Four Lost Decades: Why American Politics is all Messed-Up

Countries with dysfunctional economies tend to have dysfunctional political systems, in which radical groups look for someone to blame and rival interest groups fight over the spoils. And that, sadly, is where we are now.

.. Income stagnation can’t be wished away or inflated away: it’s a central and intractable fact of modern American life, and it provides the backdrop for almost everything that happens in Washington—the coming antics not excepted. Political polarization, posturing, and gridlock aren’t fun to watch. But in a country where a successful economic model has broken down, they are just what you’d expect to see.

Holding Italy Hostage

If Nixon had refused to accept impeachment and had tried somehow to hang on to power, he would have been summarily removed. The same goes for any leader in Europe’s main democracies. Most will step down at the first sign of a serious criminal charge against them, aware that their parties will not support someone who damages their cause. The truly disquieting aspect of the present situation in Italy is not so much Berlusconi’s brazenness, but that his blackmail is possible and credible, that he has such complete control over such a large political party, and that he still commands considerable popular support.

How did this come about?

The character of Berlusconi himself is one reason. The man is charming, charismatic, persuasive, and ruthless. His dominant media empire acts as a megaphone for those qualities, allowing him constantly to shape the national debate. During his years in government, he made key appointments in the public news networks to consolidate that power, and his financial resources are such as to intimidate even those outside his immediate area of influence. Quite simply he monopolizes the headlines, and his opinions always appear first. His opponents are largely seen through the distorting mirror of the media he controls: if those opponents try to attack him, they are presented as Berlusconi-obsessed, and if they denounce his misdemeanors, they are accused of trying to defeat him in the courts rather than through the ballot box, a sign of weakness.

.. If Berlusconi is spared imprisonment, even at home, and allowed to continue in politics, the perception that a political leader is more a feudal lord than an ordinary citizen will be absolutely confirmed, and there will be no chance of shifting Italian attitudes for many years to come.

 

How would Frank Luntz frame Warren Buffett’s Tax Debate?

The Secretary-Billionaire Tax Equality Principle

Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed recently that suggested that the top 0.3% of yearly earners were paying too little in taxes.
One of his favorite illustrations of this point is that his secretary pays a much higher tax rate that he does.

His prescription is:

  • undefined cuts to entitlement programs
  • higher taxes on the top 0.3%

The Power of Framing

The idea that a secretary should not pay a higher tax rate than their billionaire boss
is hard to argue with and shows the power of “framing”.

Here’s an other tax framing idea:

It is often said that we don’t want to push the burden of current spending onto future generations.

Reihan Salam: During the Bush years, it was often said that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts represented redistribution from future taxpayers to current taxpayers.

You might reframe this as:

Those older Americans, who can afford it, should not get a better deal their grandchildren’s generation

But how would Frank Luntz say it?

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