The Gilded Age of Austerity and the breakdown of civil society

The End

Is this the week that civil society in the US finally collapses? It’s starting to feel that way. Most of the federal government is already shut down, and on Thursday, it could start defaulting on its debts, possibly dragging down the global economy. And here in the Bay Area, our transportation system will descend into gridlock if strikes shut down BART tomorrow and AC Transit on Thursday, as their unions are threatening.

It may not be the End of the World as We Know It, but this is a striking confluence of events that should cause us all to take stock of the things we take for granted, from reliable public transit systems to a functional federal government to the ability of politics to resolve our differences.

This era could be called the Gilded Age of Austerity, a duality marked by huge and growing concentrations of wealth for the few, but for the rest of us: increasing economic insecurity, a tattered social safety net, crumbling public infrastructure, and few signs of hope that things will get better.

Democracy is a fragile experiment that needs to be regularly reaffirmed by all sides. The US electoral system was already heavily skewed toward the interests of the wealthy, who sponsor both major political parties, to the point where many consider elections to be a sham. But there was still a political system, a basic framework for running the country even during tough times, and that seems to be breaking down.

For the radical right-wingers responsible for hobbling the federal government, this might appear to be a dream come true: Most of the regulators furloughed, funding for most social services stopped, and only the police state remains largely intact (86 percent of Department of Homeland Security employees are on the job and soldiers are still getting paid).

But these anti-government ideologues have never fully understood or appreciated the myriad things that government does to keep civil society functioning over the long term. Our economy relies on federal spending, our health relies on the CDC spotting coming epidemics and the FDA inspecting our food, justice needs a civil court system, our travels depend on roads, and our future depends on today’s young people getting educated (ie Head Start) and fed (ie Food Stamps), and that’s all come to a grinding halt.  

It’s a similar situation with public employee unions, like those that operate BART trains and AC Transit buses. As we’ve reported, private sector wages and benefits often rise or fall with those negotiated by unions. So when unions can’t win good contracts or maintain funded pensions for workers, we’re all dragged down. The Gilded Age gets better for the bosses as the Age of Austerity gets worse for the workers.

BART’s unions had an understandable expectation that they would share in the agency’s recent budget surpluses, particularly after accepting wage and benefit concessions of $100 million over the last four years to help with projected budget deficits that never materialized.

BART managers argue that the district has offered enough and that the rest of the money is needed for its ambitious expansion plans, but there should have been a solution here somewhere short of ultimatums (strike vs. the district’s “last, best offer”). They shouldn’t have needed Gov. Jerry Brown to order the recently ended 60-day cooling off period — the same stall tactic that AC Transit is now asking for — in a world where the basic social contract behind civil society was still intact. When the center still held, before the new Gilded Age fused with the Age of Austerity, people of goodwill could find common ground.

“People’s very livelihoods hang in the balance adding to the additional frustration felt throughout the Bay Area today when both parties failed yesterday to reach an agreement,” Mayor Ed Lee said yesterday in a prepared statement about the BART strike as he cancelled plans to leave on a trade mission to China sponsored by business elites to help carry out their agenda.

Yes, people’s very livelihoods -- and their quality of life, and sometimes, their lives -- are at stake in these political struggles, those I mentioned and those happening in San Francisco around gentrification and taxation. Anyone who thinks that modern capitalism is sturdy enough to withstand any shock doesn’t have a very good grasp of either economics or history.

Maybe we’ll pull ourselves back from the brink and learn our lessons. Or maybe we’ve entered the endgame, a place where the desperation of those living in the Age of Austerity finally matches the greed and self-interest of those living in the Gilded Age, where one must defeat the other to survive, like two fighting birds plummeting to the ground in a death spiral.

And if that’s the case, are we ready for the next era? Have we sown our seeds and tended our gardens? It took World War Two to really get us out of the Great Depression, and I’d like to think we’ve evolved since then. But this week, I’m not so sure.  


DC is shut down because, while the GOP have repeatedly said that they want to negotiate the budget, the deficit, the debt and ObamaCare, The Prez, Pelosi and Reid refuse to negotiate on anything significant.

There is no possible way to interpret that other than that the liberals are intransigent and it is THEIR FAULT that the government is shut.

While with BART the problem is obvious. The unions are ignoring reality and appear to think they are entitled to free this, free that, more of both this and that. Oh, and they want a pony as well. They need to be slapped down because the rest of us have to pay for our own healthcare and pensions, and see no reason why we should pay for theirs as well.

Steven, why are you so totally out of touch with what the people are thinking here?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

I don't think your thinking is shared by most San Franciscans, Guest. Even national polls show most people fault the Republicans for the shutdown. Budget negotiations happen all the time, annually at least, but this is a right-wing hissy-fit over the duly approved Affordable Care Act. Like it or not (I don't, preferring socialized medicine to insurance companies), refusal to let the government pay its bills isn't "negotiation," it's extortion.  

Posted by steven on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

about the deficit is because the GOP are forcing them to.

