Published on Monday, May 5, 2014 by RobertReich.org
by Robert Reich
Even though French economist Thomas Piketty has made an air-tight case that we’re heading toward levels of inequality not seen since the days of the nineteenth-century robber barons, right-wing conservatives haven’t stopped lying about what’s happening and what to do about it.
Herewith, the four biggest right-wing lies about inequality, followed by the truth.
Greg Russak‘s insight:
Lie number one: The rich and CEOs are America’s job creators.
Lie number two: People are paid what they’re worth in the market.
Lie number three: Anyone can make it in America with enough guts, gumption, and intelligence.
Lie number four: Increasing the minimum wage will result in fewer jobs.
Today is the 4th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous “Citizens United” decision.
Why should you care?
Watch the 2 1/2 minute video at…
…http://unitedrepublic.actionkit.com/event/cosponsor/9815/ to get a sense of what money in politics is doing to us and to our government. I hope you’ll then decide you want to add your name as a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the American Anti-Corruption Act. I hope you’ll want to tell everyone to do the same.
After that, visit…
…https://movetoamend.org/ to understand what a bunch of concerned citizens are doing to push for an amendment to our Constitution, “… to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”
You can sign their petition, too.
Sounds pretty easy, right? It doesn’t take a lot, and every voice counts.
Look, if you don’t do something, who will?
And if you decide to do nothing? That’s your choice, of course.
The way I see it, though, is people who won’t take action – any action – really don’t get to complain about money in politics or the Democrats or the Republicans or the size of government or the size of the military or voter ID laws or how the 2-party system keeps independents from running and winning or fracking or climate science or Roe v Wade or the minimum wage or right-to-work states or class warfare or corporate welfare or Wall Street bonuses and bail outs or George Soros or Sheldon Adelson or Donald Trump or Fox News or MSNBC or Glass-Steagall or the Gilded Age or Obamacare or the NRA or immigration reform or lots of other things that corrupt our representative democracy.
It all boils down to money, and unless and until we – you and I and everyone we know – does something – ANYTHING – to get money out of politics while we get out and vote in every election, well then we shouldn’t expect much to change for the better.
We can do this. You can do this. Why not do it right now?
I can’t imagine anyone arguing that America does not need a healthier, more economically viable, active, and growing middle class. Sadly, I also can’t imagine much argument that the exact opposite is dramatically evident.
The question now is what are we in the middle class prepared and willing to do about it?
I ask that question because I am completely convinced that the decline of the American middle class is reversible. I’m also completely convinced that the responsibility rests almost entirely and exclusively with all of us in the middle class. We can and we must do more to stop and then to reverse our decline.
Facebook posts and yelling at the TV might feel cathartic, but they don’t accomplish much. Let’s resolve in 2014 to do more and to take real action to take our democracy back from the corrupting influence of money.
What Can Be Done
It’s my opinion that we in America’s middle class need to do two things:
1. Stop waiting around for someone else to do something about it for us
2. Stop digging the hole deeper by no longer voting against our own economic self-interests
Let’s Stop Digging
I’ve written a lot over the years about point number 2, most recently here, here, and here.
There’s no other way to say it. All of the responsibility for point number 2 rests with Americans outside the wealthiest 2% who insist on voting against the economic interests of the middle class by voting FOR Republicans and tea party candidates who want to turn over control of our government and our economy to the very people and industries who got us into this mess.
The mess we’re in started with Reagan and his Rand/Friedman/Greenspan-inspired lies of trickle-down economics and the canard that government is somehow the only source of our problems. So long as some of us keep voting for the people representing those lies, we’ll keep digging the American middle class into a deeper and deeper hole.
I’m not saying we should never vote for another Republican. I have voted for Republicans in the past. I’m just asking – pleading, really – that we please just stop voting for the extremists in the Republican party.
We know – or we should know – who’s on that list. We know – or we should know – that it includes people selling us the fairy tales of unfettered free markets coupled with the failed economic and governmental philosophies of Milton Friedman, a.k.a. Reaganomics, a.k.a voodoo economics (thanks, btw, to G.H.W. Bush for that one), a.k.a. trickle-down economics.
