You Could Say That a Vote for Republicans is a Vote Against American Jobs

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the NAM, Danny Roderick, president and CEO of Westinghouse Electric Co., and Pierre Paul Oneid, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer at Holtec International Corp. speak Friday at a roundtable discussion on the Export-Import Bank. - Justine Coyne
Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the NAM, Danny Roderick, president and CEO of Westinghouse Electric Co., and Pierre Paul Oneid, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer at Holtec International Corp. speak Friday at a roundtable discussion on the Export-Import Bank.
– Justine Coyne

If you’re like me, you may have little to no understanding or appreciation for something called the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank.

The Pittsburgh Business Times published a good article today titled, Roderick, NAM urge action on Export-Import Bank. I recommend reading it.

Here’s an excellent description of the Ex-Im:

In 2013, the Ex-Im bank supported $37 billion in exports that helped to sustain 200,000 U.S. jobs at 3,400 companies, according to Jay Timmons, president and CEO of NAM.

And it’s not just the big companies like Westinghouse that benefit from the program: About 90 percent of Ex-Im bank transactions in 2013 benefited small business, according to NAM.

Seems like a good thing, right?

So, why would Republicans and libertarians – including the Koch brothers and Koch-backed groups like The Heritage Foundation and Club For Growth – want to kill it?

I highly recommend a June 27th article in Bloomberg titled,How the U.S. Ex-Im Bank Landed on Republicans’ Death Row.”

This excerpt kind of says it all:

“Ex-Im represents both a policy and political target because it’s do-able,” said Diane Katz, a Heritage research fellow. “We’re not trying to take down the Federal Reserve here. We’re starting with an agency that is ripe.”

On the surface, the 80-year-old bank isn’t an obvious target. Rather than costing taxpayers money, it regularly returns a profit to the Treasury — more than $3.4 billion since 2005. The bank says its programs generated about 2 percent of the $2.3 trillion the U.S. exported last year.

….At least five groups opposing the bank’s renewal, including Concerned Veterans for America and the 60 Plus Association, received nearly all of their funding over an 18-month period ending in December 2012 from the Kochs’ political network — a total of $47.4 million, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics researcher Robert Maguire. Another group, Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Kochs in 2004, is also lobbying against the bank.

To all my fellow middle class and ordinary Americans still identifying with the GOP, the tea party, and with libertarian principles, when will you come to grips with reality?

A vote for Republicans – and a misguided and misinformed belief in libertarian mythology like the Invisible Hand of free markets – is a vote against American companies, American jobs, and a vote and belief system that goes against your own economic self-interest.

Will there ever be enough evidence to convince you?

 

Excerpts from “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress”

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress” is a comprehensive primer on international trade in general and on the scope of the TPP. I highly recommend it to everyone.

“This report examines the issues related to the proposed TPP, the state and substance of the negotiations (to the degree that the information is publically available), the specific areas under negotiation, the policy and economic contexts in which the TPP would fit, and the issues for Congress that the TPP presents. The report will be revised and updated as events warrant.” (excerpt from Introduction; page 2) 

This blog post pulls out some of what I thought were some of the more interesting and revealing passages, along with some thoughts and questions I have about them.

 

From the Summary

Twenty-nine chapters in the agreement are under discussion. The United States is negotiating market access for goods, services, and agriculture with countries with which it does not currently have FTAs: Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.

Outside of Japan, I’m struggling to see the attraction these other markets represent. Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam have a combined population of 124.7 million people and a combined GDP of $629 billion. We import a whopping $49.7 billion from and export an even more abysmal $20.9 billion to these 4 countries.

TPP Countries

 

The present negotiations are not being conducted under the auspices of formal trade promotion authority (TPA)—the latest TPA expired on July 1, 2007—although the Administration informally is following the procedures of the former TPA. If TPP implementing legislation is brought to Congress, TPA may need to be considered if the legislation is not to be subject to potentially debilitating amendments or rejection.

Setting the tone right from the start: without TPA – aka Fast Tracking – the TPP could be, “subject to potentially debilitating amendments or rejection.” It’s only going to be considered to be that to its proponents, isn’t it?

