May 5, 2010

Reagan Revolution Home To Roost: America Is Crumbling

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The conservative argument of the last 30-40 years boils down to this: "Hey look at this big pile of seed corn. Let's eat it!" Almost 30 years after the "Reagan Revolution" our infrastructure is crumbling around us. Since the Reagan-era tax cuts we have been deferring maintenance of (and never mind modernizing) our infrastructure, and as a result have become less competitive in the world economy.

Meanwhile our economic competitors, countries like China and India, have been building infrastructure like crazy. Other countries are investing, educating, improving public services because they know these things make the economy explode later. A major component of China's stimulus was infrastructure and public services - including public welfare - because of the economic benefits that come later.

Now for those countries it is later, while for us it's just becoming too late. Their investment is paying off while we're having trouble paying off the accumulated Reagan/Bush tax-cut debt.

How did we get here?

Public infrastructure is the roads, courts, education, etc. that enable an economy to prosper. We got ourselves out of the Great Depression with a big investment in public infrastructure. The government taxed the wealthy and built or improved modern roads, bridges, post offices, courthouses, shipyards, schools and other public structures that enabled business to take off.

And then business took off. The idea was, of course, that business would give back some of the returns to keep that process going. But instead the big companies and wealthy families funded a conservative propaganda machine that convinced people to let them just keep it. Look at this chart from 14 Ways A 90 Percent Top Tax Rate Fixes Our Economy And Our Country:

krugman_chart

You can clearly see that the money that should have been invested in maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure instead has gone to a few wealthy people at the top of the food chain. (We're the food.) And of course, we all can clearly see the results of this in today's economy. They ate the seed corn, America is crumbling.

Now, here we are later and we are seeing the result of the Reagan Revolution. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card estimates that we are $2.2 trillion behind just on maintaining the existing infrastructure, never mind modernizing. Please click through and explore what ASCE is saying there. (Conservatives -- there are lots of pictures!)

What do we do?

The answer is obvious. It is called public investment. Ask the big companies, the banks and the wealthy to pay back some of the incredible amounts of money they have been piling up as a result of the past investment that We, the People made in building that infrastructure that enabled the economy to boom. Use that money to invest in maintaining and modernizing the infrastructure so that the economy can again thrive for all of us.

We can employ the unemployed and bring our infrastructure up to par at the same time. There is a lot of work that needs doing and we have a lot of people out of work.

The payback will be enormous. The economy will explode. And we can build sustainability into the process this time.

What is in the way?

The problem now is that the corporate/conservative propaganda machine has gone way past talking people into cutting taxes for the rich and cutting back on public spending for infrastructure and our people. Now they have become very extreme, convincing a number of people that government spending - We, the People spending on the common good - and government itself - We, the People making the decisions for ourselves - is the wrong approach. They believe that any government at all is "socialism" -- run for the benefit of all of us -- and that all public services must be "privatized" -- meaning run for the benefit of a few. They believe it is wrong, even immoral to have public schools, public transit, public health care, regulations that restrict what companies can do to consumers or the environment, etc.

They have the megaphone because they have the money. We have to confront this head on.

More to come!

This is another story of a wealthy few selling off the country's people and future. This is another story of gains for a few at the expense of the rest of us. These stories are becoming all too common. This is the Reagan Revolution coming home to roost, and I will continue to write about the terrible price we are paying and will be paying for a long time for the failed experiment in conservative ideology.

Sign up here for the CAF daily summary.

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February 24, 2009

Who Is Our Government For?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

dday, writing in Giving Away The Tax Argument at Digby's Hullabaloo blog, asks why so many California newspapers have "tax increase calculators" but no calculators that show people how much the budget cuts affect them.

In my life, I have never seen a "spending cut calculator," where someone could plug in, say, how many school-age children they have, or how many roads they take to work, or how many police officers and firefighters serve their community, or what social services they or their families rely on, and discover how much they stand to lose in THAT equation. Tax calculators show bias toward the gated community screamers on the right who see their money being "taken away" for nothing. A spending cut calculator would actually show the impact to a much larger cross-section of society, putting far more people at risk than a below 1% hit to their bottom line.

[. . . The media already highlights the tax side of the equation over spending, dramatically portraying tax increases while relegating spending cuts to paragraph 27. It feeds the tax revolt and distorts the debate. And it's completely irresponsible.

