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We had a link the other day to a New York Times story about a Hawaiian state legislator who decided to try to do some research into GMOs in preparation for a vote that would have banned them there, only to find out that maybe they were not as evil as some would suggest.

Which led MNB reader Mike Franklin to write:

Thanks for the link to the article, I too had missed that one…but…after reading it, I felt betrayed…those are minutes I’ll never get back. However, it’s not surprising a High School graduate had a hard time understanding the complexities of GMO…both sides of the issue are presenting alternate views of science. Over the decades, so many toxins have been permitted by faulty science, so many deaths, deformities and altered lives have been the result, and so many years later after the damage had been done and the profits taken, has society finally taken science back to determine the toxins were really harmful. I only wish I had the power of written word to convince you to be skeptical, to understand the scientists on both sides have an agenda and to please keep reading…at some time the truth will come out…but not until the profits have been taken.

I wrote the other day:

I continue to believe that GMO labeling seems reasonable, that it doesn't have to be punitive in nature, and that it can actually be a positive for the biotech industry if people actually end up being educated about GMOs.

Which prompted one MNB reader to ask:

Do you really consider information that's marketed and perceived as a "warning-label" really qualifies as "education"?  It would be equivalent to qualifications about the veracity of evolution.

Ah, very clever. Equate a belief in the blanket efficacy of GMOs with a belief in evolution. If I believe in the latter, I have to accept the former.

Except … I'm not sure that's apples and apples.

But again, let's be clear. I have been very careful not to be anti-science, and to suggest here over and over (to the frustration of readers on both sides of the issue) that while I believe that people who want not to consume GMOs ought to have that right, I also can imagine circumstances in which GMOs can be a positive force.

I also don't necessarily think that requiring packaging to say that a product contains GMOs is the same as putting a skull-and-crossbones on the front of the package. How about just including that fact on the ingredient label, with amplification/education available via QR code?

MNB user Larry Bourland wrote:

After following this legislation in the state of WA, I understand and support the effort to press this towards the federal level.  It is nonsensical to expect to have 50 potentially different statutes across the country that would challenge any regional or national manufactures to execute.  This definitely points to a one size fits all strategy, otherwise the alternative is way too punitive for all concerned.

A federal approach would be better. But since the feds seem unwilling to do anything more than rubber-stamp what the biotech industry wants, the states are responding to their citizens.

Responding to my assertion that it is time for Amazon to collect sales taxes, one MNB reader wrote:

Great KC....more taxes is what we all need!

Methinks there is some sarcasm there.

MNB reader Blake Steen had some thoughts about our stories and links regarding wage disparity:

The quote from NPR that “These days if you want to be among the biggest winners, says UC Berkeley researcher Bagriel Zucman,…, it helps to be in the 0.1 percent."

Since when did I need to be a part of the 16000 families that own 12% of America’s wealth to be a winner?  I would call my Grandfather who came out of poverty that I hope and pray my son will never know to become an Art history teacher with his masters.  My grandmother, his lovely wife, to get her masters back when she was the only lady in the classes as an elementary school teacher.  Both of my other grandparents who have their masters one in teaching the other in accounting.  My mother who, when she lost her job as a sales director at a manufacturer of towels and pillows, bought a business she has been running very successfully for 9 years. That business was bought, by the way, by mortgaging their house and from savings. Or my dad who put himself through grad school at night and worked two jobs to pay for it.  He has had success in politics in various ways.

All those people are winners to me.  And you know who else is a winner.  The single mom who goes to Wal-Mart and works for a wage that we call non-livable when she could be at home living off the “winners” I have mentioned above.  It is unreal how we have killed the American Dream because we “hate” the people at the top.  They didn’t take anything away from any of the people mentioned in this rant.  They are successful.  At what point do we call someone “too successful or too rich?”

It is interesting how you take the story that points out facts about wealth in this country and make some assumptions about how I feel about them.

I've gone out of my way to say that I don't think people of great wealth should be demonized, unless, of course, they accumulated that wealth through illegal, immoral or unethical means. And, I've said over and over that I don't think living wage legislation or an increase in the minimum wage will address the serious wage disparity problems that we face.

This isn't a matter of winners and losers as measured by income. For a lot of people it is a matter of survival. I completely agree with you about your parents and grandparents.

I would simply make one suggestion. If that single mom working for a retailer on a full-time basis but not making enough to feed, clothe and house her family saw her work valued more, and were paid enough to do all those things, then wouldn't our society and culture be stronger. I think suggesting that her only other option is staying home "living off the winners" is creating a false choice. Most people, I believe, who are struggling, want desperately to work, are willing to work long, hard hours, and just want to feel that they are making progress. They don't want to be on any sort of public assistance.

To be honest, this is where I get really frustrated with the conversation. Because somehow, people who are struggling - working full time, but unable to live without public assistance as they try to support themselves and their families - are painted as being greedy or needy or selfish because they'd like to make a little more money while laboring for companies where senior executives often make millions. How many bankers still have jobs because the federal government bailed their employers out - offering them, in essence, public assistance - six years ago?

These are the kind of inequities that don't get resolved by legislation or regulation. They only get resolved when a culture gets its priorities right. And I worry that our culture's priorities sometimes are woefully misguided.

On the same subject, another MNB reader wrote:

You hit the nail on the head regarding wealth disparity.  In short, if you are able to save/hold on to what you earn, regardless of how much you initially make, you can get ahead but it takes a lot of discipline to do this.  That means not keeping up with the "Jones's", not driving new cars every year,  not having the latest phone technology,  not being concerned if you are wearing the latest brand or trend and in general having little to no debt.  

