Review of Martin Nowak's Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

How can cooperation emerge in a world of selfish individuals ruled by a Darwinian competition for survival?

This is the question that Martin Nowak, Professor of Mathematics and Biology at Harvard University, discusses in Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed.

Nowak and his collaborators have published a series of articles in major scientific journals that give partial answers to this question. The book provides a gentle overview of the technical results, with frequent comments about the implications for politics and economics. For example, Nowak repeatedly mentions climate change as an example of something requiring cooperation among humans.

The hope is that if we understand, mathematically, how cooperation emerges, we can better design policies and structures to promote cooperation and deter selfishness.

I propose that “natural cooperation” be included as a fundamental principle to bolster those laid down by Darwin. Cooperation can draw living matter upwards to higher levels of organization… Cooperation makes evolution constructive and open-ended.

Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

The book has a few simple mathematical formulas, but the educated layman should be able to understand the gist of the arguments, thanks to generous use of example, analogy and simplification. Indeed, the book’s readability benefits from the aid of Roger Highfield, an author of popular science books, who helped Nowak with the writing.

Darwinian evolution is based on competition for survival, for resources, and for mates. Winners reproduce, losers leave few offspring. Due to mutations, individuals vary in their fitness. Over many generations, fitter (configurations of) genes proliferate, while weaker ones disappear.

In fact, fitness is defined in terms of ability to reproduce, so the fact that fitter individuals reproduce is something of a tautology.

Similarly to evolution, in an economy, people often act selfishly, trying to get paid as much as possible for what they sell, whether goods or their services, and trying to pay as little as possible for what they buy.

It would appear that cooperation is difficult to explain in a pure, evolution-based model or in a selfish profit-based economy. You’d expect that selfishness would always win out. But it’s clear that cooperation is common, both among non-human animals and among humans.

The basic reason is that, in the long run being nice pays off, for you or for your children, kin, or neighbors.

In the context of this book, cooperation basically means: an individual is willing to sacrifice some short-term benefit in exchange for a longer-term reward, either for itself or for related individuals (e.g., children or kin or members of the same group). In other words, cooperation is a form of reciprocity, or reciprocal altruism. This sense of cooperation isn’t as pristine or as self-sacrificing as some religious traditions’ ideals of pure selfless love. But even Christianity relies on a promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife to motivate moral behavior.

Albert Einstein once said, “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

Unfortunately, from the point of view of biology, all we seem to have is punishment and reward, where reward means reproductive fitness: produce descendants who survive and who likewise reproduce. (It is not sufficient to have children: if your kids are too weak to survive, or if they don’t reproduce, your reproductive fitness isn’t really high.)

Yet the bearer of fitness (the entity getting the reward or punishment and that gets to reproduce) isn’t necessarily the individual of a species. Richard Dawkins famously suggests that the unit of competition and survival may be the gene: animals exist to promote the interests of their genes, not the other way around. Moreover, genes, as well as gene networks, span individuals and species.

There are also theories which say the unit of the reward is the group: related kin, or cooperating subgroups, or (at a higher level) cooperating species who live in symbiosis with one another.

Indeed, group-based reciprocity seems to be the essence of cooperation.

We are all in it together.

We are interdependent.

Nowak thinks cooperation, and not just competition, is a fundamental force in evolution.

I have argued that evolution “needs” cooperation if she is to construct new levels of organization, driving genes to collaborate in chromosomes, chromosomes to collaborate in genomes, genomes to collaborate in cells, cells to collaborate in more complex cells, complex cells to collaborate in bodies, and bodies to collaborate in societies.

A set of genes working together is an example of cooperation. And in the primordial soup, sets of cooperating chemical reactions led to the origins of life.

Within biology, there have been attempts to explain cooperation in terms of kin selection (in which an individual is willing to sacrifice itself to aid close relatives who share many genes with it). The social insects are prime examples of cooperators; the worker ants who build and defend the nest are closely related to the queen.

A related notion is group selection (aka multi-level selection), according to which groups which are more fit (e.g., due to being better cooperators) out-compete groups which are less fit.

The idea of group selection seems intuitively correct, and Darwin was aware of the role of cooperation in evolution and of the apparent presence of group selection, both in biology and in culture (where ideas or what are now called “memes” reproduce).

But there are heated disagreements among professional biologists about whether the phenomenon of group selection really occurs and about the extent to which it occurs. Richard Dawkins has famously ridiculed both the idea and the biologists who support it. Nowak seems to be among the latter group.

