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Jared Polis, Democrat but no democrat

June 6, 2012

Well, it’s an election year so I can’t help but post yet again on our local “race” here in Colorado.  I live in the 2nd congressional district which encompasses liberal Boulder County, other northwest suburban areas, a few mountain towns, and the elite ski oasis of Vail.  The total population is over 600,000, a critically important point when thinking of the possibility of true democracy.  Only those with access to, or ownership of, great wealth can effectively compete in such a huge district.  Large districts were purposely and disgracefully designed into the Constitution for this very purpose but it’s gotten far worse since the 18th century. The average person simply cannot be represented.

Our congressman is one Jared Polis who happens to be one of the richest men in the state with disclosed assets of between $67.9 and $230.4 million.  With such wealth he has a lock grip on our seat and he’ll face no primary challenge within the Democratic Party.

As one would expect from his social class, Polis is a deeply compromised representative.  His positions on bread and butter issues are uniformly against the majority and in favor of the moneyed few.  On taxes he seeks to reduce income tax rates despite their being the lowest since the Great Depression.  On Social Security, he’s fully on board with the Bowles-Simpson agenda which slashes benefits for all workers above the bottom 20% and reduces the top tier workers’ future benefits from $34,092 to $24,624.  Similarly on Medicare, he supports Bowles-Simpson which seeks to drastically cut back or eliminate long term care insurance, increase deductibles and co-pays, and eliminate the ability to even self insure under Medigap policies.

During the health care debates he expressed alarm at a proposed millionaire tax surcharge and actually wrote a letter to Obama in support of maintaining the 15% tax rate on the “carried interest” of Wall Street barons.  And as mentioned above, he supports reducing income tax rates despite their current rock bottom levels.

How does he justify these outrageous positions?  He uses stale and bankrupt theories that have long served the interests of consolidated wealth, the investor class, and the almighty entrepreneur.  Now I’m not at all against small business and innovation, but to suggest that the vast problems of 21st century capitalism can be solved by lowering taxes on small business, singing songs of glorious entrepreneurs, and cutting living standards for everyone else is ludicrous.  The fundamental problems in our world are inequality and the mal-distribution of resources and his agenda is exactly what we don’t need.  In fact, they’re the same neoliberal policies that helped get us where we are today.

This isn’t my first post against this politician and it surely won’t be my last.  I know it’s a repeat of some prior posts but I think it’s important to continuously document the failures of democracy in this country.  And most especially the failures of the Democratic Party given they’ve fooled so many into thinking they “have their backs” as our Democratic president so often likes to say.

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8 Comments
  1. Hi Jim. I can see that once again you can hardly hide you intense adoration of me and my positions. As always, I appreciate your input and hope to see you soon in person.

    Here are my responses:

    The size of the district is about the same size as all 435 congressional districts. 700,000-800,000. To hear from everyone I have usually dozen town halls/year, attended by 100 or so people each. When attendance gets higher, like it did during the health care debate in 2009, I doubled my number of town halls. I also regularly email, talk on the phone, and reply to the blogs (*cough*) of constituents as well. Also people see me at events I regularly attend like (last weekend) Taste of Louisville and Berthoud Days. Also people see me in the grocery store too, and believe me no one is shy about sharing their opinions with me. I try to be as accessible as I can and will always call back any constituent who wants to talk to me.

    Yes I’ve been successful in the private sector, which now allows me the honor of giving back. I’ve created hundreds of jobs, brought great new products to the marketplace, and I try to use the knowledge that I gained in business to help our nation recover from the recession that President Obama inherited.

    Bowles-Simpson is the best plan I’ve seen to day, and a far cry better than the Paul Ryan budget which I proudly voted against that would end the Medicare guarantee. I believe that we need to place our nation on sound fiscal footing to preserve the promise of social security and medicare for our generation and the next generation. I will be happy to work to keep improving this proposal and look at others that can restore our fiscal integrity.

    During healthcare debate, I was successful in replacing a surcharge on income above $250,000 with a surcharge on unearned income as one of the revenue sources. I assume that is what you are talking about. I am proud that I played a role in this change.

    I do not “suggest that the vast problems of 21st century capitalism can be solved by lowering taxes on small business, singing songs of glorious entrepreneurs, and cutting living standards for everyone else” Helping small businesses (which already have so many disadvantages compared to large businesses) and leveling the playing field can help, as can encouraging entrepreneurship, but if you asked me the single most important thing we could do to address poverty and empower the middle class I would say EDUCATION.

