Tuesday, October 26, 2010

People should be the priority

The Internet has been abuzz with a report I first heard about on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”. Writing on tax.com, Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston described the extent to which economic policy in the United States has been a complete failure.

Looking at official Social Security Administration statistics, he lays out shocking facts: The 74 highest-paid Americans "made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.” You read that right: 74 people!!

The US economic policies since at least Reagan have been destroying the working and middle classes:

“This systematic destruction of the working class and middle class has come during an era notable for celebrating the super-rich just for being super-rich. From the Forbes 400 launch in 1982 and Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1984 to the faux reality of the multiplying Real Housewives shows, money voyeurism has grown in tandem with stagnant to falling incomes for the vast majority. There has also been huge income growth at the top and the economic children of income inequality: budget deficits and malign neglect of our commonwealth.”

There’s a sick logic to this strategy: If the middle and lower classes have their incomes falling—and in real terms (allowing for inflation), middle incomes have lost ground for decades—then they will become much more compliant, less willing to stand up for their rights, less willing to make waves, less willing to join a union, and more willing to do whatever they’re asked to do, even when the actions are destructive for a community. At the same time, they promote the myth that anyone can become rich, and the “wealth porn” mentioned in the above quote only reinforces that myth.

It’s pretty brilliant, really: They get the middle and lower classes to not only to accept their lot without question or challenge, but to actually fight for policies that will keep them oppressed while rewarding the oligarchs and corporate elites. Big business especially benefits by having to pay less and less attention to regulation (environmental, health and safety, etc.) while having a constant downward pressure on wages so they make more profits.

By official government data, poverty is growing rapidly in the United States, and the situation is far worse than politicians of either party talk about. The difference is simple and obvious: Democrats are rightly afraid the Republicans will hang this entirely around their necks and Republicans won’t bring it up because they want more of the same.

Republicans also drone on and on about cutting corporate taxes, knowing full well that many of the largest corporations in the United States pay no income taxes at all—ZERO—and in the Citizens United case the most conservative members of the US Supreme Court gave big corporations free reign to buy elections.

David Cay Johnston ably sums up the situation:

"What does this all mean? It is the latest, and in this case quite dramatic, evidence that our economic policies in Washington are undermining the nation as a whole. We have created a tax system that changes continually as politicians manipulate it to extract campaign donations. We have enabled ‘‘free trade’’ that is nothing of the sort, but rather tax-subsidized mechanisms that encourage American manufacturers to close their domestic factories, fire workers, and then use cheap labor in China for products they send right back to the United States. This has created enormous downward pressure on wages, and not just for factory workers."

"Combined with government policies that have reduced the share of private-sector workers in unions by more than two-thirds—while our competitors in Canada, Europe, and Japan continue to have highly unionized workforces—the net effect has been disastrous for the vast majority of American workers. And of course, less money earned from labor translates into less money to finance the United States of America."

So what all these official statistics and hidden agendas add up to is simple: Control of the United States by the ultra-rich and by corporations. Some Democrats have been complicit in this plan, knowingly or not, but one thing we know for sure: There’s absolutely no way at all that Republicans will fix this. Democrats aren’t saints, but right now they’re the best shot we have of getting America back.

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