From the Introduction

The TPP draws congressional interest on a number of fronts. Congress would have to approve implementing legislation for U.S. commitments under the agreement to enter into force. In addition, under long-established executive-legislative practice, the Administration notifies and consults with congressional leaders, before, during, and after trade agreements have been negotiated.

The “before” and “during” consultations are apparently missing if we’re to believe representatives like Alan Grayson, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Warren and all the co-signors of letters from both the House and the Senate to the president expressing their concerns about this treaty.

This report examines the issues related to the proposed TPP, the state and substance of the negotiations (to the degree that the information is publically available), the specific areas under negotiation, the policy and economic contexts in which the TPP would fit, and the issues for Congress that the TPP presents. The report will be revised and updated as events warrant. (page 2)

“This report examines the issues…” This isn’t the same and shouldn’t be confused with the USTR keeping the Congress informed about what is being negotiated. If the USTR was doing that, Wikileaks wouldn’t need to leak documents, would they?

 U.S. participation in TPP negotiations serves several strategic goals in U.S. trade policy. First, it continues and expands a U.S. trade policy strategy that began with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which entered into force in 1994, of using FTAs to promote trade liberalization and potentially to spark multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The George W. Bush Administration expanded the use of this strategy under the rubric of “competitive liberalization,” negotiating 11 FTAs with 16 countries. The last three of these FTAs—with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea—were approved by Congress in 2011. However, the future direction of this policy was uncertain, given the low commercial value of some of these agreements and lack of new obvious partner countries. Meanwhile, an increasing web of bilateral and regional FTAs, were being concluded among other parties in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide. The Bush Administration’s and then the Obama Administration’s adoption of the TPP signaled that the United States remains engaged in regional free trade negotiations.  (page 4)

So, how is the TPP not NAFTA on steroids?

Japan’s membership in the TPP with the United States would constitute a de facto U.S.-Japan FTA. A large segment of the U.S. business community has expressed support for Japanese participation in the TPP, if Japan can resolve long-standing issues on access to its markets for U.S. goods, services, and agriculture. However, the Detroit-based U.S. auto industry, the United Autoworkers union, and Members of Congress with a large auto-industry presence in their districts have expressed strong opposition. Other segments of the U.S. business community have expressed support for Japan’s entry into the TPP negotiations, although some have conditioned their support on Japan’s willingness to address long-standing issues. (page 16)

Not all industries and unions are expressing support for the TPP.

The draft TPP outline indicates that financial services, including insurance and insurance-related services, banking and related services, as well as auxiliary services of a financial nature, will be addressed in a separate chapter as in previous FTAs. (page 23)

Financial services getting its own chapter. Can anyone believe that that’s one that, without question, has global implications. Wouldn’t we love to know the details about what’s being negotiated on it? I’d settle for knowing that elected representatives like Senator Warren had the details.

According to the November 2011 outline, as in previous U.S. FTAs, the TPP will have a separate chapter on telecommunications trade. The TPP is to promote access to telecommunications networks for foreign services suppliers and transparency of regulations pertaining to telecommunications services. Along with these objectives, the United States sought and obtained in the KORUS FTA commitments to allow U.S. investment in foreign telecommunications companies.

Negotiations over the services provisions likely will lead to controversy between the developed countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore, and developing countries. Developed countries have pushed for greater market access for services. Developing countries have been more cautious on liberalization in services trade as they fear competition in sectors they view as a source of domestic employment and worry about the political implications forcing open sectors that are often controlled by politically powerful interests. Also, the United States may also be challenged to open its market to providers of maritime services. The United States has also been pressed to liberalize access to its market through the so-called mode-4 delivery temporary entry of personnel to provide services. No U.S. FTA negotiated after the agreements with Chile and Singapore agreements includes provisions on the temporary movement of personnel. (page 24)

Another separate chapter, this one seemingly prime for the likes of Verizon, AT&T, and the globe’s largest equipment makers to build and run networks in developing nations and with great economies of scale that give them huge advantage over any domestic companies which actually would innovate instead of stifle innovation the way the above oligarchs have in the U.S.

This would also seem to open up the US market for the importation of extremely cheap overseas labor:  liberalized “access to its (U.S.) market through the so-called mode-4 delivery temporary entry of personnel to provide services.”