    If you’ve tracked my career you know that is what my focus has been as a social entrepreneur (founded two charter schools) as a philanthropist, and now as a policy maker. I believe that we must ensure that children from all backgrounds, all geographies, all income levels have access to quality early childhood education, public schools that prepare them to compete in the global economy, and affordable access to college. That has been and continues to be what I think can solve the “problems of 21st century capitalism.”

  2. Clarification of paragraph:
    During healthcare debate, I was successful in replacing a surcharge on income above $250,000 with a surcharge on unearned income above $1,000,000 as one of the revenue sources. I assume that is what you are talking about. I am proud that I played a role in this progressive change.

  3. Hello Mr. Polis. Contrary to how it may appear, I feel absolutely no personal animosity toward you; all of my “intense adoration” is directed at a system which I believe clearly fails to represent the average person.

    You’re certainly correct that all 435 congressional districts are similarly large and that’s exactly my point. All successful congressmen/women must have access to huge sums of money in order to compete and, except in very rare instances, the interests of money must therefore corrupt the process. So, while I think it’s great you have many town hall meetings, respond to blogs, etc, the crucial fact does remain: the special interests of wealth will be represented – either because a less rich candidate must obtain it from the wealthy, or the candidate himself or herself is already wealthy. I believe a key step toward true democracy would be to massively reduce the number of constituents in a district and correspondingly increase the size of the House. It would greatly soften the role of money and open the door to a much fuller democracy. Internet technology would make such an expansion feasible. To have just 435 congressmen and, even worse, 100 senators in a country of over 300,000,000 is a guarantee that the “voice of the people” will largely be absent.

    You say Bowles-Simpson is the best plan you’ve seen and of course that’s one of the key bases of my criticism. Tax levels on high incomes are lower than at any time since the Great Depression and a third of what they were during the 1950’s and 1960’s, a period when most Americans did far better than they’re doing today. So, there’s a lot of alternative ways of reducing the “deficit” besides slashing retirement security and Medicare. Why do you believe cutting key programs for the majority is preferable than higher taxes on those already doing quite well?

    It seems clear to me that a representative interested solely in representing the vast majority of his/her constituents would refuse to budge on hitting key critically important programs unless there was absolutely no other alternative. In our world today, there are many other alternatives – the most obvious at a time of such drastic inequality being substantially raising taxes on high incomes. Then there’s the trillions we could cut from our “national security” budget. Another, which I’ve mentioned numerous times in past posts, is to truly understand our monetary system and to realize that public “debt” isn’t like family debt. A family can’t go into debt with itself and neither can a society. The whole agenda on reducing deficits and balancing budgets is false and ends up serving the interests only of the powerful at the great cost to the majority.

    On the health care debate, I’m referring to your objection to a tax surcharge of less than 5% on incomes over $1,000,000. Here’s a copy of your letter to Nancy Pelosi: http://polis.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Polis_Health_Care_Reform_Surcharge_letter.pdf

    I fully agree that big business has tremendous advantages versus small business and I think those advantages – economies of scale, control of supply chains, developed markets, access to capital, and so on will, without public intervention, continue to grow. I favor policies to help truly small businesses and have offered ideas on this blog. But leveling the playing field, however meritorious, is not a viable strategy for addressing broader realities of unemployment, underemployment, diminishing living standards, and ever declining economic security. Leveling the playing field will not necessarily add any jobs if they’re simply re-allocated from big business to small. And even more critically, ever advancing technology poses a tremendous threat to jobs everywhere. That’s where the great focus on education falls flat on its face. Education is critically important for a society but it’s not an answer for assuring prosperity for everyone. We only have need for so many engineers, software programmers, teachers, and so on. Those who say we need more education need to be asked what specific professions are needed. Look at the Labor Department job forecasts. The primary job needs for the future are projected to be clerks, cooks, and other jobs not requiring a college degree. The more technological our society becomes, the less technological the average worker needs to be. That’s the basic idea of automation. To put such an emphasis on education is, in short, a cop out.

    Thank you again for responding, Mr. Polis. I’ll continue to track your positions as my representative in congress and hope someday to be truly unable to hide my intense adoration of your positions.

  4. Congressman Polis: It is very easy to come up with a plan that is much better than Bowles-Simpson: Nothing. Do nothing. US government deficits are not a problem. The automatic stabilizers which cause the deficit are the only thing keeping the economy afloat. The deficit is not big enough.

    This is standard economics – at least what was standard economics before the economics discipline embraced illogical, unscientific medieval superstitions with a facade of fake “mathematics” in the 70s & 80s & since.

    I believe that we need to place our nation on sound fiscal footing to preserve the promise of social security and medicare for our generation and the next generation. I will be happy to work to keep improving this proposal and look at others that can restore our fiscal integrity.

