Sad Implications of the Two Dueling Santa
Claus Strategies in Political Economics
An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain
August 16, 2012
Politicians are engaged in a power struggle between
influential people who demand lower tax rates and competing constituencies that
seek more generous government spending on a wide variety of programs and
initiatives that include military spending, Homeland Security, disaster relief,
health care, public education, environmental protections, maintenance and
improvements in the nation’s physical infrastructure, investments in research
and development oriented toward the greater food, and an adequate but
affordable social security safety net.
essay assesses two dueling Santa Claus strategies that pander to these two
factions. It delves into these two hyper-partisan strategies of political economics which
involve either tax-cutting plans or increased spending plans. The sad bottom line result of these two competing
ideologies is that the rights of people in the future to be free from huge and
burdensome debt obligations are being completely ignored.
A super-charged political
conflict took place in the summer of 2011 around the issue of the rapid
expansion of the U.S.
national debt. This enormous debt has
been increasing rapidly due to record annual deficits in the federal budget in
the past decade. The national debt is
approaching 100% of GDP, a level
historically associated with dangerous economic risk and heightened political
instability and potential national insolvency.
It behooves us to better understand these two driving Santa Claus
strategies in order to see the way clear
to smarter national policies.
Scrutiny of the Two
Dueling Santa Claus Strategies
A political economist named Jude Wanniski originally proposed
the Two Santa Claus Theory of electioneering.
It is a real interesting idea.
Politicians in our democracy make many promises to voters in order to
get elected. The Two Santa Claus Theory
holds that, when one political party and its candidates promise to spend a lot
of money providing perks, services and benefits to the populace, the other
party must compete with this strategy by promising to cut taxes to attract
voters and remain competitive.
Economic monetarists like Milton Friedman contended that the
only way to control the growth of government spending is by starving the
government of revenue. To achieve this
starvation, the strategic initiative of cutting taxes has been ardently
promulgated. Unfortunately, cutting
taxes since 1980 has most definitely NEVER
ONCE resulted in lower government spending.
Annual spending by the U.S.
federal government has increased every single year since 1980, when it was $590
billion, until 2011 when it was over $3.6 trillion.
Figures often beguile me,
particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to
Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of
lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
--- Mark Twain
The tactic of cutting taxes has not only reduced revenues but
also radically increased the U.S.
national debt. In January 1981 when Ronald Reagan took office,
the national debt was less than $1 trillion.
It has increased to more than $15 trillion today. There is no doubt but that large budget
deficits and record levels of national debt are the result of these twin Santa
Claus strategies of increasing spending and cutting taxes.
The only time that budget surpluses were created in the last
30 years was when President Bill Clinton increased taxes and also did a
relatively good job of controlling spending by the federal government. Clinton
compromised by triangulating to economic positions that resulted in these
budget surpluses. In contrast, when George
W. Bush was president, he embraced both Santa Claus strategies simultaneously. He slashed taxes to garner the strong
financial support of wealthy people. At
the same time, he profligately ramped up spending on wars and a costly new
program for prescription drugs for Medicare recipients and other government initiatives. The primarily beneficiaries of this strategy
were the wealthiest Americans and special interests like corporate entities
involved in the military-industrial complex and Big Oil and big pharmaceutical
corporations. These “gains” came at the
expense of everyone else in America
and the prospects of all in future generations.
Whole edifices of ideology have sprung up to defend Santa
Claus spending and Santa Claus tax cutting, and to get voters to go along with
agendas of the real decision makers in our society, i.e., people with lots of
money and vested interests focused on outcomes which narrowly benefit
themselves at the expense of the greater good.
Advocates for increased Santa Claus spending cite the need for
Keynesian economic stimulus to get the government to expand investments in
education, physical infrastructure, environmental protections and social
programs. They use this rationale to justify
unsustainable levels of deficit spending.
In contrast, Santa Claus tax-cut disciples stick religiously
to the “purity” of their dogmas by pledging no tax increases ever, no matter
what, come Hell or high water. Citing “supply-side”
economic theories, they disingenuously misconstrue the infamous Laffer Curve to
hypothesize that tax reductions will result in higher total tax revenues. And they work tirelessly to advance
anti-regulatory ideologies and pander to social conservatives on the Religious
Right to gain more political power.
Considerations of Supply-Side Economics
Jude Wanniski was one of the first to promote dogmas of
supply-side economics and laughable interpretations of Laffer Curve hypotheses
of tax revenue optimization. A little
background on these ideas is valuable to see how profoundly and adversely they
affect our society today.
Supply-side economics was a theory which maintained that tax
cuts stimulate economic growth and thus almost miraculously pay for
themselves. The theory was promulgated
by economist Arthur Laffer, who developed the Laffer Curve to explain it. Ronald Reagan latched onto the simplistic
theory and enthusiastically championed it, and it became known as “trickle-down
economics”. George H.W. Bush
appropriately described it as “voodoo economics”, and the facts concerning the
outcomes associated with this dogma confirm this disparaging
Jude Wanniski was a zealous proponent of lower tax rates. He fancied that the concept of tax revenue
optimization that was embodied in the Laffer Curve proved that cuts in taxes
would result in higher tax revenues. It
is helpful to understand exactly what was he thinking in these
counter-intuitive claims. At a zero tax
rate, no tax revenues would be generated.
At a tax rate of 100%, the theory goes, tax revenues would also be zero
because there would be no incentive to work or take investment risks to earn
any income, and the motive to evade paying taxes would be powerful. The Laffer Curve model projects some
hypothetical tax rate between 0% and 100% at which revenues would be
maximized. Wanniski argued that tax cuts
would result in increased revenues at any point where tax rates were higher
than the optimum revenue-maximizing rate.
Substantial controversy surrounds this whole idea. It is implausible that increases in taxes would
actually result in lower total tax revenues at any historic level. Economist Paul Pecorino argued in 1995 that
the peak of the Laffer Curve would occur in the range of top tax rates being
around 65%. Economic conservatives tend
always to estimate the point to be lower;
in fact, they claim that every tax cut, no matter what the current rates
are, is desirable because it will stimulate the growth of the economy and thus
increase tax revenues. These are the
true fanatics amongst Santa Claus tax cut proponents. The top tax rate today is only 35%.
Conservatives borrow the aphorism, “a rising tide lifts all
boats” to assert that tax cuts for high income earners will benefit
everyone. The evidence, however, reveals
that in the absence of appropriate policies, rising tides lift some boats but
cause many others to run aground.
I chuckle aloud, and
rather ruefully, at the broad abuses of supposition, simplistic reasoning,
dishonest spin, manipulative disingenuousness, and self-serving deception which
the Laffer Curve has enabled in the world of political economics. The Laffer Curve is a hypothetical graph
which is a symbol of a cunning propaganda machine that works overtime to cook
up rationales to ensure uninterrupted progress toward an increasing
concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the Few. This trend unfortunately has accompanying
side effects which lead to an unempathetic exacerbation of hardships in the
lives of many. Tough love? More accurately, tough luck, brother!
Many wealthy people contribute generously to right-wing
politicians and corporate front groups to help enable corporations, insiders,
CEOs and investors to gain more profits and perks and privileges and
power. Supply-side ideologues have
captured the Republican Party since 1980 by almost fanatically opposing
regulations and adhering to discredited claims that cutting taxes will generate
more tax revenues.
The principal outcome of tax-cutting policy in the past 30
years has been to radically increase federal budget deficits and the
concentration of wealth in the hands of the Few. The ideological smoke-and-mirrors story that tax-cutting
policy is the best plan for the nation as a whole is transparently erroneous.
the money. Always follow the money.”
--- Deep Throat, in All the President’s Men, the 1976 film about the Watergate scandal
Implications for Future Generations of Competing Santa Claus Gambits
Smiling irony is an endlessly
entertaining trickster. Our national
decision-making in the year 2011 was afflicted by a ruthless game of political
brinksmanship over the need to find a way to reduce the unprecedented levels of
deficit financing in our nation.
