Stop Subsidizing Walmart: Raise the Minimum Wage
A recent study of Wisconsin's Medicaid program revealed that Walmart ranked first on state's list of Medicaid enrollment by employer. In other words, Walmart employees in Wisconsin comprise a plurality of the state's Medicaid recipients. Altogether, a single Walmart Super Center costs Wisconsin taxpayers about $900,000 per year in poverty subsidies for its employees, such as food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, and housing assistance because the employees are paid significantly less than what is reasonably required to survive at a minimum standard. Most Americans have rightly decided that we will not allow our fellow citizens, especially children, to starve or go homeless. We have a safety net for the poorest Americans, most of whom live in working households. However, Walmart and all other minimum wage employers are passing on much of this burden from themselves to the taxpayers.Read more
Political Food Stamps
A great example of our nation’s partisan politics is the careless discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps. Lately there have been several measures passed by the House of Representatives which feed on misinformation or play upon voter’s perceptions. As citizens we are left to dissect rampant talking points and blatant fabrications with little help from our media outlets. In general, misinformation has become a lucrative industry with talk show hosts, pundits, and politicians selling unsubstantiated data and twisted logic. This leads to conversations driven by 45 second sound bites, 140 character tweets, and out-of-context statements which are shallow and divisive.
SNAP has expanded rapidly under the Obama administration making it a popular talking point with right-wing pundits. The guilty-by-association rhetoric leaves out critical information needed to understand the trends, and focuses entirely on the “what” and not the “why”. Republicans are correct to point out food stamp participants have grown 65 percent since 2008 increasing spending to an all time high of $74B (2 percent of budget), but when asked the cause they fall into the trap of popular propaganda. They do not know that 50 percent of food stamp recipients are under the age of 18, or 15 percent are elderly. They do not understand that 20 percent of food stamp households support the disabled. They incorrectly believe that President Obama has passed legislation that enables the expansion of the program or incentivizes participation.
In addition, Republican's association of food stamps with left-leaning blue states lacks credible data. The highest SNAP participating state is Mississippi with 22.5 percent of their residents receiving assistance. 7 of the 10 highest SNAP participating states are red and primarily in the South. The state with the most people on food stamps is Texas, which is surprising given California has 12 million more residents. Even the reddest of states, Utah, has seen participation double in the last five years (from 5 percent to 10 percent). Regardless of state targeted data, food stamps are distributed somewhat evenly. Currently 16.8 percent of red state residents are receiving food stamps compared with 14.3 percent of blue state residents.
The solitary driving force behind the expansion of SNAP was the rapid unemployment spike from 2008 - 2010 which led to more households applying for assistance. In the final year of President Bush’s administration unemployment jumped from 4.9 percent to 8.7 percent and continued to 9.8 percent under President Obama. The doubling of the unemployment rate corresponds with the doubling of food stamp participants under President Obama’s tenure. As families were left without employment they turned to the government for support.
It is not fair or reasonable to hold the Obama Administration accountable for SNAP participation increases. It is fair to hold the Obama Administration accountable for households leaving the program now that unemployment is improving (7.8 percent). Moving people off of government assistance is a sign of progress and should be the desire of every Democrat who understands the bridging role of social programs. However, decreasing participation needs to be persuaded, not forced, as any mandated cut in SNAP will disproportionately impact the elderly, disabled, and children.
Food stamp talking points, like all issues, need to be challenged and understood. Focusing too quickly on the “what” will lead us into a partisan spin zone and dull our problem solving ability. We need to ask the right questions, understand the impact of our choices, and weigh the impact to our fellow citizens. Accepting popular talking points to support an ideology is not only disingenuous, but undermines the need for solution-oriented conversations to tackle our country’s major challenges.
