It seems to me that even the economists, who should have been all over this, have missed the boat about tax cuts for the wealthy and for wealthy corporations will not create more jobs. They have also missed why tax increases on the wealthy will not cost jobs. It is the Law of Diminishing Returns.
While normally applied to factors of production, the law of diminishing returns extends to any goods or services, or anything one has acquired in life. Its definition is:
A classic economic concept that states that as more investment in an area is made, overall return on that investment increases at a declining rate, assuming that all variables remain fixed. To continue to make an investment after a certain point (which varies from context to context) is to receive a decreasing return on that input.
What does that have to do with taxes on corporations an the wealthy and its relationship to jobs? Here are a few illustrations.Illustration 1: When somebody is really hungry and has no food in the house, if he gets $10.00, he will go out and spend it all on food. After he has eaten, if he gets another $10.00, he is not as hungry, so he may only spend half of it on food. After that, getting another 10 spot may only cause him to spend $2.00 on food, and once he is full, he won’t spend any more of it on food. This is the law of diminishing returns. The first meal is a necessity, the second is a luxury, soon you need no more and trying to eat more stops being a good, it becomes a bad. You may get so stuffed that the sight of food is unappealing. Or think of zucchini. If your plant yields two zucchini, you may eat them. If it gives you 10, you may eat 8 and give two away. After 25, you may pay people to take them.
Illustration 2: Think of employees. If you have work for twice as many people as you have and can sell as much product as twice as many employees can produce, if you get some increased income or decreased expenditure, you will hire more employees. You will do so as long as the next person hired produces more than he costs. However, as soon as you have enough employees to meet demand, you stop hiring. In fact, if you hire more, they will get in each other’s way and will not benefit the company.
The wealthy and the corporations currently have their needs met, and most of their wants. They really don’t have anything compelling to spend money on. You could decrease their taxes to zero (and have in many cases), and they won’t buy more nor will they hire more. The money will sit around, lacking anything to spend it on. This is especially true for corporations in today’s economy. With people too strapped for cash to be spending freely, demand is suppressed. Making more product will not produce a return because nobody will buy it. It stops being a good and starts being a bad because you have spend money to store the excess. No well run corporation will do that.
However, if you were to tax the wealthy and the corporations, you could use that money on projects the country needs (think bridges, airports, schools). That would create jobs. At first, the new jobholders would spend on clearing debt and the necessities they have been without. That is a good thing, it gets money circulating again. Then they can start buying other things. That would stimulate demand. More demand would mean more products would be sold. More sold products means more profits for the corporations, but this time there would be a need for more employees. Who would allow the corporations to make more profits.
It is amazing that the corporations would fight the idea of ensuring people were employed so they could buy their goods. It is what the Marshall plan after WWII was all about – ensuring Europeans had income so they could buy American goods and services. It was what the labor movement has always been about – ensuring healthy laborers had income and time to enjoy it so the economy could thrive. (This also benefits employers because healthy, fed and happy employees are more productive.)
When the Republicans talk about how tax cuts for the rich creates jobs, we need to remind them of the most basic of Economic tautologies, the Law of Diminishing Returns.
Editor’s note: This post was written the week of the 2016 Democratic National Convention but was never published.
The 2016 election cycle has been one of the most vicious and frightening in my lifetime. We’re on the precipice of the possibility of real change in this country, and we have a choice whether that change will be positive or disastrous. The GOP has put forth a platform and a candidate that threatens our democratic republic to a greater degree than ever before, presenting the very real danger of moving beyond conservatism into fascism. (Read the stifling GOP platform and contrast that with progressive Democratic platform.) With the Democratic convention upon us, we have the opportunity to support a candidate to strike at the very heart of discrimination and make a real positive change.
I support Hillary Clinton. I am impressed by her perseverance in the face of the basest form of discrimination in our society today. She’s relentlessly attacked in the media for the simple fact that she’s a very strong, capable, intelligent, accomplished, and exceedingly well-qualified woman. The memes born of those attacks have no factual basis and have been debunked by numerous sources including several excellent Daily Kos articles, but the memes continue nonetheless.
