I'm a big fan of European "socialism." Which, of course, isn't really socialism.
It's a productive public-private partnership where people pay more in taxes than we in the United States do and get a lot back in return: economic growth, more income equality, greater opportunities for the middle class, stronger social safety nets.
Jeffrey Sachs is an economist who heads up The Earth Institute at Columbia University. He wrote a fascinating piece for the Huffington Post, "The Super Committee's Big Lie." Which is:
The big political lie of the Super Committee is that the deficit must be closed mainly by cutting government spending rather than by raising taxes on corporations and the super-rich. Both parties are complicit. The Republicans want to close the deficit entirely by cutting spending; Obama has brandished the formula of $3 of cuts for every $1 of tax revenues. On either approach, the poor and middle class would suffer grievously while the rich and powerful would win yet again (at least until the social pressures boil over).
What I found most eye-opening in his essay were the statistics about how northern European countries manage to out-perform the United States on a "misery index" that combines the unemployment rate, budget deficit as a percent of GNP, and the current account deficit (basically the ratio of exports to imports).
We're getting crushed on the Misery Index.
When we calculate the Misery Index for the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, we find that, lo and behold, the U.S. ranks among the most miserable performers, 5th out of 20 countries. The country with the highest Misery Index is Ireland, followed by Spain, Greece, Portugal, and the United States. All five countries deregulated their financial markets and thereby experienced a housing bubble and bust.
The lowest macroeconomic misery is in Northern Europe. Norway has the lowest score, followed by Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. All seven countries have lower unemployment rates, smaller budget deficits as a share of GDP, and lower foreign deficits as a share of GDP, than the U.S. We look pretty miserable indeed by comparison.
Lots of people mistakenly think that Europe is in poor economic shape. Sachs says this is true of southern Europe, but not of northern Europe. Even conservatives who like to bash European social democracies recognize this. On right-wing talk radio I often hear envious praise of Germany.
So what can we learn from countries who are doing better on the Misery Index than the United States is? Well, we shouldn't be trying to lower taxes, but rather to raise them. Northern European countries collect considerably higher taxes from their citizens and prosper as a result.
Yet, miracle of miracles, these seven countries collect higher taxes as a share of GDP than does the U.S. Total government revenues in the U.S. (adding federal, state, and local taxes) totaled 31.6 percent of GDP in 2010. This compares with 56.5, 34.2, 39.5, 45.9, 52.7, 43.4, and 55.3 percent of GDP in Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, respectively. These much higher levels of taxation are raised through a combination of personal, corporate, payroll, and value-added taxes.
The Northern European countries earn their prosperity not through low taxation but through high taxation sufficient to pay for government. In five of the seven countries, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Netherlands, and Sweden, government spending as a share of GDP is much higher than in the U.S.
These countries enjoy much better public services, better educational outcomes, more gainful employment, higher trade balances, lower poverty, and smaller budget deficits. High-quality government services reach all parts of the society. The U.S., stuck with its politically induced "low-tax trap," ends up with crummy public services, poor educational outcomes, high and rising poverty, and a huge budget deficit to boot.
Yes. It's a plain fact: the government often can spend our money better than we can.
Low taxation in the United States is stifling our ability to compete in the global economy. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our mostly private health care system is wasteful and inefficient. Our citizens aren't being prepared for 21st century jobs.
A Gallup poll conducted about two months ago found that Americans support raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. They also favor increased spending on public works projects, unemployment insurance, and public employees such as teachers, police offices, and firefighters.
In short, a majority of people in the United States want this country to become more like northern Europe, with higher taxes and more social spending. So why isn't this happening? That's the big question.
Sachs offers up some answers in his new book, "The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity." A review says:
Extrication of American politics from the clutches of the "corporatocracy" will require the provision of public money for campaign financing, free media time, a ban on campaign contributions from lobbying firms, and a stop to the "revolving door" between lobbying firms and federal employment. However, Sachs doubts whether effective government can be achieved without the rise of a "credible third party" to break the corrupted Republican-Democratic duopoly.
Makes sense. Hopefully the 2012 election will help get us closer to achieving these goals.
Salem Statesman Journal goes to Facebook comments -- trolls freak out
Tomorrow the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon joins an increasing number of web sites and blogs that require commenters on stories/posts to have a Facebook account.
The paper's announcement has created a frenzy among the many rabid, profane, uninformed, hateful, and profoundly clueless people whose main joy in life is leaving anonymous flaming troll comments on the Internet.
So far, the online announcement has provoked 554 comments.
That's more than I can recall any other Statesman Journal story getting. To increase online readership, I guess newspapers should regularly fiddle with their commenting system, since that generates more interest than, say, efforts to combat hunger, bring about world peace, or cure cancer.
Appropriately, these were the first two comments on the story about moving to the Facebook commenting system.
1:51 PM on November 29, 2011
Well, that will be the end of my commenting. I refuse to join Facebook for any reason.
