Assault on the white working class

There is no group in America on a steeper downward trajectory economically — not blacks, not Hispanics, not women. The roots of the decline are in economics, but a lot of damage was caused by party politics. The Republican party was neglectful, but the Democratic party was actively hostile: supporting programs to aid and empower other previously disenfranchised and impoverished groups — almost everyone except the white working-class, and an anti-jobs agenda.

The white working class, from here onwards simply WWC, is white people without a college education. That’s a lot of people: close to half of white men and more than a third of white women in the labor force, or 36% of the total US population. The following chart shows a September 2012 breakdown of the US population.

US population

50 years of decline
By most indicators, over the last 50 years the white working class fared worse than any other US demographic. According to a Brookings Institution study: ‘each indicator that can be used to define the white working class, whether applied broadly or narrowly, shows huge declines from the World War II era to today—declines roughly in the 30-50 percentage point range.‘ The problems show up most clearly in employment statistics. The WWC made its home in manufacturing, and manufacturing employment has shrunk in the US. According to The Economist: ‘The share of American employment in manufacturing has declined sharply since the 1950s, from almost 30% to less than 10%.’ The following chart from The Economist shows this decline against other sectors in the US economy.

employment by sector

The WWC are workers without a college education, and there are less options today in the US economy for workers at that level. In this chart from The New York Times you see that the highest rate of employment is for workers with four-year college degrees.

employment by sector

Looking at it another way, unemployment is highest for workers with only high school degrees. See this chart, also from The New York Times.

unemployment by sector

The most obvious explanation for WWC losses is in economics: automation and globalization reduced the competitiveness of well-paid American industrial workers; but the WWC is also a victim of party politics. They’re neglected by the Republicans, while under attack by the Democrats. Here are examples:

Affirmative action programs open doors to higher education and better jobs for minorities; but accordingly limit opportunities for whites, and especially members of the WWC.

Welfare (WIC, food stamps, ADC and so on) programs benefit the poor and while they barely touch the WWC, they do infuriate them and are symbolic of the WWC estrangement from Democratic Party ideology.

Interest group politics are allowed to derail jobs programs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, intended to fund infrastructure jobs following the 2008 crash, instead became a kitty for social welfare programs.

A team of six AP reporters who have been tracking the funds find that the $300 billion sent to the states is being used mainly for health care, education, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other social services. According to Chris Whately, director of the Council of State Governments, “We all talked about ‘shovel-ready’ since September and assumed it was a whole lot of paving and building when, in fact, that’s not the case.’

— The Weekly Standard

The shift away from construction jobs was deliberate, caused by complaints from women’s groups about creating jobs for construction workers: ‘We don’t want this stimulus package to just create jobs for burly men.

Environmentalism We all value clean air and water, but Democrats use the environment as an excuse to kill jobs. Some examples:

The coal industry: The coal industry is responsible for about 174,000 blue-collar, full-time, permanent jobs in the US. President Obama famously proposed crippling the coal industry: ‘If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them…Under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.’

The Keystone pipeline: Obama opposed it. The project is dead now because of the drop in oil prices, but it would have created jobs. CNN reported ‘In a report on the pipeline issued in January, the state department said it expects that Keystone will indirectly create about 38,000 jobs, in addition to the 3,900 construction jobs.’

Oil drilling: Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster Obama issued a moratorium on new drilling permits and tightened safety requirements. As reported by, there was a 61 percent drop in new drilling permits, and a 61% drop in new offshore oil leases.

Bottom line
The WWC has lost a lot of ground economically over the last 50 years, while policies supported by Democrats have made a bad situation worse.

Senator Warren’s Self-serving and False Moralism

In September 2011 while running for US Senator in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren was recorded in a statement that became popular on the Internet. You can see the YouTube recording here.

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. … You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

In this statement, Senator Warren draws a line between two groups of people. First, there are the rich: “nobody in this country … got rich on his own.” Then there are taxpayers: “the rest of us”.

Senator Warren makes the point that the rich person’s factory uses services and infrastructure provided by government, paid for by “the rest of us”. Since she mentions nothing that the rich person brings to the table, the implication is that government is the key element in creating wealth, and that rich people should dial it down a notch and be properly grateful. There are some problems with this.

The rich versus taxpayers
First, the line drawn between the “rich” and “the rest of us” is both indelicate and false. Senator Warren says “the rest of us” pay for services, while the “rich” consume services. Actually, almost all of us pay the taxes that pay for government. I’m straining to think of who in the US, other than infants, does not pay taxes. If you’re jobless and without income, you probably still pay sales tax. When you buy gasoline, part of the price is a Federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. If you’re an adult and not in prison, it’s almost certain that you pay taxes.