Negotiations over the bloated national debt were intense leading up to
the brink of a default in August. A
“Super Committee” was then anointed to find a way to cut about 15% of the
projected $10 trillion additional increase in the national debt in the next
decade. Moneyed interests have proved to
be stubborn and intransigent and completely unwilling to give up one iota in
compromise on their cherished low tax rates, tax loopholes, corporate
subsidies, and tax evasion schemes.
Irony looks on.
Only eight months earlier in December 2010, as the Bush tax cuts were
about to expire, President Obama and Senator Mitch McConnell reached a
compromise deal behind closed doors that will add $858 billion to the national
debt. The Bush tax cuts had already
added trillions of dollars to the national debt. A large proportion of this additional $858
billion in new borrowing will benefit rich people, either directly or
indirectly. Working people were
grudgingly granted some gimmicky crumbs in this compromise, in the form of
temporarily lowered payroll taxes, to encourage them to continue working really
hard for inflation-eroded wages.
Politicians have failed to govern fairly and sensibly. They have avoided making what should have
been an easy decision on fairer taxation in the December compromise, and they
have kicked the decision down the road two years to a time when we will be in
the middle of the expedient exigencies of the 2012 presidential election. Apparently it was all but completely
impossible to make a compromise that involved fairer taxation in the current
This “compromise” was really just another in a long series of
capitulations to the small minority of wealthy people who control our political
system. These people want to have the
tax cuts made permanent in December 2012, of course. They apparently don’t give a damn that this
generosity is coming at the expense of the majority of Americans, and of all
people in the future.
This “compromise” also contained a $112 billion provision to
cut payroll taxes which finance the Social Security system. Such a cut will have a more stimulative
effect on consumer spending and thus on job creation than tax cuts for the
rich, but this gambit erodes the solvency of the Social Security system and is
thus a misguided approach.
Social Security is a retirement income system that needs all
the revenue it can get to remain solvent in the coming years. The year 2010 was the first year that
demographics finally caught the system up, causing more money to be paid out
than was collected from current workers.
This new provision to cut payroll taxes is another gimmicky and fiscally
foolish plan, and it will serve to undermine Social Security, which is vitally
important to millions of retired Americans.
We should not so willingly erode its solvency. For a revolutionarily simple common sense
solution to the insecure state of Social Security, see Radically Simple Ways to Make America Fairer, and to Fix Both Social
Security and Health Care So We Can Move On to Address Much Bigger Issues.
The “compromise” left intact one of the most egregious
tax-abuse provisions put into place by incomprehensibly wealthy hedge fund
managers, venture capitalists, and private equity managers: the “carried interest” provision. This provision enables Wall Street types to
declare much of their enormous incomes as capital gains rather than ordinary
income, so they pay only 15% tax on their earnings rather than the 35% top rate
which would otherwise be owed. This
loophole is widely seen as indefensible.
Nonetheless, the influence of this tiny minority of very high income
earners is so powerful that they have managed to preserve this outlandish
scam. Doesn’t it seem like these folks
have overplayed their hands? The Occupy
protesters think so!
In any case, we are now faced with growing
concerns that the two viciously-competing Santa Claus tactics of increasing
spending and cutting taxes are creating a risk that could cause another
full-blown economic crisis. This looming
crisis is one caused by record levels of national debt engendered by the
fiscally irresponsible expediency of unprecedented deficit spending year after
year, ever since Bill Clinton left office with an annual budget surplus.
Disaster capitalism and extreme partisanship have
collaborated together to double down on bets that this game of stealing from
the future to further enrich the already wealthy can be continued a little bit
longer before the piper must be paid. This insidious game is
perversely and unjustly predatory upon everyone in the future.
President Obama sought a “grand compromise” that
would take $4 trillion out of a projected $10 trillion shortfall over the next
10 years. This goal is modest, even
inadequate, in light of the size of the projected deficits. Nonetheless, it was summarily rejected by
Republicans. Why? Because it would include higher tax rates on
the wealthiest 2% of Americans. One of
the top priorities of Republicans is to preserve and expand perks for rich
people who control our politics and have such outlandish influence in
determining all our important national policies.
The actual stated top priority of the Republican
Party is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president. More than half of all Americans believe the
obvious: that Republicans are sabotaging the economy with their obstruction to
make President Obama fail. This is a
high stakes game, and a cynically mean-spirited one in its practical
effects. This is their top priority primarily
because it would allow them to once again gain the great power of the Oval
Office. With that power, they could then
continue expanding perks for individuals with high incomes and high net worths
and further advance their narrow-minded agenda.
Newt Gingrich has referred to such an agenda as “right-wing social
talks, and if we “follow the money”, we wee that Congress and the Supreme
Court narrowly approve of the overriding freedom of moneyed interests to
dominate free speech. In the meantime,
in the face of the epic challenges looming before us, we are failing to support
sustainable public policies or to commit our country to a fair-minded Bill of
Rights for Future Generations. But there
is no question that we need a new mechanism to guide our public decision-making
and constrain the unconscionably irresponsible short-term-oriented expediencies
that are driving our nation and the world to ruin.
Good solutions to these daunting challenges exist. They are to be found in cooperation, not in stubbornly
uncompromising politics. A proper
comprehensive understanding of the Big Picture nature of the problems facing
us, and of the hindrances obstructing good solutions, will provide us with a
clear roadmap to smarter ways forward. Sad Implications attempts to identify
this roadmap to our figurative and quite literal salvation here on Earth.
Scrooge, Big Lies, and Real Economic Trends
Santa Claus tax reductions targeted to primarily benefit the
rich, it turns out, are really a means of putting cold-hearted, miserly
Ebenezer Scrooge sensibilities on a high pedestal of societal
righteousness. Those who emulate Scrooge
tend to display uncompassionate attitudes and exploitive behaviors. In this sense, they emulate Scrooge’s spite
“for Christmas and all things which give people happiness”. The effect of helping make our nation into an
increasingly unfair and inegalitarian place is an outrage against honesty and
democratic fairness. It is also an
exceedingly cynical means by which to steal from future generations. Bah, humbug!
No matter how deceptively persuasive the propaganda is which
asserts that the right thing to do is to give more tax breaks to wealthy
people, it is a “Big Lie” that such strategies will trickle down to lift all
boats. In 1981, when Ronald Reagan slashed
taxes on high incomes and increased spending on the military and acted to deregulate
banks and bust unions, the wealthiest 1% of Americans had about 20% of all
wealth in the U.S. In the year 2010, after 30 years of
supply-side economics and further regressive changes in taxation, the
wealthiest 1% of Americans had increased their share of the nation’s wealth to
Meanwhile, as the rich have gotten significantly richer, the
60% of Americans with the lowest earnings have experienced an actual
inflation-adjusted decrease in their incomes since 1980. All productivity gains in the U.S.
economy in the past 30 years have essentially been grabbed by the wealthy, with
little going to workers. Prosperity has
not been fairly shared.
During this same 30-year period, as the national debt has
increased by more than $13 trillion, it is clear that the tactic of cutting
taxes on high incomes and capital gains and dividends and rich kids’
inheritances has resulted in a more extreme concentration of wealth in the
hands of the Few WITHOUT benefitting the Many.
It is also stunningly clear that this outcome has been achieved by unethically
saddling our children and future generations with enormous debt.
Wealth and political power are strongly correlated in our
country. A narrow 5-4 majority of
“conservatives” now on the Supreme Court has been ruling repeatedly that money
in politics cannot be limited. One
consequence of this fact is that increasing concentrations of wealth are being
translated more easily into increasing concentrations of power -- and
inevitably to more abuses of this power by corporations, CEOs and
Some say that we have a
system that gives us the choice between private plunder or public graft. I believe that we can design a much fairer
system through far-reaching reforms!