PolitiFact has shown graphically that of all the major candidates on both sides, Clinton is most truthful in the “true” and “mostly true” categories combined. When the “half true” category is added, only President Obama scores higher for the sum of all three, as shown in this chart by Robert Mann (see the original graphic here). Going the other way, Donald Trump is the clear winner for the three negative/liar categories combined, followed closely by Bachmann and Cruz.
Why then is Clinton so unfairly distrusted by so many? Many articles have been written dissecting the “Hating Hillary” phenomenon dating back to early in her public life, but the phenomenon isn’t unique to her. It’s far more insidious and dangerous than that. Rob Taber addresses that question nicely in his article – Lying Liars Who Lie: 2016 Edition. In his article, Mr. Taber captures the essence of the problem in a single sentence.
To put it simply: in America we teach our children that women are liars.
In the next paragraph, he says:
The argument is laid out well in this essay, which I very much recommend. The essay includes frank conversations about our tendency to disbelieve rape victims, the way our inability to trust women affects public policies regarding choice and contraception. But also think about how it plays out in everyday life. When we hear two sides of a couple’s dispute, how quick are we to say “well, he’s a good guy” or “she’s crazy” or “she needs to give him another chance”? We’re quick to think that women are dominating a discussion if women are speaking for 30% of the time (and men for 70%). Within the LDS community, there are struggles regarding how much women’s voices are heard at the ward, stake, and Church levels, though there’s been recent movement to include more women in the highest councils.
As Taber points out, the Soraya Chemaly essay, How We Teach Our Kids That Women Are Liars, is a very informative discussion of how this myth originated and continues to be propagated throughout our society. His sentiments are all the more powerful and self-effacing in the context of his MormonPress article given LDS’ historical attitudes towards women and their place in society. They amplify what Chemaly writes about how “long dead theologians and philosophers” inspire these thoughts, and she goes further. As she points out:
…These thoughts are alive and well and have a super long tail outside of religion—think: domestic work, pay discrimination, and sex segregation in the workplace. Every time a young girl can’t serve at an altar, or play in a game, or dress as she pleases; every time she’s assaulted and told to prove it, it’s because she cannot, in the end, be trusted. Controlling her—her clothes, her will, her physical freedom, her reputation—is a perk.
Conventional Abrahamic religious thought cannot escape the idea that we have to pay, as women, with lifelong suffering and labor and be subject to the authority of men lest our irrationality and desires result in more evil and suffering. Until religious hierarchies renounce beliefs and practices based on these theologies, these long-dead men, creatures of their time, might as well be the ones repeatedly showing up in Congress to give their massively ill-informed opinions on women’s health and lives.
By any standards, Hillary Clinton’s qualifications, experience, and accomplishments are laudable. If that same biography were attributed to a male counterpart, such a candidate would be supported without question. As a nation, we must get past these pointless stereotypes that plague all women who challenge the status quo and support Hillary Clinton this November. Our country needs her.
I graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor with honors in Economics in 1975, the year before Tim Kaine enrolled. I majored in Economics for the same reason Tim Kaine did – Professor John Kuhlman. Tim sent a letter to Professor Kuhlman that cited why he changed majors. “You told our small honors section that you took attendance and that you expected us all to be in class every day, absent emergencies,” Kaine wrote. “Your reason for the expectation was unique and memorable: ‘UMC is a state school. Part of the cost of you being here is paid by the taxes from people all around the state, many of whom will never go to college and might not be able to send their kids to college. You owe it to them to be serious about your studies.’ That statement, and the moral sense that it conveyed, made a significant impact on me, as did your later interest in my progress at UMC.” The moral imperatives taught in Dr. Kuhlman’s class also stuck with me.
One of those imperatives was that we had to watch our leaders. Their decisions could have a dramatic impact on the success or failure of our nation. They could make decisions that would have a beneficial on the overall good of the nation, or they could make decisions that would benefit a few for the short haul but cause sharp decline for the entire nation over time.
Dr. Kuhlman’s specialty was antitrust, and he gave me a passion for it as well. His rationale was simple. Individuals simply cannot stand up to the power of a large corporation. Neither can small companies. When any corporation in any industry gets too big, nobody can compete with it, and there is no competition possible in the supply line. They will simply suck the consumer dry with their pricing, suck the supplier dry with their ability to dictate prices, and prevent any potential competitors from entering the marketplace. Worse, they are able to prevent innovation that could move us beyond their products. We see this now, with the Koch brothers.