This is national policy and it doesn't ultimately matter what "hopelessly liberal" San Franciscans think either way. But if you think that "tax, borrow and spend" is viable long-term, then you are naively out of touch with a people who have always been suspicious of big government ever since the founding fathers tried their hardest to ensure that the people hold the real power.

And the House is the most democratic part of government.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

The founding fathers were very wary of factions and partisanship and would have never sanctioned refusing the pay the country's debts to make political points with a tiny minority of Tea Party yahoos who deliberately misread our history and frequently use the founding fathers to defend their asinine arguments. 

Posted by steven on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

government. It is a majority of the House - the most democratic part of our nation's government - that is forcing the Dem's to pay attention to our fiscal disaster.

If our debts do not get repaid it is because the Dem's have created far too much debt. Now it's time to pay the piper.

Personally I have no issue with parts of the government shutting down. In fact, I haven't noticed the shutdown at all, which makes me think that many of these government workers are not necessary at all, and should be fired.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Slightly more than 1/4 of the House is the Tea Party. Boner won't bring a bill up unless it can gain majority support of the Republican caucus which is barely dominated by the Tea Partiers.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

They derive that power from having come from nowhere in just five years based on a grass roots populist movement.

Yes, that is exactly what progressives claim and yet, in practice, they are in cahoots with unions and the city family. They do not represent the people at all.

But the Tea Party helped the GOP win the house in 2010, thereby frustrating Obama's half-hearted and half-assed attempts at socialism.

Democracy sucks when you're losing huh, marcos?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

Stick a Koch in it.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 6:02 pm

Chalk up another debate I have won here.

Posted by anon on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

need to wake up to the fact that *both* corporate controlled parties are totally screwing us all on behalf of their corporate puppet masters

the sequester, the debt ceiling, etc.. all of these are excuses to cut social programs and jobs and thereby drive wage laborers into extreme competition with each other for work

all of which will brutally drive down wages and benefits due to competition for limited employment

it's all just a big vicious game that elites are pulling on us

and it's happening worldwide

in Europe it is called


time to wake the fuck up working class americans

and fight back

and i mean hard core

Posted by racer x on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 11:18 pm

Oh wait, we tried that and it didn't work.

Or how about voting Green? Oh wait, we tried that with Nader and it gave us 8 years of George W. Bush.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 5:10 am

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by malvolio on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 10:20 am

would be nice


Posted by def on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 6:26 am

and bump the night away

Posted by o on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:41 am

this will be



Posted by def-jam on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 6:28 am

Suck my Koch.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 4:47 am

and this brings us now to number


Posted by defjam on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 6:29 am

Everyone meet racer x today in Union Square to protest...everything! And I mean protest hard core. He'll be babbling whole paragraphs of lower-case invective into a microphone at 2:00, but only if his mom gives him money for a sandwich once he promises her to wear his sweater and mittens.

Posted by Chromefields on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 6:53 am

everyone will know and revere the name of the manchild who defeated global capitalism armed only with a troll barrier, some pocket change and a pair of mittens.

All hail Chairman Racer.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 7:36 am

And now America will have the Mitten Revolution, led by a minimum wage earning troll-vanquishing adolescent with bad grammar and a grumpy disposition.

Posted by anon on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 9:52 am

steve jones

and me

pretty pathetic

but at least it's good to know i am effective enough that you are now launching foam mouthed ridicule

(now by all means proceed with your predictable streams of invectives about how ineffective i am)

does it occur to you clowns that you are essentially groupies of progressives?

Posted by racer x on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 10:26 am

I don't discriminate at all, just like a good liberal.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 10:39 am

The number of high-paying jobs has never been higher in the Bay Area. Rents and housing prices are among the world's highest, also indicating that the local economy is going gangbusters. It's difficult to get reservations in the area's better restaurants without having to wait three weeks for a table and hotel occupancy rates are quite robust, with room rates as high as they've ever been. The Bay Area economy has ever been stronger. And unlike Dot Com 2000, the new companies expanding have strong business models, such as Square and Twitter that is poised to go public soon making more multi-millionaires in the city.

If racer would get out of his basement a few minutes each day he'd find that the local economy is doing quite well for those who prepared for it (or those who had rich families who can subsidize their lifestyles.) Travel to Singapore or Europe or China or South America and people everywhere yearn to live in the Bay Area with its high-paying jobs, tolerant social attitudes and great weather.

Racer covers his ears and hums to himself whenever reality appears, but the SF Business Times is a better gauge than racer's constant mewlings about what's really happening in SF and the larger Bay Area:

"Wells Fargo Chief Economist John Silvia says San Francisco is doing all the right things to spur growth, pointing to Twitter’s headquarters move to Market Street.

“Twitter chose to move its headquarters downtown. How many U.S. cities would attract a high-tech company like that? Not many,” Silvia said. “It’s a clustering of young people in a socio-cultural environment they want to be in.”