Examples of cooperation among humans include: lending a cup of sugar to a neighbor, taking the bus instead of driving the car, paying taxes instead of cheating, contributing to the donation plate, bringing in your neighbors’ and garbage bins from the curb, as well as more dramatic examples such as risking your life to safe someone who has fallen onto train tracks. Most parents would instinctively risk their lives to save the lives of their (small) children.

In the mathematical and computer models of cooperation, various individuals interact with other individuals, either in a well-mixed pool; in a network of connections such as on social networks; in various sets of interests groups; or on a grid. Whenever you interact with another individual, each of you decides whether to cooperate or whether you will defect (be selfish). You are rewarded or punished accordingly.

Mathematically, cooperation is formalized in the form of such a two person game. The standard game of this sort is is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma.  It models the situation where two prisoners who have been arrested by the police and are being interrogated separately. Each prisoner gets to choose, independently, whether to cooperate (keep his mouth shut and deny the crime) or defect (accuse his partner of the crime). If they both cooperate they each get only one year in prison on a lesser charge, because the police have insufficient evidence. If they both defect, they each get two years in prison. If one person cooperates with his partner and the other person defects, then the first person (the cooperator) gets three years in prison and the second person (the defector) gets off free.

From the point of view of each prisoner, it seems the smartest thing to do is defect.

Suppose the other person cooperates and stays mum. Then you should defect, because you get off free.

On the other hand, suppose the other person defects and accuses you of the crime, then you better defect too. For if you cooperate with your partner, you get three years in prison, whereas if you defect you get just two years in prison.

What could prevent defection is loyalty, or the knowledge that in the future, after you’re both out of prison, the other person could punish you. Likewise, in a future similar situation, where cooperation might help he will remember your betrayal.

The tragedy of the commons is a similar scenario.

In the more general game, where rewards and punishments can take the form of money or some other outcome, there are likewise four possible outcomes: Cooperate-Cooperate, Cooperate-Defect, Defect-Cooperate, and Defect-Defect. Each outcome has a (possibly different) payoff for each of you. If you both cooperate, you both get the same reward R for cooperating. If one person cooperates but the other person defects, the first person is punished (S for Sucker) bad but the other person wins a big reward (T for Temptation) If you both defect, you’re both punished slightly (P). Depending on the relative values of P,R, S, and T, and on the structure of interactions — specifically, whether you can learn about the reputation of the person you’re interacting with — cooperation may or may not emerge.The standard Prisoner’s Dilemma game has

T > R > P > S.

Yet cooperation can emerge. This result is non-intuitive, because given the inequalities above, the values P, R, S, and T guarantee that in the short-term the smartest thing to do is to defect. Here’s why. Your opponent is either going to cooperate or defect (and you won’t know which he does til after you make your move).

Assume he cooperates. Then you can win big by defecting. Here’s why. If you cooperate, you get only R. But if you defect, you get T and T>R. So, it seems you should defect.

Likewise assume he defects. Then you better defect too, because if you cooperate, then you’ll get only S, but if you defect you’ll get P, and P>S.

So in either case, the best thing to do, in the short run, is to defect.

But in a community of people playing the game repeatedly, there are benefits from cooperation. A group of cooperating individuals will have a higher fitness (reward) than a group of turncoat defectors, because R>P.

If the last time I interacted with you, you cooperated, and if I remember that, I can try cooperating again, in the hopes that you will reciprocate.

So in the presence of repeated interactions, and memory, cooperation can emerge.

Cooperators are rewarded with help from other cooperators. Defectors are punished by future defection. If cooperators gain a benefit as a group that is unavailable to defectors, then cooperation can flourish. But cooperation is always susceptible to exploitation by defectors: a population of trusting cooperators can be taken advantage of by a few defectors.  Such invasions by defectors are visible in computer simulations.

Cancerous cells can be modeled as defectors.  So can tax dodgers and alleged welfare moms who drive Mercedes.

Using the formalization of Prisoner’s Dilemma, Nowak was able to prove mathematical theorems, and run computer simulations, that show under what conditions cooperation can flourish.

He showed that cooperation emerges if you meet the other person often enough in the future and can remember the previous interactions, so you can punish or reward him. It also helps if people have a reputation that is is public knowledge or that is shared between individuals (indirect reciprocity). Furthermore, it helps if people are organized into small groups; this allows cooperators to shield themselves from being taken of advantage of by nasty defectors; large groups are difficult to police. Finally, it helps if it’s possible to move between groups, to escape defectors.