Today, this describes one party and only one party. Anyone wishing to offer evidence to the contrary is invited to do so.
The Dangers of Being Kept In The Dark
To some extent and in a world where people still watch, listen to, and believe the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and a whole plethora of ideologues masquerading as news media and opinion “journalism” (a very liberal use of that term, btw), it’s kind of understandable how so many middle class Americans can be duped into believing the lie of trickle-down economics.
Traditional corporate news media is almost as guilty. (In case you’re wondering, the answer is, “No, outside of a weather report, I do not count anything broadcast by Fox to be unbiased news.”) Corporate media spends almost no time or energy informing us about how and why the middle class is in decline. What time is spent on the subject is spent mostly with people meant more to drive ratings than to inform us about what the decline of the middle class actually means to America and to our geopolitical power and influence in the world on a long-term basis.
The reason for their silence seems clear. It’s not in their corporate economic self-interest for us to understand it, nor is it in the interest of the wealthy and powerful who run those corporations. They are beholden to their investors. Collectively, they exercise control over our government more than ever by funding campaigns with little-to-no oversight thanks to Citizens United.
Even worse for the vast majority of Americans, these are people who already seem to demonstrate little-to-no appreciation for the ramifications of their actions and that of a declining middle class. They are either willfully ignoring or inexplicably discounting in a dangerous and short-sighted way what a declining American middle class means for our economy, our country, and for the world.
If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of its geopolitical power.
Every society throughout history has its ‘winners’ and its ‘losers’ in whatever terms each society chooses to define those words. Of late, it’s perfectly clear who the winners and losers are in America.
When it comes to the American middle class, the facts are in. The data are undeniable. The American middle class is in decline while the wealthiest accumulate even greater wealth and prosperity. This imbalance spells only trouble for us as a people and as a country.
Badly Tipped Scales
The balance that once existed between the income gains and the relative prosperity of the middle class and the wealthy – and which ought to exist again between free market capitalism and representative government – have tipped in dangerous and disturbing ways.
The scale seems to have tipped not between middle class and rich or between “corporatists” and “statists”, but instead in a third direction; Big Money.
Big Money, Bums, and Parties
Take a close look at the following chart. Appreciate and understand that it represents the average wealth of ALL of our representatives in Congress.
As of 2011, that’s an estimated average wealth of $11.7million for a Senator and $6.5million for a Representative.
What, exactly, are we supposed to have in common with these people?
What, exactly, do we think motivates them and what, exactly, should we expect from them when it comes to the resultant policy and law they make?
Isn’t it clear that all of the opportunity, privilege, and entitlements – yes, entitlements – now flow almost exclusively to the wealthy and, by extension, to their Big Money interests in both the private and public sectors?
We need to stop deluding ourselves about whom they serve. Our elected representatives represent the interests of Big Money. That means they do not represent the vast majority of Americans.
And, yes, both parties are guilty but it must be stated emphatically that they are NOT both guilty in equal measure. I’ve also grown weary of false equivalencies like that, too. Again, anyone wishing to offer credible citations to the contrary are invited to do so.
That said, the evidence is clear.
If the average Senator’s wealth is nearly $12million and the average House Rep is worth a cool $6.5million, then it stands to reason that these elected representatives don’t come from and don’t represent the middle class or the lower middle class or the working poor or the impoverished.
They represent Big Money, and without Big Money they can’t fund their campaigns.
The average winner in a Senate race <in 2012> spent $10.2 million, compared to $8.3 million in 2010 and just $7.5 million in 2008. That’s an increase of 19 percent since 2010. Senate Democrats seemed to have to work particular hard to win their seats, spending an average of $11.9 million, compared to the average Republican winner who spent $7.1 million.
