Friday, January 25, 2019

Something to Know - 25 January

Normally, there is a cartoon heading this bit of nonsense.  A funny attempt would pale in comparison to the following story.   A few weeks ago, we were enveloped in mirth when Individual 1 put out his spread of junk food, when he could have had a classier presentation from his chefs from his hotel down the street.   Now, we have a Commerce Secretary (one of many bumbling rich guys in the cabinet), who is even more spacey than his boss.  Ah, the novels that will be written after this is all over. (just keep srolling)

Who Needs a Paycheck Anyway?

The shutdown reveals the administration's callous elitism.

Michelle Goldberg

By Michelle Goldberg

Opinion Columnist

  • Jan. 24, 2019
Wilbur Ross, right, and Larry Kudlow, left, at the White House in October. Their recent comments have shown little sympathy for those affected by the shutdown.CreditAl Drago for The New York Times
Wilbur Ross, right, and Larry Kudlow, left, at the White House in October. Their recent comments have shown little sympathy for those affected by the shutdown.CreditCreditAl Drago for The New York Times

On Thursday morning, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — a man whose extraordinarily shady financial history doesn't get the attention it deserves — appeared on CNBC's "Squawk Box" to talk about the government shutdown. He expressed bafflement at the idea of unpaid federal workers suffering financial hardship, wondering why they don't just take out loans.

"There really is not a good excuse why there really should be a liquidity crisis," he said. "True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest, but the idea that it's paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea." Told that some workers have been relying on food banks, he said, "I know they are, and I don't really quite understand why."

A few hours later, Larry Kudlow, director of Donald Trump's National Economic Council, told reporters that federal employees forced to work without pay were "volunteering." He added, as he stumbled to clarify, that they're doing it out of their love of country "and presumably their allegiance to President Trump." (If they don't work they can be fired.)

These officials' comments were just the latest examples of the blithe let-them-eat-steel-slats attitude that people connected to this administration are showing toward victims of the shutdown. On Monday, Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law and the host of an online pseudo-newscast funded by his re-election campaign, said that the sacrifices of unpaid federal workers are a small price to pay for a border wall. "It's not fair to you and we all get that," she said in an interview. "But this is so much bigger than any one person."


[Listen to "The Argument" podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

In an interview that aired two weeks ago on PBS, Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, suggested that furloughed workers were fortunate not to have to use vacation days over the Christmas holidays. "And then they come back, and then they get their back pay. Then they're — in some sense, they're better off," he said.

Trump himself has been unable to feign empathy for the 800,000 federal employees who haven't been paid in more than a month, or the hundreds of thousands of government contractors who likely won't be paid at all. Earlier this month he retweeted a Daily Caller piece, ostensibly by an anonymous member of his own administration, arguing that the work of most federal employees is worthless. "We do not want most employees to return, because we are working better without them," it said. On Thursday afternoon, Trump told reporters that grocery stores will "work along" with people who can't pay for food.

One effect of this government shutdown, now in its second month and without immediate end in sight, is to reveal the sham of Trump's purported populism. It's true, he's able to connect culturally with some economically precarious parts of America. Despite being expensively educated, his worldview is basically that of Archie Bunker. He eats fast food, likes pro wrestling and has the terrible taste in interior design common to arriviste dictators. His vulgarity creates a kinship with people who purport to hate elites.

Yet in purely financial terms, Trump is as elitist as they come. Though he campaigned as a candidate of (white) workers, he has governed as a shameless oligarch. He has proudly surrounded himself with millionaires and billionaires, seeing their wealth as evidence of their worth. At a rally in 2017, speaking of his economic advisers, he said, "But in those particular positions, I just don't want a poor person." He has gone out of his way not to hire anyone who would actually understand the plight of the workers he's holding hostage.


Contrary to Ross's assumptions, it's not easy for working people without significant collateral to walk into a bank and get a personal loan. "I don't think a bank is going to lend to them, or it would be very difficult," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, told me. "To think that credit is the way out for these government workers is at best a real stretch."

Some workers are members of credit unions, some of which are offering low-interest loans. Those who own homes might be able to borrow against them. Others, however, will be forced to rely on credit cards, which can charge double-digit interest rates. And then, worst of all, some will resort to payday loans, which can trap people in an asphyxiating cycle of debt.

Gary Rivlin, author of "Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business," explained to me how payday loans usually work. If you take, for example, a $400 loan, two weeks later you'll owe $460. "If the government is still shut down, you take out a $500 loan to pay back the $460, and now you owe $575," he said. Some online outfits charge even higher interest.

Get our weekly newsletter and never miss an Op-Doc

Watch Oscar-nominated short documentaries from around the world made for you.


"Yes, yes, but I bring that out in people. I do. I'm not saying that's an asset or a liability, but I do bring that out. ...I bring rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have."
- Candidate Donald J. Trump in April, 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment