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Are you a populist?

In her conversation with Bill Moyers, Nell Painter talks about populism then and now — and how the image it suggests is more often than not, off the mark:


It sounds as if people who are throwing "populism" around are throwing it around as a dirty word. And if it is a dirty word, they don't know what they're talking about. I think they think it's a dirty word, because it pits Americans against each other, as if we would all be hand in hand if it weren't for populist agitators....They're probably talking in very veiled terms about class issues. Class is the dirty little secret in the United States.

WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY defines "populism" as "a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people."

The COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW lambastes the term's use in campaign 2008 for its implied negative associations: "anti-capitalist and backward-looking," and vague positive attributes: "reformist, anti-elitist, and yes, anti-big business."


Tell what you think about 21st century populism — and whether your consider yourself a populist.


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I'm not populist. Bill's guest actually taught at Princeton? Oh good thing for tenure. More nonsense of us vs them. A highly glossed over history of the United States and economic development.

Populism usually leads to bad policy. Economic populism can have disastrous consequences Not acknowledging this fact makes me question the intelligence of Bill's guest. Power to the people is great but politicians who promise things that aren't possible can be very dangerous.

Many case studies can be seen in Latin America where populism has bankrupted the state and led to high inflation and debt. John Edwards ran an economic populism campaign. Promising populist rhetoric of "living wages" and other poorly designed policies that may sound good to "working" people but would hurt American consumers.

Good thing our education level in this country helps insulate America from leftwing and rightwing populism. The less education you have the less likely you are to vote.

Governments should be off our backs. Bill Moyers you do know that socialism fails miserably don't you? Have you read a Paul Krugman book in the last 15 years? (Not conscience of a liberal, Paul is too soft on the populists).

Capitalism is the system of the middle class and has been for 190+ years. The rich and powerful hate capitalism and free trade because it destroys their hold on society. The right in England to vote was pressured by the middle class capitalists and free traders against the elite. Funny a historian leaves that our huh. Capitalists as heroes doesn't play as well as evil corporations and bankers exploiting the working man nonsense.

Playing this narrative of taking on the evil capitalists may play well for the sociologists and left wing historians but other fields of study (pol sci econ) will brush this nonsense off where it belongs. Gladstonian liberalism will put to rest this populist progressive nonsense.

Thank you for another thoughtful program that included Nell Painter.

I'm glad to see so many comments on populism and would like to offer some:

I appreciated the discussion around producer versus consumer and would encourage the Journal to do a show on this topic. A closer examination of what these are, what they mean in the United States of 2008, what average citizens think they mean and how they experience them, what the long term consequences are if we have a majority of one or the other, etc.

Along these lines I'd hope there was discussion (or maybe a show!) about what happens with a society on work and information overload--as it appears many of the working class (as defined by Nell in this show) are experiencing. When someone is on overload do they have time to learn new skills that would bring more income and shrink the disparity of wealth?

This leads to other topics: Do people on overload have time to learn about a candidate's positions? Maybe how we research a candidate's positions and record is yet another show. For example, The Library of Congress is the country's library but how many use it's resources to learn aboout their government? I've not heard any discussion during the c current presidential campaign of how average citizens can easily get accurate answers about a candidates record, i.e. http://www.thomas.loc.gov

Finally, I'm reminded of a comment by Bill in an interview long ago. Something to the effect of: "My friends say they don't have enough time, that they wish they could make time to do this or that. Is it the end of time and if so how do we make more?"

D. Beaulieu (Mar. 9-5:14pm)
Your sound like an extremely insightful analyst. Could you please contact Beret Co-op for consultation? TR could be a social Darwinist at times & FDR could have fought Nazism by reining in American business collaborators in the 30s... beretco.op@gmail.com

Nell Painter is a thoughtful and needed voice in these times. However she is wrong to characterize Progressive reformers like Teddy Roosevelt and Theodor Roosevelt as acting out of genuine concern or kindness with regard to the dire poverty of their times. They acted only to stem the growth of radical worker and socialist movements threatening elitist American politics by adopting some of their programs while protecting corporate capitalism. Real populism does not come from politicians but everyday people organizing in solidarity to take back democracy and the rightful fruits of their labor.

I am a populist in the mold of Huey P. Long. The man is still loved by the people of LA. First to bring good hospitals jobs and schools to the poorest people in America, (Just charged a little ol' deduction. Well worth it!)

Every Man a KING!

Almost forgot: Bill Moyers has now been a hostage for 34 days. Are they feeding you good (pulp stories) in there, Bill? He's on a diet, no 9/11 truth, no food crisis, no interment camps, no stock market blues, no Sibel Edmonds....

I have been busy with the kids here in the Puerto Rican mountains while my adult friends have been protesting in support of the Teachers Federation the last several days. Now teachers will go back to work temporarily and maybe the colonial government will negotiate in good faith.
The SEIU (Walmart's buddy) has been trying to bust the union and give Puerto Rican kids "Falling Prices Schools", but how low can you go? Teachers tell me conditions and pay have hit bottom, as the price of food and fuel continues to rise. Going to the states is not as good an option as it once was...

It is cooler than you'd think up here and there are some nice markets for fruits and vegetables. I tried to cook but the kids say I'm no Grandma when it comes to plantains and jicama. I made jicama like mashed potatoes and put fried plantain slices on top: It was eaten slowly as we played Chinese School on the high steps.

The teachers strike is a preview of the near future when the Depression comes. This will be a good place to be stuck. Since there is food production nearby we won't starve, unlike Americans who no longer have farm relatives and don't know how to grow crops. I can imagine the condo association reaction to a plot of corn and beans near the clubhouse.
Whew! Now that the ladies are back chasing the kids I can do some reading and email. P.S. If you have stocks, cash them out before the Bigboys do.
Contact me at beretco.op@gmail.com and I'll write back. I agree Jack Martin, Irene's account was terrific, though clumsily posted.

Correction: matt p's (Mar. 3- 1:48pm)obsession with "international" free trade may be due to brainwashing in college. More trade just wastes energy and pollutes by hauling the same crap around and around. No one excepted intense competition among smaller firms within an industry under
a protectionist regime. If business wants OUR market and the sureity of law and stability our democracy provides it will remain domestic and pay its taxes gladly. (We did pretty well with high assessments under Eisenhower.) If it is an outlaw enterprise it will take its chances elsewhere. Know what? I don't think growth is so important. I don't think big profits and a surging stock market are important to anyone besides big time corporate execs and their crony boards. What is important is the actual standard of living and the sustainability of the system of productivity and consumption. Balance and real goods are required. U.S. industrial employment is below 13% now (around 18 million jobs out of a falling 140 million peak employment) so WE really don't make anything. We deliver pizza and style one another's hair, while watching commercials on our cell phones. (Industrial employment was as high as 30% in the 60s.)If everyone cashes out of speculation (stock markets, etc.) there will be a crash. Paper profits and ersatz wealth are illusions, just like Second Life. Tell you what matt p, when you get real hungry and groceries (and MacDs)are sky high in two years, I will text you a chicken leg. Then you'll understand how it feels to work for nothing in a sweatshop and that your economic education was only boosterism and half-truths.
See Batra and/or Krugman. They know the Big Depression is coming and its the fault of too much profit and corruption and debt. "FORGET THE THRILLS; PAY OFF YOUR BILLS (or declare bankruptcy).
My compliments to Irene who described her view from the supermarket.(Mar.1-5:58pm)

While listening to the conversation between Bill and Dr. Painter, I was again struck by the fact that no one seems to recall the US experiences of later 1970s and early 1980s, when inflation galloped and interest rates rose while unemployment was rampant. St. Louis had no jobs available so two of my college-graduated children ended up down Highway 44 to Tulsa, land of the oil barons. Raising a family of teens with many friends, I had to add more pasta to the tomato-meat sauce in order to make ends meet. One of my friends was paying 22% on a house mortgage. Twenty-two percent! I remember weeping when a small CD came due that had paid 15 1/2% for three years. Tho' I realize the debt is so much worse this time, to me, in so many ways, this recession is deja vue all over again.

Past Negative European Connotation

Inevitably, if one is to seriously examine the origins of Populism and its subsequent emergence in modern American political culture, then it becomes necessary to explore its negative European roots. When I employ the term, negative, I am referring to Populism’s association with bloody revolutions - France, and Russia’s - and its more modern 20th Century use by Nazi Germany to veil Hitler’s sinister intentions in the guise of a party for the common man. As history would have it, the European form of Populism grew out of the fertile ground of economic discontent which was fallowed by a corrupt landed aristocracy. Since the economic caste system that was imposed by the aristocracy divided the populous into the haves, Aristocrats, and have-nots, Peasants, an inherent political juxtaposition formed where the abuses of the parasitic ruling elites were blatantly exposed to the rest of the world by many of the political philosophers of that day. In short, many peasant farmers starved to death while most aristocrats attended banquets which were funded by tax receipts that were extorted by force from peasant farmers who were barely able to feed their families. As a result, bloody revolution was seen as the only solution for a class of people that had no rights, no wealth, and no freedoms. The burning desire for Equality, and Liberty, or freedom from the oppressive economic tyranny of such a caste system resulted in the eventual emergence of what would be later known as the great American Experiment, and with it arose the belief in the consent of the governed.

21st Century American Populism

In the uniquely American brand of Populism, the appeal to the people is not only expected of our politicians, but it was purposely sought after by the framers of our constitution. This is a country that was derived of the people, for the people, and constituted by the people in order to best represent the general will of our citizenry in the crafting of our laws and policies. Fortunately, we here in America enjoy the right to revolt against our government every four years in the form of peaceful elections and replace our governing elites with a new set of elites that will hopefully better represent the general will of the people, and not the particular will of special interests or oligarchic captains of industry. However, historically American Populism has been traditionally defined by the competing interests of industry vs. labor and the tensions arising from their often strained relationship. For instance, the founder of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson, saw himself as a President of the people and a champion of the common man against the undue influence of monied interests like the National Bank which he eventually had closed. Although many conservatives dislike the nature of Populist political rhetoric because it often seeks to curb the abuses of unbridled capitalism through legislative reforms, regulation, there have been many positive gains because of these movements - Child Labor Laws, Food and Drug Administration Act, Women’s Right to Suffrage, Minimum Wage Act, Civil Rights Act, etc...

Jeff and Jack,

There is much we agree on, and a few things we don't.

Jeff - you point out the income inequality and how that's getting worse. Your figures are probably correct, and I don't dispute the notion, nor do I think it's desirable. My point is that the solution for it, which goes under the name of "populism" often, is for protectionism and higher taxes (i.e. re-distribution by government). I argue these "cures" are worse than the disease. More on that below.

I also lament with you our two party system, excessive lobbying and what seems to be legalized corruption via our campaign finance laws.

My point is these undesirables can be addressed through an educated populace and electing more informed leaders. Not by outright protectionism and wealth distribution. To take the trade example, I argue more trade is better in the long term. To take the campaign finance laws, let's mobilize that we want reform and vote out corrupt leaders.

Corporations and the gov't aren't keeping us down, we are!!! We voted for George Bush! (well, not us probably, but you get the point, I hope) How can we blame that on corporations? Were his policies not clear, at least by his second term? America voted democratically. So, to blame anyone but the will of the people seems contrary to fact.

Jack - I agree with you on a few points: FICA is unjust, social security is highway robbery (I think you are saying this), squandering our tax dollars on unjust wars, etc. I stand against them with you. I also agree with you in that we should cut taxes to the poor, no-bid contracts smell of corruption, etc.

However, the facts show, not just college textbooks, that protection harms the people it wants to protect. Yes, in the short run, you keep some people in jobs, but in the long run, you drive up unemployment and you lower the quality of goods (i.e. reduce innovation) for all others. This seems proven time and time again, and is a basic truth of economics. There are plenty real-world examples (from soviet union, to high unemployment in Europe, etc). Why does Target have low prices for quality items? Why do we drive high quality cars? Our car industry is uncompetitive, so trying to protect it all these years has just delayed the pain. Indeed, this is a lengthy discussion.

Further, raising of corporate taxes is one of the most dangerous (or most humorous) policies. When you raise taxes on corporates, two things happen: 1) prices of goods sold to us go up, and b) jobs go oversees. Do we want that?

You suggest anti-trust regulations have been ignored. We have much tighter anti-trust policies now that back when we were "growing so fast". We were growing because we were innovating.

Lastly, you speak of slave wages and slave labor. This, again, ignores the facts. When a US company moves operations overseas, then it raises the standard of living in those communities. They are abysmal, I agree, but with each year they get better thanks to free trade, which causes their wages to rise every year. India has huge wage inflation, thanks to the off-shoring of call centers, technical support, etc from the US.

No one is forcing people to buy foreign goods. You can always buy local food, buy local furniture. Often it's healthier, and higher quality. But I pay more. That's my choice. Removing choice will hurt those at the bottom whom you wish to help.

Thanks for your comments - empassioned citizens like us maybe will have a positive effect one day.


matt p wrote there is a faulty assumption on the part of some in this discussion: “the current situation of wealth distribution is a) somehow forced upon us by the upper class and b) the only solution is to have the government run things. Both points do not hold up to thoughtful scrutiny, and b) is very dangerous. Most of us who have been in America for more than one or two generations are in our current economic class due to the choices we or our parents have made.”
In response to that, I would ask “matt p” about the distribution of wealth in this country. As I understand it about 10% of the people possess about 90% of the wealth; it has been that way for a long time and probably is getting worse. What’s that mean – about 30 million people in this country are very wealthy and today they are aligned in this unavoidable global system of wealth – but I won’t go there now.
I believe there is significant injustice when government as defined by our supposedly 2 party political system is so fully controlled by business and the wealthy. Who really receives the most benefit, the 10% or the 90%? Corporate welfare far exceeds the relative pittance now going to the truly needy, but the media constantly teaches the obverse.
When opportunity consists of a system where the majority of people in the country are left to fight over the 10% wealth that isn’t already solidly in the hands of the wealthy, it’s amazing to me how many people believe they must side with the rich folks out of fear of losing the little they have; it’s an economy of fear and people are scared. None of this is new; corporate America was formed in 1776 and even then smoke and mirrors were employed to obscure the real objective of the system: the rich get richer.
The hitch in the political system for the wealthy is the illusion of freedom designed to keep the masses in line might someday be realized. Our education and religious systems teach is this is the apocalypse, but maybe one should consider the source before coming to a conclusion; psycho-social manipulation has always been the providence of the powerful. This experiment we call America can go either way. We can either head for the light and evolve our government toward a real democracy, or remain serfs getting scraps off the tables of the masters.

There's one thing for sure. Shawn Dodd (Feb. 29-10:24 pm)
is having difficulty paying for his large screen HD plasma TV. Maybe his stocks are in the toilet and his flexible interest mortgage is going up too. So much for the he-man free trader lifestyle. Well, maybe he'll be a flaming communist by the time the depression is over.

This is the most important post I will write this month and I hope I don't blow it.
Matt W (Mar. 2-2:10pm) is a little closer to the solution than fearful matt p (mar.2 12:37pm) though p's snake analogy does describe Keynesian theory well.
What you have in Huckabee Matt W is a half-truth. A flat tax will simply shift the burden downward where it can least be afforded whether one calls it a single rate income tax, an excise tax, a value-added tax or a FICA tax. Greenspan was complicit with Reagan in 1983 at the time of the false alarm on Social Security and this has been a bigger and undeserved tax burden on working people ever since.
Since the regular budget steals and liqidates social secuity and medicare taxes in order to fight wars and provide tax breaks for the corporate and wealthy, workers can never put anything away no matter how much they pay. Matt p's obsession with free trade may be due to brainwashing in college. Our choices are not so great when there are no home grown goods and no domestic industries remaining. I am old enough to know quality and I'm tired of slave-made crap from overseas. Everything we buy is a crime against the people who made it. For most of American history we had tariffs (That's why they call it protectionism.) providing a big income to run government and keeping highly competitive domestic industries employing people at a fair wage and making most of what we needed. (Now that's national security!) We grew faster than anyone else until antitrust regulations were neglected, allowing monopolies to emerge. Lack of friendly domestic competition hurt efficiency, quality, wages (and real choices). Now lack of protection means industries flee to seek slave wages, lack of safety and environmental regulation. The few things we export now we also import. Such a contradictory system wastes energy hauling things around, drives down wages on both ends, and empowers a few powerful interests to dominate government to such a degree citizens have little say-so. In truth, free trade always gets out of control and strangles itself without oversight by the people through representative government.
That was true even when Rev. Smith was writing "Wealth of Nations" in an age of the first domineering corporations (ex:East India Company). Smith idealized Brittain as a nation of shopkeepers even as they were trying to prevent industry in the colonies and keep our raw materials available cheaply. That's what our revolution against King George was all about. No wonder our free trading friend in the White House seems so oppressive to wage earners for he has taken it another step in supporting only multinational corporate monopolies (with no bid contracts). Hey, that's our taxes, and 11 trillion debt on our backs!
As to the snake eating its tail, it is about up to the neck right now when you consider the wage gap (no real raises despite record productivity gains since Reagan), wealth gap (assets in so few hands) and wage gap (a few at the top get over half the income). Matt and matt, what happens when the snake swallows its own head? No economy at all. That sounds more dangerous than regulation to me. It happens when people have no more money, no more credit and are losing their jobs because there is no money to spend to keep business rolling. The creditors can squeeze the turnip but little blood trickles out.
The only outlet is to violate the greed principle and reset the counter with lower taxes on the workers and poor people who spend most of what they get and higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations who benefit from our defense industry, governmental power and infrastructure to get what they have. Government can no longer act like a pimp providing labor whores to lustful businesses at below parity rates and without protections and benefits. There is a balance that must be maintained in the long run to prevent a downward spiral of debt that strangles not only capital velocity, but representational government and a true, healthy diversity of choice. If you still don't understand get ahold of anything by Ravi Batra because he has been teaching at Southern Methodist University most of his life and can explain it better than I can, since I'm a post modern philosopher. Anyway, there is much more I could say about diverse forms of business organization, devolution of corporate personhood and worker ownership, but I will leave it there for now. email me at beretco.op@gmail.com if you want to comment or ask questions. I believe a Great Depression is already likely judging from conditions I see in the community. Best wishes, Matt and matt.

