Prof. Oren Levin-Waldman Will Delve Into This Issue on the Wednesday, January 29, Westchester On the Level Broadcast
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“Message From the Shutdown: Nobody Really Cares about the Public Interest” By Oren M. Levin-Waldman
After more than a month, the government shutdown is over, or at least it is temporarily. And yet, one wonders just what was accomplished other than pain and suffering to more than 800,000 federal workers and those working for federal contractors. This isn’t to mention the cost that it was just beginning to have on the economy. Are there any lessons to be learned?
Although both sides are quick to blame the other, it should be clear that both sides — the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate and the President along with the leadership on the Republican side — are equally to blame. It does take two to tango, does it not? The Democrats are no doubt hailing the government reopening as a victory for their resistance. Extremists in the Republican party, or hardcore members of “Trump’s base,” view anything less than construction of a wall on the Mexican border as a capitulation which will doom his presidency.
The real losers whom nobody dared to consider have been, once again, the American people. Or to put it in the famous definition of politics by political scientist Harold Lasswell of “who gets what, when, how,” the public interest, which all parties should aspire to, was all but ignored. That is, politics has become about winning, and winning at all costs, that there is no longer a concern for the public interest anymore.
This became all too evident during the shutdown. Democrats refusing to negotiate were quick to blame the other side for the impasse. That federal workers were in some cases forced to go to food banks was obviously a necessary casualty in a war that Democrats maintained that they absolutely had to win. One might have thought that the party supposedly representing the working person would have compassion on those living paycheck to paycheck, which obviously included federal workers.
Many on the Republican side, of course, only showed themselves to be equally tone deaf to the plight of federal workers when they suggested that they could adjust. When asked what he would say to federal workers who missed a paycheck, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich simply responded that it was an element of the American governing process. But where in the Constitution does it say anything about foregoing pay for the integrity of the American political system? Are we actually taking about republican government.
Perhaps the disconnect between our governing officials, irrespective of political party, and the larger public is that they are part of an elite that the masses are not. Many in this elite are wealthy and they cannot relate to those who actually have to work for a living. Of course the anti-government crowd who believes the government is too big and bloated has no compassion for federal workers who are often considered to be lazy, incompetent and overpaid.
Still, this really is the main issue here: the elites only care about their respective positions of power and serving the public interest is secondary to their primary concern, which is winning at all cost, and take no prisoners. Although they couch their political agenda in the language of the public interest, they really don’t care too much for it. After all, if the public were to be able to define the public interests say in terms of bread and butter issues affecting their lives, what could they possibly know about what is in their interests? That, for sure, is the role of elites: to lecture them about what is good for them.
We hear a lot of talk from the Democratic party elite about how this president is authoritarian and anti-democratic. It is supremely ironic, then, that they are the ones who are really anti-democratic. In professing to know better than the masses what is really in their best interests, they have managed to resurrect an aristocracy which was all but rejected when the country was founded. Although some eighteenth century republicans rejected the idea of a landed aristocracy, they did endorse the idea of an aristocracy of talent who would recognize the public interest by virtue of their natural talent.
Our elites, however, are not an aristocracy of talent; they are an aristocracy comprised of public officials who think the way Hollywood, the Media, and much of the Academy think. Let’s be clear: the issue of a wall is really besides the point. If a percentage of the American people believe that there is a security issue at the border, then they deserve in a democracy to have their positions considered. To simply dismiss them because they committed the cardinal sin of voting for the individual that the elite finds abhorrent is really the worst kind of hubris.
To then carry out a campaign of resistence whereby first federal workers and then the larger public are held hostage is nothing more than a campaign to put those “deplorables” in their place. From a macroeconomic standpoint, had the shutdown continued, we would have seen businesses that sell goods and services to federal workers experience a contraction in demand for their goods and services. Ultimately this slowdown would result in layoffs and a rise in unemployment. In other words, not paying workers has ripple effects.
When unpaid TSA workers at the airport and air traffic comptrollers call in sick, with the result being flight cancellations and fewer people flying, there will be effects in the economy. It also affects national security. It is probably fair to say that nobody cared about federal employees. But when airline carriers are posting $15 million losses, then all of a sudden the elites take notice and recognize that something has to be done. Of course, that should come as no surprise: when big business suffers, so too do politicians. After all, they are the ones making contributions.
If there is a lesson from this shutdown it is that the pubic needs to take back the government in true democratic fashion and demand accountability. The public should not be held hostage to the whims of elites. It is all too easy to say the shutdown only affected federal workers and not the vast majority of Americans. Had it gone on longer, it would have seriously affected the economy. Investor confidence would ultimately have eroded and the market would only have begun to crash again.
Now here is the cautionary tale: elites that are willing to use the public as pawns in their power play are the same people who really don’t care about the plight of the middle class. That wages are stagnant and the middle class is shrinking, is of no real concern to them. The greater irony is that it is because of their elitism and refusal to even consider that many workers felt left behind from economic transformations in a global economy that Trump was elected in the first place. But instead of reflecting on that, they only doubled down and pursued resistance. One of the great effects of a declining middle class is even greater polarization. This only becomes a vicious cycle as greater polarizations makes it even less likely that the needs of the middle class will ever be addressed.
Restoring the Middle Class through Wage / Oren M. Levin-Waldman / Palgrave MacMillan
This book makes the case for minimum wage as a way to improve well-being of middle-income workers, reduce income inequality, and enhance democracy….
Minimum Wage: A Reference Handbook / ABC – CLIO
The Minimum Wage: A Reference Handbook By Oren M. Levin-Waldman. As of 2014, the minimum wage in Seattle is $15 an hour — double the federal minimum wage.
“Wage Policy, Income Distribution, and Democratic Theory” By Oren M. Levin-Waldman
Dr. Oren M. Levin-Waldman, Ph.D., Professor at the Graduate School for Public Affairs and Administration at Metropolitan College of New York, Research Scholar at the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, as well as faculty member in the Milano School for International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School. Direct email to: email@example.com