On the House side, there was a smaller but still quantifiable increase in the cost of winning. On average, a winner in the House spent $1.5 million, compared $1.4 million in 2010 and $1.3 million in 2008. In the House, it was Republicans who had to work a bit harder: The average winning House Republican had to spend $1.59 million to win a seat, a bit more than the $1.53 million spent by the average Democratic victor. (Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/06/2012-overview.html)
Once in office, they are well on their way to amassing serious wealth. It begins on Capitol Hill with legislation and regulation (or more accurately, deregulation) in favor of the very industries they are supposed to be watching over for our benefit and protection. That’s just the start. Much bigger paydays await.
Being elected to office or appointed to one of the myriad departments or agencies is merely the step necessary before twirling through the revolving door that opens onto K Street and the private sector where their real rewards await them.
That is the heart of it. Money that concerns itself only with more money and not with the concerns and well-being of ordinary citizens.
This closed circle of money between government and private enterprise is precisely why a “throw the bums out” or even the dream of more viable third, fourth, and fifth political parties will not work to change anything.
Let me repeat that.
Simply replacing the current crop of politicians with a new group of elected officials – either from the current 2-party system or from a whole host of additional political parties – will serve to change very little if the underlying and fundamental campaign finance process and electoral systems by which these people are elected and reelected does not change.
Where We Come In
If we’re going to make our voices and our concerns heard, if we’re going to have a democracy that works for us, then we’re going to have to take the actions that serve to get Big Money out of politics.
The wealthy, both in and out of government, are continuing to prove that, outside of people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, we have very, very few people in Congress actually representing us.
It’s not just national politics, either. We need to be examining and pressuring our local and state governments about whom they actually represent. Is it us or their Big Money backers?
What we can’t expect politicians to do on their own is to work very hard at tearing down and rebuilding the very systems that got them elected and which make them rich (or richer) in the process.
There are lots of groups and lots ways for you to get involved and to add your voice to growing chorus. The ones that I endorse and that I strongly encourage you to learn more about and to get behind are listed below. Together, we can make our voices heard and we can make a difference.
Here’s the question I have for those who oppose the PPACA and, more to the point, who oppose single payer health care.
How are our poor and uninsured fellow Americans supposed to pay $170.00 for a 20-minute office visit when they’re sick?
That’s the gross charge on the bill I just received from my doctor. I had flu-like symptoms last month. 20 minutes. $170.00. That doesn’t include the over-the-counter and prescription meds he prescribed. Add another $51.67. Even with insurance, my out of pocket for the office visit is $97.56. Add in the meds, and I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t have 150 bucks just lying around.
Not Americans with ok jobs but struggling to get by (like me); not Americans scratching and clawing and maybe starting to see the light in the long tunnel they’ve been in, hoping they are on their way into something approaching a middle-class life.
No, not them.
Put yourself in the shoes of 46.5million human beings living in poverty in the world’s richest nation.
What is poverty?
Poverty is defined as 23grand a year for a family of 4. It’s just under 12grand for an individual.
Now do some basic math.
If you could find a minimum wage job (or jobs) at $7.25 an hour and actually get 40 hours per week of paid work, you’d earn $15,080.00 a year. As an individual, you’d be $3,590 above the poverty threshold, or about 300 buck a month above poverty.
If you got sick, had insurance like mine, and did what I did, you just spent half of that “luxurious excess of 300 bucks above the poverty line” on one doctor’s visit and meds. That’s IF YOU EVEN HAD HEALTH INSURANCE AS GOOD AS MINE which, by the way, is the highest deductible and lowest cost insurance I can get from my employer. It is no Cadillac plan by any measure.
What if you’re the head of a household of 4? I can’t imagine what or how you get through your day if you’re making 15grand a year, let alone what you do when you or your kids get sick.
Think about this. 46.5million Americans is 15% of the population, or about 1 in 7 Americans.
Look around you right now. Are there seven or more people in your field of vision? No? Ok, then think about your close friends or family members. Now picture one out of seven of them living in poverty. Poverty. Not can’t-go-to-Disney-this-year or have-to-trade-steak-for-hamburger kind of “struggling.” No. Picture 1 in 7 of them in grinding, unrelenting, spirit-killing poverty.