Even if we can explain cooperation biologically, in terms of kin selection, or group selection, there is still a problem: how inclusive is the in-group?  Does it include people of a different race or nationality? How about individuals of a different species?

As indicated above, the biologically inspired notion of cooperation is somewhat unsatisfying, because it still relies on a form of reciprocity, albeit at the group level. If someone chooses not to identify with the group, then why should they cooperate?

Indeed, conservatives are the consummate defectors: individualists who detest and ridicule cooperation and community endeavors, at least by governments. Conservatives detest the United Nations. They detest the International Court of Law.  Conservatives avoid paying taxes,  but typically like spending money on wars, both domestic (e.g., the wasteful and disastrous war on drugs) and foreign.  Conservatives oppose laws and regulatory agencies that deter their antisocial behavior. They under-fund the IRS, encouraging tax cheats. And they under-fund Congressional staff, so that lawmakers are dependent on lobbyists and outside groups for information.

Like parasites, conservatives destroy the body politic, all in the name of “freedom.”

Conservatives and their ideology can be defeated only when enough people wake up to the lies and the half-truths behind their movement,  and when enough people realize that we’d be better off in the long run by cooperating on building a government that works for everyone, that makes sound environmental, health, and safety policies, and that makes sure tax cheats pay their fair share.

The Republican scam, and the Democrats' unwillingness to oppose it

Last night I was listening to AM talk radio, and a Republican candidate was promoting the following conservative narrative: “Yes, there is terrible wealth inequality, and it’s due to government waste, corruption and regulations. We need to slash taxes and get rid of regulations so that the middle class can have jobs and thrive.  Government is a taker. We need more freedom.”  The candidate also talked about the preciousness of life.

Likewise, at a political event in Nevada recently, Marc Rubio told the audience that the notion that “big government is good for the people who are trying to make it” is a “lie.” He said, “When the government dominates the economy, the people that can afford to influence the government — they win. And everybody else is stuck.” (source: November 30, 2015 edition of the New Yorker)

There is some truth to Rubio’s statements, and the conservative narrative is plausible enough to dupe lots of people.

Yet it’s a big scam.

The scam goes like this. Conservatives corrupt and starve government so it performs poorly. They make sure it serves the 1%. They wage almost constant war. They allow corporations to ship profits and jobs overseas. They oppose regulations that might rein in Wall Street, even as they decry Wall Street greed and the bailouts. They under-fund the IRS and regulatory agencies. They promote regressive taxation which unfairly burdens the middle class.  Then they argue that taxes are too high and government is wasteful and corrupt. They use the failures of government to justify cutting taxes and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich. When progressives try to fix the system, they accuse progressives of wanting to raise peoples’ taxes.

The scam works — it’s rather brilliant — and our task is to expose it and promote an alternative vision in which government serves everyone, not just the 1%.

Scam Alert!

The solution to the corruption of government isn’t to throw in the towel and give up on government. The solution is to fix the system so it’s not rigged.

But we have a tiny voice, and the corporate-backed Republicans have most of the money and an effective noise machine.  There aren’t enough progressive rich people willing to fund an alternative, lefty media empire. And most Democratic politicians choose to ignore the problems of fair taxation and government corruption. They allow Republicans to frame the issues.

At a recent King County Dems Legislative Action Committee meeting I asked state House majority leader Pat Sullivan what he’d do to educate the voters so that they stop voting for Tim Eyman’s anti-tax initiatives and for Republican candidates.   I want Sullivan and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership — including Governor Inslee and ex-Governors Gregoire, Locke, and Lowery — to boldly take the lead in educating the public about taxes and government.

But Sullivan said that it’s not his job to educate the public.  The voters won’t listen to him.

I think the politicians run away from the issue because they think (know?) that they’ll get slaughtered at the polls if they talk about taxes.

Moreover, there are enough corporate, triangulating politicians within the Democratic Party to muddy the waters and make it unclear which party can be trusted. Bill Clinton dismantled Glass-Steagall, supported NAFTA and said “The era of big government is over.” President Obama surrounded himself with Wall Street cronies and promoted a health care plan designed by the Heritage Foundation to enrich insurance companies. Governor Inslee gave an $8.7 billion tax break to Boeing. Democrat Ross Hunter took the lead in arranging tax breaks for Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Republicans control the U.S. House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, and they’ve taken over a large majority of state legislatures. In Washington State Republicans control the state Senate and are two seats away from controlling the state House.