Among the things I learned while getting my degree were the demand and supply curve and the multiplier effect. The multiplier effect refers to the increase in final income arising from any new injection of spending. The size of the multiplier depends upon household’s marginal decisions to spend, called the marginal propensity to consume (mpc), or to save, called the marginal propensity to save (mps). The mpc plus the mps equals one, or the whole after tax income of the consumer. The multiplier is then calculated using the formula 1/1-mpc. If consumers spend 0.8 and save 0.2 of every dollar of income, the multiplier will be 5. This means that the money will circulate through the economy enough to generate 5 times as much value as its original. A common example is that when $100,000 is spent on a new road in a community and the wages go to working people with a 0.8 mpc, it generates $500,000 in economic activity in that community. This is an important concept. Because, the mps will vary across different segments of society. Poor people are unable to save 0.2 of every dollar of income, really rich people are unable to spend 0.8 of every dollar. In a society with a reasonable distribution curve, it would wash out. But when income is heavily weighted to the top, the result is a restriction of the economy.
It is this principle that makes trickle down economics a sham. The notion that if the guys at the top get more money, they will spend more and it will work its way down to the little guy flies against all data as well as being contradicted by the math. There is nothing anywhere in any reality based world that suggests the possibility of trickle down economics working.
Another nonsensical notion is supply side economics. Supply-side economics is the theory that says the supply of money, labor, and goods or services, creates demand. In particular, supply-side economics focuses primarily on lowering marginal tax rates to the after-tax rate of return from work and investment, which results in increases in supply. Supply side economics contradicts any models that have ever worked. There is not a credible business plan out there that suggests that a company would base new hiring on getting a tax cut. It just doesn’t happen.
Companies base hiring on the idea that the cost of adding one more person to their employ will be less than the added revenue that employee produces. That added revenue is generated by consumers buying the goods or services offered by the company. That added revenue is not generated by tax cuts. It is generated by demand. Demand is generated by people having money to spend.
So let’s look at what is about to happen. We already saw, courtesy of the Bush administration, that tax cuts to the wealthy do not generate jobs. A major reason they do not generate jobs is because they don’t put money in the pockets of those with the highest mpc. They put money in the pockets of those with the lowest mpc. In fact, the Bush tax cuts put money in the pockets of financial hoarders. Now the Trump administration is preparing to take money out of the pockets of people with the highest mpc, the poor and disadvantaged. These are the people whose mpc approaches 1. The only economic thing that could result from this action is a tightening of the economy. As more and more Americans fall into the poverty bracket, there will be less and less ability to buy goods and services. Elective purchases will be the first to go, and there will be job losses in those sectors, further increasing the numbers in the poverty bracket. Those currently receiving the most income, more than they can spend, will not increase their numbers. Meanwhile, even the large corporations, receiving the juiciest tax cuts, will not have people to sell their products to. They will reduce employment, and the cycle will be complete. At this point, the large corporations and the wealthy will no longer be able to sell their goods and services, the money that they gained in tax cuts will be more than offset by their losses in sales.
The wealthy and the corporations will still have a stranglehold on the factors of production, thus leading to Corporate Feudalism, which will be the topic of my next rant.
Today the feather I pull out of the featherbed is the meme that unions are the reason for our deficits and loss of jobs.
The conservatives claim that costs resulting from unions and their activities is the reason our country is in such an economic mess and the only way out is to break the unions. So, I pull this feather out of the featherbed of lies.
The governor of Wisconsin has issued an ultimatum: Break the unions or lose 6000 jobs. He claims that the deficit is so bad because of unions, and that unless the unions cave, public jobs will be on the chopping block. The claim is that if we no longer have to give in to union demands, all will be well with the world and the jobs will come back. He says their budget woes are the fault of unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. As was diaried earlier, the reason for the deficit was tax cuts for the rich and for large corporations. Now they want to make those gifts they gave to the well heeled and well connected be paid for by the hard working public service employees. “It is the unions’ fault that we are in financial trouble.” Let us examine this.