I want to say a heart felt thanks for this wonderful interview with Nell Painter. I have always been very annoyed and confused by the use of "populist" by the media. Actually I find myself disheartened every time I hear words being used to twist the meaning of other words and phrases. (Did you follow that?)

I also have a question. After listening to this, and I agree with most of what was said, why are we afraid of looking at ideas put forth by other candidates or parties. We find that if one party says "Black" we must say "white". So The questions is, has anyone taken a good look at the economic plan put forth by Mike Huckabee? Granted being a democrat and an American Baptist, (different than Southern Baptist, VERY different) I have never found myself aligned with the conservative right. However I caught an interview with him and heard him explain his ideas on economy and I have to say I like the sound of it. I will say I am no economist, but to imagine us getting out of this consumer driven economy seems like a good Idea. It only reminds me of the symbol of a snake eating its tail. I believe it used to be a symbol of eternity, but to me it expresses the danger of consumerism as a tool to point the country in a direction. All we are doing is chasing our tail and eventually we will kill ourselves on our own gluttony. So if you haven't I would check out that plan by Huckabee and see if it has any merit. I certainly don't endorse the man in any way but at least he sees the problem correctly.

Thanks Bill for the best show on TV.

Unfortunately, this week was a very misguided and one-sided conversation.

Ms Painter, and many fellow bloggers, suggest that the current situation of wealth distribution is a) somehow forced upon us by the upper class and b) the only solution is to have the government run things.

Both points do not hold up to thoughtful scrutiny, and b) is very dangerous.

Most of us who have been in America for more than one or two generations are in our current economic class due to the choices we or our parents have made. America offers opportunity to most who work hard and stress human capital (i.e education). It's not easy, but if you seek education, grants, internships, etc, you will find them. If you work hard, most will succeed. There is no conspiracy to keep people down. 50% of people voted for Bush to spend $1T on a needless war! It's a mystery to me why the lower economic class would make such a bad choice! [I understand that first generation workers coming to America are in a hopeless situation and need a safety net, probably from the government or from local charities.]

Conversely, if you spend beyond your means, expect entitlements, don't pursue self-betterment, and vote for ignorant leaders, you will stagnate. That's because we will be unable to compete. Should the government help you then? I wish they could, as we would all do it, but the world doesn't work that way.

As for what to do about it, I understand the desire to have government come to the rescue, just like we want our parents to help us in time of need. But this is the most dangerous of Ms Painter's (et al) solutions. If you raise taxes on the rich, the money will flee America. If you have government responsible to regulate and control every industry even more (they already regulate most), that'll be a boon to a class of non-productive workers (lawyers, checkers, inspectors, etc). Even then, you won't get a better product at a lower price - I think it's fairly obvious you will get a worse one at a higher price (no more cheap chinese imports). We think that'll create jobs in the US, but our record unemployment level will surely drop. This is one of the most definitive conclusions of economics 101. Again, better choices will help: no one forced anyone to buy those toys. You can always pay more for toys that are made in Sweden or somewhere. Is removal of choice what the "populists" want?

I agree with Ms Painter on one thing: we need a populist movement alright. We do need to transform from a consumer to a producer. We need a populist movement that has nothing to do with government: we citizens can do this ourselves! Let's unite against ignorance, for education, entitlement, and easy-money. Let's return to our roots of freedom, independence, and hard work... our forefathers didn't expect government handouts and that made them the most successful country in the world. We need to get back to that. It means America needs to stop complaining and start working, reading, and learning.

If we define populism that way, then sign me up.


It has been said that the American people don't read--that we are all at the mall. Well, Obama's huge grass roots response has proven them wrong. Instead of fat checks with tracking numbers for future favors, millions are contributing small amounts with nothing expected but faith in democracy. The "silent majority" has finally become vocal!

I pledge allegiance to the Republic...Sadly I have to agree with the post by Torqed. These United States do operate as a caste system and might better be called a “moneyocracy”. The last real populist movement in this country recalled by Nell Painter grew from of severe class conflict, but the remedies imposed to quell the conflict, e.g., government regulation, various commissions, etc. might well be considered more subterfuge than resolution.

Clearly, it is a fact of human nature that the strong prey upon the weak. Here (and elsewhere – take Russia for instance), the predation is legitimized by the illusion of democracy in the form of a Republic. News flash – we are in the process of electing a temporary king for the protection of the wealthy; someone in practice not responsible to the people in general, otherwise George Bush would have been impeached long ago. Elaborate measures have been instituted to insure that real democracy won’t break out – horrible public education, the Electoral College, the two party system (that is actually only one party) for instance.

A question to be answered in this election: is there any hope we might grow up as a people and establish real democracy in America, or will cynicism as a coping mechanism have to suffice?

Sorry to inform your "historian", but the United States is not founded as a "Democracy", but was founded as a "Republic".

As to the last lines of the interview, and the author's final comment.

Sorry to inform your "historian", but the United States is not founded as a "Democracy", but was founded as a "Republic".

As to the last lines of the interview, and the author's final comment.

Bravo, I'm glad see the short clip which Mr Moyer presented at the end of the program
shows that John McCain is winner of Presidential election before citizen of United States of America even
cast their votes. That reminds
me that We Americans might not have a Democracy, or might we just lost it.

Please read my earlier post first then the later one below.