Marriner Eccles: A Mormon New Dealer
The financial crash of 2008 made historians and economists draw immediate comparisons to the Great Depression. A year after the crash, the reasons and complexities of why the crash occurred were easy to find. Documentaries, books, and an endless amount of media delved into the Great Recession. However, while there were tons of problems on “why” the crash occurred, there were very few books and analysis that explained how to fix the problems. Lately, historians and economists have gone back into the archives and libraries to find ways that America overcame the devastation of the 1930’s. One person keeps coming up in this search—Marriner Eccles, the American Federal Reserve Chairman from 1934 to 1948. The ideas that created the most peaceful and stable American economy from 1945-1980 were directly influenced by the philosophy and knowledge of Utah’s greatest public servant.
Where the Mormon Faith Collides with Conservative Politics
In a way, having a Mormon stake president in Sandy, Utah give a sermon at a stake conference of a political nature has at least the benefit of sparking a public conversation. In case you missed it, here’s the gist:
An LDS stake president in Sandy did something in a speech earlier this month that other Mormon leaders have done many times: He warned that evil is corrupting the world.
Then President Matthew DeVisser did something few LDS leaders ever do over the pulpit: He rattled off a number of Republican talking points, lamenting that voters last year chose "socialism over capitalism, entitlements over free enterprise, redistribution and regulation over self-reliance.
From at least my perception, most Mormons almost to a fault will avoid discussing anything controversial simply to avoid contention. While I don’t plan on being contentious here, I do believe strongly in “standing for something” in life and that often involves speaking out.
First, I can tell you that this stake president was not speaking for the Lord or the Church, but rather from his own personal opinion and human bias. He obviously felt very passionate about it, even evoking the “Holy Ghost” as his authority. I find that disturbing on many levels.
This story has caught the attention of people in circles outside the church, many of whom are close to me here in Nevada. These sorts of stories do not go over well with people outside the Church, at least the ones who don’t agree with this stake president.
I try to explain that the Mormon Church doesn’t have any beliefs about tax policy, Social Security, or mandated purchasing of health insurance. It’s hard to convince them when even Mormons don’t usually/always understand this. The volume of anti-communist/socialist rhetoric from Church leaders of the past don’t make it any easier.
President Heber J. Grant was adamantly opposed to Social Security and FDR’s New Deal in general. Yet I would submit that most Mormons today don’t see Social Security as a ‘corrupt evil’ or ‘a threat to freedom.’ Mormons and their leaders are subject to the attitudes and prejudices of their day. Members should remember this. After all, it wasn’t until nearly 1980 that black members of the Church were allowed to hold the priesthood or women allowed to pray in church.
Church leaders often speak out about things of a political nature. They’ve spoken out against gay marriage, communism and other moral issues. One thing that has always disturbed me is the lack of speaking out during the civil rights era. How about on wars or illegal torture by our government? Unfortunately they’ve been astonishingly silent. My only point is that leaders of the Church are not perfect. They are human, just like all of us.
How about self-reliance? Yes, that is a principle taught by the Church. Of course the Church has its own robust welfare system. So clearly self-reliance isn’t an excuse to leave the less fortunate out in the cold. So what exactly was this stake president talking about when he started comparing redistribution and self reliance? The truth is he doesn’t even know. He didn’t bother to think about it. He was so juiced up by conservative talking points, he couldn’t think for himself.
The truth of the matter is that with the great recession and the decade leading up to it, this nation has seen a transfer of wealth from the people at the bottom to the people at the top. That’s redistribution of wealth in reverse. That probably never occurred to this gentleman and folks of like mind.
We are living in a time of great struggle for people in the bottom 60% of income earners (that’s more than half of us) and yet this stake president is worried about low taxes, deregulation, free enterprise and self-reliance… things known to help the top income earners, not anyone else. It doesn’t trickle down.
When it comes to poor people, conservatives have an attitude about them that says they are “takers,” that they have a “sense of entitlement” brought about by a “culture of dependency.” Most of them believe the poor need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, all 47% of them.
In my estimation, this conservative attitude reflects a regretful level of disdain and judgment towards the poor. The scriptures certainly suggest as much:
“But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2nd Nephi 9:30)
I don’t think there’s any dispute that free market enthusiasts are more concerned for wealth than they are about fighting poverty. As a matter of fact, fighting poverty is never even brought up in conservative circles. They feel that there is ample opportunity in this country, and if you aren’t doing well, it’s probably something you aren’t doing right, or you aren’t trying hard enough. Hmmm, what does that sound like?