Goal of “Shock Doctrine” Disaster Capitalism:
Austerity for the Masses
amount of federal debt per person in the United
States is larger today than the debt per person in the
nation of Greece,
which is all but bankrupt. Austerity
measures imposed on Greece
by the International Monetary Fund and European lenders have caused extreme social
unrest and violent demonstrations.
measures in the U.S.
are also growing as federal, state and local governments are being forced to
cut spending. Social inequities,
healthcare injustices, and the costs to college and university students for
public education are increasing dramatically.
These trends are causing an intensification of social unrest in the U.S. Such trends are proving to be negative for the
vast majority of all Americans. They
also introduce bigger risks of instability to our democracy.
that we are facing a more apparent need for austerity measures in America,
the idea of “shared sacrifice” is coming into sharper focus. Republicans are proposing that all of the sacrifices
be made by workers, the middle class and the vast majority of Americans, and
that NONE of the sacrifices should be shouldered by rich people. This is ridiculously reprehensible.
are once again revealing their true colors.
They insist on giving the preponderance of benefits to the rich, and
making everyone else shoulder all of the sacrifices.
this issue in a big context. To rein in
potentially catastrophic imbalances between tax revenues and government
spending, the Santa Claus gravy train must be derailed. In doing so, all special interests must all
absorb some of the “sacrifice”.
Republicans insist that they will not compromise their unprincipled
principles, but they do this only because their highest value is to win at any cost and to have domineering power over the
populace. If they severely harm the
nation and Earth’s magnificent ecosystems in the process, so be it.
This whole story makes an ironic observation by P.J.
O’Rourke seem incisively valid:
“The Republicans are the party that says that
government doesn’t work -- and then gets
elected and proves it.”
The Republican Party was
once the bastion of small businessmen and fiscal responsibility. No one 50 years ago would have been able to
imagine that Republicans would become pushers for such counterintuitive and
demonstrably deceptive and unfair national policies and voodoo economics. Cutting taxes on rich people and giant
corporations is crazy. These are the two
principal groups which can afford to help our nation invest in a stronger and
fairer country. Cutting taxes on the two
main groups that benefit from deceptive ideologies is stupid. Cutting taxes is a Santa Claus strategy that
facilitates abuses of power. Statistics,
common sense, and almost all senses of smart, empathetic and responsible
fair-mindedness startlingly refute this strategy because it is contrary to the
Americans must demand an
end to this gamesmanship over tax cuts and government spending. We must recognize that both of the underlying
Santa Claus strategies of increasing spending and lowering taxes can no longer
be acceptable national goals. Voters
must scrupulously insist that fair-minded compromises be made.
This new variety of
compromise must be an honest and visionary one that takes into account all of
the competing interests in this complex equation. The interests of our children and people in
future generations should be given greater weight because their prospects are
being adversely affected by the short-term orientation of these expediencies. It is sensational that we continue to borrow
trillions of dollars from our descendents while at the same time stimulating
the depletion of resources and allowing toxins and pollutants and climate-disrupting
gases to be wantonly dumped into the commons.
It is bizarre that we could continue so obtusely to facilitate
practically irreversible damages to Earth’s vital ecosystems.
Common sense and right
understanding and visionary perspectives can coincide. Now is the time to embrace these healthier
perspectives and act to make our nation a better place!
Mark Twain expressed moral
outrage at the wickedness of his times.
He derided the gluttony of the Gilded Age and criminal malfeasance in
the business world. He voiced strong
opposition to American military adventurism abroad. He mocked people’s absurd foibles and
peccadilloes. It is healthy for us to
laugh at the foolishness of our similar foibles in today’s world. But while we are chuckling to our selves, we
should remember that our most important legacy to our heirs must be to pay
forward some good deeds to offset the damages that our collective activities
are causing to their prospects and to the planet.
Republican Leadership – A Particularly Clever and
Shrewd Coalition of Dunce-Like Leaders
Senator Mitch McConnell wields a lot of power. It is extraordinary and revealing that this
Senator from Kentucky has so much power today, for he gloats about having
essentially undermined our democratic republic by opposing campaign finance
reforms which would have given the American people more influence and limited
the influence of rich people and big multinational corporations. Mark Twain was sure right when he said that
politicians are bought and paid for by narrow vested interests in the United States; unfortunately, this trend has become much
worse in recent decades.
Senator McConnell is a Republican who is the
veritable epitome of the outlandish corruption in our politics. He proudly displays nearly 200 political cartoons
on the walls of his Capitol office that ridicule his Machiavellian opposition
against common sense initiatives which would limit the corrupting influence of
Big Money on those who are supposed to fairly represent all of the American
people. How did such a man reach the
highest minority party position in the U.S. Senate?
McConnell is even more ideologically reactionary
on the issue of Big Money in politics than the flip-flop-prone Senator John
McCain. McConnell prefers to be regarded
as PRAGMATIC. Like almost every
Republican in Congress, he is staunchly opposed to even the insipid
accountability of requiring the disclosure of who is bankrolling the
obfuscating tsunami of political propaganda that sways the public to elect such
unethical leaders. Republican opposition
persists despite the fact that 97% of groups paying for election ads in 2008
disclosed the names of their donors, but only 32% made similar disclosures in
2010. These statistics have been adduced
by the Federal Election Commission. There
is something insidious and wrong-headed about the increasing amount of secrecy
and lack of transparency in our democracy!
McConnell’s opposition is strictly for political
gain. Yes, this is pragmatism, alright
-- but it is a form of pragmatism which is highly unethical and
unscrupulous. It is a shrewd pragmatism
focused on astonishingly unfair principles that are antagonistic to the greater
good of working people and the general public and our children. McConnell’s pragmatism is influence
peddling; it is institutionalized
bribery. It is corruption. It is truly No Change We Can Believe
In. No No No No No!
sound of lampooning laughter, and in the glaring glow of the distant bright
light of truth, no bastardized bulwark of unprincipled principles can with
--- Mark Twain (paraphrased)
Charles Krauthammer -- what a name for a neoconservative! --
opined soon after the December tax compromise which extended the Bush tax cuts
that it would act as Stimulus II and will boost the probability that President
Barack Obama will be re-elected in 2012 by stimulating the economy and lowering
the unemployment rate. The jobless rate
has gone down a little since then, but in any case I’d have to agree with him
on an adjunct point that the bill definitively makes “a mockery of the
Republicans newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, Tea-Party,
this-time-we’re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.”
There seems to be a lot of sadly ironic truth in
P.J. O’Rourke’s humorous observation:
“The Republicans are the party that says that
government doesn’t work -- and
then gets elected and proves it.”
All of this is enough to make one want to cry like
John Boehner, the Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives seems
frequently to do. But Mr. Boehner
doesn’t deserve much sympathy for his odd tears. We need not just figuratively cry for Argentina
anymore, because we really should be crying for the American people, and for
our descendents, and indeed for the prospects of a healthy environment and
biological diversity on Earth.
In the most civil manner possible, I’d
like to express my deeply felt suspicion that the economist John Kenneth
Galbraith was completely correct when he once observed:
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of
man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy;
that is, the search for a superior moral
justification for selfishness.”
definitely don’t have a monopoly on unscrupulousness, but they sure seem to
dominate the market! As Huck Finn said
in The Further Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, these ideas ought “to give the bullfrogs something to croak about for
days, I bet.”
A Revealing Aside, Concerning Karl Rove
Karl Rove is another Machiavellian character in
the Republican trenches. In Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W.
Bush Presidential, the authors analyze the effect that Karl Rove had on
shaping the policies of the Executive Branch for 8 years. Rove was Bush’s Senior Advisor in the White
House. He was known for his role as
master strategist in the retrogressive social and financial fiasco of the Bush
years. After his White
House years, Karl Rove has become, according to Bill Moyers, “a mover and
shaker of the money tree for the corporate-conservative complex”. Rove is raising hundreds of millions of
dollars from wealthy people in 2012 for Super PACS that want to throw Barack
Obama out of office.