Who will step up and promote the pro-government, fair taxation message people need to hear? How can we strengthen the hand of progressives in the Democratic Party?

Clearly, Bernie Sanders has been effective at getting parts of this message out to the public. Perhaps the movement he inspires will succeed at starting to fix the corruption. My only fear is that his calling himself a socialist might limit his effectiveness. The ironic thing is: he’s probably not even a socialist! He’s a social democrat. See Bernie Sanders is a social democrat, not a socialist. Dwight Eisenhower was more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is a Social Democrat, not a Democratic Socialist

[Note: this article’s former title was: “The conservative scam: a plausible narrative that enriches the 1%”.]

Trade Talks Open In Utah, Secrecy Spurs Protests

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By Tom Harvey, www.sltrib.com

Above photo: (Jim McAuley | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bill Moyer, executive director of the Backbone Campaign, and Raphael Cordray of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance speak to demonstrators gathered to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, November 19, 2013.

Note: The negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership thought they would go to Salt Lake City, UT and not find protesters. Well, they were wrong about that.  A strong crowd came out to the hotel where the negotiators are meeting, putting forth a clear message of opposition to the TPP and the secret negotiations that produced it.   Those coming out against the TPP included labor, environment, Internet and justice activists; including the popular former mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson. Protests are planned all week.

TPP protest Salt Lake posterPerhaps the most hilarious and embarrassing comment in the article below came from Carol Guthrie, the senior adviser for media affairs of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, who said the treaty had been negotiated with “unprecedented transparency.” Ms. Guthrie showed the world today that the US Trade Reps office cannot be trusted.  

The TPP is actually the most secret negotiation ever in the history of trade agreements. Today, Bloomberg News editorialized that Obama’s secrecy is destroying the trade agreement.  They have even classified the text so that members of Congress, who go through the process of seeing the text, cannot discuss it with their constituents. Members cannot even bring staff to see it, take notes or bring a computer or camera.  Ms. Guthrie calls that “unprecedented transparency.”  Does she think anyone will believe anything she says in the future?

The Washington Post, normally a very pro-trade agreement newspaper, wrote this week about the Wikileaks disclosure that “it is obvious why the USTR and the Obama administration have insisted on secrecy. From this text it appears that the U.S. administration is negotiating for intellectual property provisions that it knows it could not achieve through an open democratic process.”  

Note to Ms. Guthrie — everyone knows this is a secret agreement.  When you try to mislead us with such obvious lies you destroy not only your credibility but the credibility of the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Note to others, if the US Trade Representative needs to tell such obvious lies it is a sign of their desperation and insecurity. They have good reason to be insecure. If they really want to be open they should do as previous administrations have done and publish the text. In addition they should publish the positions the Obama administration is putting forward on our behalf. The US Trade Rep. tells the media this is a “high quality” agreement, yet they keep it secret.

There will be a week of protests ending with a funeral for the TPP on Friday.  This is an apt finale as the TPP is struggling on its death bed.  Three-quarters of Democrats wrote President Obama this week telling him they were opposed to granting Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority to him.  And Republicans — including moderates, conservatives and Tea Party members – also sent a letter opposing Fast Track. Without Fast Track the Administration will be unable to pass any trade agreement.  

The message: scrap the TPP and the Atlantic agreement, TAFTA, and start all over with a transparent process that includes civil society and Congress in the process, and works for Fair Trade that puts people and planet before profits. The TPP is running into a dead end and the Administration should stop wasting time pursuing this failed global corporate coup.

The article below is from the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Pacific Rim Representatives from 12 nations begin new round of negotiations; Joined by protesters opposed to TPP

Outside Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel on Tuesday, the rains fell, the speakers rose, the marchers chanted.

Outside the hotel where the negotiations are being held in Salt Lake City, UT

Outside the hotel where the negotiations are being held in Salt Lake City, UT

Inside, top trade negotiators from the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations perhaps discussed imports and exports, profits and products, prices and patents. The exact topics aren’t known. The talks were closed.

And that concerns critics most of all as parties from the Trans-Pacific Partnership launched a 19th round of negotiations — this time in Utah — in search of a sweeping free-trade agreement.

Tuesday’s rally, organized by a coalition called the Citizens Trade Campaign, of Washington, D.C., drew 100 or so protesters, who worry that the high-level talks have been conducted behind closed doors with only multinational corporations given access to proposed provisions.