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
The Lord has commanded his faithful to take care of the needy. The notion of self-reliance should be taught in example, persuasion, and from a sense of duty, not by means of starvation and deprivation.
If you’ve ever found yourself saying “get a job” or “you reap what you sow” or “poor people poor ways” you should probably strongly reconsider King Benjamin’s sermon. Called it a hand out… or free advice.
The Minimum Wage
Written by Daniel
In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage to $9/hour. There was an uproar from people across the country, including me. I write this to state that I am highly offended by the thought of a minimum wage. I am offended that one group of human beings cares so little about the other humans who they employ, that these owners are willing to pay their workers a wage that makes them so dependent on the government to cover their basic needs, that they would perish otherwise. I am offended that that we still are fighting to legislate slavery away. If you, as a conservative, want to solve the 'problem of entitlements', you need to fix wages. The reason costs for government benefits has increased is because wages have not increased, yet costs have increased significantly over the same period.
I write this to state that I have been a ’wage slave‘ and understand the horrors of it. I worked for a company that paid its workers over the minimum wage, but still below what is recognized as a livable wage, and then claimed tax credits for hiring these workers. However most of whom still relied heavily on the government for subsistence, not because they wanted to but because they had to. When I took help from the government it was embarrassing & degrading. Every time I went to the store to get groceries, I did my best to make sure no one saw that I was using my SNAP benefits (AKA food stamps). Contrary to popular belief, I was not/am not lazy; I worked 50+ hours per week and I do not have a degree that has "no chances of getting people jobs." (I take issue with that statement anyway) as I have a degree in engineering. When a company can pay you so little, and then get a tax credit for it, you can plainly see that the system is severely broken.
I write this as a call to remind us that in the late 1800's & early 1900's the Owners (read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations if you need to understand my reference) paid their workers very little as well. A movement started in the country & after the crash of 1929 many of their goals were realized. We as a nation supported the middle class. We stated that we didn't want kings of old, so we raised the tax rate on the wealthy so that we could avoid aristocracy. We set up social safety nets, as a type of insurance, to allow business to take the reasonable risks. We also stated that we as a nation needed to better manage those risks.
I write this to say that both the Senate & the House of Representatives need to realize that Owners very rarely support the idea of a middle class.
I write this to state I support the middle class, unions, social safety nets, fair wages, and a whole litany of other progressive ideals.
I write this because, as a Mormon, I believe this is my duty.
I write this to state that I stand, because sometimes that's all we can do.
Valuing Hard Work
If there is one thing people on all sides of the aisle can agree with it's this: parents do incredibly important work. While not everyone wants or needs to be parents, there's no doubt that LDS Church leaders regularly preach the centrality of parenthood to the family, society, and eternity.
Parents of the world, we here at MormonLiberals offer you a big THANK YOU.
And, in the American economic market, that's basically all you're getting.Read more
Understanding the US Budget
The United States budget can be broken into two groups, DISCRETIONARY spending and MANDATORY spending. About 7% of the budget is interest paid on our debt – which will only increase, but should also be considered mandatory as defaulting is not an option.
As you can probably guess mandatory spending is outside of the President’s control and is regulated by established laws in place. Mandatory spending includes Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, Food Stamps, etc. The last major bump in Mandatory spending came in 2003 under Medicare Part D which approved an additional $17 trillion in additional spending across the upcoming 50-60 years. The only change that has been made to mandatory spending under President Obama, is Obamacare. However, the CBO calculated the program is deficit neutral due to mandate penalties offsetting increased spending. So when you hear that Obama is responsible for the record recipients on welfare and food stamps, it’s a completely bogus claim as this spending is mandated by laws already in place.