In Why Are Public Assets Being Cut Right When We Need Them Most? Jay Walljasper, of OnTheCommons.org wonders why public transit, libraries and other things the government does for us are all being cut at exactly the time people need them? As the economy turns downward more people need to take the train or bus, or use the library. Jay makes the connection,

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, proposes closing the state's budget gap by reducing corporate taxes and slashing state aid to local governments. This will mean painful cuts in public assets, such as transit and libraries.

. . . This loss of our public assets is an alarming threat to our society. The things we all own in common and depend upon--libraries, transit, parks, water systems, schools, public safety, infrastructure, cultural programs, social services--are being gradually but steadily undermined.

For many years I have been blogging at Seeing the Forest, often coming back to a question, "Who is our economy for?" For some time now regular incomes have stagnated, while incomes at the very top just go up and up. The GDP keeps rising, productivity keeps going up, but regular people see less and less of the benefit of this increase. In fact, if you look at charts and data, the stagnation of incomes started almost exactly at the same time as President Reagan took office and started implementing the corporate agenda of anti-tax and anti-government policies. So is this a coincidence?

Throughout human history we have seen one scheme after another wherein a few people seize power and devise a system to hold it and use it to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. This is human nature and through history we have seen it happen over and over.

America formed in reaction to the British monarchy's exploitation of its people. We, the People formed our government to band together and protect each other from attempts by the powerful few to exploit us. Our Constitution was supposed to be include a system of checks and balances to account for the nature of power.

It is time for the people to take back that power and use it to again benefit each other. And it is time for California's newspapers to do something for We, the People and include a "budget cuts calculator" as well as tax increase calculator. It is just as important, maybe more so, that we all understand how we're injuring and jeopardizing our future with the budget cuts the Republicans required in this year's budget negotiations.

Click through to Speak Out California

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October 29, 2008

Socialism

In Europe they get 5 weeks vacation, fully-paid health care for everyone, generous pensions at an earlier age, full maternity benefits AND child care.

They get PROTECTION from poison in their food, workers getting injured by their jobs, companies dumping crap in their air and water, corporate scams and other general exploitation of the public.

They get some say in how big corporations are run, and the corporations BENEFIT THE PEOPLE.

When McCain complains that Obama is going to "spread the wealth around" ... COMPLAINS about that!! I think maybe everyone in the entire country might just turn out to vote for Obama. Except a few, very few, fatcat corporate executives who are stealing everything they can get their hands on, at our expense. HELL yes, spread the wealth around! HELL yes!

Socialism -- another name for things that work. Compare that to what we've had here for twenty or thirty years. Is there even a question? Sign me up!

Who is our economy FOR, anyway?

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May 22, 2008

Private Greed vs. Public Good

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

As I wrote the other day, the California Chamber of Commerce has come out with their annual list of "job-killer" bills. The list only targets bills by Democrats, and the bills are all acts that would help the people of California by improving the environment, worker wage and safety, public health, etc.

The California Chamber of commerce is a lobbying association. They represent their members: businesses, many of which are large corporations. This is about private greed vs. the public good. The Chamber's job is to convince the legislature to pass laws that enrich the owners of the corporations that fund them. Nothing more, nothing less.

If that involves convincing the public of something, then they do that. Hence the label "job killer."

But the companies represented by the Chamber are the real job killers. They outsource jobs to other countries. They lay people off when they calculate it will maximize their profits. They employ as many people as needed to maximize the income to and wealth of their owners. Nothing more, nothing less.

The very idea that the Chamber of Commerce would care if something is a "job killer" is ludicrous when you understand their function. They are a lobbying association that represents the interests of companies that eliminate as many jobs as they want to, at their discretion, and then use some of the money that would have been paid in salaries to pay the Chamber to convince us to support their interests -- and the rest of it to enrich themselves, which is their primary interest.

That is how corporations work in the modern, "free-market" world that we find ourselves in since the Reagan era. Not for the public benefit, not necessarily even for the company's benefit, but for the financial benefit of the executives and (some of) the owners of the company.

Private greed vs. public good. Nothing more, nothing less.