Watched over by a small contingent of Salt Lake City police and other security officers, demonstrators carried various signs on the lawn and sidewalk in front of the hotel. Among them: “Protect Us From Corporate Protectionism,” “Obama: Exorcise Your Corporate Demons” and “Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance.”

Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign speaks outside of TPP negotiations.

Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign speaks outside of TPP negotiations.

One group held a U.S. flag, with the stars replaced by corporate logos such as those for McDonald’s, CBS, Coca-Cola and Microsoft.

Among Utahns who spoke were Dale Cox, president of the state AFL-CIO; Wayne Holland, a United Steelworkers Union representative; and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.

Cox pointed to the North American Free Trade Agreement as a model for the proposed Pacific accord, which he warned would lead to the loss of more U.S. jobs.

“They’re here to take jobs from us to other countries,” Cox said.

Holland echoed those remarks, saying, “We cannot allow NAFTA in the Pacific.”

Raphael Cordray, of Utah Tar Sands Resistance, said her group fears a final agreement would allow foreign corporations to sue local or state governments that pass laws affecting businesses’ profits.

Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City and former Justice Party presidential candidate opposes the TPP.

Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City and former Justice Party presidential candidate opposes the TPP.

“That’s what people don’t understand about these trade agreements,” Cordray said in an interview. ” … They can actually take away some of the sovereignty that we have in our local communities.”

Carol Guthrie, senior adviser for media affairs of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is negotiating for the United States, said her office had worked hard to introduce “unprecedented transparency” into the negotiations. She also touted the importance of foreign trade to Utah jobs.

“More than 100,000 jobs in Utah alone are supported by trade,” Guthrie said. “Twenty percent of Utah’s manufacturing jobs are supported by trade. Twenty percent of Utah’s exports go to the region represented by the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Besides the United States, nations belonging to the Trans-Pacific Partnership are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Japan and Vietnam.

Groups plan to protest throughout the week, with the talks set to last through Sunday.

Originally published at PopularResistance.org

Flush the TPP, actions in Seattle

Feature Backbone Images
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Pull The Democracy Dismantling TPP Out Of The Shadows & Into Public Scrutiny

Can We Count on YOU? —-> RSVP to mobilize the Overpass Light Brigade!
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Send a email RSVP to let us know we can count on you. Join the facebook event HERE
We need 20+ friends to mobilize the messages.With more than 10 cities participating and key negotiators of the secret Corporate Coup about to meet in Salt Lake City, Utah, join Seattle friends to mobilize impressive night time visibility tactics.

  • 4:30pm – 6pm
  • Overpass at NE 50th Street and 7th Avenue NE Seattle WA (http://goo.gl/maps/fNuQg).
  • Best to park on the street West of I-5
  • Call 805-776-3882 for ?’s.

TPP Actions Around The CountryRise up to stop the global corporate coup and FLUSH the TPP! The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the latest and largest proposed free trade agreement and it’s being negotiated behind closed doors. Its transnational corporate architects have the U.S. Trade Rep. requesting Fast Track authority to get it passed without real Congressional or public oversight. It’s a disaster for human rights, worker rights, the environment, and democracy.

We can stop the TPP by stopping Fast Track! Let’s pull the TPP out of the shadows and into public scrutiny. This is part of a coordinated day of action with day and night visibility actions taking place in Dallas, Detroit, Chicago, Portland, San Diego, Baltimore, Spokane, Olympia, Bellingham, Seattle, and more!

Twitter:
Help amplify the message by tweeting the media and twitterstorming your representative! #VoteNoFastTrack @FLUSHtheTPP
@backboneprog Get your Congressional representatives Twitter handles at http://pdamerica.org/tpp (and selecting their state in the drop down TPP menu).

 

 

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Big banks the No. 1 welfare recipients ever

Five years ago the wheels came off the financial system in our country. The risk-taking and gambling with other people’s money caught up with the financial giants who ruled the economic roost. This collapse grew out of the 2001 recession. The policy of then-President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress and Senate was to lower taxes, at any excuse, especially on the wealthy and especially on income for which you didn’t work. Instead of investing in our domestic economy, our resources went to two wars. The tax bonuses to the wealthy didn’t trickle down to the rest of us (nor were they intended to), so family income stagnated. I don’t need to tell you this — you can look at your own earnings and those of your friends, family, and neighbors.