[caption id="attachment_365" align="alignleft" width="300"] Here is the breakdown of mandatory spending:[/caption]
Discretionary spending makes up 31% of our total federal spend but represents the majority of our budget conversations (you can sense my frustration). The discretionary budget is subject to annual appropriations in which the Congress and President have to agree each year. Have you heard the saying that Congress controls the purse? They do – but only for bills that have not yet been signed into law. If a new budget is not passed, continuing resolutions can be approved by congress allowing discretionary spending to continue at historical levels (which is happening currently). The largest part of discretionary spending is military which makes up 57% of the entire discretionary budget. If you take away military the remaining discretionary spend includes education, international support, governmental employees, transportation (PBS, Planned Parenthood, Big Bird, etc, etc) and make up 13% of our total Federal budget. This meager 13% is what our President truly controls and can pull annual levers to grow or shrink.
[caption id="attachment_366" align="alignright" width="300"] Here is a breakdown of discretionary spending:[/caption]
Now (here’s where I get on my soap box), when people call President Obama a big spender or big government, I immediately assume they have no idea what drives our budget or do not understand the budgetary process. Besides the one year spike of stimulus spend (2009 – the vast majority being used to shore up state budgets), President Obama has been remarkable in keeping discretionary spending in check. Discretionary spending has only grown 10% (it's actually declining if you take into account the sequester cuts) in four years but compared to any president since Eisenhower – this is strong. Just to give a point of reference, a 10% increase in discretionary spending only attributes to 4% of total federal spending growth. If we want to hold President Obama responsible for 4% spending growth these past four years, this is a reasonable accusation.
Two of the worst presidents controlling total discretionary spending in the past 30 years? Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
[caption id="attachment_367" align="alignleft" width="300"] Budgetary history of Non-Defense discretionary spending:[/caption]
Now one can make the point that President Obama should be held responsible for not working with Congress to tackle mandatory spending (70% of our total budget) and that’s a fair statement. However, with such backlash around Obamacare – which used marketplace principles to drive down costs modeled after conservative think-tank ideas of the 90’s – there is no way Republicans were going to let anything pass that would be a political win. To overcome any type of political posturing Democrats would need 60 votes from the Senate to beat any filibuster making any legislative fix to mandatory spending near impossible.
If the fiscal cliff is not solved, and tax revenues increase, we do not need laws in place that regulate the added income. Any law governing spending would be placed into the mandatory bucket and would be difficult to modify. Increased revenue will be applied to the total budgetary deficit as any incremental discretionary spending will need to be agreed upon by Congress and the President (which it wont). Given President Obama’s track record with discretionary spending, I am confident the money will be used to close the budgetary gap. Now one can argue that legislation could be signed to cap spending and I think that’s a fair conversation. But once again, the problem is our budget issues are being driven by mandatory spending.
One more thought – history does not necessarily mean more tax revenue equals more spending. Under President Clinton, tax revenues jumped and spending was kept relatively in check which is why he left office with a budget surplus. Plus, as I have pointed out our budget problems have more to do with military and mandatory spending and less about the growth of non-defense discretionary spending which the President and Congress control.
Now I know some of these claims fly in the face of widespread perception of President Obama’s fabricated runaway spending habits (and Democrats for that matter). The beauty of everything claimed in this post is that it can be fact-checked and I encourage all to do so. Too much miss-information is driven by media outlets which makes budget conversations more about regurgitated talking points than actual numbers.