Other companies, including Microsoft’s Yammer, Benchmark Capital and Dolby Laboratories, are joining Twitter. “Twitter got it right. Young people don’t want to be in a sterile suburban environment 30 or 40 miles outside the city,” Silvia said. “They want the transportation, urban environment and nighttime restaurants.

“You’re looking at San Francisco not only as a city with luck, but with the right formula for the 21st century,” said Silvia."

Let's repeat:

“Young people don’t want to be in a sterile surburban environment 30 or 40 miles outside the city,” Silvia said. “They want the transportation, urban environment and nighttime restaurants."

Perhaps Mayor Lee and the BOS should start a new slogan: "Old people over 40 who aren't rich or have wealthy parents should move out of SF and the Bay Area ASAP. They can't afford it now and they sure won't be able to afford in a few more years. Best try Des Moines, Detroit or Lubbock instead."

And let's build BART to Tracy, Fairfield and Stockton so we can clear out all of the economic losers from SF and replace them with richer, younger and sexier versions!

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 7:54 am

SF is the new frontier for 21st century capitalism. We are lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Posted by anon on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 9:54 am
Posted by r on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:39 am

Don't be dense, anon.

Marcos was pointing out how, far from being grass roots, the Tea Party is actually a tool of the multi billionaire Koch brothers.

Once again you lose, anon.

Posted by pete moss on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 8:20 am

which was a grass roots organization. Sure various people jumped on board and may benefit from some aspects of it. But the over-riding theme was ordinary Americans sick of big government and out-of-control spending and social/entitlement spending.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 8:49 am

Not buying it.

The Tea Party is the rabble wing of the Koch organization.

Without orders and $ from their overlords the Billybobs get to feudin' among themselves and the whole thing falls apart.

Posted by pete moss on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

To their credit, the Tea Publicans ran for office and won against the ACA, and once elected stood up for what they ran on.

I understand how foreign it is for elections to bear consequences in the US, but imagine what the US would be like if the Democrats ever took a stand and went to the mat for us to fulfill their campaign promises, if Obama had fought for a Public Option or single payer with such vigor?

The lesson of this is that from the left and from the right, from OWS to the Tea Party, there will be no challenge whatsoever to plutocratic rule. We're working for them.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

the power of corporate money

Posted by t on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:38 am
Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

imagination to adopt any different policies. All they can do is advocate more of the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

The GOP want the government to focus on the national debt. And if we do not address that, this nation is doomed.

Buy gold, short the dollar, and move assets overseas. Could be the only viable action to take if Obama doesn't get off the pot or piss.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

that the comments on this entire thread are actually each at least marginally credible, and worthy of debate, and don't yet need even one troll barrier


ps: China is hoarding gold in preparation to challenge the sole hegemony dollar

so perhaps buy some gold (not for investment return - but for protection against the dollar being allowed to further devalue by a newly emerging global economic power structure that separates itself from being tied to the dollar) little present for trolls who are behaving themselves ;)

Posted by racer x on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 11:28 pm

1) He claims his barriers will drive out trolls. They do not.

2) Then he claims that the purpose is to blackmail Steven into introducing registration. Steven responds by having the moderator remove his barrier posts

3) Then, in order to save face, he claims that the trolls have mellowed, and so he can stand down on his barriers.

It's hilarious to watch.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 9:43 am

the moderator removed a few of them, and then tried for more, and then gave up

because until there is a registration system it won't be possible to block posters

Posted by momo on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 10:40 am

purged your effluence.

If you knew anything about human nature, you'd know that trying to manipulate them into instituting a registration system actually makes it less probably that they will do that.

Not that I care either way. But I can mentally block out your nonsense with or without technology - I feel sorry for you if you lack such a basic cognitive skill.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 10:55 am

they tore down a bunch of the barriers and then i simply replaced them with more resilient ones that were even easier to put up

until this site adopts registration, the trolling, and my reaction to it will continue

Posted by racer x on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:08 am

You should not relent for a moment. This may go down as your most significant achievement ever, although I suspect the competition isn't that stiff.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:25 am
Posted by l on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:44 am
Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:53 am

how about taking a look at this graph from the non-partisan watchdog group (a group which criticizes both parties for their bs)

clearly you don't know what the fuck you are talking about

Posted by racer x on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

the Dem's who do not. Seems to me that means that, right now, the Dem's care less about the deficit.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

what they actually do

are two different things....

(what a novel concept)

the fact that you would actually believe things that politicians are saying, is pretty revealing as to your intellectual capacity and/or gullability

Posted by racer x on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

How do you do it guest?!

Every single time, every. single. story.

You manage to post 1st.

How do you do it?


Posted by pete moss on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

There are ways if you are smart.

Posted by anon on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

outside these internet comment boards.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 9:25 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

and his 200 posts a day here.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:54 am

Never heard of this 'tech savvy'.

Can I get a can at the $ store?

Posted by pete moss on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 12:56 pm
Posted by l on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 11:42 am

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