By Dan Horn
August 16, 2011 - 03:43
To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Acquired
It is perhaps the Tea Party’s greatest accomplishment that they have so successful fooled middle- to low-income Americans into rallying behind their wealthy elitist politics. Give a working-class man a forum for all of the pent-up, unnamed, and unfocused rage that he’s been harboring throughout the Bush years of income disparity, and suddenly that working-class Joe thinks he’s doing right by him and his family by supporting the very same grotesquely rich Americans and corporations that had their hands in creating such disparity in the first place (the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy saw the household incomes of America’s bottom fifth drop by 2.5% from 1999 to 2009, whereas the top fifth of America saw a unbelievable 9.1% increase in income in those same ten years).
The Christian maxims "to whom much is given, much is required" and “give to the poor” seem to be lost on Tea Party Christians like Perry and Bachmann, and though they might argue “give to the government to give to the poor” isn’t a fair alternative, “give to corporations so that it might someday trickle down to the poor” seems far worse.
Trickledown economics can only serve one demographic: those the money is supposed to be trickling down from. In 2009, over twenty states cited that their top twenty percent income families were making seven times the amount of the bottom twenty percent. During George W. Bush’s presidency, the top one percent of Americans saw a 280% (that’s two hundred eighty percent, in case you thought that was a typo) increase in income from the 1980s, accounting for inflation, while middle-class Americans only saw an increase of 25% in the same length of time. Today corporations make record revenues while unemployment still hovers just below an unprecedented 10%. THERE IS NO REAL TRICKLEDOWN IN TRICKLEDOWN ECONOMICS.
This is an economic theory that’s been somewhat muffled by the din of the Tea Party’s incomprehensible protests and counter-intuitive demands. It’s a theory echoed by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and by Alan Blinder of the Wall Street Journal in July, 2010:
“Consider three different ways to add a dollar to the budget deficit: increase unemployment benefits by $1, give a $1 tax cut to someone earning $50,000 a year, or give a $1 tax cut to someone earning $5 million a year.
“While the immediate impacts on the budget are identical, the near-term spending impacts are not. The unemployed worker struggling to make ends meet will likely spend the entire dollar right away. The $50,000 earner probably will spend the lion's share of it, saving just a bit —that's what most Americans do. But the $5,000,000 earner probably will save most of the new-found dollar.
“The impacts on economy-wide demand will therefore be quite different. Paying more in unemployment benefits offers the most spending ‘bang’ for the budgetary ‘buck.’ Extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy offers the least.”
It seems that all of the middle- to low-income supporters of the Tea Party trickledown economics have completely tuned out reason, however. How could good, hard-working Americans become so duped? It all goes back to the first part of my Theology and Taxes OpEd, in which I discussed Durkheim’s observation of the religious group mind. Introduce Christianity to your platform, and suddenly every unwitting conservative Christian is clambering onboard without doing some proper research first.
The Tea Party’s mission of finding disenfranchised and somewhat naive Americans and using them to picket against their own interests is one of the more repulsive aspects of the movement, but the Partiers’ real aim is no less unsettling: empowering corporatism and widespread privatization of public services and programs. They would simply take the power from the central government and divvy it out amongst corporate entities and municipalities.
Rick Perry himself has attempted to employ privatization in
Texas’ public transit system, proposing to give the Spanish company Cintra and
San Antonio construction giant Zachry billions of dollars in investments to
build a mega-highway, railway, and data conduits from Oklahoma to Mexico. All
revenue generated by tolls, data transfers, and ticket sales of the project would
have gone directly to the companies and municipalities running the show. The
FWA finally put the kibosh on the plan in 2010, but one of the most obvious discrepancies
in Perry’s plan was the colossal and overreaching employment of eminent domain,
the government’s ability to reclaim large portions or private and/or public
land, something Perry has claimed to be a staunch opponent of. Not only that,
but this Trans-Texas Corridor project was even willing to utilize a raise in state
fuel taxes to prop up the initial investments! No new taxes unless they suit Rick Perry’s
corporate-minded agenda, I suppose.