At first when I read those jokers (on this blog) Grady Lee Howard and Jack Martin I laughed, but only recently I've discovered that they are not kidding. Let me tell you and Bill and Little Nell (If the availability of work could save the "Black Family", Nell, then the return of slavery ought to do the trick.) what I found out reading the books they suggested.
Not only is Keynesian economics more accurate than classic economics; It doesn't go far enough! Not only has income shifted toward the wealthiest but the tax burden (especially FICA after 1983) has shifted toward the poor. Productivity has risen about 30% since 1980 while real household wages have fallen. The only way 75% of families have met their responsibilities and maintained an acceptable standard of living during this time is by liquidating their assets. Hence the obsession with Antiques Road Show and scouring the attic. We the people, the consumers, are spent out. And now food (The world consumed more grain than was produced 7 of the last 8 years.) and fuel (The Hubbert Peak of petroleum production has passed and demand is rising.) are skyrocketing. Maybe that is why our wealthy opponents have begun using our taxes to build prisons and hire mercenaries. We are not only economically panicked but should also be in mortal fear of our security state. We are one bad harvest or one alienated dictator away from an earthly Armageddon.
I will not dwell on the consequences of the 11 trillion dollar national debt (owed to the wealthy classes) or the trade deficit (that has hollowed out American self-sufficiency and industry) but I will say that corruption (ethical bankruptcy from the top) is causing an economic meltdown starting at the bottom.
I will share an insight from Noam Chomsky that goes beyond Martin and Howard. This inescapable downward spiral of debt is the same phenomenon that broke up Yugoslavia and caused nearly 20 failed and near-failed states around the world. The same poverty by occupation and 60% unemployment is the primary cause of inter religious violence in Iraq. We are well on our way to joining the Congo and Somalia if the 3 distributive balances can't be restored through extraordinary reforms never before attempted before in the history of the world. And, as if this Herculean Miracle were not enough, we must restore wealth equity, wage equity and tax equity and maintain nearly full employment while shifting to sustainable practices in agriculture and industry and mitigating the effects of climate change. It is like being in a plane high in the Himalayas without enough lift to clear the only pass. I warn the privileged class now that they should be dropping some ballast if they want to live. You are on notice, that powerful young woman from the grocery store is no longer under the illusion that she can become wealthy on mortgage commissions.
Nell has it all wrong. When a little country collapses it is a cruel and wrenching chaos. When a nation as massive as the United States collapses it produces a black hole.

Today in the supermarket line I saw a vigorous and fit woman, six feet tall, about 30 years old with a four year old son. She was able to lift two heavy fridge packs of sodas from underneath her cart in one graceful and effortless move. She bought $175 in groceries which she paid for with a USDA food stamp card, and 3 packs of Salem Lights for cash. She drove away in a nearly new mini-van which sported a magnetic sign "Sequoia Mortgage Services." Apparently Nell Irwin Painter does not understand the fragile condition of the U. S. economy, because Thursday's headline on my Charlotte Observer read "Demand for Food Stamps Sets New Record."
Thomas Veach (March 1@ 12:25am) got it right when he said neither the size of the United States nor its feeble safeguards will save us from another inevitable Great Depression, brought on by corruption resulting in the greatest polarization of wealth in our history and the unsecured debt that has been its consequence.
Bill Moyers can bring on retired professors like Nell all night long and it will not buoy consumer confidence or even investor confidence in the midst of what I call an imploding cascade failure.
At first when I read those jokers (on this blog) Grady Lee Howard and Jack Martin I laughed, but only recently I've discovered that they are not kidding. Let me tell you and Bill and Little Nell (If the availability of work could save the "Black Family", Nell, then the return of slavery ought to do the trick.) what I found out reading the books they suggested.
Not only is Keynesian economics more accurate than classic economics; It doesn't go far enough! Not only has income shifted toward the wealthiest but the tax burden (especially FICA after 1983) has shifted toward the poor. Productivity has risen about 30% since 1980 while real household wages have fallen. The only way 75% of families have met their responsibilities and maintained an acceptable standard of living during this time is by liquidating their assets. Hence the obsession with Antiques Road Show and scouring the attic. We the people, the consumers, are spent out. And now food (The world consumed more grain than was produced 7 of the last 8 years.) and fuel (The Hubbert Peak of petroleum production has passed and demand is rising.) are skyrocketing. Maybe that is why our wealthy opponents have begun using our taxes to build prisons and hire mercenaries. We are not only economically panicked but should also be in mortal fear of our security state. We are one bad harvest or one alienated dictator away from an earthly Armageddon.
I will not dwell on the consequences of the 11 trillion dollar national debt (owed to the wealthy classes) or the trade deficit (that has hollowed out American self-sufficiency and industry) but I will say that corruption (ethical bankruptcy from the top) is causing an economic meltdown starting at the bottom.
I will share an insight from Noam Chomsky that goes beyond Martin and Howard. This inescapable downward spiral of debt is the same phenomenon that broke up Yugoslavia and caused nearly 20 failed and near-failed states around the world. The same poverty by occupation and 60% unemployment is the primary cause of inter religious violence in Iraq. We are well on our way to joining the Congo and Somalia if the 3 distributive balances can't be restored through extraordinary reforms never before attempted before in the history of the world. And, as if this Herculean Miracle were not enough, we must restore wealth equity, wage equity and tax equity and maintain nearly full employment while shifting to sustainable practices in agriculture and industry and mitigating the effects of climate change. It is like being in a plane high in the Himalayas without enough lift to clear the only pass. I warn the privileged class now that they should be dropping some ballast if they want to live. You are on notice, that powerful young woman from the grocery store is no longer under the illusion that she can become wealthy on mortgage commissions.
Nell has it all wrong. When a little country collapses it is a cruel and wrenching chaos. When a nation as massive as the United States collapses it produces a black hole.

Wealth Distribution
The Federal Reserve Board does a triennial review of the nations wealth and it’s distribution among families. Analysis for 2007 is underway. The most recent data suggest wealth is concentrated in a small number of families. The wealthiest one percent of families own more than one third of the nations net worth. The top ten percent of families own just over seventy-one percent.

The bottom eighty percent own just over fifteen percent of the nations wealth. The bottom forty percent of American families own way under one percent, 0.2 percent actually.

Other data from the years 2005 and 2006 show a continued shift of the wealth, it’s net worth, to the wealthiest amongst us. The gross inequities are expected to be reflected in the 2007 analysis as well.