First – if corporations and wealthy persons paid the same share of their profits that the public sector and middle class pays, there would be a surplus. Without the recently passed tax cuts there would be a surplus. The argument made by Governor Walker is the same as an argument made by a person who gives a lovely present to a wealthy associate to impress the associate, then tells his children they have to go hungry because there is no money. Would the spouse put up with that? Of course not! So why should public service employees accept that? Why should the citizens? The fact is, their government was well funded before the corporate christmas present. It is a remarkable piece of chutzpah that they would give away the surplus and then accuse the unions for causing their problems.
Let us look at what unions do for us. Does anybody get paid vacation? That was the result of unions bargaining on behalf of their workers, then those benefits extending to non-union members. Health care? Same thing. Pensions? Ditto. What about a safe workplace? Unions. Workman’s comp? Result of union work. Reasonable hours? Same. NONE of those things would be on the American plate without the benefit of unionization and the protection of those unions on behalf of everyday workers. Are we prepared to give these things up in order to give goodies to corporations? I hope not!
Did exorbitant union contracts cause the financial mess? I am not convinced. I do know that even with these contracts, nobody lost jobs until Congress started giving tax incentives to corporations to hire overseas workers. It was a misguided attempt to give third world nations a seat at the table at the expense of the American worker. It was also a money grab by multinational corporations who paid for our congresspersons’ expensive election cycles. Did these union contracts include the derivatives and other silly financial instruments that collapsed under our past president? Not at all. That last was the major culprit in our financial mess, not the unions.
So the accusation is that unions protect the lazy and at high expense. Of course, anybody who lost a promotion because of seniority or experience will blame the union. It is normal human nature for everybody to believe he or she is performing better than the next person. But in fact, my experience observing a union shop indicates otherwise. Further, many of the union rules people chafe about were imposed by management during the bargaining process, and the unions accepted them in order to promote the good things we all look for and have come to expect.
Are most union members lazy? Not in my experience. And I have seen unions choose not to support a member who did not perform. Face it – workers, who are union members, do not relish picking up for lazy coworkers. If called in for a review, these coworkers will speak out about the person in question when the person deserves to be chastized. Unions keep their workers in line better than management does. Is there sometimes favoritism? Sure, unions are made up of people. But there is, in my observation, more favoritism when there is no union to watch out for it.
Do unions keep wages and benefits artificially high? It depends on what you mean by artificially high. Sure, they keep them higher than management would like. But management would like them artificially low. Unions make management justify cuts. When the corporation is raking in huge profits, it is only fair that those profits be shared with the workers. When profits drop, unions tend to understand market conditions and negotiate accordingly.
Here’s the deal: an individual cannot stand up against a corporation or large company alone. It is one person against a huge and impersonal thing. For all the Supreme Court’s declarations, corporations are not people. They don’t know the people who they employ. It isn’t Joe negotiating with Bob, his boss. The corporation doesn’t see Joe as a person. It sees Joe as a piece of machinery. As Seth Godin says in Linchpin,
You weren’t born to be a cog in the giant industrial machine. You were trained to become a cog…What factory workers want is compliant, low-paid, replaceable cogs to run their efficient machines.
That is the problem. The corporation sees people as replaceable cogs. Unions at least give a voice to these “cogs” by telling management that these are people who are not to be used up blindly and thrown away. Left to themselves, management uses the cheapest people possible in the cheapest environment possible and wants no responsibility for them on or off the job. If they are sick, management wants to ignore their sickness and if they can’t come to the job they don’t get paid. If the equipment is not safe, management wants them to go home and not get paid if they get hurt. When someone is all used up and ready to retire, management wants them to go away and figure out how to live the rest of their days. Management does not want to have to pay to let them get a breather, either for ten minutes on a shift (which they would rather was more than eight hours), or for two weeks in a year. Unions are the only way a person can get the human needs met. Left to themselves, management cares more about the good working order of their machinery than of the good working order of their workers. It is only because of unions that humans get “maintained.”
So would the work force be better off without unions? Certainly not. Would the nation be financially better off if they did not have to concede to unions? Perhaps, in the very short run (and I don’t even believe the perhaps). But in the long run, not only would quality of life decline for the workers, but for everybody. Quality of our goods and services would be trashed because of an overworked, undercompensated and demoralized work force. It is already happening as unions are weakened.
