Let me just start out by saying that, under most circumstances, I try to lead a political lifestyle that verges on the ambitions of a house cat. That is to say, I’d rather spend a whole afternoon bathing in the sunlight of a kitchen windowsill, than be screaming out of it at the top of my lungs about which candidate can go to hell and which one I’d invite over for dinner. If you think about it, though, house cats are efficient creatures. They tend to conserve much of their energy until such time when they need it most: like when the family dog steps out of line, or when jumping is the only way out of a 15 foot drop, or even when that obnoxious aunt keeps tail yanking (HISS)(CLAW)(BITE). The point is, they seem lazy. But, if you get them riled up enough, watch out—especially if they aren’t de-clawed. And so, in light of the current 2012 presidential debates, I’ve decided to get down off my windowsill and yell at a few stray pedestrians, just to keep my claws sharp.
So, of course, before we even get into it, the question has to be: What are your political views? What camp are you with?
And, if I had to label myself, I’d say I’m a moderate—if not a moderate Democrat. But more important than my love for this candidate or that one, I’m more concerned about what’s right for the American people; for my people. (You loved that genuine line didn’t you?) *Cue the music and lights* That being said, it’s important to note that though I lean toward the Democratic spectrum from a moderate perch, I don’t disagree with sound logic (if it ever came from the mouth of a Republican). (Too much?) But sometimes it does. Sometimes Republicans have extremely valid points of view such as smaller government, and the love of the free market—some of the strongest pillars of American life, which have made The United States one of the greatest countries in the world. But, increasingly, what I’ve come to find trouble with is the interpretation of these principals, which tend to be expressed in more extreme terms. As a moderate, I don’t believe in BIG government, I believe in appropriate government; I don’t HATE the free market, I just don’t believe that free markets can provide a population with all of the sound justice necessary to sustain itself; I don’t believe that the government should replace personal responsibility and take care of people, but I do think that the government should help protect persons from those forces that would otherwise exploit their misfortunes, and create reasonable opportunities for those who can’t help themselves so that they might have a good life.
In order to bypass all the silliness that usually surrounds the back-and-forth screaming matches that happen between supporters on opposing sides, rather than focusing primarily on either Romney or Obama, I’d like to focus on more general themes that I believe are important for both candidates. The details I mean to discuss here are those that are most certainly subtle, yet powerful in the way of making or breaking the execution of good policy. The power of these more subtle details are best illustrated by the principles illustrated in the book, The Tipping Point. In one instance, the book argues one of the most powerful forces in reducing record high crime waves in NYC subways during the 1980s was the removal of graffiti and the crackdown on petty fair dodgers. Now, I’m not suggesting that one can easily undo the sheer economic and political havoc that has been mopping the floor with the American people over the past three decades. However, what I am suggesting is that the answers to a better life for everyone in this country is not simply this policy or that, it’s not lower tax rates or spending cuts alone. The solutions and answers to the very complicated problems now plaguing the U.S. are best understood with respect to their context, and should therefore be approached as part of a broader contextual agenda. A huge problem with American politics and their campaigns is that they attack the symptoms of a failing system as if that system is somehow closed off to the rest of the world. As mentioned in a brilliant book I’m reading, entitled, The Price of Civilization:
America’s politicians and even academics have consistently underestimated the effects of globalization, looking inward for explanations of events when the major drivers are global. America is so used to being the center of attention, the “number one country”, that it hasn’t been able to fathom the magnitude of global changes taking place around it.
I think this piece of insight illustrates precisely what I mean to convey, that, often times, politicians and their supporters are running around all day long throwing band aids at conditions that require antibiotics and lifestyle changes to heal. In the heat of all of our best interests, and the pursuit of quick solutions, we often neglect to understand the problem thoroughly. Let me show you what I mean.
People like it when successful business men/women run for political offices. The implication here is that if he/she can run a successful business and make lots of money for themselves, then, certainly, they can make sure I make a lot of money too. Ehhh… not quite.
You can’t run a country like a business. It doesn’t work that way. In business, you can fired people, cut losses, and cut corners. You can’t do that while running a country. There are people’s lives at stake. The problem with running a campaign based on the principals of business and the promise of economic wealth is that the bottom line in a business is profit, while the bottom line in running a nation is people. You can’t have profit be your bottom line when running a country.
“Our greatest national illusion is that a healthy society can be organized around the single-minded pursuit of wealth.” –Jeffery D. Sachs.
That being said, employing policies that only aim to encourage economic growth through the avenues of ever-lower taxes on the rich and their corporate counterparts—often at the expense of civilian and social programs meant to aid the poor and middle class—is a complete folly. The spending cuts necessary to fund such tax cuts would come from programs—like education, vocational training, and planned parenthood—which help America’s largest demographic of working class citizens gain advantages necessary to stay educated, move out of poverty, and fuel growth. You can’t allow the majority to fall at the expense of a few; that’s a recipe for total collapse.