(I wrote this in email to a friend about what happens to the increased tax receipts if the fiscal cliff is ignored)
President Obama Endorsed by Mormon Democrats
In 2008, President Barack Obama was elected into one of the worst economic disasters since Franklin Roosevelt stepped into the Oval Office. The United States economy was shedding approximately 800,000 jobs per month. Home foreclosures were skyrocketing and the stock market plummeted. From continuing the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the Recovery Act, to the emergency bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, policies pursued by the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve put a floor on the recession and returned the economy to sustained growth. The GDP growth rate turned from negative 5.3 percent during the first quarter of 2009 to positive growth by the third quarter. Today, the unemployment rate is lower than it has been at any point during Obama’s term in office led by 31 consecutive months of private sector job growth. The stock market indices more than doubled from their low point, observed just six weeks after Obama took office. Corporate profits of the Fortune 500 reached an all-time high in 2011 and consumer confidence is now higher than it has been at any point since 2007. The housing market is recovering, with home prices, sales, and construction rates rising significantly in 2012. Even though the Obama administration’s handling of the economy has not been flawless, their accomplishments have been impressive given unprecedented partisanship in Washington.Read more
An Economy on the Rebound
When President Barack Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, the U.S. economy was in free fall. During the preceding year and half, some of the nation’s largest and most important financial institutions went bankrupt, including Bear Stearns, Countrywide, and Lehman Brothers, as risky loans and other investments failed. Many other large banks were on the verge of collapse. The downfall of the financial sector had been preceded by a spectacular end to a massive speculative housing bubble that almost instantly wiped out trillions of dollars of Americans’ net worth. When Lehman Brothers and AIG went into bankruptcy during the same weekend in September 2008, panic ensued all across the economy. It felt like 1929 all over again. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was signed into law by President George W. Bush and was implemented by President Obama, stopped the bleeding in the financial sector, but the damage to the broader economy had already been done as other sectors of the economy continued to rapidly deteriorate. The stock markets plummeted, losing more than half of their peak market capitalization just six weeks after Obama took office. Many retirees and workers nearing retirement saw their investment portfolio lose much of its value. Millions of people lost their jobs due to no fault of their own after the U.S. entered a recession in December 2007. Over 1.2 million Americans were laid off between the election and Obama’s inauguration. All told, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 8.7 million jobs were lost due to the Great Recession. No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has begun their tenure in the White House under such dire circumstances. An evaluation of each segment of the economy around the time Obama took office compared to now shows that we are definitely better off four years later.Read more
Come on Exxon, Be a Leader!
Procter and Gamble is a great American company. In 1837 two immigrant brother-in-laws combined their soap and candle business to start what would eventually become the largest consumer products company in the world. Their early beginnings are a testament to American capitalism, and just as important, patriotism. In 1860 on the brink of Civil War, William Procter and James Gamble were concerned about their supply of red oil critical for making soap and candles shipped from the South. In a strategic move they sent their two sons to buy as many barrels of oil as they could and ship the supply back to Cincinnati. Their sons bought hundreds of barrels even to the point that P&G became a laughing stock by the dock hands that were tasked with unloading supply from the Ohio River.
When the Civil War broke out the following year, the Southern oil supply was cut short for all competition and the initial $1 a barrel oil price skyrocketed to $16. Due to the supply constraints P&G won the contract to supply the Union Army and did not raise prices a single penny. The widespread use of their products by soldiers continued even after the war ended and was the foundation for the next 150 years of sustained company growth. P&G continued this pricing behavior during WWI and WWII. P&G held pricing power over competition, and remained faithful to the American consumer.
Fast forward to 2012 where we are facing a different kind of oil shortage. With sanctions placed on Iran, OPEC is leveraging the gap in supply to drive prices up. What most Americans fail to understand is only 10% of US consumed oil comes from OPEC and the Middle East. Almost 50% of consumed oil is produced in the US and another 20-30% comes from Canada and Mexico. OPEC is the largest producer in the world which allows for price control given the elasticity of oil. Instead of Exxon and Chevron holding their prices steady and putting pressure on OPEC, they choose to follow the oil cartel They understand that rising prices has minimal impact on demand so any increase positively impacts profit. Just to add to shareholder’s delight, US tax payers are subsidizing Exxon’s fair share to Uncle Sam.
Here is my plea to American oil companies:
Show some respect to the country that provides you with a capitalistic market and protection to enable healthy long term business. Do not look at Iran as your meal ticket for greater profits at the expense of American citizens. Be a pricing leader, not a follower. Demonstrate to the American consumer that the conflict in the Middle East is not just a business strategy. And finally, stop begging for tax handouts with one hand while gauging the US consumer with the other. Doing so might help with the argument to increase domestic drilling, and would follow the example of companies like P&G who take pride in making an honest profit and paying their fair share of tax.
[caption id="attachment_331" align="aligncenter" width="525"] Historical Oil Barrel Prices - Global[/caption]