Does this help at all to make the case for why health care in the greatest country in history should be a basic human right and not a for-profit industry? (Please save the not-for-profit rebuttal for people who don’t understand what that actually is, which would include you if you’re thinking of making it.)
Our society would find a way to survive – hell, I postulate it would thrive and prosper like never before! – if we stopped putting greed above all else and did things like make health care a basic human right provided to every man, woman, and child in America; health care that truly was universal and paid for out of taxes collected from EVERY American fortunate enough to have a job.
Call it the Christian thing to do.
Call it the humanist thing to do.
Call it whatever you like, but if you’re opposed to the idea of universal health care I don’t know how you call it anything but selfish.
Let’s be clear on this point, too. The only way to pay for universal health care from a single payer is through the government as that single payer. If you’re going to try and make the argument that health insurance is somehow a value-added step to the delivery of health care services then, again, make that argument to someone like yourself who doesn’t understand how the health care delivery or the health insurance industries actually work.
Would it really kill us if health care was paid for out of our taxes instead of out of payroll deductions? Not everyone can afford health insurance even with PPACA subsidies – our taxes, don’t you know – that get sent as premiums to private health insurance companies who are now responsible for 30% of our total health care costs in the United States.
30%! That’s 30 cents out of every dollar spent on health care in America going to overhead needed to process and pay claims through a sea of private insurers. Know what drops our health care costs by 30% immediately? That’s right. Single-payer. Medicare for all.
Let’s wrap up with a moral question. Don’t the “haves” have some sense of moral obligation on some level to help those among us who don’t have anything?
If I’m worried about 150 bucks out of pocket for a doctor’s visit and some cold medicine, how are the 1 in 7 fellow Americans living at or below the poverty line supposed to have 150 bucks just lying around for health care?
What are they supposed to do, not eat that week; not pay the rent; not pay their utilities; not cloth their kids?
What exactly do we want them to do when they get sick?
I’d like some answer from you opponents of universal and single payer health care. What do you want them to do?
Whether shutting it down temporarily or shrinking the government permanently, the facts are that doing so tends to hurt the people in Republican states more than other states and to greater degrees than Republican voters seem to realize or are willing to admit.
States with a larger government presence — as measured by either employment or economic impact — tended to vote Republican in the 2012 election, while states with a smaller government presence tended to vote Democratic.
It begs a couple of questions.
Do Republican voters understand that they are more often the greater beneficiaries of direct government employment? They and their neighbors are more likely to actually work for the government. When the government shuts down or shrinks, that hurts their neighbors and the economy in the same way that a layoff or business shutdown in their community does.
That’s the direct employment part. How about government spending?
Do our Republican family and friends not understand that the only true “trickle down economics” comes *FROM* government spending? Government agencies not only employ our fellow Americans, the government also spends money through private businesses. That spending creates private sector jobs and prosperity for themselves, their communities, their families, and their neighbors.
The state G.D.P. figures may well understate the importance of — and the decline in — government activity. That is because they are computed differently from the national G.D.P. number. The national number is based on spending, while the state numbers are based on profits and income of workers. As a result, if a government pays for the construction of something, whether a school or a fighter jet, that will show up as government activity in the national figure.
But for the state figures, it will show up as private-sector activity because the work was done by employees of construction or aerospace companies.
Doesn’t that mean the government is a legitimate job creator? After all, who else is going to place orders with private companies for fighter jets, roads, bridges, and schools, not to mention the $517billion spent on outsourcing?
All of this adds up to a mystery.
Why do some middle class Americans insist on voting against their own economic self-interests? It makes absolutely no sense. For that kind of voting to be even more common in states where the economy is even more dependent on government makes even less sense.
Let’s not shy away from this fact, either. It is only Republican legislators who want to shrink government to the point that they can drown it in the bath. Middle class Americans who vote for them are voting to commit economic suicide.
FDR had this to say in his famous “I welcome their hatred” speech in 1936. It’s just as true today as it was back then.
The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them. (http://docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/od2ndst.html)
Let’s hope that our Republican friends, family members, neighbors, and strangers will come to their senses soon and stop allowing themselves to be deluded by the tyrants of their party.