Tellingly, Rove’s favorite historical figure was Mark
Hanna, a wealthy Cleveland
businessman and political operative back in the Gilded Age of the late
nineteenth century. During this “degenerate and unlovely age”, as one historian
described it, Mark Hanna was the first modern political fund-raiser. He famously said, “There are two things that
are important in politics. The first thing
is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
Mark Hanna was depicted by one
cartoonist as “Dollar Mark,” the prototype of plutocracy and hardball politics. Hanna tapped railroads, banks, insurance
companies and wealthy industrialists like oil baron John Rockefeller for enough
money to get William McKinley elected governor of Ohio, and then he was
instrumental in raising ten times as much money in the 1896 presidential
election as his populist opponent William Jennings Bryan, ensuring that
McKinley was elected President of the United States.
Mark Hanna actually believed that
“the state of Ohio
existed for property. It had no other
function … Great wealth was to be gained through monopoly, through using the
State for private ends; it was axiomatic
therefore that businessmen should run it for personal profit.” He and McKinley therefore saw to it that
and then the federal government were “ruled by business … by bankers,
railroads, and public utility corporations.”
The United States Senate was infamous as “a millionaire’s club.” “City halls, state houses and even courtrooms
were bought and sold like baubles.”
“Instead of enforcing the rules of
fair play, government served as a valet to the plutocrats,” according to the insightful
and fair-minded journalist Bill Moyers in a speech on Nov. 3, 2010 at Boston University. In the speech, which commemorated the life
and legacy of the late great historian Howard Zinn, Moyers mentioned that
McKinley “governed negligently in the interests of big business”, despite many
Americans being “outraged at the rapacity and shenanigans of the monopolies,
trusts, and corporations that were running roughshod over ordinary
Moyers compelling speech
The young journalist Henry George had written that “an immense wedge”
was being forced through American society by “the maldistribution of wealth,
status, and opportunity.” Now inequality
exploded into what the historian Clinton Rossiter described as “the great train
robbery of American intellectual history.”
Conservatives of the day -- pro-corporate apologists -- hijacked the
vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress,”
“opportunity,” and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder of America
sound like divine right. Laissez faire
ideologues and neo-cons of the day -- lovers of empire even then -- hijacked
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and so distorted it that judges, politicians,
and publicists gleefully embraced the notion that progress emerges from the
elimination of the weak and the “survival of the fittest.” As one of the plutocrats crowed: “We are
rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to
And they have never given up.
The Gilded Age returned with a vengeance in our time. It slipped in quietly at first, back in the
early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan began a “massive decades-long transfer of national
wealth to the rich.” As Roger Hodge
makes clear, under Bill Clinton the transfer was even more dramatic, as the top
10 percent captured an ever-growing share of national income. The trend continued under George W. Bush --
those huge tax cuts for the rich, remember, which are now about to be extended
because both parties have been bought off by the wealthy -- and by 2007 the
wealthiest 10% of Americans were taking in 50% of the national income. Today, a fraction of people at the top today
earn more than the bottom 120 million Americans.
You will hear it said, “Come on,
this is the way the world works.” No,
it’s the way the world is made to work.
This vast inequality is not the result of Adam Smith’s invisible hand;
it did not just happen; it was no accident.
As Hodge drives home, it is the result of a long series of policy
decisions “about industry and trade, taxation and military spending, by
flesh-and-blood humans sitting in concrete-and-steel buildings.” And those policy decisions were paid for by
the less than one percent who make political contributions in our capitalist
Representative Barbara Lee’s Point of View
“We lose ourselves when we
compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them
not when it is easy, but when it is hard.”
--- President Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
Tax-cutting measures have been compromising the hopes and
prosperity of people in the future.
Deficit spending allows us to collectively avoid making the difficult
decisions we really should be making today.
The December 2010 “compromise” between President Obama and Mitch
McConnell pathetically violated the idealistic vision of fairness and reform
that the president was elected to pursue.
The loyal liberal Representative Barbara Lee noted of the tax
deal, after it was approved by the House of Representatives on 12/16/10: “It’s a shame and a disgrace. We know who’s going to pay. It’s going to be on the backs of low-income
people, the working poor, communities of color.”
Then again, what should Barbara Lee know? She was the single solitary voice, out of the
535 members of Congress, who went on the record to oppose giving George W. Bush
and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld the absolute power to launch wars against
entire nations in the Middle East when she
cast a NO! vote on September
14, 2001 in the horrified, angry, and wake of 9/11.
Ten years later we can have a calmer and more rational
perspective. As the Nobel prize-winning
economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, the wars we launched after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost more than $3
trillion, once all costs are factored in.
That’s EXPENSIVE! This will
include the costs of healthcare for the rest of the lives of veterans of the
wars and the interest expense on the national debt related to borrowings
incurred to finance them. Stiglitz conveys
his estimates in a book about the Iraq War called The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.
Let’s think about this.
The attack on Iraq
and its subsequent long-term occupation was military adventurism undertaken
because the war in Afghanistan
proved to involve inadequately rich targets.
If, instead of launching the war on Iraq, we had invested this money in
domestic needs and good neighbor policies, not only would we have saved
thousands of lives of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,
and a pile of money, but we could have avoided antagonizing the estimated 1.5
billion adherents of Islam, the world’s second most populous religion. We could have invested in energy independence
from our addiction to oil from the Middle East. We could have afforded better programs to
create greater fairness of opportunity in public education and employment. We could have invested in healthcare and the
security and well-being of American communities. And we could have provided very attractive
incentives to corporations to keep millions of manufacturing and service jobs
at home instead of helping export them abroad.
We could have had plenty of money left over to set up a robust
fund to mitigate the increasingly costly and highly disruptive impacts that
billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions are causing every
year as a result of human activities. We
could have acted to offset the increasing concentration of these global warming
gases in the atmosphere by helping developing countries significantly slow the
rate of deforestation of our beautiful home planet. And we could have increased good-guy
humanitarian foreign aid by investing in peace building and respectful
diplomacy and international cooperation.
Shucks, we could even have reduced the risky level of deficit spending
that we have incurred since 9/11!
Security: Freedom versus Equality
Freedom is the bedrock of
this great American experiment in democratic self-government. Janis Joplin famously sang that “Freedom’s
just another word for nothing left to lose.”
That is surely a curious idea in our materialistic society, but one
thing seems perfectly clear to me: to
borrow huge sums of money is a shortsighted expediency that is targeted to
giving wealthy people very low tax rates while enabling high levels of government
spending year after year after year.
This irresponsible gambit could portend that instead of greater freedom,
most Americans will suffer increasing insecurity, stress, anxiety and
hardship. Austerity lurks ahead.
National security is one
of the most basic of all purposes of government. One definition of security is the freedom
from risk or danger. Another meaning is
the freedom from doubt, anxiety or fear.
The economic course we have been collectively charting in the past 30
years since Ronald Reagan was first inaugurated in January 1981 has been one of
insidiously growing economic insecurity for the vast majority of the American
people. This has been caused by the
staunch adherence by politicians and those they serve to national priorities
that emphasize high levels of spending on the military and entitlements coupled
with tax cuts and loopholes and corporate subsidies that are designed to
dramatically increase the inequalities between the well-to-do Few and the
Increases in inequality
are contrary to the Founding principles expressed in the Declaration of
Independence that “all men are created equal.”
Increasing inequality causes greater economic insecurity among the
masses, and more stress, harder work, worse poverty, more crime and the need
for more spending on prisons. It also
creates an incrementally greater probability of destabilizing change, even
possible revolution, if reasonable reforms are not made to create a fairer
society. It is incumbent upon us to find
a better strategy rather than continuously caving in to the greedy, stingy and
ruthless demands of the wealthy class.
We need legislative reform now!
