Thursday, February 13, 2014


[We interrupt this blog post to bring you the following important announcement:

It has come to our attention that Friday the 13th will be on a Thursday this month. Thank you.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post, already in progress.]

I haven't posted much about politics lately, mainly because I've removed myself from most sources of "news", and also because of a shift in my own thinking about where the US is headed in the long term, and how unimportant what passes for political activity in this country will prove to be even in the short term.

That said, it seems that the populist Obama we saw in the Democratic primaries has managed to wake up after being in a coma for six years. This is a small example of what people thought he meant by Hope and Change, rather than simply being a darker, younger George W. Bush with a passable jump shot:

U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Wednesday to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour starting next year and encouraged employers nationwide to increase wages for their workers.

OK, so lets get a few things out of the way right up front, then I'll explain my choice of title. 

1) This executive order isn't going to impact many people. Even the White House is saying it will only raise the pay of around 200,000 people, and will take several years even then. Hardly the stuff of economic booms. Obama's hope is to kick loose a minimum wage bill stuck in Congress.

2) Keep in mind that the term "executive order" is simply a US euphemism for "decree". As in, "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." Not to defend what has become an unconstitutional power grab by this and many previous presidents, but do realize that, contrary to the history we teach our children, Caesars didn't come to Rome because some megalomaniac one day decided to abolish the Roman Senate and crown himself king of the world. It was the result of decades of the Roman Senate acting in ways contrary to the best interests of those they supposedly represented while voting themselves wealth and perquisites. Sound familiar? 

3) No one really knows what sort of impact a near-50% jump in the Federal minimum wage (the ultimate goal of this political stunt) will have on the economy as a whole. Obviously, people who make less than that would see an increase in their income. On the other hand, most studies show that if employers are forced to pay more, they hire older, more experienced workers rather than younger, first-timers. Or replace humans with technology. Given the difficulty that teens and 20-somethings are having finding jobs, making it harder would certainly be a downside. My own gut feeling is that if Obama were to get his way and Congress were to bump the minimum wage up to $10.10, the long-term negatives will likely exceed any short-term benefit.

So why would I call this "brilliant"?

1) This isn't about economic data or fancy graphs or worker pay vs. productivity or any of the rest of that egghead stuff. This is about the people who put Obama into office. Not the bused-in first-timers like the black woman in Detroit who celebrated Obama's victory by dancing around in front of a TV camera screaming, "Obama gonna buy me a new house! Obama gonna buy me a new car!" (I often wondered why no one ever did a follow-up interview with that poor, deluded woman....) Rather, this is about the long-time Democrats who in an act of defiance chose a populist outsider rather than the DNC's heir-apparent, Hillary, and have watched helplessly as Obama has bumbled around for six long years. This is what they were looking for; pure populist politics. Brilliant populist politics.

2) In one simple move, Obama has put a giant spotlight on our feckless Congress just as the midterm political campaigns are getting started. As Dimitry Orlov pointed out earlier this week, "according to numerous opinion polls, members of US Congress are now less popular than lice, cockroaches, colonoscopies, Hitler or Genghis Khan." Obama knows that bypassing Congress, regardless of its legality or constitutionality, will be immensely popular, especially with those who put him into office in the first place. Again, pure populist politics. Brilliant populist politics. 

3) Every business knows that immediate gratification is what drives human beings. If that wasn't true, we would all eat spinach salad for breakfast before we bicycle off to work rather than feasting on M&M's and hauling our 600-pound selves around in giant SUV's. A sharp increase in the Federal minimum wage will have an immediate, measurable, positive benefit by those directly affected vs. a long-term, amorphous, possible downside that even if it can somehow be quantified, won't happen until Obama is raising money for his presidential library. Brilliant populist politics.

Well, I have to leave things there and go do income taxes. Wheeee!!

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