I LOVE comments. Please leave some even if they are brief half-formed ideas
that you aren't even sure you really believe. I just love comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Poverty: Edwards v. Obama


Thanks to David for challenging me to do a more careful review of these guys. My opinion has not changed. I like Obama a little more on this issue. I would be thrilled if either one of them were President.

First, star to Edwards for a concrete goal to eliminate poverty, to end it, by 2036.
Second, Edwards and Obama generally plan to attack poverty the same way:
* Both Edwards and Obama want to make work pay for all Americans by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and raising the minimum wage.
* Both Edwards and Obama want to increase jobs available to entry level workers.
* Both Edwards and Obama want to support responsible families, including encouraging and rewarding responsibility from fathers.
* Both Edwards and Obama want to improve our schools.
* Both Edwards and Obama want to improve access to affordable housing.

Third, the distinctions are at the edges, indicating what sorts of pet projects they would have. Now, pet projects of a president have impact. It is clear that Edwards is the class warrior and Obama is the community builder.

Only Edwards has the following class warrior language:
- strengthen unions.
- “create a new Labor taskforce to target the industries with the worst abuses of minimum wage and overtime laws.”
- fight abusive lenders, including banning payday loans.

Only Obama has the following cooperative language:
- tackle concentrated poverty by establishing 20 promise neighborhoods: urban areas with a coordinated focus on eliminating crime and encouraging development.
- ensure community based investment is present in every urban community.
- expanding infrastructure to rural areas.

Finally, in their own words:

"Restoring our moral authority means leading by example and making clear that the hard challenges don't frighten us. There is no better opportunity than the challenge of poverty – the great moral issue of our time."
John Edwards

“I'm in this race for the same reason that I fought for jobs for the jobless and hope for the hopeless on the streets of Chicago; for the same reason I fought for justice and equality as a civil rights lawyer; for the same reason that I fought for Illinois families for over a decade… That's why I'm running, Democrats — to keep the American Dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality.”
Barack Obama, Speech in Des Moines, IA, November 10, 2007

All of this is a summary of their webpages, for Edwards here, and Obama here.

8 comments:

Josh Gentry said...

The talk of pet projects and different approaches to poverty made me think of an article I read in the Northwestern alumni mag recently. The Chicago Urban League is currently headed by an NU alum, which is why the article. She's decided to dump all social services and focus on economic development.

I have a feeling that would be more the kind of approach Obama would support to things, vs. Edwards.

David said...

JimII,

You've overlooked a key point that is central to poverty in the U.S. upon which Obama and Edwards take very different views (and where Obama looks very much like Clinton): trade. Like Clinton, Obama is an unabashed "free trader" and while the prevailing global trading regime is fantastic for transnational investors it is terrible for people in developed countries who make their living from wages rather than investments (which includes everyone in poverty).

Which brings us the next central difference between Edwards and Obama: support for wage-earner solidarity. The central issue about unionization is that is empowers people who make their living from wages rather than investments to secure their economic well-being themselves, through solidarity with their fellows, rather than placing them at the mercy of government structures that are easily and often captured by anti-labor interests. (This is why, for example, you see large corporate investors contributing to the Clinton- and Obama-led Democratic Party as heavily as they do to the GOP.)

Indeed, when it comes to wage-earner solidarity and the prevailing global trading regime it is not only impossible to distinguish Obama from Clinton but impossible to distinguish him from Bush and Giuliani/Romney/McCain too!

David Johnson, Chandler, Arizona

JimII said...

David writes:
[The] prevailing global trading regime is fantastic for transnational investors it is terrible for people in developed countries who make their living from wages rather than investments (which includes everyone in poverty).

I am pro-labor. I think that for capitalism to work there must be parity betwen the players. Unions are the only thing that can answer effectively compete with corporations. Without unions, the wage the market will bear will be too low because the worker will not have any bargaining power.

I am conflicted about free trade. First, it seems inevitable that the world will have one economy. Second, it seems to me that when western capitalistic consumerism takes root in a place thing get better. True, people get fat, but they also kill each other less often. I know that sounds pretty PNAC-ish. But is it false?

For the record, I am very much opposed to using force to bring capitalism to people or to make an area safe for capitalism.

So JimII's solution is to export American capitalism, which includes unions, to the rest of the world. That's how you end poverty.

David said...

JimII,

"So JimII's solution is to export American capitalism, which includes unions, to the rest of the world. That's how you end poverty."

I'm with you 100% except that globalization of American capitalism is the problem. American capitalism is terribly lacking in "parity betwen the players."