So there isn't really an argument about whether the "job-killer" bills on this year’s list really do or do not "kill jobs." That is not the point of the label. Instead it is up to us to understand who we are hearing from. If we get caught up in arguing about whether these bills create more jobs than they might cost, we’re missing the point. Their arguments are propaganda with no basis in reality, designed to do nothing more than sway opinion. The point of the "job-killer" label is to make people afraid for their jobs, not to actually argue that these bills will or will not actually "kill" any jobs.

For example, a bill to require energy efficiency in new housing construction obviously creates many new jobs in the new, innovative "green" industries. But such a bill might lower the profits that go into the pockets of the executives and owners of some of the companies that the California Chamber of Commerce represents. (The LA Times on Wednesday said the Chamber’s agenda "seems dominated by development and energy interests".) And, again, it is irrelevant whether the bill might or might not really cost jobs in some of those companies. The Chamber doesn't care. That is not their function.

The use of the label "job killers" is about scaring the public. Nothing more, nothing less. It is about fear. It is about creating a climate in which people who are afraid for their jobs will go along with measures designed to enrich the owners of the companies that the Chamber -- a lobbying association -- represents.

So please don't be fooled. Don't be swayed by propaganda designed to make you afraid. As I wrote above, it is up to us to understand who we are hearing from.

Click through to Speak Out California

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July 18, 2007

What Happened to the California Dream?

What Happened to the California Dream? originally appeared at Speak Out California.

How long have people been making fun of us left-coast, tree-hugging, frisbee-tossing, granola-crunching, animal-loving, tofu-eating, yoga-practicing, peacenik eco-nuts?

treehug.jpg

The thing is, people are starting to realize that all of these ridiculed things are good for us-- and for the country and the planet. They are the right choices.

Sure, everyone had a good laugh. But it's a few years later now and the consequences of years of bad choices are catching up. People who mocked tofu-eaters and Frisbee-tossers are realizing they don't want to be fat and out of shape--some are even dying of heart attacks and diabetes. Granola and tofu are good for you, especially compared to the fast food, meat and white breat that were being eaten in their stead.

And what about the eco-nuts? They aren't looking all that nutty today, are they? The people who laughed about tree-hugging econ-nuts are spending $60 to fill their gas tanks and worryng about their coastal property values declining as the water rises. Meanwhile Californians are driving hybrids in proportions greater than the rest of the country. Who is laughing now?

California used to lead the way. It used to be the "conventional wisdom" that innovative, inspiring and progressive ideas came from California and spread across the country. But unfortunately California also led a national wave of conservative-inspired tax-cutting. We ate our seed corn, and allowed our schools and legal system and highways and other crucial infrastructure to deteriorate. And rather than pay taxes we racked up debt.

But we learned from that and now California is waking up. We just tossed out a Congressman for trying to get rid of the Endangered Species Act. We are standing up to the big oil companies and demanding fuel economy and air quality standards. We are standing up to the big tobacco companies and pioneering smoking bans in restaurants and bars. California is pioneering stem cell research. And we are working on finding the way to providing universal health care!

California is beginning to lead the way again.

So the next time you hear someone laugh at people for doing something you know in your heart is the right thing to do, remind them that bad choices eventually lead to bad outcomes.

And, by the way, now that we are living with the alternative, that whole "peace and love" thing is looking a whole lot better, too. Oh yeah.


(Photo with permission)

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March 4, 2007

Conservatives Always Choose Corporate Profits Over People's Lives

The Bush Administration is about to let a drug company sell one of our few remaining effective antibiotics for use on livestock. This is so the drug company can make higher profits. They do not care that this decision could kill a LOT of us.

Here is what is going on: These days people don't think of infections as serious, not to mention potentially fatal. This is because we have antibiotics to kill the germs. But throughout human history bacteria were one of the biggest - if not the biggest - causes of death. All the way up until the discovery of penicillin - less than 100 years ago - people used to die from things as simple as a cut getting infected.

The germs have been fighting back. They build up resistance to the drugs we use against them, and over time the drugs stop working. This is the reason doctors tell people to be sure to take ALL of the antibiotics in a prescription even if they start to feel better -- you need to kill ALL of the germs or the ones that survive develop resistance. The other reason is that drugs are given to livestock because they help them get fatter quicker. Over time, through simple evolution and natural selection, the germs become resistant to the antibiotics and we all are put at risk. One after another the antibiotics have become nearly useless. In fact, we only have a few effective antibiotics left.