Harken Back to 2008 for
Long before the Occupy
movement began, the frustration with increasing economic inequity was finding
its most powerful expression in reactionary Tea Party sentiments. Remember the Town Hall meetings on healthcare
reform which were disrupted in 2008 by angry people who were bizarrely
demanding things like “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” One of the primary behind-the-scenes
influences that stoked the formation of the Tea Party movement was right-wing
organizations funded by the Koch brother billionaires. They took their clues from anti-tax,
anti-government, anti-family planning ideologues and extreme organizations like
the National Rifle Association (the NRA).
The Tea Party ran a bunch
of candidates for office in the 2010 midterm elections who loved guns and
violent imagery. Sharron
Angle, the failed Nevada Tea Party candidate for Senate in Nevada, called for “Second Amendment
emphatically do not need violent remedies to our national problems. This heated rhetoric is symbolic of a deep
lack of civility in our national discourse.
People attack other people rather than their opinions, and use violent
metaphors like calls to put Democrats “in the crosshairs”. They support the NRA and its agenda of
allowing anyone to buy assault weapons without restriction.
The process of confederating all the competing
interests in our competitive society is one that should culminate in the ballot
box, not in a hail of bullets. It is
unfortunate for our democracy that wealthy people and the gun lobby have such
domineering influence in the intense competition of interests in our society,
because this tends to lead to many outcomes that are disastrously contrary to
the greater good.
It is astonishing that supporters of
the Tea Party could be so easily exploited as pawns of the privileged and the
likes of the billionaire Koch brothers. See
the Earth Manifesto exposé Common Sense
vs. Political Realities: An Anatomy of Dysfunctionality for the details of
Koch brothers’ activities. It is
stunning that members of the Tea Party effectively do the bidding of the
powerful with such seeming gullibility, ignorance and wrong-headedness.
we can walk without thinking, we can think without thinking.”
--- The cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky
Communities across our great country would be
considerably healthier and safer if people were subjected to less economic
insecurity, less stress, less injustice, less frustration, and less anger,
alienation, desperation and hostility.
The elephant is figuratively in the room; the solution is obvious. We need fairer political representation for
the majority of people, and greater fairness in the workplace. We need greater fairness in healthcare,
greater fairness in the courtroom, more egalitarian tax policies, and greater
liberty and justice for all.
nation also must become more fiscally responsible. The expediency of deficit spending must yield
to balanced budgets. We can no longer
afford to allow wealthy people to pay the lowest tax rates in more than 80
years -- and surely not LOWER ones. It
is a crazy national policy to steal from the future to give bigger benefits to
the powerful privileged few. This
priority could only have become dominant as a result of abuses of power by the
rich. And it can only be remedied by a
resolute and peaceable ejection of the influence of Big Money from the driver’s
seat of our politics.
Introspection into Gun Violence in the U.S.
The shooting tragedy that took place in Tucson on January 8, 2011
involved an agitated and seriously disturbed 22-year-old white male who shot 19
people, killing 6 of them. The gunfire
was an attempt to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a
congressional Democrat in Arizona. This shooting was done with a semi-automatic
weapon which would have been illegal from 1994 to 2004 under the provisions of
the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. This
sensible ban expired in 2004, and it has not been renewed principally because
of the unduly powerful and unwarranted influence of the National Rifle
Association and the Second Amendment fanaticism of its members and the
affiliated ranks of lobbyists that this extreme-right organization uses to
prevent the passage of sensible gun laws.
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it
is a descending spiral, begetting the very
thing it seeks to destroy.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
This shooting exposes deep anxieties amongst
hyper-stressed Americans and a host of negative psychological changes that
inevitably accompany widespread economic insecurity. Our society is unnecessarily vulnerable and
insecure in part because of the “tough love” policies that go hand-in-hand with
attitudes that are focused on providing the preponderance of benefits in our
society to people who are already exceptionally privileged.
Increasing Concentration of Stupidity Takes Humanity by Force
Sad Implications originally contained a story
about El Gaviero and the Goddess of Poetic Justice, a story that has been moved
to Happy Harbingers. Things happen. After that took place, I looked around for a
way to make an intuitive transition herein from the paragraphs above to the
ones below. I decided a new focus was
needed on the increasing concentrations of wealth and power and uncompromising
foolishness in our society today.
began to reminisce about past opinions I’ve expressed, and how strong my
conviction was that there actually is a bright silver lining to all the dark
clouds that are gathering on our human and biotic horizons. All of my ruminations led back to abuses of
power by rich people.
is it that we allow wealthy people to abuse the power of their money to get
more and more of the national wealth for themselves? The richest 1% of Americans has already almost
doubled their share of the national wealth in the past 30 years, for Christ’s
sake! This wealthiest 1% of Americans
possessed 20% of the national wealth in 1980, and today they have about 40%. In absolute dollar terms, this is an increase
of more than $18 trillion.
Republican proposals to cut corporate taxes and taxes on high income earners from
35% to 25% would likely ensure that, in the next 30 years, the share of the
nation’s wealth owned by the richest 1% would increase to more than 50%. How much more can they grab before a powerful
movement arises that unequivocally demands greater fairness, and even a measure
of civil restitution?
increasing concentration of wealth is obscene in light of the gambits by
multinational corporations to get the government to allow private interests to
gain bigger profits by externalizing real costs onto society. This increasing concentration of wealth is
also unethical from the standpoint that this scheme is causing an increasing
subversion of our democracy and harming the prospects of future generations by
mortgaging their future with unprecedented amounts of debt.
collectively face epic fiscal, social, demographic, moral and environmental
problems. It is starkly wrong-headed to
allow the wealthy to gain more and more of the nation’s common wealth in light
of the ever-more-difficult challenges that the majority of Americans face in
their struggle to make ends meet. The
problems of most Americans are becoming increasingly challenging as jealous
rich people insidiously increase their share of the national wealth and abuse
the power of their influence while everyone else endures more intense hardships
in dozens of significant and measurable ways.
compromise!”, say rich people to all of our representatives. “We want freedom, not taxes. Just wait, and prosperity will trickle down to
everyone. Our policies guarantee it.”
hardened the heart of the oppressive Pharaoh in ancient Egypt when
Moses asked for his people to be set free from the bitter bondage of their labors. The children of Israel asked for three days
off from their work to journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the LORD
their God to appease Him, but God hardened the heart of the Pharaoh over and
over again, according to the Exodus story, so the Pharaoh commanded the Egyptian
taskmasters to lay more work upon the men, who he charged with being lazy for
wanting a few days off from work.
don’t mind going to work, but the thing about having to wait 8 hours to go home
really bullshit!” --- A photo of a humorous workplace sign on
the Internet. Ha!
God is still hanging around these days and supervising human affairs, He is up
to His same old tricks of hardening the hearts of the rulers and taskmasters,
that they may prosper at the expense of the people. Redeem us, oh Lord, with great
judgments. The lack of empathy
associated with greed-driven, sink-or-swim capitalism and Strict Father
dominion are sad and pathetic and unconscionably unfair. Let’s change this!
“Pity those who’ve doubted Tiffany!”
A Review of Where We Stand
These words first
germinated on the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of
Independence in 1776. Since this daring
declaration of freedom from British colonial control, the United States
has been engaged in an epic experiment in self-governance.
A marvelous evolution of
ideas and policies has taken place during these years. Extraordinary progressive advances have been
made. A first-rate Constitution was adopted
in 1789, slavery was abolished in the 1860s, and women were granted the right to
vote when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920. A social safety net was established during
the Depression of the 1930s, and a wide variety of economic reforms and protective
labor and environmental laws have been enacted since then. Civil rights have been expanded, and rambling
forays have been made in the direction of greater overall fairness in American society.
accomplishments! Just imagine how these
progressive advances have made our nation better in light of the greed and
brutality of capitalism in the first 200 years of the Industrial
Revolution. During those early years, people
worked long hours and received low wages and often lived in slum conditions and
worked in unsafe workplaces. Child labor
was rampant, and men and women were forced to work hard with few rights. Discrimination against women and racial
minorities was widespread. Collective
bargaining rights were suppressed or violated, and rules protecting the environment
were more or less nonexistent.