If unions could act transnationally as effectively as corporations can then globalization would look very, very different. The reasons unions can't act as effectively across national borders is because the global trading regime--the regime supported by Clinton and Obama (and Bush and Giuliani and Romney and McCain)--privileges transnational action by corporations as compared to transnational action by unions. (You've seen, for example, the images of Chinese steamrollers crushing "pirate" CDs in an effort to enforce transnational intellectual property rights but do you see the U.S. government trying to get other nations to enforce transnational wage-earner solidarity?)

So, you're right on that the key is effective transnational action by unions but if you're genuinely serious about this then Edwards is your man over Obama hands down (at least in terms of their rhetoric--who knows what either would actually do in office?).

David Johnson, Chandler, Arizona

Matt Dick said...

You've seen, for example, the images of Chinese steamrollers crushing "pirate" CDs in an effort to enforce transnational intellectual property rights but do you see the U.S. government trying to get other nations to enforce transnational wage-earner solidarity?

So is it really your assertion that the Chinese government is proactive about protecting Western intellectual property?

David said...

Matt,

"So is it really your assertion that the Chinese government is proactive about protecting Western intellectual property?"

No, merely that this is an indication of the pressure developed-nation governments put on China--and other developing nations--to protect property rights and to enforce contracts so that corporations can act transnationally with effectiveness. This is one of the reasons why there was $75 billion of foreign direct investment in China last year yet not a single American, European, or Japanese union has an affiliate there.

The entire global trading regime privileges transnational corporate investment over global wage-earner solidarity yet Obama has nothing to say about this.

David Johnson,
Chandler, Arizona

JimII said...

David,

I agree that international corporations are given more protection that wage-earners. And that gives me serious concern. The trouble I have is in deciding whether free trade is the answer or the enemy.

Sometimes the most direct route is not the most effective. Human rights is another example . . . well, actually, worker rights and human rights are probably the same example. On the one hand, you may say don't trade with these bastards that treat their people like that. OR, even more direct, invade that country and put in a better government that won't treat its people like that.

But sometimes, I think the better route is slower. Let free trade exist. Work to improve conditions of workers, but accept that it will not be acceptable for a while.

To the extent Obama is more free trade and Edwards is more protectionist--I'm not convinced that will help the guys over there.

NOW, will it help the guys over here? Again, I think the answer is more complex than it seems.

David said...

JimII,

"The trouble I have is in deciding whether free trade is the answer or the enemy."

I think that's the wrong way to look at this issue. The more useful question is: "Whose interests are best reflected in trade policy?" The answer for the current global trade regime--which is anything but free trade--is overwhelming: "those of investors in transnational corporations."

Believing that good jobs at home--or abroad--will "just happen" from "free trade" is about as inane as believing that good profitability would occur if transnational corporations were mere allowed to operation transnationally, without any government efforts to enforce property rights and secure contracts in foreign countries. If the U.S. government simply said it would "leave it to the marketplace" to determine whether U.S. companies could successfully do business in a nation like China there would be many less American companies doing business there.

Yet this is the situation which prevails when it comes to good jobs, both at home and abroad. We simply "trust the market." Any CEO of a transnational corporation who did that would be out on his butt in a week.

"OR, even more direct, invade that country and put in a better government that won't treat its people like that."

I couldn't tell here whether you were talking about Iraq, China, Sudan, or Zimbabwe. . . .

"But sometimes, I think the better route is slower. Let free trade exist. Work to improve conditions of workers, but accept that it will not be acceptable for a while."

Again, why be content with doing this when it comes to jobs when we're not content to do this when it comes to profits? I'm afraid this is nothing more than the propaganda of transnational commerce.

"To the extent Obama is more free trade and Edwards is more protectionist--I'm not convinced that will help the guys over there."

NOW, will it help the guys over here? Again, I think the answer is more complex than it seems."


Yes, it's complex and complicated but that doesn't mean we should punt on it. Even in the current absence of effective wage-earner solidarity at home and abroad there are simple, effective things that government could do that would make a tremendous difference here. Just as an example, imagine that the government would make no effort to see that property rights were protected and contracts enforced across national boundaries unless the companies it did this for agreed to pay foreign workers the same wages and benefits it pays to domestic workers.

We have (government-mandated rather than union-negotiated) minimum wage requirements and defined employment benefits here in America. If these marketplace arrangements are appropriate for Americans why shouldn't they be appropriate for Chinese or Indians or Brazilians who are working for American firms as well?

More importantly for this particular discussion, why isn't Barak Obama asking these sorts of questions?

Be well,

David Johnson
Chandler, Arizona