 In the 112th Congress, 68 Members of Congress wrote to President Obama to urge the Administration not to negotiate government procurement provisions that would limit the application of Buy American provisions through extension of government procurement opportunities and obligations to TPP partner countries. However, Canada reportedly tabled a proposal during the Singapore round that would obligate sub-federal entities to open procurement projects funded by a central government to competition from firms in TPP countries. (page 25)

No big deal, I guess, if we’re ok with our tax dollars going to pay foreign corporations who underbid and win government contracts. What’s to keep them from importing cheaper labor instead of hiring American workers?

And what do we get in return? Domestic companies who can now bid for and win foreign government contracts for which they can be pretty much counted on to hire local and cheaper labor in those overseas markets.

Reactions to USTR’s reported new proposal have been critical of the change in approach and say it raises additional questions. Five anti-smoking groups expressed disappointment that USTR retreated from its earlier proposal that would have made it more difficult for tobacco companies to challenge domestic tobacco control measures under trade agreements. These groups note that USTR’s latest approach is “far weaker” than originally envisioned because it does not recognize tobacco as a “uniquely harmful product” or provide a way for countries to regulate tobacco in order to reduce its use. They also point out the new language would not cover lawsuits filed by tobacco firms and would not provide countries that have strong tobacco control measures with the protection needed to fend off challenges by the tobacco industry. (page 32-33)

Anyone who isn’t aware of what Philip Morris is doing about Australia’s decision about cigarette packaging needs to get up to speed on it to understand why this part of the TPP could be bad for keeping tobacco companies in check while it’s still legal for them to sell their deadly products. (http://www.ag.gov.au/internationalrelations/internationallaw/pages/tobaccoplainpackaging.aspx)

Technical barriers to trade (TBT) are standards and regulations that are intended ostensibly to protect the health and safety of consumers and for other legitimate purposes, but through design or implementation, discriminate against imports. In order to minimize trade distortion, WTO members must adhere to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The TBT Agreement covers voluntary standards that industries apply, technical regulations that governments impose for health and safety purposes, and assessment procedures that governments employ to determine that a product meets required standards. The TBT Agreement establishes rules and procedures for member countries to follow, including making sure that standards, technical regulations, and conforming assessment procedures are applied non-discriminately and in a manner not more trade restrictive than necessary. It addition, it requires that members practice transparency as regulations are developed and applied, that international standards are used where appropriate, and that the domestic technical regulations of trading partners are recognized as equivalent to domestic regulations when possible. (page 40)

The TBT Agreement seems designed to essentially put decisions about standards and regulations into the hands of corporations.

 Foreign Investment (pages 41-42)

This entire section, which includes discussion on the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, is evidence that this document actually is only a primer. There’s nothing about what is being negotiated or even how any issue will be negotiated under ISDS.

Click here for more on my concerns about ISDS.

 The issue of the treatment of worker rights in the TPP has provoked debate among TPP partners and among U.S. stakeholders. In late December 2011, the United States reportedly submitted a proposal on labor issues to the other TPP partners. According to one report, the proposal largely reflects the requirements contained in the May 10th Agreement that countries should uphold core ILO principles. The proposal reportedly would go further by indicting how these principles would be implemented by requiring countries to have labor laws related to minimum wage requirements, work time, and occupational health and safety. The U.S. proposal reportedly would also require TPP countries to take measures to reduce trade in products made through forced or child labor and to apply labor laws to export processing zones and free trade zones. To date, none of this information has been corroborated publically by U.S. officials. (page 44)

“To date, none of this information has been corroborated publically by U.S. officials.”
Why not?

Though some business groups, government officials, and labor groups have all expressed an interest in strong SOE provisions in the TPP, it remains unclear what form such provisions may take. (page 47)

More proof this document is only a primer and offers little to nothing about what is currently being negotiated. If there’s one thing I would think there would be transparency about, the concern and worry about State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) would be it.

In the case of Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand had concerns about Canada’s supply management system for dairy and poultry. The United States was also interested in leveraging action on Canada’s long languishing legislation to modernize its copyright laws. In return for entry in the talks, Canada and Mexico reportedly agreed not to seek to reopen chapters already agreed in the TPP, or possibly, sub-chapters that contained areas of agreement. In the end, because of the sensitivity of the issues under discussion to the countries involved, outside of the negotiators themselves, it may never be known what commitments were made to gain participation in the talks, if any. (page 53)

Seems like the perfect place wrap this up.