For perspective, keep in
mind a demographic trend since 1900. In
that year, there were 75 million people in the United States. A full 60% percent of them lived in rural areas. Today, there are 310 million Americans, and
only 17% live in rural areas. This
concentration of populations of people in urban areas, together with our
infinitely-complex and marvelously consumeristic economic system, have wrought
profound changes in politics and human relations and morals and sexual
The great progress adduced
above has been made in the face of strong opposition by special interests that
are invested in the status quo, and are thus opposed to such progress. There have, of course, been significant
periods of retrogressive change which have taken place in our society,
particularly in the past 30 years.
A sustained ideological
offensive by “conservatives” in this period has been characterized by
regressive changes in taxation together with union busting, anti-regulation
ideologies, profligate spending on the military, skyrocketing budget deficits,
irresponsible profiteering through the expediency of externalizing costs onto
society, and other extensive usurpations of power by rich people and multinational
Mary Elizabeth Lease was a Populist advocate and political
activist who strived a century ago to get the right for women to vote. She once stated that big business had made
the people of America
into “wage slaves”. She declared, “Wall
Street owns the country. It is no longer
a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government
of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.” To believe any different today is a form of
absurd self-deception, especially in light of bank bailouts and tax breaks like
the “carried interest” provision.
Tax evasion is a serious crime for ordinary Americans, but if
you are one of these Bonfire of the
Vanities “Masters of the Universe” who makes many millions of dollars per
year, the system is there for the gaming, and institutionalized cheating is
apparently regarded as eminently respectable.
This is just another insidious aspect of the status quo of our criminal
justice system in America
today, which is characterized by unequal privilege, class discrimination, tax
inequities, prison mania, racism, and sexism.
It is stunning, when you think about it, that not a single
person has been prosecuted for the epic economic calamity and record costs
incurred due to the whole mortgage-backed securities scandal and the consequent
credit crisis and severe economic recession.
Filmmaker Charles Ferguson, the producer of the compelling documentary Inside Job, says that he had “grossly
underestimated the level of extraordinarily unethical and even fraudulent
behavior that had occurred on such a large scale.” This is justice for all?
Politicians, in any case, will say anything to get elected,
but once they are in office, they all seem to have only one overriding goal --
to get re-elected and remain in power, with the gravy train privileges
attendant to such positions. In our
political system, elected officials seem to be far more concerned about getting
re-elected than about doing what is best for the country, or for the people, or
for our descendents.
Historical Perspectives on Extremes of Economic
There is great risk even for wealthy people in
being too hard-nosed in über-negotiations concerning economic fairness. Will and Ariel Durant point out in The Lessons of History that sensible
compromises are necessary to prevent forces which advocate revolution from
acting to overthrow the privileged class when the concentration of wealth
becomes too starkly unfair. Rich people
would be wise to be open to more fairly compromise. Otherwise, wealth is as likely to be
destroyed as to be more fairly partially redistributed.
History demonstrates that
too extreme a concentration of wealth in the hands of a Few, and too large a
gap between the wealthiest and the poorest, must be offset by legislation that
partially redistributes wealth, for otherwise the risks rise of a revolution which
has the net effect of partially redistributing poverty. Warren Buffet would concur, since he has
repeatedly called for immediate increases in taxes on what he called the
In ancient Athens of 594 B.C., the
gap between rich and poor reached too great an extreme, and poor people were
faced with deteriorating conditions and corrupt courts that decided every issue
against them. Violent conflict seemed
inevitable. Good sense prevailed,
however, when moderate elements secured the election of Solon, a wise
businessman of aristocratic lineage.
Solon instituted a number of courageous and fair-minded reforms. This importantly included the establishment
of a graduated income tax that required the rich to pay taxes at a rate 12
times the rate required of the poor. The
measures he instituted didn’t please either the rich or the radicals, but
within a generation almost everyone agreed that his reforms had saved Athens from violent revolution.
In contrast, the
concentration of wealth and land ownership in Italy under Roman rule reached a
similarly explosive point in 133 B.C. Conservative
elements in the Roman Senate, however, were strongly opposed to agrarian
reforms, so they adopted an uncompromising course. This led to 100 years of class and civil war. It was not until Caesar Augustus came to
power that a sensible “Principate” was created in which a Pax Romana was
maintained between the classes for two centuries. Augustus succeeded by means of forming
coalitions and skillfully promoting peace.
This demonstrated that an era of moderation and peaceful coexistence is
vastly preferable to a period of stubborn refusals to compromise.
Other Ways of Understanding Big Lies
Repeat after me: It is
a Big Lie that tax cuts for the wealthy will make most Americans better
off. The fact of the matter is that when
marginal tax rates on the highest incomes were more than double what they are
currently, between 1940 and 1980, our society ran more smoothly and equitably
and humanely, and the middle class prospered.
Figures often beguile me,
particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli
would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
--- Mark Twain
The marginal income tax rate on the highest incomes was more
than 80% from 1940 to 1963. It was
between 70% and 80% from 1964 to 1980.
It was dramatically reduced by Ronald Reagan, reaching a low of 28% in
1988, and it has been 35% since 2003.
The middle class was far better off when wealthy people were paying
higher tax rates, and definitely not now, when rates for them are at
“Big Lie” was a term first coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography Mein
Kampf. It was made
famous by Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister for the German Third
Reich. The idea was that if you tell an
untruth often enough, most people will come to accept it as the truth. During World War II, the U.S. Office of
Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA),
noted that the Germans promulgated Big Lies by never admitting a fault or wrong,
never conceding that there may be some good in opposing ideas, never leaving
room for alternatives, and never accepting blame. “People will believe a big lie sooner than a
little one; and if you repeat it frequently
enough people will sooner or later believe it."
Understand this concept.
If someone tells a relatively inconsequential lie, like “I did not have
sexual relations with that woman …”, demagogues and outraged partisans will
hound them quite mercilessly. But if
someone tells a Big Lie, and repeats it enough times with conviction, a large
number of people will believe it. And Big
Lies can persist for decades.
U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan is sticking to the Republican lie
about the supposed beneficial aspects to society of tax cuts for wealthy people
and big corporations. He is proposing
the latest coup: slash taxes on the
wealthy and corporations even further, from a top rate of 35% to 25%, and simultaneously
eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid and environmental
protections and family planning programs and public broadcasting and funding
for National Parks and protected open spaces and dozens of other aspects of a
civilized society. He is making this
proposal while pretending that it is the best way to balance the budget and get
the national debt under control.
Orthodoxy and doublethink, Big Brother!
This Republican plan is a
form of radical social engineering. Once
again, they are advancing a scheme to cut important programs for the middle and
lower classes in order to give the savings to the wealthy. It is obscene for the Republican Party to
keep pushing for more and more and more benefits for rich people and
corporations at a time of such desperate needs for us to collectively formulate
smarter and fairer policies. Republican stances
are an unkind kind of rigidly ideological voodoo economics that is not fully based
in fact or truth.
George Orwell is probably chortling cynically in his grave, seeing
the parallels between his dystopian novel 1984
and the oligarchic authoritarianism of current day politics in the United States. He accurately foresaw a government that would
actively involve its people in perpetual wars.
He imagined a time where the government engaged in pervasive
surveillance, and made incessant efforts to manipulatively control public
opinion and promote propaganda and dogma, and advance ideological certitudes.
The biggest Big Lies tend to be about the motives for
war. See Reflections on War in the Earth Manifesto for a succinct 60-page diatribe
that explores and evaluates expansive and compelling understandings related to
War and Peace.
Truman denounced war profiteering as “treason”.