Before you think I'm crazy - 6 years ago my husband and I changed our approach to money management and it has completely changed our lives.  We paid cash for a brand new car last year, we have no debt excluding our house and refinanced that so it will be paid off in less than 10 years.   We increased our savings significantly and today, would be considered wealthy by most standards.  However, we downgraded our approach to money spending - we shop at Walmart, drive one newer and one older car, live in the same house we've had for 13 years instead of moving to something newer, larger, nicer.    In short, we made a decision to live differently today so we have the opportunity to live differently tomorrow.  

It call comes down to choices you make and dedication to making a change in your life.    Like the gentleman who wrote the message to you, I also have a burning desire to finish my college education as the lack of degree has limited my opportunities over the years.   As such, I've diligently saved up and will go back to school in January.   Anything is possible if you believe and are willing to work hard to make it happen.

From another reader:

I am sure you are going to get a lot of complaints that you are devoting too much print-space to the issues of declining middle class, $15/hr minimum wage, etc. My response there would be to suggest that for all of those in our business who are forever concerned with Amazon or the role of odd tweaks to drive brand experiences and increased ROI, this stuff is all a joke compared to the macro-economic transitions going on around us.

I would suggest that it is useful to start with facts that almost all economists agree upon. Fact: Consumer spending drives economic growth. Fact: Adjusted for inflation, consumer spending has been on a permanent growth trajectory for 100+ years. Fact: Consumers have less disposable income that they did in 1980. Fact: Consumers are devoting much larger percentages of their income to consumer spending. Fact: Credit card and auto loan defaults are at record levels. These things can be supported by references, but if someone doesn't believe them, any further discussion is a non-starter.

In the interest of transparency, my wife and I are lucky and have a combined household income of nearly $200,000. I must say that I am wholly agnostic on the $15.00/hr minimum wage issue as well as the "declining middle class" issue. I would prefer to outsource the answers to those who know more than us. Namely the economists.

If someone wants to preach the merits of the Horatio Alger narrative of how they pulled themselves up from working the mailroom to becoming a senior management standout, that's fine. I don't see much of that happening around me. And if it were this easy, one wouldn't expect the middle class to be shrinking at record levels. But whatever, there are plenty of positions we take in the name of politics that prove inefficient in market outcomes. I do know this, my wife and I stand to gain considerably from this position. All around us we watch as mid-level management jobs are now a thing of the past and recent college grads work in their role for 8-10 years with little to no ability for advancement and only minor pay raises. This isn't because they are not motivated or lazy, it's because there are simply no positions for them to move up or in to. And lacking their ability to gain the necessary skills to further their career, our own skills grow further in demand. Hey, lucky me!

For the record, I have done little of this "pulling myself up by my boots" and a lot more of happening to be at the right place at the right time. It's not clear to me that a wide swath of the people who buy into this story might themselves have an outcome driven by luck as much as hard work and determination.

So if we decide to take the traditional perspective that folks who are not succeeding are clueless or lazy that works for me. I'll make a hell of a lot more money. But I would implore you to consider the net effects given the preponderance of evidence.

MNB reader John Domino wrote:

You are right Kevin.  The prosperity of the US since WW2 has been driven by the growth of and the growing incomes of the US middle class. This has been greatly enhanced by the rise of two-income families.  We have topped out on both accounts.  Why?  Did we become too affluent for our own good?  Too many people believing that going $100K into debt for a BS in Art History or that the high paying job as a toll-taker on the turnpike would last forever?  Too much money being made by corporations or Wall Street buying and selling companies rather than investing in factories, technology and training?   Or as discussed on NPR this morning the diminishing government support for financial aid for higher education and investments in public universities.

The real legacy of George Bush's tax cuts and the partisan divide in Congress is that the country is not investing in infrastructure, education, and manufacturing and the country's middle class is losing out.  Which in the long run means a drop in overall retail sales and a loss of prosperity for those at the top as well as those in the middle.  Not mention the super squeeze on those at the bottom.

MNB reader Steven Ritchey wrote:

You are correct, the disparity can be devastating in the long run.  The middle class is what drives the economy, period.  We buy the houses, the college educations for our kids.  We buy the mass produced automobiles like Fords and Chevies.
We are the drivers of the economy, not the so called job creators.
During the depression of the late 20’s and early 30’s, the wealthy were still wealthy.  They still lived extravagant lifestyles, most others were barely scraping by or in bread lines.
We create the demand for manufactured goods, when the middle class is strong and thriving, the country thrives.  I wish the so called experts would realize  this.

Regarding the new deal between Amazon and HBO, one MNB reader wrote:

FINALLY!! My husband and I don’t use our Prime for TV yet, however I am a huge HBO fan and love HBO Go. Every month that we pay our outrageous cable bill I wonder how much longer it will be until I can pick and choose the channels I want and pay just for those. Sports channels and HBO have always been our hold up. However we now have a SlingBox, so my husband can watch all his Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks and White Sox games through his brother’s TV. With HBO going to Amazon, we are one step closer. I’d gladly pay monthly for just HBO GO, with current programs on it. Of course the major online providers like Netflix and HBO will have to combat issues with households sharing IDs, but clearly everything is headed towards streaming.

If I were a cable company, I’d be very fearful and frantically trying to figure out ways to reduce costs for customers. As a customer, I don’t need a land line and I don’t need to pay for major networks because everything can be viewed online. The value proposition of cable is diminishing quickly. It’s just a matter of time before we can stream everything we want and cut cable out completely.

It is all about the power of consumers.

I have to imagine that we are drawing close to the day when cable companies no longer will be able to dictate to us what packages we can buy, how networks are bundled, and how much we are going to have to spend if we want to watch "Game of Thrones" and "Homeland." Everything will be available a la carte, because that's what consumers ultimately want.

It is all about the power of consumers.
KC's View: