Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Republican Ownership Versus Shared Prosperity

The Journal Sentinel just can't help itself. Whenever our ultra-conservative pretty-boys have more inane babble to spew, the Journal is right there to disseminate such garbage.

Paul Ryan's opinions were showcased in, The choice: welfare state or opportunity society. A whole bucketful of right-wing talking-points are thrown at the reader. Ryan, of course, is hoping some will stick.

He starts by informing us that the past election revealed how voters "would no longer tolerate a government that grows too large, too fast." If that were the case, they should have been voting Republicans out of office years ago. Spending growth, over Obama's first two years, has followed the same trajectory as the last few years of George W. Bush. The whole premise is incorrect. Government has not been growing any differently under President Obama than under W. Mr. Ryan has also renamed W.'s "ownership society" the "opportunity society". I wonder if that is because he knows citizens can no longer afford to own anything, but they could possibly have an opportunity...some day.

Of course the Democrats are behind this mythical growth and why "our most urgent concerns go unaddressed." Mr. Ryan doesn't mention that his party was in control of the government over the past decade. Why didn't they restrain spending and deficits? Why didn't they improve health care? Where are all the jobs their magical supply-side economics creates?

Ryan then AGAIN starts promoting his plan for America. A thoroughly debunked steaming pile to rival any steaming pile. Paul Krugman, the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP), and Citizens For Tax Justice (CTJ) have all, point by point, completely discredited Ryan's delusional, business-friendly, market-oriented, typically Republican, "plan".

His next target is Social Security (SS). He is pleased we're looking into a way "to make Social Security sustainably solvent." One problem: Social Security is solvent! Completely solvent until 2037. After that, without any changes, it could pay 75-80 percent of benefits for decades. Any issue with Social Security is 50 years down the road, and it could be easily addressed by removing the cap on taxable income. Sadly, the 2 percent payroll tax holiday, in the latest round of negotiations, threatens future solvency (the payroll tax funds SS, among other programs) and doesn't provide much stimulus.

Paul also wants, "Hard caps on spending to help limit the growth of government and make an immediate impact on our ballooning deficits." He also thinks, "Lower tax rates are critical to economic growth." During recessions the only entity capable and/or willing to spend is the government. After trillions of dollars have been lost, along with millions of jobs, businesses nor citizens are going to rush to produce nor buy anything. And, empirical evidence shows there is no connection between low tax rates and growth. We grew better under Clinton, when taxes were higher, than Bush. Our greatest period of growth was the post-WWII era from the 1947 to the late 1973, when taxes were near the highest we've seen.

The next item to run the Ryan gauntlet is health care reform. Here Paul basically repeats the typical Republican lies bandied about during the debate and eventual passage of the health care reform bill. Again, he fails to remind us that Republicans haven't done anything for health care -especially to control costs - for decades. Bush's Medicare bill was a bribe to score senior votes, and it added billions in costs.

The talking points wouldn't be complete without Ryan mentioning the "explosive growth of government" casting "a shadow over economic activity" which worries "job creators" because of the unsure status regarding tax increases. For starters, a 3 to 4 percent tax increase is not that much; especially for those making over $250,000 per year (the top 1.5 percent of the population). Workers' wages have been stagnating for decades. The gap between their productivity and their wages has continually grown. Yet, I don't hear Mr. Ryan howling that we need to stabilize wages and purchasing power for workers. Second, businesses have more product than they can sell already. They are not going to hire more workers to produce more products that no one can buy. And, workers whom are underemployed or unemployed can't afford to spend.

In Mr. Ryan's district, the unemployment rate is hovering over 12 percent. Yet, Mr. Ryan was one of many who voted against extending unemployment insurance recently. As a Capital Times editorial remarks, Paul is too busy selling his snake oil and advancing his own interests to worry about his constituents.

Mr. Ryan closes by railing against (an imaginary) "Cradle-to-grave welfare state, in which more Americans depend on government than on themselves." For this to be true, unemployment would have to be over 50 percent of the working age population (benefiting from unemployment insurance) or the majority of the labor force would have to be employed by the government. Clearly, neither of these are reality. We can only assume hyperbole is being employed in this claim by Mr. Ryan, reaching desperately to make his point. Riling up the base, painting the false picture of America as a lazy, welfare-ridden country, with slouches garnering the majority of benefits from taxes.

Safety net programs accounted for 14 percent of the Federal budget in 2010. Still not the largest part of the budget, even during the second worst economic period in our history. It accounts for less of the budget than health care (21%), defense (20%), and Social Security (20%). We know his answer to health care is simply more privatization and deregulation. Defense, of course, is untouchable. The safety net programs have helped 15 million people stay out of poverty. A morally laudable task during these rough times. Surprisingly (not really), Paul doesn't have anything to say about tax loopholes, off-shore accounts, tax evasion, and other corporate welfare. Nope. Poor people are lazy bastards that must get it together. Wall Street and other well-connected crooks who simply bribed, threatened, and stole money from the government are beyond the scorn, and the attention, of the right-wing. Oddly the idea of limiting greed, corruption, tax evasion, and other nefarious practices of corporate America never enter the Republican equation for how we can fix budgetary issues.

He finished by repeating the Republicans' low tax, less regulation mantra, assuring us this is the foundation for growth. But just saying this, again and again, doesn't make it so. Higher taxes, government infrastructure spending, and tighter regulation brought the U.S. it's most prosperous and productive period ever. The supply-side experience has been a humongous failure. Workers are making less, retirement is more volatile, and health care costs have sky-rocketed. All this has occurred alongside growing inequality and a crumbling infrastructure. How can any one, after all this, still believe this emperor has any clothes?

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