What is happening in Wisconsin is vital. What will be happening in Ohio will be vital. In 20 years, all the gains for the everyday American way of life – antitrust laws, employment laws, tax equity – have been eaten up by the ugly Reaganomics. If we allow the final dismantling of unions, the lifestyle of the average worker will return to the way it was pre-1900.
Unions don’t cost jobs. Tax incentives to send jobs where there are no worker protections cost jobs. Encouraging corporations to move the work costs jobs. The only reason the other countries have such cheap labor is because the people there have no other choices. They have no laws to ensure their children are not tied to benches making tiny stitches all day without even bathroom privileges or water nearby. They have no laws that the wages paid are enough to buy the food they need while on the job. They have no laws to ensure workers do not risk their health or lives on the job. Is our ability to buy cheap goods worth the ruin of people’s health and safety?
Unions are our last bastion against a corporatocracy where the only rights are held by meganationals and the only wealth is held by a few. Those who today are railing against unions are, in their ignorance, ensuring that the benefits they now take for granted become history. They sleep comfortably now thinking that taking those benefits from unionized workers will not be taken from them. However, they will be taken. They are already being taken. They will find themselves in a nightmare as this featherbed becomes lumpy.
Today the feather I pull out of the featherbed is the meme that people who are suffering suffer as the result of bad decisions, and that bad decisions are the result of being bad people. The conservatives claim that people who live in difficult circumstances made bad choices. They insist that bad choices should have consequence, because people who make bad choices are bad people. Here I pull this feather out of the featherbed of lies.
So what about that conservatives’ claim that people who are in bad circumstances have made bad choices, for which they are experiencing consequence? This claim is made by self improvement experts in almost every self help seminar they conduct. If you are living in bad circumstances it is the result of making bad choices. As the conversation continues, it is claimed that bad choices are made by bad people and to improve your lot you have to become a good person. You can’t take control until you admit you are at fault. While I do agree that if you are always blaming external forces you can never be in control of your life, I do not agree that all bad events are your own fault. I would like to investigate these self-help claims and see if they are justifiable or if they are simply excuses used to let people ignore those in need and still sleep well at night.
First I look at children. I consider homeless children, abused children, children in poverty and children of the incarcerated. Conservatives use the words in Deuteronomy to justify the suffering of these children as God’s wrath on their parents:
Deuteronomy 5:9-10 (King James Version)
9Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,
10And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
In fact, this was contradicted in several other passages, to wit,
Deuteronomy 24:16 (New International Version)
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.
Ezekiel 18:20 (New International Version)
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
Ezekiel 18:4 (New International Version)
For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son-both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.
John 9:1-3 (New International Version)
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
In fact, in the last one, the idea that the bad circumstances were the result of bad acting, the New Testament says it is not the fault of any. Jesus himself says, “The rain falls on the just and unjust alike.” There is no basis for insinuating that people who are suffering are being punished for wrongdoing. Ignoring the suffering is not excused the passage in Deuteronomy. It is simply a way conservatives justify turning their heads against those in need.
But is it true that bad circumstances for adults are always the result of bad choices? This is something I had to come to grips with. I used to be a strong conservative, largely because I believed in personal responsibility. But does it actually follow that suffering is actually the result of bad choices? According to Conservatives, those who endure bankruptcy because of illness made the bad choice of not getting insured, or not living clean. Victims of Katrina should not have been living in a sin-locked city (they got what they got just as the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah got what they deserved for living there and tolerating the sin. We all know how they blame rape victims to the extent of making those victims live with whatever the consequences of the rape. Beyond that, what about migrant workers who live in poverty moving from field to field? What bad choices did they make? What about the poor in Appalachia? What about the projects in New York? What did they do to be so poor? Was it just a bad choice in parents they were born to? What about those born disabled, or who became disabled over the years? I had to ask myself what bad choices they made. I had no answers.
Of course, much suffering is the result of bad choices. Surely, many people who got foreclosed on made a bad choice in the home they purchased, or even purchasing a home at all. Does this make those people bad people? What about the people they trusted for advice about their ability to buy those homes? Why aren’t they bad people? Most of those trusted advisors – the realtor, the mortgage broker, the lender – did not suffer any consequence and in fact made a nice profit, therefore they must be good people (remember, bad people suffer consequences). Conservatives will argue that regardless of bad advice from those entrusted to know the territory, the borrower should have known better. I don’t know why.