He called for an excess profits tax on military industries which profit
from war. There is common sense in this
idea. We should act decisively to assess
higher taxes on military/industrial complex corporations. This is needed particularly because we are
apparently completely unable to enforce a common sense frugality in government
procurement from armaments manufacturers and war services industries.
we are in the sensible reform mood, we should make the tax structure in the
U.S. more progressive by increasing marginal tax rates on the highest incomes
so that they are 12 times the rates paid by the lowest income earners, as the
wise Solon did long ago. We should
reduce subsidies to record-profit-making oil companies, and we should create
powerful and effective incentives for multinational companies to pay a fair
share of the total tax burden rather than allowing them to hide their profits
abroad in tax havens. We should also find
good ways to discourage giant corporations from exporting American jobs abroad.
proposals on how to achieve these things are contained in One Dozen Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies and
other recommendations in Book Two of the Earth Manifesto (Part Four online). Check them out!
The Impasse of Politics in America Today
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated in
late June 2011 that tax increases are “politically impossible”. He stubbornly refused to allow any revenue
increases to be part of any debt-cutting agreement as a national debt-limit
ceiling approaches. What baloney! With taxes on wealthy people at the lowest
rates in generations and record levels of deficit spending and national debt, and
with Republican refusals to compromise on rich people’s ever-greater perks, our
political system is badly broken.
Our tax system is a hornet’s nest of absurd tax loopholes like
the one mentioned previously which allows hedge fund managers who earn hundreds
of millions of dollars per year to pay low capital gains tax rates on their
enormous earnings instead of higher income tax rates. This “carried interest” provision will cost
$20 billion over the next decade. It is
astonishing that anyone can defend such a glaringly generous provision for a
few people with defiant airs of principled righteousness.
Republicans voted seven
times to increase the debt ceiling under the Administration of George W.
Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney
famously declared in 2002 that “deficits don’t matter”. The rapid growth in the national debt in the
past decade has been due to the enormous tax cuts passed by George W. Bush
which are still in effect today after the December 2010 compromise by President
Obama with Republicans over the pending expiration of those cuts. The other primary factor in the large
increases in the national debt in the past decade have been big increases in
military spending driven by the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequent
military occupations. Military spending
is out of control, and neither party has the courage to scrupulously address the
myriad details of this glaring problem.
In light of these facts,
it is startling and hypocritical for Republicans to have been so dramatically intransigent
in opposing an increase to the debt limit to prevent a potentially cataclysmic default. They seem to have had a “come to Jesus
moment” and suddenly oppose deficit spending now that Barack Obama is
President, even though they provided the majority of votes in favor of
increases in the debt limit every time it was increased since 1997. What egregious gamesmanship!
The Republican Party attempted
to extort some serious concessions from unions and workers and old people before
agreeing to another increase in the debt limit.
At the same time, they stuck stubbornly to their Santa Claus tax cut
ideologies in vehemently opposing any higher taxes on the highest income
earners. They have held the nation
hostage in their attempt to gain power and make President Obama fail, even if
it severely damages our nation and the global economy in the process. A default might be a good thing, said the Tea
Party types, even though it would probably have cost trillions of dollars in
immediate stock market losses worldwide.
principles indicate that we should be honest about the growing risk of a severe
debt crisis, and consequently act boldly to intelligently forestall the
danger. But the main idea Republicans
have advanced to deal with the increasing national debt is to cut the top tax
rate on the highest income earners from 35% to 25%. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has set forth
this plan, which would make the tax revenue shortfall radically worse. Significantly lower government revenues would
force deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and discretionary
federal government spending.
The fact of the matter is that a balanced budget cannot realistically
be achieved without more revenues. If Congress
went along with radically reductions in government spending for the military
and entitlements and a wide range of important government functions and
investments, we still would not be able to balance the budget without more
revenues because large spending cuts would cause severe economic dislocations. Another recession would likely result from
sudden cuts in government spending on a scale adequate to balance the budget.
In any case, it is a recipe for almost certain fiscal disaster
to continue to have low levels of government revenue and high levels of
government spending, as we have had since George W. Bush’s huge tax cuts and
high levels of spending.
Less than a week after Senator McConnell’s remarks about the
political impossibility of any tax increases, he stood in front of national
cameras on June
29, 2011 and audaciously declared that a balanced budget amendment
should be passed. Talk about
“politically impossible”! In order to
enact an Amendment to the Constitution, 2/3 approval is required in the Senate
and the House of Representatives, and 3/4 of the State legislatures must ratify
it. It would be radically more
challenging to get this passed than to merely agree to fair-minded compromises
on increases in taxes on incomes in excess of $250,000 and other initiatives
like the elimination of some tax loopholes and corporate subsidies and tax
Besides, it would be ridiculous and inflexibly risky to set a balanced
budget requirement in concrete for each year rather than allowing the federal
government the flexibility to manage the economy more intelligently in
accordance with business cycles. The
devil, as they say, is always in the details.
A balanced budget amendment is a backhanded approach to making the
actual specific decisions on how to reduce the budget deficit. Almost all economists agree that balancing
the budget by slashing government spending and increasing taxes during times of
recession could lead to a much more severe economic downturn.
One pundit proposes an Unbalanced Budget
Amendment. Such a Constitutional
Amendment would make practical and propitious sense by requiring budget
surpluses in good economic times to offset counter-cyclical fiscal policy deficit
spending stimulus during recessionary times.
Good proposals are made in the Earth Manifesto on how to
fairly and sensible balance the federal budget.
See One Dozen Initiatives to
Positively Transform Our Societies in particular.
Theft and Other Idiocies
“Thou shalt not steal.”
--- The Ten
Commandments (Exodus 20:15)
Since 1980, more than $13 trillion has effectively been stolen
from our children and people in future generations by cutting taxes while
profligately increasing spending on wars, munitions, prisons, pensions, corporate
subsidies, tax cuts, pork barrel projects, no-bid contracts, and a wide range
of “entitlements”. Our political system
is terribly dysfunctional when it is so EASY
to cheat people in the future to benefit the Few today and so HARD to increase
taxes on the wealthiest people as a component of broad measures to bring the
federal budget more nearly into balance.
We have backed ourselves into a desperate corner where we seem
to be completely incapable of making fair-minded and farsighted decisions. Big Lies have enabled this state of
affairs. Mitch McConnell promulgated another
one of these lies when he declared it politically impossible to increase taxes
on the wealthy because “we all know that including massive, job-killing tax
hikes would be a poison pill.”
Tax increases on incomes exceeding $250,000 per year need not
be “massive”, and such increases would not “kill jobs” anywhere near as
seriously as the 2008 financial crisis did.
That economic crisis was caused by bubble economic policies and the
deregulation of financial derivatives and the banking industry. The crisis has been made worse by an insistence
on low taxes for those who benefit most from the status quo and who could most
easily afford to pay more of the costs of ensuring that our nation remains
prosperous and strong and fair.
Conservative politicians have allied themselves with wealthy
people and the Religious Right to subvert honest governance. They have helped facilitate a system of
institutionalized bribery and corporate malfeasance and unethical Congressional
pandering to lobbyists. In the process,
they have allowed wide-ranging cost-externalizing practices by corporations. They have also helped perpetuate
discriminatory unfairness toward women, workers, young people, and all people
to come in future generations.
A new vision is needed for our nation. We cannot allow the current corrupt system to
continue without substantial reform. Our
political system is not only uncompromisingly dysfunctional, but also ecologically
insane as well. This system is
undermining the health of our home planet’s ecosystems, thus reducing their
ability to support humanity and millions of other species of life. This makes the system ever-more starkly
We must collectively find a way to practice better stewardship
of natural resources and all of “Creation”.
Damage to habitats and ecosystems and the wantonly wasteful depletion of
resources must be discouraged through powerful incentives and disincentives.
This new vision must honorably embrace a Bill of Rights for
Future Generations to ensure that shortsighted political expediencies do not
completely dominate our decision-making.
