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Eat your vegetables

By Tom Toles


Friday rant, lamentation edition

Not feeling as ranty today as lamenty. It feels like we have fallen into the zero-sum trap. People do NOT behave well in zero-sum situations. Robert Wright's great book, Nonzero, which I have referenced before, lays out a somewhat non-intuitive but persuasive case that humans have a subtle instinct to recognize positive-sum solutions, and that's what has (inevitably, in his telling) driven human progress forward over time. The not so-happy other side of this, which Wright does not emphasize, is that humans have a FEROCIOUS instinct for zero-sum situations, and the results can be brutal.

People marvel at the success of the American experiment, and rightly so, particularly the ability we've had at assimilating different ethnic and cultural groups. But look at the context here. A vast, resource-packed continent, craving nothing so avidly as a growing work force. Well, the non-zero benefits here are pretty easy to understand. Everybody wins!
(Except, of course, that subset who were, ahem, NOT PAID.) Optimism is an American character trait! But starting with the 1970's, the game rules started changing to look a lot more zero-sum. The market-oriented, supply-side "miracle" that ran from the 1980's until a year or so ago SEEMED to bring back the good old days, but when the dust cleared it turned out that the top 1 percent were the winners, and really the top tenth of them. Everybody else, not so much. Our new character trait is ANGER.

There is a lot of debate about whether people are angrier now than they've ever been. Maybe so, maybe no. But it doesn't take a lot of imagination to consider that with a non-growing pie, people are more likely to turn on each other. And NOW, of all times, conservatives have decided to block a second stimulus, and this could lock us in this pattern for unnecessary years. My opinion is they think it is worth it to sink the Obama presidency, (since deficits seem to be a rather, um, recent discovery for most of them), but I would urge them to reconsider that. I would also encourage that top one tenth of 1 percent to look down from that sky-high stack they are sitting on and ask themselves if that is a healthy place to be. --Tom Toles




By Tom Toles  | June 25, 2010; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Economy and jobs  
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Dear Rhodan, according to Edward Wolff of New York University the top 1% of income earners possess 42.7% of the wealth of this nation in stocks, securities, etc. This does not include the worth of their homes. Aside from you and the Thinker having a statue in common you have something else in common, you don't bother to research anything.

Posted by: bobbo2 | June 26, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

@bobbo2 That top 1% invests in business and job creation.

Is there any proof they actually do? As far as I can see if they invest heavily abroad after which that investment is sold off to other foreign parties. The only local investment that occur may have to do with the upkeep of their mansions. (at which point I assume they are not using illegal immigrants as a workforce)

Posted by: Rhodan | June 26, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Yes…which is why people “play the game”, until they retire (time for glasses), then most “drop dead” because they no longer feel “useful”, have no sense of direction, or “purpose” in life…

Sometimes it is indeed difficult to look in that mirror in the morn. Isn’t it…

Posted by: bertzel | June 26, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I think the worst has really happened. I am starting to agree with Mr. Toles. Perhaps the Republicans are willing to let the economy go to pot so they can say all spending is bad. I say some spending is good and some is bad. Never mind all the good that government does. Just ignore that.
But I do not know what is worse. The Republican position or that people believe their excuses.

People used to say "Don't do that or you will go blind." So someone said "OK. I will stop when I need glasses."

But I am not going to be so quick to support the Democrats. After all, many of them think the USA needs to lose in its foreign fights. Then the world will be full of love and peace. If we betray our allies and come home when it is difficult, the world will not have the USA as a "bully" and will be just fine.

I had rather be blind, thank you.

Posted by: gary4books | June 26, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Everybody go to Recovery.Gov, Tracking the Money. A typical Government response, written by Government Gnomes that is supposed to be easy to read and understand. The Recovery Act of 2009 has pumped money into Public Sector, read Union, jobs to keep the Democrats voting block in line. Infrastructure jobs are there but they are temporary jobs. One company in my zip code received 5 loans. The Recovery Act will not spur permanent job growth. It rescues Unions and their ridiculous contracts, for now. That top 1% invests in business and job creation. Private business, that will bring this economy around. Our Government is too big and costs the American taxpayer too much money. Mr. Toles, you may think that our Federal Government can save us from ourselves but as far as a strong economy the Government is the sand that tears up the gears of the economic machine. We need private enterprise that is allowed to experiment, succeed, fail, flourish, and falter. Public sector Unions have become the new welfare system. No more bailouts of anybody. Government redistribution of wealth will not fix our economy.