Republican Voters: You’re Shutting Down Yourselves and Your Neighbors

UncleSamWantsYou

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.

On Friday, September 27th, The New York Times published Off the Charts: Big Government States. The charts don’t lie, and the opening statement sums it up:

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.

(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/business/the-most-republican-states-tend-to-rely-more-on-government-jobs.html)

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.

The Economics and Patriotism of Infrastructure Jobs Programs

Infrastructure map courtesy of The Atlantic

The Economics and Patriotism of Infrastructure Jobs Programs

America’s crumbling infrastructure is both a safety hazard and a drag on our economy that is projected to only get worse. If we’re going to tackle the really big challenges of government budgets, deficits, debts, and the economy, then every citizen must understand the realities of what a deteriorating infrastructure means to this country. We then need to demand that our elected leaders stand strong against austerity and, instead, do whatever it takes – including raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy – to improve our infrastructure.

Properly-funded federal and state infrastructure improvement jobs programs would produce immediate and lasting benefits, including but not limited to:

1) Putting large numbers of Americans back to work in good paying middle class jobs which would immediately boost the economy from the bottom up (since trickledown economics has proven to, once again, be an unmitigated and disastrous failure)

2) Making all of us safer and less vulnerable to infrastructure inefficiencies, failures, or acts of terrorism

3) Demonstrating to American companies and to the world a sense of patriotism that includes spending public funds on the infrastructure that is so vital to our economic and commercial success

Putting patriotism and safety issues aside for the moment (although I don’t know why we should), the sheer impact to our economy and our own selfish financial interests are at stake. This is usually motivation enough for most Americans to demand action from our politicians.

I think it ought to be more than just self interest. Americans have become the experts at professing their patriotism at every opportunity. We’re known the world over for our self-proclaimed exceptionalism. It’s why I believe that we ought to be thinking about and talking about funding the repair and expansion of our infrastructure as one of the most truly patriotic things we can do for ourselves and our country.

First, the economics. Math, after all, doesn’t require an emotional investment or belief system. It just is.

The Economics of Infrastructure

In his blog post, “Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs,” William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution points out that a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers projects that, “…by 2020, if the mounting investment gap in infrastructure is not addressed, ‘the economy is expected to lose almost $1 trillion in business sales, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million jobs . . . the cumulative cost to the U.S. economy will be more than $3.1 trillion in GDP and $1.1 trillion in total trade.'”

He also tells us that the Building America’s Future Educational Fund report reveals that a lack of a national infrastructure plan puts a serious drag on our economy. The example he cites is “…in 2010, Americans spent a total of 4.8 billion hours stuck in traffic, wasting 1.9 billion gallons of fuel, at a total cost of $101 billion.”

Let these numbers sink in.

$1 trillion – that’s a ‘1’ followed by 12 zeros; $1,000,000,000,000 – in LOST BUSINESS SALES and 3.5 million lost jobs in just 7 years.

$101,000,000,000 wasted sitting in traffic in just one year.

So in addition to patriotism and public safety, do we as Americans really want to waste greater and greater amounts of time, energy, and money sitting in traffic or waiting for delayed flights and trains?

Do you want to waste even more of it in the future?

Do you want American businesses to forego realizing ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in sales between now and 2020?

If not, then ask yourself how or why we ought to buy into Paul Ryan’s thinking that what’s needed most right now is greater austerity.

His budget – which unless I’ve missed it still seems to be the GOP’s position, too – proposes we spend $78 billion, or 25% less, on infrastructure than the White House’s proposed budget of $104 billion per year over the next decade. According to Galston and some think tanks, the White House’s budget is already less than one-half of what’s needed to repair our infrastructure, and yet Ryan would have us believe we need to spend even less.

How does that solve the problem? I simply cannot believe there’s that much waste and, true to form, Ryan still is unwilling or unable to offer any substantive details.

So as far as the economics go, one would think that numbers like the lost sales, lost jobs, trade imbalances, and lost productivity would be enough to rally the public *and* the business community to demand that something be done immediately to repair, improve, and expand our infrastructure. It’s not like there aren’t precedents to follow with proven outcomes. We – meaning the government hiring both workers and outside companies as contractors – have done big infrastructure projects before.