Never mind that the public has no voice in private sector but for government regulation. Had Cintra, Zachry, and the municipalities running the toll booths, train stations, and communications lines wanted to, they effectively could have charged commuters and consumers whatever they wanted, and the public's only recourse would have been futilely pleading with Rick Perry's anti-regulation regime to regulate the Trans-Texas Corridor's prices.
Perry’s Republican Governor’s Association is also known for illegally channeling one million dollars in corporate contributions from Houston real estate mogul Bob Perry to fund Rick Perry’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006. He’s also against the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, based on the regulation’s effect on corporations. There’s no doubt that Rick Perry is in the back pocket of big business.
Michele Bachmann is no different. She’s also opposed cap and trade legislation that would see greenhouse gas emissions regulated and energy use taxed. She’s spoken out against federal programs that incentivize volunteerism with pay, comparing it to conscription. I’d say that it is combating unemployment, but I guess that’s for the corporations backing Bachmann and Perry to do. Bachmann’s also known for conscientiously slandering government health-care reform in a desperate effort to derail it, adding her own addled paranoia to the unfounded “death panel” fiasco. And why? Because government health-care might leave some private health-care tycoon high and dry?
I think Daily Show host Jon Stewart said it best when he likened government health-care to the United States Postal Service, explaining that just because there is a USPS, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for FedEx, UPS, DHL, and others. The health-care reform doesn’t commit every citizen exclusively to a government-run provider; it’s there to help unfortunate people that can’t find a provider that will cover them and/or their families.
Rick Perry lashed out at government regulation of private businesses over the weekend in keeping with his anti-tax/pro-business platform, his main beef being a rejection of Boeing’s proposed facility in South Carolina. Perry would tell you that regulation is fascism, and that no one should be able to tell a private company what to do. Just knowing that there are people out there picketing for this stuff makes my skin crawl. Let’s take a look at what lack of regulation has produced for America just within the last few years:
When bonds companies were packaging subprime mortgages into AAA-rated tranches that would nearly cripple the US stock market in 2008, it wasn’t because the indicators of consumer default were imperceptible, or even that these bonds companies were acting at all covertly in turning those volatile loans into collateral for minimum risk bonds. Even the ratings agencies were content to give the bonds backed by bad loans their highest appraisals to create a brighter outlook on the market, generating high-risk/high-reward trading under the guise of normal day-to-day transactions. There were plenty of Wall Street traders who immediately marked all of the obvious warning signs (just take a look at the firsthand accounts in Michael Lewis’ The Big Short to see how obvious it all really was), but the reason the market crashed was because there was no quantifiable government presence in the market to note the same looming thunderheads of recession that Wall Street saw coming months preceding the financial meltdown. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission had taken a laissez-faire stance, allowing bondsmen to generate these bonds and their convoluted parameters practically out of thin air! Wall Street was making up the rules as they went, and many of them had even started betting against their own loans to reap fortunes as the housing bubble burst.
How does that make anti-regulation policies sound enticing at all? How does that help the average consumer who is most impacted by the economic fallout of corporate blunders? How does corporate hubris and arrogant irresponsibility justify privatizing public sector programs and services or abolishing government involvement in the private sector?
More importantly, why would we give the reigns to another George W. Bush when we have just barley started cleaning up the mess the last one left for us in 2008? It’s true that Obama is a little too timid, a little too calm, to be going toe-to-toe with the radical ideals of the Tea Party and their GOP cronies, but the man is trying in earnest to course-correct the economy. It’s unfortunately a process of trial and error so far, but we would be naive to think that nearly a decade of poor economic decision making could be cleaned up in three or four years. Two of the country's longest and most costly wars and tax cuts to the rich have taken quite a toll on America. It’s going to be a long haul, one that a reinstitution of trickledown policies and extension of Bush tax cuts can only make longer.
Join me next time for an in-depth look at "deep spending cuts" in "Selflessness Is for the Poor."