1:55 PM on November 29, 2011
This comment was left by a user who has been blocked by our staff.
To StellarRat, and others like him/her, I say: "Goodbye and good riddance. If you want to hide behind a fake name, feel free. But this isn't how people should relate with each other."
Regarding Name withheld: as a blogger, I too have had deal with jerks who abuse the privilege (yes, a privilege, not a right) of being able to leave anonymous comments on a web site paid for and managed by someone else.
So I understand why the Statesman Journal is choosing to move to a real name commenting system that, in the newspaper's words, should "create a more civil environment for conversation, and to give everyone an easier way to share with their friends."
Most of the 554 comments on the new Facebook commenting system express disgust and disdain for it.
Some of the reasons make sense, such as the inability of state workers (or anyone else) to share sensitive information confidentially. Others don't, such as the notion that this move is a plot by the left-leaning newspaper staff to silence conservative commenters. I can tell you that among the progressive community, people don't consider the Statesman Journal to have a liberal slant.
Browsing through the first few pages of those 526 comments, I came across -- shock! -- a well-informed, thoughful comment from someone who seemed to know what he was talking about. His comment was fairly lengthy, so I'll include the whole thing in a continuation to this post.
Here's some excerpts:
First, no, Facebook is not greasing the palms of anyone in Salem or the Gannett corporate offices in Virginia. But what they are doing is offering a commenting system at a much lower cost to the company than what Pluck can afford to sell their service for.
...Second, I'll bet anybody here a thousand buck this decision is made at the corporate level, not in Salem. Generally, comment moderation systems are contracted at corporate and the individual papers must abide. So it's a far better idea to direct your complaints to Virginia, since nobody in Salem is behind the decision. Although the odds of your complaints having any effect on this decision are zero (reference the first point above).
Well, I did some investigative blog reporting on this corporate level issue. After an exhausting whole 30 seconds of Googling (Pulitzer Prize, please), this search result popped up: "USA TODAY switches to Facebook comment system." USA Today is owned by Gannett, as is the Statesman Journal.
And when is the above-linked USA Today announcement dated? Yesterday, November 29. Hmmmm. Sure seems like moving to Facebook is a broad Gannett policy, not a local decision.
I think this is a good move.
I'd seriously consider requiring a Facebook log-in on my own blogs if TypePad had this as a commenting option. When the issue of anonymity has been raised by visitors to my blogs, I've responded in this fashion.
Envision yourself sitting in a coffee shop, having a pleasant conversation with some friends. Then a guy walks up to your booth. He's wearing a mask. He starts yelling at you, spitting, cursing, ranting and raving about something or other. You can't really tell what he's so upset about, he's making so little sense.
"Calm down, dude," you say. "You're bothering us, the way you're acting. If you want some companionship, take off your mask, tell us your name, and sit down with us courteously and respectfully."
"F__k you, jerk!" he yells. "I go by SuprfreekXXX99. I'm not going to reveal who I am, or take off this mask. I'm going to continue to stand here and say whatever I want." At that point, I'd start looking around for a cop. Or someone to diagnose this guy's mental illness.
Yet masked anything-goes anonymity is how a disturbingly large share of the Internet works. This encourages people to say things they'd never speak out loud in public to someone face to face, when their identity was known.
Congratulations to the Statesman Journal for making this move. I think it's going to work out fine.
For some generally positive experiences of other web sites that have gone to Facebook commenting, see here and here.
BlueOregon, a leading political site in this state, moved to the Facebook system for reasons described here. Excerpt:
Nearly six years ago, we launched this site and declared, "BlueOregon will be the water cooler around which Oregon progressives will gather." At first, we weren't sure what we were building exactly. But it became clear very early that our community needed a place to hang out - and BlueOregon became that place.
Unfortunately, BlueOregon has also become a place where trolls have shown up - from all sides on the political spectrum - to throw stinkbombs and create havoc. We've been deluged with folks who aren't interested in chatting around the water cooler, just barging in and screaming at whoever's in the room.
The first foundation of community is identity. Whether your metaphor is a water cooler, or a small town, or a bar called Cheers, you have to have a place "where everybody knows your name" if you're going to create meaningful relationships.
We know this will be controversial. When we first started BlueOregon, many of us defended anonymous comments. After all, anonymity has a long and respected history in American politics. And we were building one of the only places for people to talk about Oregon politics.
But today, there are lots of places. And lots of ways for someone who is dedicated to anonymity to have their say. Here at BlueOregon, we've decided that the benefits no longer outweigh the costs. It's not even close.
It can be pretty demoralizing when you spend time writing a thoughtful post or comment, only to see an instant visceral reaction from an anonymous jerk hurling unfounded charges, insults, and rhetorical nonsense.
Amen to that. Here's the full comment on the Statesman Journal article mentioned above:
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Posted at 10:01 PM in Comments, Current affairs, Salem | Permalink | Comments (2)