It took courageous leadership in government to get those projects moving. The private sector was and still is the beneficiary of that leadership. Where is it now?

No, You Didn’t Build That

With all due respect and admiration for the courage and creativity of entrepreneurs and captains of industry everywhere, I remind you that, “NO, YOU DID NOT BUILD THAT!”

You just get to benefit from it. The nation’s infrastructure is, without question or doubt, part of the reason for any commercial success and, hence, at least part of the resulting wealth that’s made possible in America for those who want to start, run, and work in the private sector. Trust me; I’m your fan and one of your biggest cheerleaders. I just think it’s time that you and your followers put your copy of Atlas Shrugged down and join the rest of us in the real world.

Business people everywhere – from the titans running multinational corporations to the small business owner on Main Street struggling to compete with Walmart – owe it to themselves and their self respect to please stop this self-indulgent and self-serving love affair with the Randian mythology. It’s tedious and tiresome and, truthfully, a complete fantasy. Where would you be if your workers quit tomorrow, and when was the last time you built a bridge, an airport, or an electrical power station?

To the business people busying themselves complaining endlessly about the government, please stop your childish whining and please start acting like real leaders. You can start by acknowledging that if you’re going to continue to benefit from everything a democratic society has to offer – including infrastructure – then you are going to have to pay for it. That’s how capitalism works, right? Payment for goods and services rendered?

Yes, I know that means higher taxes than the historically low taxes you pay now. The only sympathy you’re going to get are from fellow wealthy individuals and the people you’ve duped into believing in another fantasy – trickle-down economics.

Look, if your business cannot survive an increase in taxes and the closing of loopholes, well then maybe you’re not such a successful business person after all. Don’t feel bad. Lots of people have tried and failed more than once, including yours truly. It’s what makes me your cheerleader. I know how hard it is. We both know that there are no guarantees, but I will say this; never once did tax obligations figure into my thinking or have any impact on my results.

Real entrepreneurs don’t let things like taxes get in their way; they don’t use them as a lame excuse for not trying, nor are they the cause for why one tries and fails. Only someone who has never started a business would believe such a thing.

It’s only in bad novels by Russians with absolutely no economic credentials where real entrepreneurs give up and disappear because they were somehow defeated by government or society.

To the average citizens who rises in Randian defense of all things private and corporate, including infrastructure, I’d like to ask you a few questions.

How well do you feel you understand the profit motive and the demands it places on the business managers to maximize revenues and minimize expenses?

Have you really thought through what it would be like living in a country where every other river crossing or highway exit extracts a toll from us that goes only to a corporation and their shareholders?

If you have thought about it and you do want to see infrastructure privatized, then I would like to hear how and why you believe that the corporation collecting your tolls will forego maximizing profits and, instead, do what’s best for the nation and for the local community once they’ve built their monopolies modeled on Matty Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge?

It all comes down to money, of course, and, like it or not, it takes money to fund a democracy.

So here we are. We’ve arrived at a point in our political and societal evolution where, hyperbole and ignorance of the facts notwithstanding, American corporations, wealthy individuals, and their toadies in the GOP continue to foist upon us their strategy of fear, uncertainty, and doubt – along with unhealthy doses of outright lies – to keep us at bay and living in fear that they’ll abandon our shores if they can’t keep – and even reduce further – their already historically low tax obligations when they do pay any taxes at all. (Yes, I’m looking at you Mitt Romney, GE, and the rest of you uber-rich individuals and corporations paying very little taxes or actually getting tax refunds.)

The message from Big Money America and the GOP is clear: they are completely and utterly devoid of care or concern for this country and its citizens outside the now well-known 2%.

Where’s The Patriotism?

Galston reminds us that we’ve pulled together as a nation under both Democratic and Republican administrations before to do big infrastructure projects. We’ve done what’s been needed before. We can do it again.

A federal (and state) infrastructure program now would put lots of people to work. In addition to safer and more efficient infrastructure, big and bold new projects – hell, even repair and rehabilitation projects – would mean lots of decent paying middle class jobs for Americans. That is exactly what is needed right now to get the economy growing faster and better. What we don’t need and can’t afford is more austerity and more of our fellow citizens left with little choice or opportunity outside of working in retail or the fast food industry.

