I apologize for the length of this posting. But important things sometimes take more than just a few words to say. Some may feel that these views are extreme, but I do not. Certainly, they are no more extreme than the views of those "on the other side," such as those contained in Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposals. Agree with what I say, or disagree with it, but please, spend a few minutes and read it.
Let's Start Out by Using your Imagination
Imagine that somewhere here in this country there is a single group that periodically gets together in a wood panelled conference room to discuss what they can do to make certain that:
(1) individuals, families and institutions with great wealth will continue to have that wealth and to assure that it will continue to grow in a limitless manner,
(2) corporations and other businesses will be able to operate in as unregulated manner as possible furthering the unlimited and continuing maximization of their profits for owners and shareholders and
(3) money held by banks and other financial institutions will be readily available to help further these aforementioned goals and generate its own growth as well.
First let me assure you that there is no such group.
There are, however, a good number of individuals and organizations which strongly believe in striving to attain some or all of these objectives. The mechanism for doing so is in Washington, DC, and to a similar extent in our state capitals, where our laws are passed. People with these objectives would be foolish if they did not support legislators whose positions are favorable to them.
Some of these people sincerely believe that attaining these goals is in the very best interest of the nation, its economy and of all of its citizens whose livelihood depends on that economy. Others may mouth such words but actually are really acting out of selfish motives and still others, without any altruistic pretense whatsoever, do so out of greed, pure and simple. And all of them make very large contributions to legislators (or organizations which support legislators) whom they believe will vote to further their objectives. Seeing where the money is, and without money legislators do not get elected, many legislators will take positions which in varying degrees are favorable to the goals cited above.
So while there is no single group which gets together and plans strategies to attain these goals, the individuals and organizations who favor them, when taken collectively, add up to what amounts to a “bloc” which for all intents and purposes, behaves the same as if it were a formally constituted organization.
The Missing Factor – the American People
The one factor absent from these goals is the effect attaining them will have on the American people. True believers in “supply side” or “trickle down” economic theory will say, as is attributed to Calvin Coolidge, “What’s good for business is good for America.” Hence, they have no worry about how these goals will affect most working Americans. They will supposedly do well in a flourishing business climate. When the wealthy retain their wealth and invest it, and businesses make great profits, they claim that job expansion occurs and everyone is supposed to benefit. History, however, has repeatedly proven these ideas to be wrong, as illustrated by the Great Depression following years of “supply side” economics. Unfortunately, people are not so altruistic in regard to the wealth they possess as one would hope. Great wealth tends to adhere to those individuals and businesses or corporations which possess it. The wealth does not get pumped back into the economy to be shared by all as the advocates of “trickle down” economics would have us believe.
(The alternative to “supply side” economics is government investment in the country, as illustrated by FDR’s New Deal. This means spending, a dirty word to many since to in order to spend, the government must tax. The phrase “tax and spend,” which merely describes what governments do, has been given disparaging overtones by opponents of government who feel as Thomas Paine must have when he wrote, “That government which governs least, governs best.” I don’t know how true that is in today’s socio-economic setting, however. Despite this, when the government spends, the nation’s economic pump is primed. The most recent example of this was the government’s successful “stimulus” programs which bailed out the auto companies and some financial institutions. This “Keynesian” approach works while the “supply side” trickle down approach always fails to accomplish anything but make the rich richer and transfer the burden to the working class.)
To attain the goals of the “group” or “bloc” or whatever you choose to call it, well-funded legislators will try to keep taxes as low as possible, so that the wealthy, corporations and other businesses will not, via the leveling effect of taxation, have to “spread their wealth.” This means slashing government spending on anything other than supporting our armed forces, which enables the “slashers” to appear to be patriotic, when in actuality, they are engaged in dismantling the government, piece by piece. Spending for education, the environment, health care, scientific research, unemployment benefits, welfare, employee pensions, social security, regulatory agencies, the arts, etc. are in their eyes drains on the government and to varying degrees, detract from their three goals listed above.
