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The radicals


Eric Levitz makes an important point here:

Some Democratic presidential candidates say that America’s economic system is badly broken and in need of sweeping, structural change. Others say that the existing order is fundamentally sound, even if it could use a few modest renovations. The former are widely portrayed as ideologues or extremists, the latter as moderates.

And it’s certainly true that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are ideologically “extreme,” if our baseline is the median member of Congress or the median policy agenda pursued by recent American presidents. But it’s not clear why these would be the appropriate metrics.

After all, we do not equate calls for sweeping change (whether from recent precedent or from current consensus) with extremism in all circumstances. When young people in an Islamist autocracy take to the streets demanding basic civil rights, we do not regard them as radicals, or the regime’s apologists as moderates. Our assessment of the dissenters’ ideological character does not hinge on how far their values depart from those of the status quo order — but rather on how far that status quo departs from ourconsensus values.

Thus, whether it is truly extreme or moderate to demand sweeping changes to American capitalism depends on the degree to which the existing system aligns with common-sense views of what a just or rational economic system should look like.

Getting down to brass tacks, Levitz points to Matt Bruenig’s new analysis, concluding that since 1989 the net worth of the richest one percent of Americans has increased from $8.4 trillion to $29.5 trillion in constant dollars, while that of the bottom 50% of the population has gone from $700 billion to negative $200 billion.

The “radical” position in American politics is anybody who argues that the American economy isn’t working real well for a vast percentage of the population, while the Sensible Moderate I think I read this in a Tom Friedman column position is the economy is great, but maybe we could afford to make food stamp benefits a bit more generous, and let’s make sure a few more poor kids get into HYPS each year, because it’s important for The Meritocracy to be Economically Diverse.

Or in the alternative we could ask people to tip their hotel maids generously:

As I check out of a hotel, various excuses race through my head for not tipping the housekeeper. I’m in a big rush. I don’t have cash. Will the maid who folded my clothes get the money? Why can’t I just add a gratuity to the credit-card bill and expense it?

About 70 percent of hotel guests go through the same mental exercise and end up not leaving a tip. A waiter would have to spit in your soup, and you would have to see him do it, to stiff him. Housekeepers are stiffed every day. I’ve heard every reason why guests treat hotel workers so differently than other service workers, but I’ve not heard a good one.

I have more than a passing interest in the subject. For 10 years, my grandmother, Nellie O’Connor McCreary, was a maid at the Hotel Washington, now the W Hotel. If you lean over the railing of its rooftop bar after a drink or two, you’d swear you could see the Oval Office.

One in particular left an enduring impression. At one of our weekly dinners after work at Reeve’s Bakery near the hotel, my grandmother pulled out some crisp 10s, a tip she’d received after a week’s stay from Clare Boothe Luce, the author, ambassador, and congresswoman, and a regular guest until she moved to the Watergate when it was a building, not a metaphor, in the mid-1970s.

The feminist author of The Women treated my grandmother, a fellow Catholic and a Roosevelt admirer, like an Irish maid from central casting climbing the housekeeping ladder rather than someone making beds for minimum wage. Despite the misconception, and Luce’s admiration for Nixon, they got along.

Luce was opposed to freeloaders and thought others should tip like her. She had an idea: have each maid leave a note on a nice card next to the mint on the pillow, hoping the stay had been pleasant, and wait for the tips to pour in. Luce then jotted down a note Nellie should deliver to management, co-signed by her “colleagues,” asking for a line to be added to the bill for a gratuity, like the one that exists for waiters. . . .

Maria Shriver, the founder of A Woman’s Nation, wasn’t inspired by a family member scouring bathtubs but by the sight of housekeepers—mostly minority, many immigrants—working like borrowed mules with an 80-mile or more commute in the several hotels she stayed in after separating from Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2014. There were no Cinderella stories where a maid on the eighth floor was invited to train for a job on the first. It’s a job where a girl could use a tip.

The former first lady of California got a meeting with Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott, the largest hotel chain in the world, and persuaded him to promote tipping with a catchy Hollywood name, “The Envelope Please.” Marriott placed packets in 160,000 rooms with space for the housekeeper to write a message next to the hotel’s about how “our caring attendant’s hard work is many times overlooked.”

The effort could be filed under No good deed goes unpunished, a phrase, incidentally, perhaps coined by the playwright Luce. Instead of money, the envelopes were stuffed with notes asking why a multibillion-dollar corporation didn’t pay its help a living wage, memorialized in this Fortune headline: “Marriott to Hotel Guests: Please Pay Our Maids for Us.”

Of course political radicals do have a huge amount of power in contemporary America. In fact they currently run the country.

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