Two pertinent observations are provided by Citizens for Tax Justice, one from a dedication the other from within one of it’s reports: (1) This report is dedicated to the memory of Leslie R. Zacharias of Newark, Delaware. inspired by what he called his “almost life-long deep concern for the increasingly vast discrepancy between wealth, luxury, and power of the few and their unconcern for the many disadvantaged persons in this nation,” Mr. Zacharias decided to “try to ameliorate the extreme injustice of the tax system” through a generous bequest to the Institute in 2002. We are extremely grateful.

In their review of the Bush capital gains tax cut it was observed that (2) “Few if any special tax breaks are so narrowly focused on so few taxpayers. When half a percent of all taxpayers get three-quarters of the benefits of a tax subsidy, you can bet that the politicians who voted them this largesse probably know most of them personally.”

To these, I draw a third: with 40% of American families owning 0.2% of the nations wealth, it is rather like the 22.5% of India’s population formerly classified as untouchables except, proportionally, there are almost twice as many of us as there were of them. Where is our sense of shame? Why don’t we go out of our way to provide a strong education, quality child care, and the security of health care to the least among us than they may have a better chance to improve their lives? Can somebody tell me?

Shame on you Shawn Dodd (Feb 29 10:24) Your comment is the most ill-informed and biggotted comment I have read in ages. You correctly state that many people live beyond their means, but I can tell you that many of those who do so are members of the Middle Class. And yet you try to make your point with a petty story about a TV, and you cite the impoverished as your prime example. When you are working for minimum wage, working 2-3 jobs to support a family, and don't have the time or money to pursue higher education, it is almost impossible to increase your economic standing. Wake up and have some compassion! How lucky for you to be able to peer down from your American Dream Ivory Tower and disparage those who are less fortunate than you are. Your self-aggrandizing and selfish attitude paints a very sad portrait indeed.

10 years ago, when I was in high school U.S. History class, I first realized that the original populists were heroes in the American story. Most of the practices we now view as an outrage (just as two examples, child labor or no workplace safety laws)are only widely perceived as unacceptable because populists challenged it. I see their legacy woven through all the early to mid-twentieth century reforms, and think their ideology reached its strongest legislative and social point during Franklin's Roosevelt's presidency. These safeguards and protections are what built the middle class in the immediate post-WWII years. Though a century separates them from me, I can see how their influence affects aspects of my life--and I don't take it for granted.

For more recent generations, including my own, I see a weakening of these protections. Statistics of the increasing wealth divide do not surprise me given the crises with health insurance, the unregulated mortgage industry, excessive college costs, or the smallness of wages and benefits compared to cost and living. The dire straits many Americans are in--or are just one emergency away from falling into--are, to me, the outcome of the anti-populist, deregulatory efforts that began with Reagan. These anti-worker measures have generally been treated lovingly by a cheerleading press until recently. Despite all the harm that has come to the average working person, any voice pointing it out gets vicious treatment."Populist" and "class-war" get treated as pejoratives--as if the masses of people should be happy to live with struggle, poor health or poverty so that a few can live tremendously wealthy. Nell Painter is a fabulous guest, and she is correct that social class is treated as a dirty forbidden topic. I believe it's because the deep inequalities are so statistically obvious, and so indefensible, that the powerful quickly deflect any look at it with extreme couter-accusations (i.e., that one is a "Communist," or "anti-business.")

My picture of the "American Dream" is different from most depictions of it. I see that many conceptualize it as an idea of any one person being able to become fabulously rich and live in grandeur. My idea of the American Dream is one where everyone, regardless of birth, education, or profession, can live in economic security. Populists championed this and I am proud to be one.

Vote for a REAL populist. Vote for Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader

Addenda: After some sleep, I found I had a little more to say on the subject.

Doesn't our country's "mission statement" define us as a populist nation? "Of the people, by the people, and for the people"; Just words? Those whose individual right to pursue happiness coincides with the drive to make money might not notice anything wrong with the growing alliance between government and business, but it seems to come at the expense of individual rights. Have we forgotten that we have the liberty to make other choices? We need some "out-of-the-box" thinking to find ways to exist without being slaves to the economy. Individuals, the nation, the world would benefit. Stewardship of our country and the earth suggests that we should be encouraged to act more like "citizens" and less like "consumers".

Bill Moyers never fails every week to offer the most interesting, provocative, and thoughtful dialog to be found on television today. His discussion with the eminent historian Nell Painter was no exception. I adored listening to Professor Painter's explanation of populism and was glued to every word. Populism is still an issue Americans grapple with today whether they know it or not.

It is astounding to me that three quarters of the American public fall into the poor, the working and middle classes. The upper and upper middle classes occupy such a small segment of our nation. In view of that, I wonder why our country went economically askew? Why have we retreated from those policies of the trust buster Theodore Roosevelt and later the New Deal Franklin Roosevelt that equaled the economic playing field, created a producer society so that a majority in this country had an equal shot at a decent life? Unbridled capitalism did not work then and we can see through our current malaise it is not working in the public interest now.

Is the Great Depression a mere glimmer in the public's historical eye? Since Roosevelt there have been decades of Republican rule and even some Democratic rule dedicated to the eradication of those policies which provided a safety net to our system. Even though conservatives eschew those policies they were, in fact, the savior of our capitalist system today. Reaganism has succeeded in making government the economic enemy. It has made the corporation government and the government subservient to the corporation.

The brilliance, however, as I see it, has been the ability of the highest monied interests to co-opt the poor and the middle classes into thinking that all of their interests are the same. They have brilliantly given the vast majority of the public the fantasy that upper class wealth is their wealth too and created a never ending consumer appetite for useless goods which make a few very very rich and many very very poor. We are now a debtor nation. They have done this, as I see it, by co-opting social issues such as gun control, welfare, gay rights, patriotism and other issues which have a popular appeal and married those issues to a laissez faire-like economic system within mostly but not entirely the Republican party.

I believe the corporate interests which supported Reagan, Bush I, especially Bush II through his architect Karl Rove and others brilliantly saw that being vociferously against these social issues could dramatically increase the Republican base. I believe those initiators did not truly give a rat's behind about guns, gays and God but used those issues to provoke allegiance to and furtherance of their own economic power. The pubic has been duped. The question is do they finally know it now?

I am a populist and agree that big business should be checked. I disagree with the one person who felt that if poor would just not buy flat screen tv, get off welfare, the world would be wonderful. Where did that come from? FDR is used as example, you know Mr. Bush tried to style himself as that while world building but FDR put US citizens to work not countries we occupied. Our roads & buildings are falling and we can not get up. When we fight back against corporate welfare? So the person who does not want to help the working and working poor but it is ok to give big business (exxon)welfare, give them your moneny not ours.

Yes, I must be a populist. C-Span keeps me company during the day, as I work, and I've noticed that inappropriate business language increasingly prevails in both Houses. I cringe, when I hear legislation referred to as a "product". I feel dishonored when I'm referred to as a "consumer", rather than a "citizen". Words shape attitudes, and this trend to try to run government as a business is dangerous to our Democracy. Here's why: Business exists to profit FROM the people; Government exists to PROFIT the people. These are different goals. The business model doesn't work to benefit the people.

Hello,

Mrs. Irvin Painter's comments on your program sound very similar to Ralph Nader's beliefs and policy positions. I was pleased to see that your guest shared those views. I hope that you will invite Mr. Nader to your program as well. I think it would be very timely, now that he has declared his candidacy for President.

Thanks,

Paul Samaras
Redondo Beach, CA

The interview with Nell Painter rocked. That's really what it's all about. It's a class war and it always has been BUT consumers vs citizens is a more recent addition to the struggle. The more people there are who recognize it, the more likely it is that a Democrat will win the presidential election. Thank-you so much, Bill Moyers. You really get it and that's so important. I think it's time for you to rerun some of the highpoints of the series of programs you ran on the Savings and Loan scandal. I am 60 years old and I remember, but there are a lot of people who really need to know about it because it ties in to what's happening today. In addition, the ITT scandal needs to be revisited.I don't know what I'd do without you, Bill. Thank-you.

SAYING IT LOUD, I'M A POPULIST AND PROUD!

Saying it loud, I'm a populist and proud!

Yes, I am a populist. I even test out in the voter quizzes as populist. It was nice to see someone taking on the labeling of populism as a dirty word.
We're in this fix because of deregulation and privatization. This consumer nation now produces too little to afford to consume, ergo our economy got up and walked out the door. The biggest difference between what happen in the late 1890's and now is that the production and jobs that we once had no longer are monopolies here, they have been shipped overseas to become foreign monopolies.
The Populist Sentiments of 1892:
EXPRESSION OF SENTIMENTS
1. Resolved, That we demand a free ballot, and a fair count in all elections... without Federal intervention, through the adoption by the states of the... secret ballot system.
2. Resolved, That the revenue derived from a graduated income tax should be applied to the reduction of the burden of taxation now levied upon the domestic industries of this country.
3. Resolved, That we pledge our support to fair and liberal pensions to ex-Union soldiers and sailors.
4. Resolved, That we condemn the fallacy of protecting American labor under the present system which opens our ports to [immigrants including] the pauper and the criminal classes of the world and crowds out our [American] wage-earners... and [we] demand the further restriction of undesirable immigration
5. Resolved, That we cordially sympathize with the efforts of organized workingmen to shorten the hours of labor....
6. Resolved, That we regard the maintenance of a large standing army of mercenaries, known as the Pinkerton system as a menace to our liberties and we demand its abolition....
7. Resolved, That we commend to the favorable consideration of the people... the initiative and referendum.
8. Resolved, That we favor a constitutional provision limiting the office of President and Vice President to one term, and providing for the election of Senators of the United States by a direct vote of the people.
9. Resolved, That we oppose any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose.

As you can see, many of the reforms listed above still exist, some have been undone, and some never were done.

The strangest feeling I got from this election cycle was the realization that I have no party.
I'm a Populist born 50 years after.

The July 12, 1948 issue of Life magazine did a Round Table analysis of the Pursuit of Happiness from the Declaration of Independence. Life did several of these to try and establish just what it was that we were going to export as Democracy. It turns out that the Pursuit of Happiness does NOT mean a knee-slapping good time. It meant, at the time it was written by Thomas Jefferson, the right of each person to pursue being significant.

If you keep this in mind and then look at the period from about 1870 through 1942, you see repeated periods of exploitation of the American population. An additional important factor, from the mid-1890s through the late 1930s, was the Lochner era of the U.S. Supreme Court that felt justice was whatever corporate interests requested.

Putting these two together, we find that most Americans don't want to pursue becoming billionaire CEOs but they do want the opportunity to feel significant in whatever fashion they define it. When economic disparity becomes too extreme, and widespread, those being exploited find social mechanisms to restore balance. Examples are unions and socially driven legislation striving to keep the playing field level and curb the more harmful abuses of Capitalism.

Populism is the spirit of a democratic people enforcing balance between capitalism and mechanisms to ensure each person has fair opportunities to develop personal significance rather than be endlessly exploited.

I am a Populist.

You betcha I'm a populist, and I'm flummoxed by the fact that anyone can fail to recognize the class warfare that's been successfully waged by grillionaires against the rest of us for decades.

Need proof? Visit Measuring Worth (http://www.measuringworth.com/ppowerus) and enter some figures from your past in their “Purchasing Power of Money in the United States from 1774 to 2007″ calculator.

Prepare to be amazed by what you’ll learn. My first new car, $2,300 in 1969, would have cost almost exactly $10,000 more last year, Fortunately, my parents could afford to buy it for me more easily than I realized, because their modest annual income (under $20,000) represented more than $100,000 in today’s dollars! Their purchasing power was already on the decline, though; it fell by an average of $5,000 dollars yearly between 1965 and 1970. Even with inflation jolting the budget dramatically, they remained comfortably in the middle class. I was even on the lower rungs of it, when I got my first “real” job in 1975. Pulling in $9,000 a year wasn’t bad then (especially for a young woman); in fact, it represented almost $35,000 in today’s money -- and 10 years later, my $25,000 spent like today’s $48,000.

Through the ’70s and 80’s, money kept losing value steeply, but far worse was the fact that pay stagnation set in. And both trends have continued, with all meaningful gains from increased productivity going to the richest and actual declines in compensation at the lowest end.