How do you move an economy along when middle class income is stagnant? You create money, through accelerating and artificial increases of housing values. Urged on by mortgage companies and the big banks, these housing values fed on themselves, pushing up prices, getting people to take out second loans and use those for spending money, assured by the banks and the President that as long as housing prices kept going up, their credit was good. That’s how America built our consumer market in the first decade of the 21st century — on the hopes of plastic.

You might remember a Seattle-based bank called Washington Mutual. WaMu went crazy, giving out loans to anyone who wanted to buy a house, and then re-selling those loans like hot potatoes. But those chickens came home to roost, with WaMu assets vaporizing and the bank going bankrupt.

In 2008, Wall Street was at the end of its rope. And as the housing market crumbled, people stopped buying stuff, the economy went into a tail spin, jobs disappeared, and unemployment jumped up into the double digits.

Looking around, we can observe who was hurt by the 2008 crash. My younger colleagues bought their first homes in 2007. We all considered this a responsible thing to do, part of joining the middle class and raising a family. My colleagues are still underwater, with the value of their homes far less than their mortgages.

People my age who lost their jobs remain unemployed, finding themselves competing with people 25 years younger than them in the job market. High school students who aspire to college are confronted with the cost of higher education, made much worse as the state has chopped funding for higher education and replaced that with higher and higher tuition. The solution for these students — go deep into college debt.

Overall, wages as a share of national income have fallen 10 percent in the past 40 years. Meanwhile, corporate profits have doubled since 2000. Of these corporations, the big banks have done the best. When toxic assets threatened to take down their operations in 2008, President Bush and Congress provided the bailout funds to save them. In 2009, President Obama and Congress continued this bailout. All told, our government lent over $10 trillion at below market interest rates to the banks. That’s trillion with a “T”. Now financial sector profits are gobbling up a fifth of total corporate profits — $50 billion in profits just in the past three months for the big banks.

As the biggest welfare recipients in the history of our country, these banks have gained political power. They can ignore the long-term consequences of bad risk taking, knowing that before they fail, they will be bailed out. They can lean on government in their times of crisis and make off with tremendous profits once the crisis is averted.

Enough is enough. It’s time to turn around our priorities and protect families, not bankers. Let’s fund family leave insurance so workers can care for their newborn children.

The Legislature could make paid sick days the law, so that when you are sick, you don’t have to choose between your health and your income. We could close tax loopholes enjoyed by the banks and use the money to reduce class sizes in kindergarten and reduce tuition in community college. Let’s support the students, and families, and wage earners. Let’s make the banks work for us, not have us work for the banks. WaMu is gone. Now it is our turn.

Originally published at the Everett Herald

Republicans "get" transportation. They need to "get" other things too.

At the meeting of the 41st LD Democrats last night, Rep. Judy Clibborn, state house transportation leader, discussed the gas tax, tolling I-90, and auto tab fees.  She said that the gas tax will be raised maybe $0.10, and eventually I-90 and other roads will have some sort of tolling.

I asked: but will Republicans in the state senate support a tax hike and tolling?  Yes, she explained, the Republicans “get” transportation because many of their districts are in eastern Washington and the farmers need roads to transport their goods.  Similarly, business interests realize that without intelligent management of congestion around Seattle, freight won’t move.

Though Republicans get transportation, they don’t yet get the need for public transportation and may oppose car tab fees and other ways to pay for transit. They like cars but not so much trains and buses. The state constitution specifies that gas taxes can only be used for roads and auto ferries, not for public transit.

Similarly, Republicans don’t seem to get the need for public education and public health care.  Without educated citizenry, companies will not be able to compete.  At best, Wall Street firms will prosper as jobs and profits are offshored, and foreign workers take over high tech jobs here.    Our competing nations overseas have well-funded public schools.  (More on this in a separate article soon.)

Likewise, if people have no medical care and if mentally ill people are wandering the streets, with easy access to guns, life will suck for many of us. Republicans don’t get the need for gun control.

Republican policies promoting low taxation, deregulation and few government services lead to uneducated workers, crowded roads, dirty air, sick citizens and  increasing concentration of wealth.  The public needs to realize that low taxes and our regressive tax system are not in the interest of the vast majority of citizens.  I sure wish our political leaders (Gov. Gregoire, Gov. Inslee, and other lawmakers) would take a lead in educating the public about this.

Clibborn also discussed efforts to stop the competition between the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma. (Sounds a bit like price fixing, but it makes sense.)

Before I-90 can be tolled the state will need to get federal approval, since I-90 is an interstate.  Such approval is probably forthcoming.