We need a sense of patriotism.

Federal infrastructure projects are patriotic and need to be talked about as patriotic. They are physical and enduring evidence of the love and devotion we should have to our country and to each other. Our society simply cannot operate without infrastructure, so programs to repair and improve it is service to our country, isn’t it?

Since the days of the Erie Canal, infrastructure projects have proven to deliver huge economic and societal benefits both at the time they are undertaken and for generations to come. We Americans need to remember this every time we merge onto an interstate, get on a train, board an airplane, turn on our lights, or buy bananas in January. None of that is possible without infrastructure, and that infrastructure was built by Americans for Americans.

Our roads, airports, railways, and sea ports have become too small, too old, and crumbling too quickly after decades of use for us to stand by and let it happen. They’re more and more unsafe and, for all the true capitalists out there, it’s a drag on our economic vitality and growth that will only get worse unless we do something about it.

And when it comes to defining what it means to be an American, letting our infrastructure deteriorate turns us into a second-rate first-world nation. It’s an embarrassment and a shame on all of us. We’re always making lots of noise about being number 1. I don’t know about you, but I never hear any Americans proudly proclaiming, “We’re #33!”

It’s time to show some real patriotism outside of military excursions. It’s time for Americans to rally together to demand that our elected officials put us to work fixing and rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

It’s good for us citizens. It’s good for business. It’s good for America.

Sounds like patriotism to me.

Sources:

(1) Galston, W. (2013, January 23). Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/01/23-crumbling-infrastructure-galston?cid=em_alert012813

(2) Plumer, B. (2012, March 30). What Paul Ryan’s budget actually cuts – and by how much. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/what-paul-ryans-budget-actually-cuts–and-by-how-much/2012/03/20/gIQAL43vPS_blog.html

(3) Berfield, S. (2012, May 3). Matty Mouron, Detroit’s Border Baron. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-03/matty-moroun-detroits-border-baron

Class Warfare and John Galt; Both are Fiction

A recent Facebook post by The Christian Left (image courtesy of that post), sparked some interesting discussion. Some people apparently saw this as a metaphor for Obama acting as a messiah while simultaneously dividing the country with his “class warfare” against the rich.

This whole idea of “class warfare” strikes me as being mostly an issue for wealthy conservatives. Even more curious is that it’s become a rallying cry for middle class conservatives who feel compelled to rise to the defense of the wealthy and the threat they face from onerous government intervention and taxation.

Why is that?

Well, it seems to me that there’s no denying that conservative (and GOP) media spokespersons like O’Reilly, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, and that whole crowd are intent on convincing us of the evils of government. Their rhetoric seems focused on protecting their benefactors while simultaneously serving their own greedy self interests by attracting as many eyeballs (and devotees) as possible. Nothing seems to work like some good old hyperbole (devoid to the degree possible of any facts) for riling up the uninformed and for driving wedges between all kinds of people. If it’s not the fake (and worn out) War on Christmas, it’s the new (and just as fake) Battle Royale between Takers and Makers.

(And before conservatives accuse me of bias, let me at least come clean and admit to mine. I am proud to call myself a progressive and a liberal. Yes, similar accusations can be made about the hyperbole from left wing personalities, too. However, and to my experience, at least they seem to be defending us little guys with their rhetoric. They don’t try to scare us into siding with the wealthy in the hopes that someday the wealthy will shower us with generosity in the form of….what?….jobs at Walmart? Oh, and the so-called “liberal media” actually seem to care about and cite real science and actual facts. Bonus points in my book for that sort of behavior.)

Conservative spokespeople from Boehner and McConnell on down through Faux (sorry, Fox) News, The Drudge Report, and tea partiers everywhere would have us all believe that if we don’t stop hating the wealthy and don’t start supporting even more and more concessions – Boehner is actually proposing lowering the tax rates?!? – we’re doomed. They seem to actually think – or more likely, want us to believe – that we in the middle class will actually witness a physical manifestation of the disappearance of “job creators” a la John Galt if the middle class comes out on top in this so-called war of the classes.

In other words, if the middle class triumphs and taxes go up on the wealthy, the wealthy will retreat to points unknown while the rest of us are left standing around wondering from where our next hand out will appear.