Unless you are among the deluded minority which still believes in the discredited theory of “supply side” economics, it is clear that such tax reduction and slashing of government programs are not in the interest of most Americans. They are the ones who benefit most from the programs which the spending slashers are attacking. How then, can support for cutting taxes and slashing spending be cultivated among the nation’s population to a degree sufficient to elect legislators who will work for goals which are not in the best interest of the American people? That is the problem the aforementioned “group” or “bloc” or whatever you want to call it faces. And here is how they deal with it.
Catering to Fears
Most people have concerns within them which influence their behavior. These often take the form of fears and may include:
- The idea that socialism or communism will take over our country and take away our freedoms.
- Fear that their religious (and/or moral) beliefs will be attacked by our government.
- Resentment that others are getting “for free” what they worked hard to attain.
- Fear that the country is going broke.
There are other “fears” and concerns that we can talk about, but for the sake of brevity, let’s stick with these. In order to get Americans to vote for things which are not in their personal interest, a candidate has to find out what enough of the voters to make a difference in the results of an election are afraid of and cater to those fears.
Let’s start with fear of communism or socialism. In “communism,” the means of production and distribution of almost everything in a nation’s economy is in the hands of an omnipotent and ruthless government (Example: today’s North Korea). Socialism works the same way, but is more responsive to the will of the people, and may be limited to just certain areas of the economy (Example: Sweden). The idea that is planted by the tax cutters and the spending slashers is that government involvement in almost any activity smacks of socialism or communism. Those of us who grew up during the Cold War were taught that these were twin evil ideologies. Ronald Reagan excoriated the USSR as the “Evil Empire” and that idea is still imbued in our culture to this day. Of course, we do business with communists every day in Vietnam and China, and the state-run capitalism of Communist China is the biggest supplier of goods sold in America today, and the biggest purchaser of our debts, but that doesn’t stop politicians from implying that government involvement in almost anything is a step on the road to the twin evil ideologies of socialism and communism. This is the seed that is planted. (Readers of this blog may recall earlier postings concerning economist Frederich Hayek whose book, The Road to Serfdom, takes this position and influenced Ronald Reagan’s thinking.)
When the government attempts to do things like regulating environmental safety or tries to get health care for everyone, the red paint of socialism is sprayed on it by those who want to ignite the fears of voters. In this manner we are given an excuse to fear government spending for these kinds of things. Add to this the mythical image of lazy bureaucrats sitting in government offices, loafing their way to retirement, and that is the icing on the cake.
Social and Moral Fears
The First Amendment to our Constitution prevents the Congress from passing any law “respecting the establishment of religion.” This creates a wall between church and state. But this does not prevent individuals from believing whatever they want to believe about such issues as abortion, homosexuality and same sex marriage. When government becomes involved with these beliefs, however, and provides funding for Planned Parenthood or legislates rights for gays and lesbians, for example, some individuals fear that their personal religious and moral beliefs which may not favor such activities are being attacked by the government and hence, are violations of the First Amendment. A candidate can cater to this particular fear and in a close election, it can mean the difference between winning or losing.
Government at the state as well as the Federal level provides many benefits for people whose earnings are near or below the “poverty” line. These involve Medicaid benefits, welfare payments, food stamps and similar items which are paid for out of taxpayer dollars. Some people resent their tax money being used in this manner. We have all heard many stories about “welfare queens” collecting benefits in several states simultaneously, food stamp users driving away from supermarkets in Cadillac Escalades, individuals preferring unemployment benefits to looking for a job and similar abuses. If enough of an electorate feels others are getting “for free” what they have worked hard for, resentment arises which can be used by a candidate to attack these programs, spending for which, and the tax revenues to pay for them, are his or her real targets. It is undeniable that there is a racial component to this fear as well.
