers like me are going to significantly swell the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured over the next 20 years.”

Both the swelling and the vexing are with us already.

As noted last week, 63 of Mississippi’s 82 counties lost population from 2010 through 2018, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau data. Significantly, there is one population demographic that increased in every one of our 82 counties – people age 65 and older, the group Salter is closing in on.

This older population segment grew statewide by 21% while total population grew less than 1%. Wow!        

Also significant was the change in the age 18 to 64 population demographic. Statewide this age group declined 1%. It declined in all 63 counties that lost population plus another eight counties. That the decrease wasn’t greater can be attributed to growth of this segment in a handful of large population counties – DeSoto, Lamar, Madison, Harrison, Hancock and Rankin, all of which had good total population growth

In raw numbers the older segment grew nearly 80,000 while the younger segment fell about 26,000.

Why do these trends matter?

Well, shrinkage of the 18 to 64 demographic, the major job-holding and taxpayer age group, will result in fewer people working and paying taxes in most Mississippi counties.

Growth of the 65 and older demographic will result in more demand for Medicaid funded nursing home beds, more Medicaid funding for poor elders on Medicare, and more healthcare access to hospitals and clinics in rural areas, not to mention higher homestead exemption costs and more local services for seniors.  

Hmmm.

Fewer people working and paying taxes in most counties with more people demanding taxpayer funded services in every county – sounds pretty darn vexing to me.

No doubt that’s why Emmerich points out that Mississippi’s failure to expand Medicaid may be costing us both population growth and jobs.

He pointed to both Louisiana and Arkansas which expanded Medicaid. Louisiana’s population grew 126,493, seven times Mississippi’s growth rate. Arkansas’ grew 97,707, five times Mississippi’s growth rate. He also noted that Arkansas tax collections jumped $200 million this year.

Hmmm.

Looks like these two conservative neighboring states are using Medicaid expansion to help grow their populations and provide needed healthcare to their citizens.

What will conservatives in Mississippi do?

Emmerich is clearly fed up with conservative politicians who won’t even talk about the issue, much less solve it – notably Tate Reeves and Philip Gunn.

Salter says “there is no more important question for political candidates than this one: How do you plan to pay for public health care?”

See their columns here:

https://www.northsidesun.com/opinion-columns/medicaid-expansion-will-be-big-issue-fall-elections#sthash.3Zto0KTh.dpbs

https://www.djournal.com/opinion/columnists/sid-salter-paying-for-public-health-care-remains-federal-state/article_5f03eaf8-78c7-5922-b36f-97ec8a547aa2.html

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Prosperity Indicators Not So Good across Mississippi

Mississippi politicians running for re-election or higher office are out, about, and on social media touting how good things are and how they helped make things that way.

Well, some things are good, but some are far from good. One is population growth, rather, lack thereof.

As Jack Schultz noted in his best seller Boomtown USA, population growth is one the best indicators of an area’s prosperity. People, especially young people, gravitate to booming economies with good quality of life.

So, when you talk to your favorite politicians, ask them to explain why all those good things happening in Mississippi are not resulting in population growth.

Here’s some background.

The Census Bureau recently released data on county population changes. Based on this, Business Insider published the top ten fastest-growing counties in America and the top ten fastest-shrinking counties in America. Guess which list included Mississippi counties?

Texas, Florida, North Carolina and North Dakota had all the fastest-growing counties.

Mississippi had two of the fastest-shrinking counties, Washington and Coahoma. Louisiana also had two. Other states on the list were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri.

In fact, most Mississippi counties are shrinking in population.

From 2010 to 2018, the Census Bureau data showed 63 of Mississippi’s 82 counties lost population. Fourteen showed measurable growth while five showed no change.

Nine counties showed double-digit percentage population losses – Washington, Leflore, Coahoma, Sunflower, Jefferson Davis, Quitman, Humphreys, Wilkinson, and Sharkey, all Delta counties except Jefferson Davis and Wilkinson.

Five counties showed double-digit growth – Lafayette, DeSoto, Madison, Lamar, and Harrison, all urban except Lafayette (home to the University of Mississippi).

Of note, seven of our 17 urban (metropolitan area) counties showed growth but only seven of our 65 rural counties showed growth. Uh, most of our politicians represent rural areas.

Then there’s this.

“Counties Where the American Dream Is Dead,” headlines a story in USA Today that lists 50 such counties – 13 of them in Mississippi: Coahoma, Humphreys, Tunica, Claiborne, Leflore, Hinds, Tallahatchie, Sunflower, Bolivar, Oktibbeha, Washington, Grenada, and Quitman. (All lost population except Oktibbeha, home to Mississippi State University.)

The story says the opportunity to achieve the American Dream is virtually dead for young people living in these counties.

The results come from a 24/7 Wall St. review of data published by The Equality of Opportunity Project, tax returns from 1996 to 2012, and U.S. Census data.

The Equality of Opportunity Project, part of a Harvard University program, looked at the likelihood of 26-year-olds achieving upward income mobility on a county by county basis. The project researchers found little hope and low probability for young people raised in low-income counties to earn more as adults than the average annual income for the bottom quartile of earners nationally. Every year spent in such counties decreased their opportunities for success.

Declining population, particularly in rural counties, and declining hopes for many young people are not good things or indicators of prosperity.

You probably won’t hear much about this from politicians running for re-election or higher office.

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