In fact, the vast majority of tax revenue comes from the “rich”. For example: “According to the IRS, the top 1% of income earners for 2008 paid 38% of income tax revenue, while earning 20% of the income reported.” Go ahead, add in all the other sources of tax revenue: payroll, investment income…if it’s a tax paid by an individual, then most of it came from someone who is ‘rich’.

Government is the key
Second, there is the idea that the infrastructure and services provided by government are key to the success of the ‘rich’. If true, then we don’t need entrepreneurs or the capitalist system. Just provide government, and whammo: up pop the factories, and the iPads and Teslas start to flow. Right?

However, government by itself is insufficient. In fact, with government by itself the economy will eventually grind to a stop, probably because no one is doing productive work. Two cases make the point: China and Russia under a communist system. They both failed. The spring ran down, people were starving and unhappy. Once capitalism was restored, the economies rebounded. Government by itself is not enough: the key ingredient is inventors, investors, and risk takers. Capitalists. Without capitalism, an economy dies. Yes, government is needed, but it is not sufficient.

Be grateful
Third, Senator Warren counsels us to be grateful for what government provides. “You didn’t have to worry…because of the work the rest of us did.” In fact, government is a cash-driven business: taxes pay for everything the government does. Taxes are collected. Contracts are negotiated. Work is spec’d, performed, and approved. Checks are written and mailed. Government is a paid agent, not a charitable enterprise.

Additionally, in any government function, the various clients of government get their slice of the pie. MWBE (Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises) get a slice of every public works project. The Davis–Bacon Act applies to every foot of roadway, tunnel and culvert. Politicians’ names are memorialized forever in place names across the country: Dan Ryan Expressway, Albert Rosellini Bridge, and Robert Moses State Park. People, there is no need for us to feel gratitude, we paid the fare.

We’re all on welfare now

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’

Ronald Reagan

There’s a dilemma when the government arrives, offering to help. Do you turn it down, out of pride or a sense of independence? Think of Clint Didier in his 2010 campaign for US Senate in Washington State. Didier was a rancher, and opposed to government handouts. However, he received farm subsidies and was criticized for the apparent hypocrisy. Dider pointed out that ranching is a business, and he competes against other ranchers. If other ranchers accept a subsidy and he does not, that puts him at a disadvantage. “If your neighbor has an advantage, he is in the position to buy the next farm up for sale.

Think about the struggling grad student with a young family, opposed to GMO, opposed to use of animals in research, whatever. Research grants are available to help her up to the next rung on the professional ladder. What to do? The research grant requires her to do work that is ethically compromising. Accepting government help can be compromising.

The bottom line
Sen Warren offers a false morality. Yes, the rich did not get there on their own, but government can’t claim the credit. Government provides services as directed by taxpayers, paid for by taxpayers. Do not worship the government as a beneficent entity; government was paid, and extracted its full use of every cent. There is no need to feel queasy about taking government help, and no need to take any lip about it afterwards.

Ferguson – what’s the fix?

If there was discussion in all the news coverage about how to prevent another tragedy like Ferguson, I missed it, outside of Michael Brown’s stepfather chanting ‘Burn this bitch down!’ I think we all heard that.

So what are the solutions proposed to keep this from happening again? They’re presented here, in order from the most immediate, granular, and specific, to the most general.

Require tasers

It was reported that Officer Wilson was issued a taser, but decided against carrying it: “he was not armed with a taser because he considered the weapon clunky and heavy”. If available, the taser would have given Officer Wilson a non-lethal option for disabling Michael Brown.

“A 2011 Justice Department study on the use of Tasers and other nonlethal weapons concluded they can spare lives and injury for both suspects and officers. The report noted that when a Taser was used, the risk of an injury to the suspect was between 50 percent to 90 percent lower than when one was not used but a different form of force was.”

Require body cameras

We’re going through this debate now in Seattle and dealing with two intertwined problems: the cost, and data management. Cost is an issue both for buying the cameras, and in managing all that video. The police department has to not only buy the computer hardware for storage, but needs to buy or develop archival software to control access, recovery, and distribution of footage; and to prevent loss. Data management is an issue because of the cost, and because of the management time needed to develop systems and policies. For example, what do you do with knucklehead freedom of information requests for 100% of all your footage on a daily basis? You shouldn’t re-invent the wheel here. We’ve all seen police dash cam footage on YouTube, so we know some agencies have developed solutions. Seattle however, is having a hard time figuring this out. Maybe we should check with our friends down in Portland, OR.

If Officer Wilson had a body camera, and if it was turned on and functioning properly, we might have reliable evidence of what happened, and there might be no controversy.