You could also argue that the people who go bankrupt because of health issues should have had insurance. But what about the people who couldn’t afford it? What about the people who were denied coverage? What about the ones who had insurance but the insurance wouldn’t pay up? What were their options? What are they being punished for – not enriching the insurance companies enough?
I agree that many people made bad choices about the use of credit, and I agree that they need to bite the bullet and pay it off. But I wonder why there is no shame heaped on those who encouraged reckless spending. I wonder why there is no shame for the reckless issuers of credit. They say they were just doing their jobs. In the Nuremberg trials the people being prosecuted claimed they were just doing their jobs too. Why is that a not defense in war crimes but it is in credit?
In all these circumstances, there is consequence. I am a firm believer in consequence. I believe the expectation of consequence is a deterrent to intentional stupidity. However, I do believe that the consequence should match the bad behavior. Many of my conservative friends were raised with spankings bordering on beatings. They believe in harsh punishment as consequence. But my experience, and the experts I have read, suggest that when the consequence is not in kind and proportion to the crime, it is not a deterrent. Children who are beaten do not learn good behavior as much as they learn that if you want someone to behave the way you want them to you beat them into submission. Isn’t that what our conservative associates are doing now? Physically, emotionally and financially beating us into submission?
The question is not only the level of consequence but the duration. People who go bankrupt today will be asked for the rest of their lives on credit applications if they have ever filed for bankruptcy. For the rest of their lives they will be denied credit because of things that have gone wrong today. In many cases, their crime was getting sick, losing a job (not for malfeasance, mind you), getting bad advice or taking a risk (for example, people who started their own businesses and did not make it). They will be punished for the rest of their lives for these “sins.” People who get foreclosed on will be asked for the rest of their lives if they have been foreclosed on ever.
It is worse for people found guilty of a crime. While our penal code may have a limitation for how long these people pay through incarceration, our society has no limitation. Job applications will ask them, for the rest of their lives, if they have ever been convicted of a crime. If you answer yes, you cannot get a job. The punishment lasts the rest of your life. (Lucky those who avoid being caught until the statute of limitations passes – they have no consequence, whereas the ones caught have eternal consequence).
The worst is the people who do not commit a crime, but who make choices that later come back with unfortunate circumstances. Those who believe divorce is a sin would claim that if you are in a miserable marriage, you either made a bad choice in your spouse or you made bad choices through the marriage (and are continuing to do so) especially if you are a woman. The consequence of these bad choices is to spend the rest of your life in a miserable marriage. Or at least the rest of the life of the spouse, whichever comes first. You have committed no crime, but you are a bad person for being in a bad situation. You must pay the consequence.
These same people would make women pay forever for having sex (in marriage or outside it) and wind up with an unplanned pregnancy. Or are raped. For the crime of having a uterus, the consequence is having to give birth to the child and raising it. Those who would force you to give birth feel no responsibility for this child they are forcing into the world. It is the bad choice of the woman to have sex (or have it forced on her), and not wanting to give birth makes her a bad person. There must be consequence.
With so much suffering in this world their God made, the conservatives have to have a way to justify doing nothing about it and still be able to sleep well at night. If all the sufferers in this world are suffering because of their own bad actions and are bad people, it is easy to turn a blind eye and let them deal with their maker. As long as they are helping God dish out consequence, they can sleep well at night.
So I pull out the feather from the featherbed that claims that those who suffer are paying a just price for their bad behavior. That is a lie. Suffering falls to the guilty and innocent alike. The next horrible incident or situation could hit any one of them. If we accept that sufferers deserve to suffer, who will be there to help?
Today I will risk the daggers and arrows as I pluck out the feather from the featherbed of lies by looking at how this country demeans women in the way they look at romance.
Several years ago, my family faced serious economic problems. I thought that I could make some reasonable money writing romance novels and get the family through. Come with me over the fold as I tell you about my excursion into romance novel writing.
So I decided to research the writing of romance novels. I mean, really, how hard could it be to write one? They all seemed to be from a formula, and once I had that formula down, I should be able to crank them out with sufficient regularity to pay the bills. So I went out and bought a few random Romance Novels from the local grocery store. I was right – they are written to a formula that one could easily master and crank them out. But there was something else about them that prevented me from ever writing one.
