Saturday, August 21, 2010

Perilous Posturing

Lately conservatives have come out with a barrage of attacks, false claims, and general chest-thumping in preparation for the midterm elections. They are attacking Obama's economic policies; fighting the allowance of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts; ignoring the hardships many Americans are facing; pushing lies about taxation and tax rates, in general; trying (again) to kill Social Security; dithering on unemployment insurance; and scapegoating public workers.

As Larry Bartels states, "The clearest and most significant implication of aggregate election analyses is that objective economic conditions are the single most important influence upon an incumbent president's prospects for reelection." Which is why Republicans are obstructing everything. They care only about their own power. Never mind the hungry, homeless, unemployed, and hurting...the right-wing just wants their political power back. They will avoid anything close to actual governance, in hopes the economy will continue to falter. It's a sick and diabolical plan. It shows their true aim. Unless you're in the top 1 percent, I can't understand why someone would want these people deciding the policies of our country.

Regarding the noise surrounding the expiration of Bush tax cuts, one fact the Republicans never seem to mention is that extending them for the next 10 years would add about $3.8 trillion to our national debt. It has also been shown, "less than 3 percent of filers with small-business income pay at the top two income tax rates." So, the tax cuts add to the debt, and they do nothing to help "small" business.

A recent article, The Middle Class in America is Radically Shrinking, cataloged numerous statistics showing the dramatic predicament working-Americans face. Here are just a few excerpts:
  • 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the public
  • 61 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck
  • 66 percent of income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1%
  • 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement
  • Since 2000, the average executive earns 300 to 500 times more than the average worker
  • As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held on 7% of the liquid financial assets
  • The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the U.S. now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation's wealth
  • The top 1% of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago
  • 21 percent of all children in the U.S. are living below the poverty line in 2010
  • The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income
In 2009, only 7 percent of federal revenues came from the corporate income tax. The individual income tax and the payroll tax accounted for 44 and 42 percent, respectively. And, although the top quintile of income earners pay 67.2 percent of federal taxes, they earn 53.4 percent of income. Corporation are not facing onerous taxation. We have a slightly progressive federal tax system.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Previous periods with much higher tax rates also coincided with much more growth and broadly shared prosperity. As Paul Krugman noted, "The problem with super-high rates isn't so much that they reduce incentives to work; it's that they create huge incentives to avoid or evade."

"Between 2002 and 2007 the bottom ninety-nine percent of income grew 1.3 percent a year in real terms - while the incomes of the top one percent grew ten percent per year. That one percent accounted for two-thirds of all income growth in those years," asserted James Surowiecki. If a privileged, minuscule segment of the population is making a majority of the income, and increasing such year after year (alongside shrinking wages for the rest of society), shouldn't we be raising tax rates on such persons? Obviously societal institutions are allowing them to garner such lopsided gains. Shouldn't they be made to pay back to the system that nourished them? Shouldn't they help fund the infrastructure, courts, public works, etc. that allow them such a fortunate life?

Another public program, which has been in the sights of right-wingers for years, is Social Security. A basically well-liked and solvent program. The average annual benefit is only $14,000. Even the bleakest forecasts show it can pay full benefits until after the 2030s (some until the 2050s). Yet as usual, Republicans have tweaked and twisted the facts to mean just the opposite. They've completely lied and told a story about Social Security going bankrupt in the 2020s. Raising the retirement age to 70, as some have suggested, is the same as a 15 percent cut in benefits. In predicting Social Security will only be able to pay 75-80 percent of benefits by 2037, the CBO uses an extremely low long-term growth rate. "Lower than anything we've seen in more than a century," wrote Doug Henwood. Even the forecasters are being grossly pessimistic. And yet, after the 2050s, the program will still be able to pay 80 percent of benefits even if we do nothing to change how it currently operates.

Henwood also reveals the average weekly payout for an unemployment (insurance) benefit recipient is is $307. All those chastising the unemployed and claiming they're lazy, coasting on easy-street, and purposefully choosing not to work, I encourage them to see how much of an easy-street they can live on for $307 a week. Another very sad and despicable quality many Americans seem to wallow in - bashing the most downtrodden, while seemingly revering those oppressing them.

Right-wingers also want to pretend this is all the fault of Barack Obama. Yet according to the latest analysis of BLS job numbers, by Rob Shaprio, "it's hard to credibly blame the White House for the vast, vast majority of job losses...Out of 8,467,000 private sector jobs lost in this dismal cycle (December 2007 to July 2009); 7,796,000 of those jobs or 92 percent were lost on the Republican's watch or under sway of their policies."

Then there is the always useful scapegoat, the public worker. You know, those lavishly rewarded school teachers driving Cadillacs. In the 1980s it was welfare Queens driving Cadillacs. So we squashed welfare as we knew it and basically threw people off the welfare rolls. As with all public initiatives (other than the transfer of public dollars to the privileged), the right-wing feels public endeavors must be stopped. The latest target in the 'bash-everything-public' theme is public employees.

Conservatives love to attack public pensions. How dare some people want a dignified retirement! 'Work 'til you drop' should be the Republicans campaign slogan. The fact that public workers accept lower wages in lieu of better health care and a pension is beside the point. For Republicans, public workers should have no pension, earn WalMart wages, and pay their own health care. Since right-wingers align themselves with businessmen, this anti-worker model is what they want the world working under. Low labor costs with all the rewards going to the owners and captains of industry.

As Jonathan Cohn asked, "To what extent is the problem that retirement benefits for everybody else have become to stingy?" If workers can never retire, many jobs are then unable to turnover to a younger generation looking for work.

Furthermore, the pension plan shortfall (revenue vs. payout) represents less than 2 percent of projected state and local government spending. "If we assume this shortfall must be filled over a 30-year period, then this would imply a gap that is less than 2 percent of projected spending over this period." Meaning - this is another red herring Republicans are falsely portraying as a failure of government and public work, in general.

Research shows that, when adjusted for experience and education, compensation for state and local workers is 6.8 to 7.4 percent lower than comparable private sector workers. Plus, unions represent only 7 percent of private sector workers. So, is 7 percent of the workforce destroying, bad, and/or responsible for all our problems? Also, many have mistakenly pushed the idea that public workers have been sheltered from the economic downturn. Although, 316,000 public-sector jobs have disappeared over the past two years. Many others have been furloughed and faced shortened hours. Public servants have felt the pain yet have maintained some employment through a quasi-work-sharing system.

Here we have a host of falsities, absurdities, and slanders the right-wing has rolled out in an effort to buttress their faltering and repeatedly debunked supply-side worldview. The programs and policies that have made the most significant contribution to retirement, wages, aggregate demand, and economic security are continually maligned by conservatives. They don't want shared prosperity. They want to preserve their oligarchy. We must ignore them. We follow them at our own (empirically-proven) peril.

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