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April 7, 2011

Budget Battle: Who Is Our Country FOR?

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Who is our country for? Is this a country for We, the People, where all of us are banded together to protect and empower each other, together? Or is this a country where a powerful few reap all the benefits, and the rest of us are little more than "the help?" That is what the coming budget/deficit/debt/shutdown battles are about.

In the past several decades our country and economy has been thrown out of balance in ways that hurt most of us but greatly benefit a powerful few. Communities are being bankrupted, forced to lay off police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other essential people who work to protect and help us. More and more working people are hurting, falling ever further behind, losing or barely clinging to their jobs and homes and businesses and health. At the same time big-company CEOs who cheat, bankrupt their company, ship jobs overseas and fire white collar workers by the thousands are not held accountable -- instead they are rewarded with big bonuses.

And in the larger picture the country is falling behind, the economy is losing its competitive edge, the infrastructure that supports our businesses is crumbling and our public structures like the court system and schools are deteriorating. And in the face of this decline our public confidence, trust, civility and other measures of civic health are falling.

The measure of any serious budget deficit reduction program should be to look at these imbalances and address them. That is the role of We, the People government. But instead, the new Republican budget accelerates the imbalances -- on purpose. It cuts or eliminates the programs that assist people, helping us maintain or rise to a middle-class existence.

Decades of Stealth Attack

Most of us probably thought this country was a "We, the People" democracy where we are all in this together, looking out for each other. But for decades corporate conservatives have been engaged in a stealth attack on the middle class, taking all of the gains of our joint investment in a prosperous economy just for themselves.

The effects of the stealth attack on the middle class have been creeping up on us, and are now widely felt. Incomes have been stagnant for some time, as costs rise. Predatory industries increasingly prey on the public and small business. At the same time a powerful and wealthy few have benefited from these changes so much that today, just 400 people have more wealth than half of our population of 300 million people combined!

One measure of the price of maintaining a middle-class existence is the "toil index." The index of toil measures the work hours it takes for a family to live in an average home where children have access to an average school. In the past few decades the work hours required to maintain a middle-class existence has gone up 62.4%.

So in 1950 the "toil index" was 42.5 hours. That dropped to 41.5 by 1970. But then it started to rise -- a lot. By 2000 it was 67.4 hours, an increase of 62.4%! Yet this was at a time when the country as a whole got ever wealthier. And since 2000 it has obviously gotten much worse.

Now The Attack Is In The Open

Now the attack on the middle class is out in the open. The new Republican budget plan takes away any pretense of our government working for We, the People, and transforms it completely to a government of, by and for the top 1%. Programs to maintain the middle class are cut or eliminated. Help for the jobless is cut back. Government workers are eliminated. Medicare is privatized. Social Security is phased out.

But in this budget taxes for the wealthy few and big corporations are cut, big oil companies continue to raid the treasury, the arms industry prospers and other multinational giants continue to receive subsidies and advantages over smaller, less-powerful competitors.

This budget is clear in its purpose: to create a one-dollar-one-vote plutocracy for the wealthy few, while gutting our one-person-one-vote democratic system.

How We Got Here

Let's look at the effect of the recent decades of this stealth attack on our We, the People government and economy.

Top tax rates for the rich have been dropping and dropping, resulting in big budget deficits that add up to big debt:

Top Tax Rate

The Republican budget doesn't fix this at all. It makes it worse. It cuts tax cuts for the rich even more, and guts the things We, the People do for each other.

The next chart shows how corporate taxes have declined, the one after that shows who owns those corporations:

Corp_Taxes_Share_GDP
wealth2

So at the same time as income taxes for the wealthiest dropped the tax share from the corporations -- mostly owned by the wealthiest few -- also declined dramatically. On top of that cuts in taxes on capital gains and dividends pushed even more of the gains to the top. The Republican budget plan makes this worse.

As top tax rates have been dropping working people's payroll taxes have been rising. This is the money we set aside in the Social Security Trust Fund for our retirement. (Chart from Urban Institute)

The Republican budget not only doesn't address this, it raids this money we have set aside for retirement by cutting our retirement benefits!

Because of cuts in taxes for the rich and the corporations they own, inequality has been increasing dramatically. The Economic Policy Institute shows that, "The share of income going to the majority of households has dropped considerably since the 1970s.. Share of household income held by bottom 99.5%, 1913-2008:"

Family-Income_Share-of-household-income_bottom-99_3

The share of income that 99.5% of us get has fallen from 93.7% to 83.1%. The top half percent get all the rest. The Republican budget plan doesn't fix this at all. It makes it worse.

Here is a chart of the increasing concentration of income at the top:

The Republican budget plan doesn't fix this at all. It makes it worse.

How It Happened

The "Reagan Revolution" cut taxes, deregulated business, opened our borders to let in goods from "thugocracies" that exploit workers, dramatically increased military spending and cut back on the things we (government) do for each other. It cut back on investment in our people, our infrastructure, education, public structures like our courts, our labor protections, our consumer protections, and attacked the independence of the ways we receive objective information. Things have gotten steadily worse in the years since.

Last year's post Reagan Revolution Home To Roost -- In Charts shows the impact on us of these changes over time, concluding,

Sometimes it can be so obvious where a problem comes from, but very hard to change it. The anti-government, pro-corporate-rule Reagan Revolution screwed a lot of things up for regular people and for the country. Some of this disaster we saw happening at the time and some of it has taken 30 years to become clear. But for all the damage done these "conservative" policies greatly enriched a few entrenched interests, who use their wealth and power to keep things the way they are. And the rest of us, hit so hard by the changes, don't have the resources to fight the wealth and power.

Look at the influence of these entrenched interests on our current deficits, for example. Obviously conservative policies of tax cuts and military spending increases caused the massive deficits. But entrenched interests use their wealth and power to keep us from making needed changes. The facts are here, plain as the noses on our faces. The ability to fight it eludes us. Will we step up and do something to reverse the disaster caused by the Reagan Revolution or not?

The Republican budget plan doesn't fix this at all. It makes it worse. Much, much worse.

More Charts

In the meantime, lobbying to influence our government against the things that help We, the People has gone through the roof.

lobbying_spending_totals_98-09
(Chart source Sunlight Foundation.)

The Republican budget doesn't fix this at all.

They lobby because it pays off. It pays off because the lobbying buys them special favors, breaks, subsidies and policies that favor them over their competitors and the rest of us. This happens because we let them get away with it. Of course when powerful interests can use money to bend the rules they will bend the rules in their own favor -- and will start by bending the rules in ways that let them bend the rules even more.

Of course this is what they have been doing. Here is what is happening in the case of some specific industries:

Lobbying for "defense' has increased:

Defense_Lobbying

And the result show how this has paid off: (note, chart includes defense-related spending.)

Military_spending_chart

We spend more on military than all other countries combined. The Republican budget doesn't fix this at all.

Imbalances

So these are just some of the imbalances that government should be addressing. But it isn't. The Republican budget doesn't fix this at all. It just makes all of these problems and imbalances worse. And this is because of that ability of the wealthy and powerful to pay to get the rules bent in their favor. We need to instead change the system to hold politicians and CEO’s accountable, making sure the rich are not abusing the system.

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Posted by Dave Johnson at April 7, 2011 12:23 PM


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