Romance writing is good money. 55% of all books sold in 2004 were Romance Novels, and there are 2000 new titles published every year. It is a half a billion a year industry. As I read the books, I found that I could almost make a database of names, places, events etc. and have the database write the novel by randomly selecting names from the name category, places from the places category and tailoring events from the event category. Easy money, right? Well, except one thing. I had a serious problem with what passed as romantic events.
At the time, I was volunteering with homeless children and with a battered women’s shelter. To work at the shelter, we had training about what constituted an abuser. I noticed that the grand climax of every one of these novels was a situation that would have been prosecuted as domestic violence. In other words, the most “romantic” part of the novel was abuse. In one case, he slapped her, she slapped him back, he grabbed her arm and had his way with her. For some reason halfway through she quit struggling and they had a fantastic night of sex. Excuse me? In another, it was alcohol. The one that bugged me most was one where a woman was being nanny to a widower’s daughter in the outback. Nobody around for miles. When she finally got too frustrated for words, she tried to leave on foot. He somehow found her and LASSOED her! Then his horse kept her on the ground while he ran over to her and … well, you know the rest. Whenever she would try to get up and get the rope off and run the horse would jerk her down. This is not romantic. This is violence.
Then as I read more, I realized that before these romantic climaxes, the relationships were toxic all around. He (the main character was always a woman) would flirt with an ex to make her jealous. She would say ugly things to hurt his feelings. He would say ugly things to hurt his feelings. She would be sensitive. He would be insulting. She would be vengeful … and on and on. This is how they discovered their deep love for each other?
Finally, I saw how women were portrayed. While it seemed that she was strong, she was really weak and helpless. Needy. Dependent. Unworthy of respect. He was strong. He seemed cold on the outside but it hid a wall of passion. Stereotypes from the 50s, and never really true stereotypes at that.
Then I would visit my women at the shelter. One told me that her husband beat her up for talking with an old schooldays friend who happened to be male. “He just couldn’t help himself, he gets so jealous,” she said. Where did I see those words? In the denouement of almost all of these romance novels. He would explain his behavior by “I couldn’t help myself. I love you so much and I got jealous.” Love? Love does not wish to harm. Love does not take advantage of the incapacitated. Love does not tie someone up and take advantage. Love trusts the person loved. Where there is no trust there is no love.
Another woman told me, “I thought if I loved him enough he would change.” Like they do in romance novels. But not in real life. You don’t change other people. Either they change themselves or they remain the same.
So 55% of all books bought in this country are this genre? Half a billion dollars worth? Enough to support 2000 titles a year? Tell me that our 12 year old girls aren’t reading these and thinking this is what love and romance are all about. Tell me some don’t fall into the hands of boys wondering what girls are looking for. Tell me that the HUGE numbers of mothers reading them aren’t at least unconsciously passing these notions on to their children.
Remember what that senator said about rape victims? That when it is inevitable, she should lie back and enjoy it? The women in these books not only do that, they participate. That is the message. The other message is that it is not rape if it is an acquaintance. Rape only happens when the man is a stranger and ugly. Even when a stranger, if he isn’t ugly, she secretly wanted it. Ken Buck, who ran in Colorado for Senate this year declined to prosecute a case a few years ago. A young woman had attended a party for football recruits. She was raped. The players admitted she had said no. But Ken insisted it was a case of “buyer’s remorse.” Not rape.
What bothers me most is that these are novels by women for women. The biggest readers of these novels are women who are alone and lonely and vulnerable. Women are pushing these dangerous notions to other women. They are depicting toxic and dangerous relationships as romantic. The women who read them are then out looking for this as indicators of love. By the time they realize that love should not hurt so much, it is too late. They are in one of those relationships that is hard to get out of alive.
The feather I am pulling out here is the one that says that these novels are light-hearted, romantic fun. They are not. They are pushing a dangerous notion of love and romance into our society. These attitudes have been there for generations, but these novels make it harder to counter, to get the neanderthal ideas about women removed from our society. The writers of these novels are making a lot of money telling girls that love hurts. They undermine respect for women. This is another lump for our featherbed of lies.