I'm sure you don’t need me to tell you there are plenty of young people (and others) working now for those 1985 wages in the 20-thousands -— which are worth even less today than last year, with the dollar continuing its steep dive.

Safe guards and shear size are not the factors keeping this country from a revolution. It is the hour to hour, day to day, fear of loosing ones home, fear of not finding that job, fear of not providing. A fear that quite literally breaks an individual. There can be no revolution with an army of broken souls.

I don't think populism and socialism are interchangeable at all. What a preposterous idea. And to suggest that poor people "live in the projects" because they bought plasma TVs is just ignorant. Unbelievable.

That said, I thought Ms. Painter was a great guest. Well done, Mr. Moyers.

Lucid! Lucid! Nell Painter paints a beautiful historic picture of what has happened before and what is happening now. Government has been corrupted and purchased by corporate America. A democracy cannot function with this imbalance as it becomes an empire ruled as a plutocracy. The populace recognizes what has taken place while they slept and an Obama appears. A shaman who says what so many were feeling but who had not expressed it. Man untethered has always been the glutton be it money, power or religion. Fortunately we have a government designed to allow the restoration of balance. Thank you Nell Painter for your wonderful and lucid mind.

Lucid! Lucid! Nell Painter paints a beautiful historic picture of what has happened before and what is happening now. Government has been corrupted and purchased by corporate America. A democracy cannot function with this imbalance as it becomes an empire ruled as a plutocracy. The populace recognizes what has taken place while they slept and an Obama appears. A shaman who says what so many were feeling but who had not expressed it. Man untethered has always been the glutton be it money, power or religion. Fortunately we have a government designed to allow the restoration of balance. Thank you Nell Painter for your wonderful and lucid mind.

i wish those who attach a negative connotation to the word "populist" would get out once in a while and work with us out here for, oh, a month or two.

maybe when they see layoffs to save "human capital" costs turn into a doubling of their job responsibilities with no increase in pay, they'll understand.

maybe when they look at their job description and see the words "and whatever other activities management sees fit to assign," they'll understand.

let them find out that the company that has just "down sized" or "out sourced" their positions made record profits that year and that the company's ceo pulled in over $30 million in bonuses.

let them get reprimanded or fired as part a group of employees who gets together to ask management for better lighting in the parking lot.

am i populist? youbetcha. if having a shred of dignity in the workplace makes me a populist, then that's what i am.

Anyone who has actually read the things I've written here knows I agree about what Nell Painter had to say. Go read her early book Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919

The "right" loves to label those with whom they disagree, and turn these labels into dirty words, e.g. populist, secularist, liberal, humanist ... Upon further examination of the meaning of these terms, one realizes that there is nothing evil or misguided about those to whom these tags are given. In fact if I begin to list those to whom these labels have been given, or could be given if an honest analysis is done, we would find a group of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and caring individuals to grace our planet. For starters how about Albert Einstein and Jesus Christ, the biggest irony of all. Matthew 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” This runs contrary to the Gordon Gekko "Greed is Good" mantra. What part of this do Christian conservative capitalists not understand?

Rich people have the "time" to voice their opinion (read also: spend their money as influence) where middle-class and especially poor Americans only have enough "time" to consume, and only just enough of that to get by, to barely make it, but not to really live. This is ne of those "secrets" of class differences Nell spoke so eloquently about.
Most socially advanced societies honor their citizens by giving them more time off, more vacation, less overtime, and generally more "time" to live. It is because of the rich people and power broker's attitudes toward Capitalism & laisse-faire beliefs that there must be a balancing factor: more participatory democracy and better government oversight.
This is wishing and hoping you have more "time" in the future.

I am a populist and populism takes as many hits from liberals as it does from conservatives. In all the U.S. history courses and texts I can recall populists were dismissed, after a nod or two for “some good ideas,” (This list includes federal income tax, food and drug laws, municipal ownership of utilities, bans on corporate financing of campaigns, direct election of senators, no war of empire in the Philippines -- pretty impressive.) Why don’t liberals give populists their due?

Nell Painter hit the nail on the head about why populism can’t stay on the table as a respectable political option: it tells the truth about class. We can talk about race endlessly in the country,but never class.

According to biographer Michael Kazin, William Jennings Bryan, a populist, was the person most responsible for the Democrats economic stance. But today’s Democrats have moved dramatically away from the policies of FDR and LBJ.

Populist serve ordinary people, but most of today’s Democrats can vote for “free trade”, keeping the insurance companies in charge of health care, and sending 20-year olds from small towns to a war of empire in Iraq. All of these stands serve the economically powerful, so populism, a real alternative, has to keep being dissed and dismissed.

No I would not consider myself as a populist. The ideology of a populist is to close to those ideals of a socialst.The American people need to stop living outside there means. Alot of the problems that most Americans face is due to the lack of commonsence and proper planning. Commpnsence would tell the average person that you don't need that new plasma T.V. living in the projects living on Govenment subsidized housing when you can use that money to better yourself to climb out of that bad neighborhood to own a part of the American dream. Besides the price of that T.V. will go down and if your gone to long away from home in the slums that fancy T.V. won't be there when you come home. Wake up!!!! Populist/Socialist are interchangable. Socialism ='s 1/3retired 1/3 on welfare 1/3 working population. If your the 1/3 working hard for a living to support the other 2/3rds are you going to vote for someone that is going to increase your taxes so they can stay at home to watch that fancy plasma that you paid for with the sweat of your brow?

Nell was wonderful, but I believe that the problem today is not that we are lacking the regulations, but that we are saddled with political hacks running regulatory agencies, put in place by patronage of the worst government in our history, with orders to hear no evil, see no evil, and say no evil. They have been told, in no uncertain terms to remain dormant for the duration. If regulations were being enforced, Populist ideas would be prime rather than being fought for, by all of us Populists who demand a change, and hopefully will see it accomplished in November.

The imagery of getting government off our backs and the idea that populists would put the government back on our backs is all wrong. The imagine is that the government should provide the infrastructure to undergird and support.Also image of FDR coming in and putting a thumb on the scale on side of people should be better characterized as raising up the people from their side of the scale.

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