Think about what would happen if germs get a chance to build resistance to the few remaining effective antibiotics. Now read this news story:

FDA Rules Override Warnings About Drug - Cattle Antibiotic Moves Forward Despite Fears of Human Risk,

The government is on track to approve a new antibiotic to treat a pneumonia-like disease in cattle, despite warnings from health groups and a majority of the agency's own expert advisers that the decision will be dangerous for people.

... The American Medical Association and about a dozen other health groups warned the Food and Drug Administration that giving cefquinome to animals would probably speed the emergence of microbes resistant to that important class of antibiotics, as has happened with other drugs. Those super-microbes could then spread to people.

And WHY are they going to approve using this drug in cattle? Because the company is willing to sacrifice future effectiveness of the drug in order to make higher profits today. From the story,
"The industry says that 'until you show us a direct link to human mortality from the use of these drugs in animals, we don't think you should preclude their use,' " said Edward Belongia, an epidemiologist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Wisconsin. "But do we really want to drive more resistance genes into the human population? It's easy to open the barn door, but it's hard to close the door once it's open."
This has already happened before. Again, from the story,
The FDA knows how hard it can be to close that door. In the mid-1990s, overriding the objections of public health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the drug agency approved the marketing of two drugs, Baytril and SaraFlox, for use in poultry. Both are fluoroquinolones, a class of drugs important for their ability to fight the bioterror bacterium that causes anthrax and a food-borne bacterium called campylobacter, which causes a serious diarrheal disease in people.
A broader question is raised by this: If there are so few effective antibiotics, shouldn't they be considered to be a common resource -- something that is "owned" by the people for the people? How can a corporation be allowed to decide something like this, something that could kill a LOT of us, on the basis of making a short-term profit, a quick buck?

Conservatives -- they choose corporate profits over people every single time.

Update - Mary has more on this at The Left Coaster.

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December 6, 2006

We The People, Through Our Government

In the post Conservative Capitalism Vs. Liberal Socialism, John Hawkins responds to my earlier post about sick pay. He writes,

It is not the job of a company to provide benefits for society or health care or sick days or anything else. It's the job of a company to make a profit for its owners and in the process of doing so, it will create things like jobs, taxes, health care for workers, value for its customers, and other such things that are beneficial to society.
And I agree with him 100%. I'll go even further. Wal-Mart is not "bad" because it pays low wages or skimps on providing health care. If they did that, Target could charge lower prices and customer might go to Target instead. They're just doing their job, as WE, the people, through our government, define it through our laws.

So whose job IS it to provide for higher wages and health care? It is OUR job - the people - through OUR laws and regulations. WE are the ones who have dropped the ball on higher wages and health care. WE tell companies what to do - or the system doesn't work. If WE, through our government, require ALL companies to pay higher wages and provide health care that levels the playing field for Wal-Mart's competition with Target.

Here is where I differ with Hawkins. Hawkins writes,

...the government shouldn't get involved with things like what sort of health care a company is providing, sick days, or the minimum wage...
This is the standard Libertarian view - keep the people (government) out of the decisions. But I say that is exactly where the people, through our government SHOULD get involved! We need to keep that playing field level. Companies MUST work to provide the highest profits. Therefore WE must set a playing field that provides the greatest benefit to US from this system. WE must level that playing field on which the companies compete. We MUST tell them to pay higher wages or the system doesn't benefit us. WE have fallen down on the job, not the companies, by not doing OUR part, through our government, which is to set the minimum wages and benefits at a level that is high enough. And that is why wealth is concentrating at the top and the rest of us are working longer hours for fewer benefits.

Hawkins writes that people can always quit and get a better job elsewhere. But there is a problem with that approach, and we have seen the problem play itself out over and over throughout history. There are more people in the world than jobs, so without our intervention wages would necessarily sink to the lowest level to sustain the necessary employees - and the rest starve. Of course, in a consumer economy the companies would be drying up long before that because the consumers won't have money to spend. We have learned from history that if we, acting through our government, "stay out of it," it is a formula for worldwide poverty - a race to the bottom. Historically it is the periods of greatest involvement that have been the periods of greatest economic growth. This is because in a consumer economy policies that provide greater disposable income to the consumers grow the economy. Duh!