We must, simply put, adjudicate deep conflicts of interests in public
planning in ways that allow us to more nearly balance the federal budget and
create sustainable economic growth in the long term. It must no longer be politically impossible
to achieve fair-minded compromises that respect future generations. Read the persuasive proposal for a Bill of
Rights for Future Generations in the Earth Manifesto. And SUPPORT the ideas therein!
We need a new economics and politics for a crowded
planet. Jeffrey Sachs cogently makes
this point in his insightful book Common
Wealth. He also provides numerous
recommendations on the directions we must take to make our future safer. The Earth Manifesto also contains great ideas for how we could achieve a sensible role
reversal from the dominance of our politics by entrenched-interest-perpetuating
entities that define the status quo.
There is great hope. It is here and now. The next step in evolution for the human race
is a transformation that favors survival, prosperity and sustainable existence
for our species in the long run. This
transformation requires a revolutionary new worldview. Such a new approach is suggested in the compelling
book, Spontaneous Evolution - Our
Positive Future (and How We Can Get There from Here).
This propitious change
must begin with a better balance between environmentally sane ways of seeing
the world and ones that are essentially ecologically insane. Empathetic cooperation is more important than
ruthlessness of competition. Intuitive
understandings are needed in addition to analytical comprehension. A better balance is needed between spiritual
and material perspectives, between the feminine and masculine, and between
liberals and conservatives.
Cell biologist Bruce
Lipton and political commentator Steve Bhaerman, aka Swami Beyondananda, have
collaborated in Spontaneous Evolution
to combine penetrating insights, the latest scientific knowledge, and clever
humor in the perspectives contained in this sweeping book. A brilliant web of
provocative and enlightening understandings is provided which gives readers a
cogent sense of hope that we human beings really are capable of choosing to
save ourselves and other species of life on Earth. This vital goal can be accomplished by coming
to grips with a new worldview that emphasizes a deep sense of connectedness
with other people and other species of life and the natural world.
Fascinating Words Written by President Dwight Eisenhower
In 1954, Republican Dwight
Eisenhower wrote a letter that addressed the need for what he called
“moderation” in government. He made this
“Should any political
party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate
labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our
political history. There is a tiny splinter
group, of course, that believes you can do these things. … Their number is
negligible and they are stupid.”
How is it possible that
Paul Ryan and the Republican Party can now brazenly propose to slash spending
on social safety net programs? There are
several reasons for this apparent political kamikaze act. For one, our democracy has become so obedient
to the desires of the top 1% of income earners that politicians from both
political parties vastly over-represent the desires of moneyed interests. They pathetically do this while significantly
under-representing the interests of the majority of people. As a result, we have the current travesty of
social justice in which the rich are getting richer while the nation is falling
apart, prisons are overcrowded, and the majority of people are seeing their life
fortunes and prospects diminish.
Our Congressional and
judicial systems are so powerfully influenced by the corrupting influence of
Big Money that they are hindering the fair representation of the interests of
the majority and of the greater good. Our
corporate-dominated media machine is partly to blame, because it is too much influenced
by propaganda and economic fundamentalists’ ideologies and corporate interests
and right-wing front groups. This is how
radically inegalitarian initiatives have gained so much sway. Deceptive argumentation, divisive tactics, narrow
ideological doctrines, effective uses of framing and fears, hyped-up extreme
partisanship, arrogantly uncompromising stances, and dissatisfaction with
continued high unemployment have surprisingly duped Tea Party types and
religious evangelical voters into supporting this Republican position.
Make no mistake about
it. The potential debt crisis is serious. The solutions proposed by Republicans are
ideological false choices that are contrary to fairness principles upon which
our nation was founded. We do need to
reduce budget deficits. Fairer tax
policy and spending plans must be fairly implemented. It is not impossible. Let’s get it together! And in doing so, let us not forget the
overarching context of the need for a fair-minded Bill of Rights for Future
Generations in these considerations.
In response to the severe
financial crisis of 2008, a Great Recession began and the housing bubble burst
and unemployment skyrocketed. The
Federal Reserve and the federal government were forced to resort to drastic
economic stimulus measures to prevent another Depression. It was an inopportune and risky time to cut
back on either Santa Claus spending or Santa Claus tax cuts. So the record deficit spending of the Bush
years has become much higher deficit spending under the Obama Administration.
Now we must have the sense
to find common cause to move toward a comprehensive solution to this epic
economic challenge. This must involve
both higher taxes on all incomes in excess of $250,000 per year and lower
government spending. The Bush Santa
Claus tax cuts must be ended. Higher
marginal tax rates must be put into effect on all income earned in excess of
$250,000 per year, with progressively higher rates for income over $1 million
per year and even higher rates for income over $10 million per year. The tax rate on capital gains should be
increased. So should the amount of taxes
on the largest 1% of all inheritances.
Corporate subsidies and agribusiness farm subsidies and tax loopholes
like the “carried interest” provision must be reduced.
is also time to sensibly control government spending. This can be done without slashing spending on
vital programs like education, environmental protections, National Parks,
emergency first-responders, family planning, public broadcasting, and the
nation’s physical infrastructure. We
should significantly reduce spending on wars, war services, weapons, troops
stationed abroad, and military occupations.
We should reform entitlement spending in ways suggested in the Earth
Manifesto proposition, Radically Simple Ways to
Make America Fairer, and to Fix Both Social Security and Health Care So We Can
Move On to Address Much Bigger Issues. There are surprising and simple and fair ways
to achieve these reforms.
Conclusion: The Rule of Two Impossibles in Human Affairs
When something is declared politically impossible, and yet the
alternative option is proved to be impossible to an equal or greater degree,
the first impossibility becomes curiously more feasible. Intransigent Republican adherence to the goal
of providing ever-larger tax cuts to rich people may make it “politically
impossible” to achieve fair-minded compromises, as Mitch McConnell has
arrogantly declared, but this can be seen to be a kind of brinksmanship that is
likely to become untenable because it is really a form of national political
and economic suicide.
To ravage the social security safety net even further in order
to continue padding the bank accounts of the wealthy is a course of action that
seems likely to be more impossible than the gambit of continuing to pander one-sidedly
to the power-abusing wealthy.
Let us debate these issues honestly, and chart a future course
that is fairer to the majority of Americans and all our heirs in future
generations. Let’s have a truly
honest conversation about resource conservation. Let’s be honest with each other -- and with
ourselves, too. Let’s sort out special
interest considerations and focus on the greater common good. We can no longer allow short-term oriented
profiteering to trump longer-term considerations of the greater good for our human
race. New farsighted priorities are
Revolutionary changes are needed to make sure our ship of
state is on course toward a healthier future.
We cannot continue to pursue an unsteady course toward dangerous shoals
of converging ecological, political, economic, social, and demographic
King Louis XV of France accurately
foresaw the approaching turmoil that later resulted in the French Revolution of
1789. “Après moi, le deluge”, he
said. He was aware of the irresponsible
extravagances of his royal court and the huge expenses related to decades of
warfare. Today, we are facing an even
greater deluge of debt and costly militarism.
In addition, far-reaching demographic challenges beset our societies and
ecological disasters loom before us, and yet we are acting as if we cannot do
anything about it. We are acting as if, “Après
nous, le deluge viendra.” (After us, the
deluge will come.) I feel strongly that
we must act on our best understandings and work committedly together to prevent
economic and environmental disasters from severely affecting us and our
A new Enlightenment Era is
dawning, an era shaped by an awareness of our interconnectedness and
interdependence with other people and natural systems. Moral propriety, Golden Rule fairness, and
social cohesion make it mandatory that we incorporate intergenerational
fairness into our national policies. It
is becoming increasingly important for us to work together to create a system
which is more holistic and sustainable and responsible to planetary ecosystems
and other people and other species of life.
We can do this. We must do
this. Let’s start NOW!
Tiffany B. Twain
August 16, 2012 (First versions were
published in August and November 2011)
Contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org