For the record, just because I favor raising taxes on all corporate profits, closing all corporate tax loopholes (especially of the offshore variety), and doing away with subsidies to last century’s industries like oil, coal, and natural gas doesn’t mean I hate the wealthy. Oh, and I’m not a socialist. (Ok, I admit it. I am a little on issues such as universal health care and higher education, but that’s for another post.)

And, just because I think the Bush Tax cuts for individuals earning over $250K ought to expire and, frankly, those rates ought to go up a little more, also doesn’t mean that I hate the wealthy. Hell, I’ve spent my entire adult life working pretty hard and taking risks with start-ups – including my own; twice! – to try to be among them. Never once has my tax rate come into the thought process that went into those decisions. Never once have I met a true entrepreneur who said that taxes – especially of the personal income variety – were part of their decision making process for starting a business.

There is no class warfare. It’s imaginary, just like that fictional character in that novel written by a Russian atheist who didn’t know you-know-what from Shinola when it came to economics. There’s nothing to be afraid about. The wealthy are not going to take their marbles and go home if their taxes go up. They aren’t going to curl into fetal positions on beach chairs somewhere and wallow in their hatred of government. They’ll do what they do best; find ways to create more wealth for themselves.

As for those CEOs and business owners who want to make a statement by laying people off or closing up operations because their taxes are too high, I say this. Either they aren’t very bright, they aren’t really entrepreneurs, or they are liars. Only a foolish business person would take such actions if the business was doing well. Business people don’t just walk away from their business. At the very least, they sell it so they can go someplace sunny the rest of their lives and enjoy their prosperity. I hope to join them one day, so long as it’s not as the old guy bringing them fresh towels and cold drinks.

It takes a thriving and prospering middle class to be a thriving and prosperous economy. This is why I’m so absolutely astounded by anyone who isn’t making $250K or more who identifies themselves with the GOP and supports the likes of Boehner, Ryan, Cantor, McConnell and that crowd. Here’s why I say that.

Businesses cannot survive and thrive without customers. Without a strong and consuming middle class, there is no market, businesses won’t prosper, and business people can’t make as much money. Smart politicians and business people understand this, and history has proven that the middle class needs more than some “trickle” coming down from on high in order to grow. Ask the medieval kings how that whole serfdom thing worked for them.

Today, it’s not class warfare. It’s not warfare of any kind. It’s ethics and arithmetic. The wealthy are not paying their fair share. That’s the arithmetic. More than that are the ethics. The wealthy are not paying enough back to society. It’s our society and how economics within it operates, after all, that gives them the environment in which to create, function, and prosper. (No, conservatives, business did not build that.) The wealthy owe a debt back to our society paid in the form of taxes in order to keep our society functioning for this generation of all people and for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I think that it’s childish, silly, and dangerous for us to believe that Big Money isn’t pulling the strings in DC. Let’s not kid ourselves about which strings they have more of and pull more often. It’s the self-appointed defenders of business. It’s the GOP.

That said, this “war” being waged over taxes on the wealthy and the possibility that they will therefore refuse to magically create jobs if their taxes go up is even sillier and more dangerous. We need to be more mature in our thinking when it comes to politics, policies, regulations, laws, and tax codes that are more progressive and which move to ensure the majority of Americans are not back in the conditions that most average people endured in the Gilded Age.

My grandparents came to America in the great immigration of the early 20th century. My parents were born in America in 1915 and 1925. They told vivid and disturbing stories of what it was like to live under the boot heal of unregulated, under taxed, and wildly powerful Big Money corporations back then. Why today’s middle class thinks we need to return to tax policies and regulatory environments that even come close to those days is beyond my comprehension.

So, I wonder what it will take to get the dwindling middle class in the GOP to stop voting against their own economic self interest?

I wonder if the GOP will ever stop trying to sell us on the fallacy of trickle down economics, and I wonder how many more times we will need to see that economic theory proven wrong before we shunt politicians who espouse it to the sidelines where they belong?

My advice is simple. Let’s do the math, do what’s right, and put ourselves back on a track toward recovery for the vast majority, not the privileged few. Let’s stop pretending that there’s a war between the classes, and let’s stop believing in fiction as a basis for an economy.