The system that Hawkins admires is ENTIRELY a creation of government - of us. We defined what a corporation IS. We give the owners limited liability so they can take risks without losing everything. (Imagine if buying a share of stock meant that you could become a defendant in a lawsuit.) We set up the infrastructure of the internet, and the roads, etc. upon which the companies conduct commerce... And now we need to give ourselves a raise and health care, and maybe longer vacations and shorter workweeks.

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November 16, 2006

Capitalism 3.0 - A New Way To Think About What We Own

I’ve just finished a very interesting book, Capitalism 3.0, A Guide To Reclaiming The Commons, by Peter Barnes. The book talks about ways we can restructure our laws and rules of ownership to cover who should pay for polluting and other harmful things -- costs that our current system ignores and even encourages. The change is based on our realizing that we all own certain things in common.

Here’s a quick way to understand the ideas in this book:

Suppose you live next door to a sawmill operation. The owner makes lots of money, but aa waste product, sawdust, is building up on his lot. This big pile of sawdust is getting bigger and bigger, and it's getting to the point that he’s going to have to shut down his profitable operation if he can’t find some place to dump some sawdust. So one day he comes to you and asks if he can dump some sawdust in your back yard. You answer, “If you give me $25,000 a year, each year you can dump 5 truckloads, but no more, in my yard.” You are $25,000 richer, you limited the sawdust to a level you could tolerate, and the sawmill can continue to operate and make money.

This happened because you “own” that property and have the “right” to refuse to let others make money by dumping their waste in it – or to negotiate for some of the resulting profits. This sounds so basic – but there is a reason I put quotes around the words “own” and “right.” The concepts of ownership and rights only exist because they are granted to us by law, and laws are nothing more than creations of government. It didn’t used to be that way, that regular people could "own" things and have "property rights," but people thought it would be a good idea, and made it happen. And in America it is set up that we can do things like that because, guess what, WE're the government. (It says that in our Constitution.) More on this later.

Now, suppose that you live in a condo, and there are 25 units that share the property, and the condos have a condo association. So the sawmill owner comes to the condo association, and the same transaction occurs. Everyone benefits. Each condo owner gets $1,000 a year, and the sawmill keeps operating and making money.

Suppose the sawmill owner wanted to just dump that waste on that lot next door – the one you live on? That would be great for him if he could do that. He would save, or “externalize,” that $25,000 cost. It wouldn’t even show up on anyone’s books! And he could charge less for his product! But he can’t and the reason he can’t is because you understand that you own that property, which gives you the right to refuse or to ask for payment.

Here is what I am getting at: Oil and auto companies currently dump CO2 (and other stuff) into the air. This is an “externalized” cost. They don’t pay anyone and it doesn’t show up on anyone’s books. They make tremendous profits from this arrangement but the rest of us suffer the consequences.

But what would happen if we started to realize that this is OUR air? You know, “the people” and all that, like it says in our Constitution. Democracy and community. And what would happen if we decided to set up our laws so that we have “ownership” and “rights” to refuse to let them do that – or to charge them and limit how much they can dump?

Is this a far-fetched concept? Maybe not – it is already happening in some places. For example, did you know that everyone in Alaska receives a check because they – the people of Alaska – decided that the oil under the ground there belonged to them? So they passed a law that said they have the right to charge oil companies for that oil and that the money would go into a fund that would pay a dividend to all the citizens of Alaska, as well as put money into a fund that will continue to pay a dividend, forever, even after the oil is gone?

They decided to do that with their oil. They enacted laws to make it so. Now they all benefit. The oil companies benefit, and the people of Alaska benefit from now on. Because they realized that it was their oil, and did something about it.

It’s called the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. Here’s the story of how they made it happen.

Go look it up. And then start thinking about how much we should charge to let oil companies dump CO2 into OUR air.

This might help your thinking: this year Exxon was the most profitable company ever in the history of commerce, and we didn’t get a dime for letting them dump their wastes into and onto our common property. The way things are set up now, instead of collecting from Exxon and others for letting them pollute, the resuting global warming, health effects and other results of this mean we and our children will instead have to pay the price in coming years. We can decide to do it a better way.

Peter Barnes has a blog post about his ideas at the OnTheCommons.org site.

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