    The idea that “we need to place our nation on sound fiscal footing” now is utterly misguided. Trying to do this will only destroy Social Security & Medicare for our & future generations, while wrecking the economy.

    We need to put our government on an “unsound fiscal footing”. Government “unsoundness” = nongovernment “soundness.”

  5. I think enlarging Congress is fine. Within the current system (current committee structure, US Capitol floor, etc) it could be modestly increased to 500 or so. Personally, I do think an attentive representative can effectively hear from and represent 700,000 or so people, but yes it would be a much easier job if we each only had to represent 200,000 people :-)

    If you are talking about a Congress on the order of a thousand people though you would also need to propose how such a Congress would work. At our current size, it is difficult already for it to function well as an institution. Within our current constitutional framework (and keeping in mind that we can change the size of the House in statute, and almost did so last year making our full number 437 to add one for DC and Utah), we could probably accommodate a full House of 500 or so people.

    The tax surcharge in my letter was replaced with a tax on unearned income above $1,000,000, which is something I was more supportive of. As cited in the letter, my problem with the income side of thing is that it pulled in small businesses. A tax on unearned income does not.

    I respectfully disagree that emphasizing education is a “cop out”. The knowledge, skills, and drive of our people is what generates wealth and jobs. Education is the key to the middle class for families in poverty. And by “education” it’s not only about engineers and scientists, although just yesterday I tweeted:

    Jared Polis ‏@jaredpolis
    Importance of #edreform & improving student access to engineering/math #stem:interns earning more than many jobs, $6k+/month

    http://yhoo.it/L7eFRO

    Of course I am also referring to “cooks and clerks.” in an increasingly advanced society skills like using computers and writing are critical in every sector as are the specialized skills needed for each profession, many of which require additional training beyond high school.

    Calgacus makes a relevant point. If Congress does nothing then automatic sequestration (spending cuts) will occur and the Bush tax cuts will expire.

  6. Mr. Polis, you say that you “respectfully disagree that emphasizing education is a ‘cop out’. The knowledge, skills, and drive of our people is what generates wealth and jobs. Education is the key to the middle class for families in poverty.”

    Yet statistics show that half of recent college grads are un or under employed.

    I’m all for education and our standard of living certainly depends on technology and education. But ever rising technology is doing what would be expected of it – it’s reducing the amount of human labor that’s needed.

    You seem to believe that “knowledge, skills, and drive” will create a fully employed middle class society. I respectfully submit that it’s either far more complicated or far more simple than that. As Keynes and others showed many decades ago, a capitalist society cannot be prosperous without the continuing circulation of sufficient purchasing power. Our problems over the past decade and longer haven’t been caused by insufficient education – we have a highly technical society. Our problems almost always arise from the lack of sufficient circulation. And the problem of insufficient circulation is largely due to the extreme concentration of wealth. Circulation is being sharply hampered as wealth holders aren’t spending their wealth on new investment. They’re not doing so because it’s not seen as profitable and it becomes a vicious circle. The only thing holding the economy up at all today is government deficits yet you and others are calling for them to be balanced.

    So I ask that you consider expanding your view on the economy far beyond education and think on a truly macro scale. If private individuals are unwilling to recirculate their funds, however reasonable they may be on a micro level, there is only one source that can assure an ongoing prosperous society – that’s the government. The government has full access to its own currency and can create money without borrowing. It needs to spend at sufficient levels to assure full circulation and full employment.

    Calls for more education have merit and I support them but they’re micro ideas that can’t work on the macro scale. I hope you give some consideration to this view and to the policy implications which, for starters, would call for the complete rejection of Bowles-Simpson.

  7. Dave permalink

    Congressman Polis, it’s ironic that you tout “education” as the key to our success. I would agree.

    What’s needed are Congressmen who are educated in national accounting and macro-economics beyond the neoliberal lies of Mankiw and Summers. I would ask you to take a couple hours to read “Understanding Modern Money” by Randy Wray and educate yourself. You could then have a serious debate with Jim without talking past each other. You would also be ahead of the game, as you may be able to avoid the fate of

    1. waking up one morning to find that your constituents don’t believe in austerity and balanced budgets anymore and

    2. to also find that someone less well off but undoubtedly better educated than you has taken your job.

    Be a leader. Learn how economics really works. And call on Congress to task themselves with full employment and price stability, instead of outsourcing that responsibility to an entity which controls only half of the economic levers. That is the kind of Congressperson the 2nd district deserves.

    Regards,

    2nd district voter

  8. Well said Dave.

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