Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Other 99%

There were a lot of pathologies present in the way America, and especially cities in the South, concentrated poverty and minorities in public housing projects. Coupled with the criminal mismanagement of public education resources, these pathologies created conditions responsible for replicating generations of at-risk populations.

While some folks can be lulled into the false choice that any change to a bad situation is good change, we must never forget that "solutions" may simply create or replicate progress-resistant pathologies in different ways. And guess which Southern American cities get to go first?

New Orleans and Atlanta are providing the opening scenes of a new era of American decline, with fewer and fewer economic opportunities and more and more ways to fall through the cracks.

This becomes very important to me. I realize that every year, as I become more secure in my job, as I gain experience and encounter my yearly merit raises, my economic position slips further and further down the class ladder. At the same time, there is a group of politicians in this country that blame my personal economic decline and tax burden on the most at-risk members of our society.

While the emotional reaction is immediate when you see an outwardly looking, able-bodied someone using public assistance to purchase junk food in the grocery store, and argue with the clerk about it, the reverse emotion is true when you talk to folks who do menial service work for private contractors 50 hours a week and still can't make ends meet without SNAP benefits. Help out with a city-assisted evacuation sometime, and the few dozen people who are obviously taking advantage of the situation - and complaining about it - will boil your blood. Perspective comes when you see the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who need the assistance, whose elderly, infirm, or children would be at the mercy of leaky levees yet again if the storm comes too close. There is always a disconnect between what people say on television and radio and what actually happens in front of your face. Yes, there may be wasted tax dollars spent on the social safety net for these people, but that simply cannot be so much it is destroying our nation's fiscal health.

On the other hand, according to that group of politicians, it is the tax burden on the richest people and the corporations that is holding our economy back. So we cut and cut the taxes of the top 1%, we provide endless tax loopholes and subsidies so those corporations will provide jobs and that 1% will spend their money around. We've been following this general fiscal plan since about 1980, and all our nation has done is find fiscal decline.

The explanations seem to make sense. Lower taxes allow people to spend more on goods, and people at the top have the most buying power. But does that spending go to regular goods that create the most jobs, or to the luxury goods that require already well-paid specialists? Are they investing in real businesses that build the economy or the legalized gambling in the stock markets? The idea that corporations will move their jobs to the places where they incrue the lowest costs (and make the most profit) seems to make sense until you realize that - where are they going to go?

Then there is the deeply soothing narrative that, if we increase taxes on companies, and eliminate their subsidies and loopholes, they will "pass the cost on to the consumer." This also makes sense in the "common sensism" of soundbyte news and talk radio. But in a free market economy, isn't that up to the consumer to decide?

I don't buy a lot of stuff. I try not to buy a lot of gasoline. I don't fly commercial. I don't live in a suburb. But my tax dollars are used to subsidize or provide loopholes for companies that buy crap goods from cheap manufacturers in China; my tax dollars go to subsidize the oil companies and their billions and billions of profits; my tax dollars go to subsidize the airline industry at the expense of rail and mass transit; my tax dollars go to subsidize infrastructure and schools in other parts of the state or country while our levees leak, our roads are cratered, and our schools are being privatized because 'they don't work' for lack of resources. I'm not chosing to consume goods I'm already paying for.

Pennies come out of my tax dollars and go to the social safety net. But quarters go to subsidize the lifestyles of the top 1%. And by saying this, I know that makes me a "class warrior" to some - usually those who would have me focus my attention on the pathologies present among the most disenfranchised, at-risk populations because they can provide the easiest scapegoat.


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