Police departments should quickly equip officers to wear live cameras on their uniforms in every reasonable circumstance. Congress should also do more to encourage adoption of the technology. Various studies and anecdotal reports have found that, though far from a panacea, this technology has a variety of potential benefits. Complaints of police mistreatment, for example, have gone down after cops began wearing the devices. We don’t know if Michael Brown would be alive today if Ferguson police had to wear cameras. But having them in place almost certainly would have helped.

Washington Post

Better training

Does the training that American police receive make them too aggressive? Do American police in general receive less training than comparable officers in other countries, for example Canada? In typical training for US police officers, how high a priority is given to learning how to calm down agitated people and defuse potentially dangerous situations? Whatever the answer, I bet that in future the priority is higher.

Increased civilian review of police

Apparently there is no citizen review process in Ferguson. The New York Times reports that the Ferguson city council recently decided to implement a citizen review board.

Changes to the court system

The New York Times reports that a major irritant in Ferguson was the perception that traffic fines and other low-level violations were used to harass residents:

It also announced sweeping changes to its court system, which had been criticized as unfairly targeting low-income blacks, who had become trapped in a cycle of unpaid tickets and arrest warrants.

Municipal court fines are the city’s second-highest source of revenue, leading many critics to argue that the authorities had a financial incentive to issue tickets and then impose more fees on those who did not pay.

Young black men in Ferguson and surrounding cities routinely find themselves passed from jail to jail as they are picked up on warrants for unpaid fines, one of the many simmering issues here that helped set off almost two weeks of civil unrest.

Better data

What are the numbers on excessive force by police, alleged or proved? Apparently we don’t know. The Washington Post reports that “Congress in 1994 told the Justice Department to collect and publish national numbers on the excessive use of force, but federal officials have never managed to do it. Those numbers that are available are uninformative for various reasons.

I’m a big fan of using data to identify problems and track progress toward a solution. We have at the least a perceived problem with excessive use of force in law enforcement, but lack the data to verify the perception or help in finding the fix. If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.

End police militarization

Militarization probably did not play a role in the confrontation between Michael Brown and the officer, but was an issue in managing events following the shooting. I have a hard time denying the police inexpensive access to military surplus if they feel it’s useful. This is something for local governments to consider.

Political engagement

Why did the divide in Ferguson between the police and the community occur? Is it because the community is largely black, and the police force is largely white? The disinterested observer might ask if this is a recent development, whether blacks are politically active in their community, and what the city’s hiring policies were.

Shame on Ferguson city government for letting this happen. Shame on city residents for letting Ferguson city government betray them. It’s up to Ferguson residents now, if they haven’t been politically engaged before, to get involved: register to vote, know the issues and personalities, and participate in elections. Be responsible.

We got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America. Nobody is going to help us if we don’t help ourselves.

— Al Sharpton at Michael Brown’s funeral service

Economic opportunity

How much of a role did poverty play in this whole episode? When an athletic team is losing, backbiting and hostility often appear in the locker room, and things may go downhill even faster. In an athletic team, winning is supposed to end all those controversies, and make the resentments and bad feelings go away. My guess is, if Ferguson were a prosperous middle class community, if it was a community that was winning, the Michel Brown incident would not have happened.

Together, I know we can move forward and heal as we work to find better job opportunities in and more investment for challenged communities.

 — Senator Roy Blunt, (R-MO)

Improved education

Poverty and bad schools seem to go hand in hand. Is it the chicken or is it the egg? That’s a question for the ages, but the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof pointed to failed schools as part of the problem: “The best escalator to opportunity may be education, but that escalator is broken for black boys growing up in neighborhoods with broken schools. We fail those boys before they fail us.


This ‘fix’ was tried, and there are even responsible voices in the media that justify and advocate it. Darlena Cunha, in an editorial in Time Magazine, wrote: “When a police officer shoots a young, unarmed black man in the streets, then does not face indictment, anger in the community is inevitable. It’s what we do with that anger that counts. In such a case, is rioting so wrong?


Who has the courage to talk openly about these issues today? Not me. In this article I’m not telling you much about what I think, mostly I’m just digesting and passing along a list of suggestions. Regardless, Huffington Post columnist Jamelle Sanders stepped up and said we need to talk.

we need to have impactful and authentic dialogue between law enforcement and minority communities. We have seen a gargantuan breakdown over the years, and it is time for a heart-to-heart conversation. … Only dialogue, unity and love can break down the walls of racism, bigotry and hatred that have prevailed for generations. … The only thing left to do is to unite and use the power of our voices to make a difference. Instead of using violence, use your voice to stand up for injustice in the world. … We must begin to dialogue about how to prevent things like this from happening again.

Bottom line

Tasers, body cameras, and better training are slam-dunks. All the others are a step down in relevancy, a step up in cost and difficulty, or worse.