Because it is clear that the government is spending more than it takes in via taxes, some people compare that with the way they manage their household. Just as a hard-pressed family will struggle to meet expenses, cutting corners, going the “hamburger helper” route at the dinner table, they feel that our government must do the same. But it really isn’t the same. While a family may have “maxed out” all of its credit cards and have no financial resources remaining, the government has alternatives such as the projection of savings over many years, the issuance of bonds, control over interest rates and over monetary policy which a family doesn’t have. We have had a national debt since the Revolutionary War which hasn’t gone away. Nations have ways of dealing with such debt that individuals and families do not. It’s like comparing apples with oranges. This however, does not stop purveyors of gloom and doom from convincing voters that practically all government spending must cease because the country is broke. Guess who this makes happy.
There are other areas where the government can be painted as the bad guy. Gun control is one. Some Americans so distrust government that they fear any attempt to regulate their possession of weapons is intended to take away their right to use their weapons against a government which turns tyrannical. Such a right, of course, does not exist. But it is another “fear” which can swing a voter.
Armed with knowledge of these fears, candidates who have pledged to slash government spending and to cut taxes in order to attain the goals of the wealthy, businesses, corporations and the financial community have been able to convince Americans to vote for them, even though their positions may be directed against the well-being of those very voters casting ballots for them, skillfully manipulated by the kind of fears mentioned above.
Add to this the influence of right-wing media, including TV, talk radio and the internet, where half-baked ideas are given undeserved credibility and it is easy to see why many Americans elect Representatives who act for the benefit of the wealthy, businesses and financial institutions and not for the benefit of their constituents.
What’s Going on Right Now
With all of this in mind, let’s look at America today. Stated simply, government services cost more than the revenues produced by our system of taxation. The Republican approach is to slash these government services which, based on its present revenues, they feel the country can no longer afford. Raising taxes to enable the country to pay for these services is something not to be expected from Republicans. On top of this, continuing the Bush tax cuts until 2012, an act with which the Democrats cooperated last year, did not help.. This was part of the compromise which enabled to Affordable Health Care Act to be passed, but the battle should have been joined at that point and the tax cuts rescinded then instead of making it part of next year's battles.
Until we elect a new Congress in 2012, along with a President as well, conflict will continue between those who want government spending slashed and taxes kept at a low level, ignoring the welfare of the majority of the American people, and those who want essential government services to continue at their present level. During this period, people will suffer and the rich will get richer.
The solution to this problem is two-fold.
(1) The government, despite examples which those on the right will always dig up, does not waste money. It is managed very economically. The services it provides, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, are essential and should not be cut. It would be far more costly to individual Americans if these services were provided by the private sector, a concept which many Republicans support. This is because many GOP representatives, whose souls have been bought whether they know it or not, are blinded by their own party’s lies, especially the fairy tale about “trickle down” supply-side economics. Finally and most importantly, taxes on the wealthy and on business and corporate profits must be raised significantly, even to wartime levels, in order to meet the cost of these services and to reduce the debt resulting from years of spending more than was taken in as revenue. Many corporations, through creative accounting and overseas operations, pay no taxes whatsoever. The burden should not be on the backs of the working men and women in the form of reduced or eliminated government services, but rather, on the wealthy. They can afford it.
“… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” FDR – March 1933
(2) The American public must be awakened to the way they are being manipulated by candidates who use their fears to get them to back programs which are inimical to their own well-being. We should listen to the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, 78 years ago, told America that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Today, Americans must hearken back to those wonderful words of his First Inaugural Address and learn to ignore their ill-founded fears as described above and, on each and every Election Day, vote for what’s good for themselves, and not for the interests of the wealthy, businesses, corporations and financial institutions, and to vote to “convert retreat into advance.” This is not the time for "retreat" which is what the budget slashers are demanding of working Americans.
I hope this blog posting has proved to be helpful.. As always, your comments, pro or con, are invited.
Feel free to copy and paste this into an Email and forward it to others and at the same time, suggest to them that they follow www.jackspotpourri.com on a regular basis. It would be nice if 1,000,000 voters get to view this message.