Posted by: bobbo2 | June 25, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

The economy rebounded and our debt level quickly dropped to normal. This happened in spite of the fact that the war manufacturing was winding down, we spent on the Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, and the interstate highway system. You never hear people accusing the "Greatest Generation" of mortgaging their children's future by spending on these programs because they helped ensure they would have a future.

Bernie, one problem with your analysis. After WWII, Europe, Japan, and the USSR were left in shambles. When thinking back to just after WWII remember: WHO was untouched during the war? WHO had just ramped up their industrial base to never before seen levels to support the war? WHO would be able to supply the rebuilding materials that Europe, USSR and Japan would need? When the GI's came back, there were plenty of new factories and jobs for them to step back into and a ready made buyer for their products. THAT is how the Greatest Generation was able to pay back the debt incurred during the Depression and the war. Unless we go and start blowing up major portions of the industrialized world, there is no market that can pay back today's debt within the current generation. Sorry, but your analogy is plain wrong.

Posted by: ATrueChristian | June 25, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Interesting choice of vegetable to dangle in front of the masses. Hmm…

Nonzero…also interesting. I found myself ordering a couple books from the local bookstore (someone should get a commission, even though it is just pennies) this morn. I know I could have ordered via the internet like most people, however, I prefer the bookstore and supporting my local economy, but, I digress.

I also find that seemingly endless, cloudy, rain filled days, has an effect on human angst and frustration.
Interesting concept, none the less, “weather” it be due to nonzero or the aforementioned.

As for this country, or any other, for that matter, to base happiness, good fortune, and success, on the “job market” is quite disturbing for obvious reasons.

Society dictates to us that this is the “game” we Must Play in order to succeed in life and be happy….I, humbly, disagree.

If one were to eat their carrots and actually See the world we live in. The way we live, And (more importantly), the Acceptance of it all, just because we have been told (programmed) since childhood---
“This is how it is done.”
“That’s just the way it is.” One would indeed see the total insanity of our current state of “evolution”.

Oh, and Toles, two things. Ok, maybe three.

I heard General Petraeous and you have something very much in common--interesting, yet, humorous: )

I am also surprised, considering the “marathon” Tennis match recently played, you chose to “turn a blind eye”. Come on, all those previous references to tennis and now you keep quiet??

Now, about censorship…

Posted by: bertzel | June 25, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

We all know how its gonna turn out in the end.

US depression gets worse and worse, and the rich will run.

Posted by: alex35332 | June 25, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

whats important is to look at what the private sector did while the stimulus was in effect. That is the point, anyway, the public sector doesn't need stimulation. It did nothing, therefor its a failure.

If you spend a dollar its stupid to applaud that a dollar's worth of goods were purchased. that purchase was supposed to generate MORE dollars, which it did not.

Posted by: batigol85 | June 25, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

democrats make broad sweeping generalizations based on absolutely no evidence. How does tom toles, a cartoonist (although very talented, I will admit), know that we were almost at recovery?

Posted by: batigol85 | June 25, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Is a high place healthy because you and your minions (Obama) are redistributing wealth?

Just curious.

Posted by: quiensabe | June 25, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Yes employment is a lagging indicator, but if we cut stimulus spending now we will stagnate or see another downturn. Just look at what just happened to new home building when the subsidies recently ended. It takes a lot more stimulus to get momentum when an economy has gone through such steep downturn.

FDR was talked into prematurely cutting spending when the economy was rebounding strongly, leading to a sharp dive in '37. The Depression was so bad that it needed much more spending for a longer time. It took the massive spending on WWII to do the trick. This drove our debt to much higher levels than now (over 120% of GDP). The economy rebounded and our debt level quickly dropped to normal. This happened in spite of the fact that the war manufacturing was winding down, we spent on the Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, and the interstate highway system. You never hear people accusing the "Greatest Generation" of mortgaging their children's future by spending on these programs because they helped ensure they would have a future.

Refusing to spend now is like an uninsured person refusing to treat her dangerous cancer because it would increase her debt. Totally irrational.

Posted by: BernieO | June 25, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

Anger? I keep telling Mr. Toles that employment is a lagging indicator. I suspect others do tell him. Perhaps he just does not believe us. If you grow up on a farm you know you can not harvest very day of the year. You have to plant and cultivate the crop first. You get used to cycles and do not get angry when you lose a crop. It does not prove your system wrong. Just difficult.

Perhaps that is why he is so negative. He really wants it all and wants it NOW!!

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Posted by: tradeshoes04 | June 24, 2010 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Called insane by the cartooner is quite an honor. Thanks

Posted by: carbonhog | June 24, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Brilliant cartoon today, Tom! When Rachel Maddow proclaimed you a genius last week I heartily agreed. This is why.

Posted by: Kevin71707 | June 24, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

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