For some reason (and I have no idea why), people thought it was a good idea to create incentives for the few elites at the top, in hopes that, (maybe), they might throw the rest of us a bone someday down the road by creating some jobs. Seriously? Check your history books people, big oil and big bank profits have been the highest ever. CEO salaries in the 1970’s were 40X that of a regular employee; now, they’re 1000X that of a regular employee. Frankly speaking, this means that as companies made MORE money, they didn’t NECESSARILY make more jobs, they simply increased the salaries and bonuses of CEOs and the top brass while the average person’s salary has stayed exactly the same since 1970. Allow me to reiterate that once more: The top 1% salaries have exploded by nearly 1000X of their 1970’s levels, while the average worker’s salary has stayed EXACTLY the same (about $48,000). If companies aren’t even raising average salaries in the midst of making HUGE profits, why would anyone ever imagine they would create more jobs (and expenses for themselves) if we gave them a tax break and put MORE money in their pockets? More money in the pockets of the top elite doesn’t mean they will help out the guy below them, it means they will help themselves first.
A friend of mine pleaded to me: “Of course they would hire more people. If they hire more people they can do more business that way and make even MORE profit. That’s the incentive.”
Yeah, except when it’s not—because health care costs are through the roof and businesses are happy to simply put more work on the few workhorses below for the same wages. Again, it’s important to understand this idea within the proper context. In a perfect world, wealthy people and business owners would hold the prosperity of their fellow citizens as closely to their hearts as they do their own bottom lines. The problem in America isn’t that trickle down doesn’t work on paper, it’s that it doesn’t work in real life. The social cynicism that has grown out of a culture dominated by the pursuit of wealth has lead to contempt for our fellow citizens, not unity. Trickle down theory assumes that wealthy citizens and businesses possess a sufficient sense of civil justice that demands they acknowledge and fulfill their obligation to those less fortunate. This isn’t reality. Providing advantages for people already in advantageous positions will only encourage them to solidify THEIR position, not help others move up.
The funny thing about it is that the rich can end up living off the government in a different way than the “freeloaders”—in the form of endless tax incentives and relaxed regulations. Generally speaking, greater education and prosperity amongst the middle class means that the majority of workers have more power to demand better wages and benefits, which ultimately means less profits for business owners. So, businesses looking to make more profit love when the squeeze is on the middle class in the form of a cutthroat job market. The spike in competition means that desperate middle class workers will take shit pay and less health care benefits, and they’ll do more work. Then businesses can turn around and beg for ever lower taxes and pocket the difference. Because business is so obviously essential for economic growth, and social problems and its expenditures are perceived to be a drag on profits, even when recovery happens and profits are up, the taxes will keep falling.
The other problem I have with this “The Top Will Save Us” dogma is that it implies that the only job makers in America have been the rich elite. What about guys like like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak? They built the most valuable company in the world, Apple, from their garage. I mean, sure, they eventually got bankrolled by some rich dudes after getting turned down by traditional bank lenders. But what about before that? Steve Jobs was adopted. What about the social systems and support that helped both men grow up with decent health care and the education necessary to plant the seeds for Apple? Both Steves lived in a middle class neighborhood filled with blue collar engineers and electricians that mentored them. Apple has become one of the greatest symbols of business success and American innovation the world has ever seen. That didn’t grow from a golden tree in a high tower somewhere; it came about from grass roots. We must ensure that the pursuit of elitist wealth, often championed under the banner of “freedom and prosperity (eventually) for all”, doesn’t vilify and destroy the many crucial government supports that offer opportunities for the rest of the 99% to have a good life.
Anyone who’s ever listened to a politician in the U.S. argue about jobs will inevitably hear about China—mostly about how they are stealing American jobs. What you’ll also hear is how the U.S. needs to keep taxes on business low in order to compete with low Chinese wages and manufacturing costs. For many Republicans, this is the smoking gun for their support for the lowest taxes possible on corporate America. The idea is that lower taxes and fewer regulations will create a competitive edge within U.S. borders that will attract internationally mobile capital investment, which in turn, will create jobs and growth. If you’re smart, you’ll quickly realize that this is not necessarily true. First of all, China has a ridiculously better setup than the U.S., to such a degree that we could never compete. A country with over a billion strong workforce, few environmental regulations, very little enforcement of human labor rights, and a communist government who can artificially manipulate its currency’s value, is no match for a Democratic nation full of special interest groups and a Bill of Rights to boot.
There’s literally no way we can compete. So, all of this lowering of taxes is just going to encourage businesses to pocket the differences and keep jobs in China. Even with a tax break: Why wouldn’t businesses just setup their offices here, but still keep blue collar manufacturing jobs in China? “High tax” isn’t the only thing keeping jobs in China; relaxed pollution tolerance and a lack of regulations for human labor are two other great incentives that the U.S. could never match. Even if you could get corporate taxes down low enough, no piece of legislation meant to lower environmental or human labor rights standards would ever make it past special interest groups. China doesn’t have special interest groups. In the end, the loss of tax revenue and regulations needed to run the economy and social infrastructure would cripple the U.S. and everyone would lose.
Someone once told me that Republicans are more generous in their
donations to charity than Democrats. This was offered as a means to combat any suggestion that Republicans don’t wish to help those that are less fortunate. But let’s be real for a second and check out the net worth of their “donations”. It may very well be true that they give more than Democrats—especially if they have more to give—however, I’ve witnessed far more
cynicism and discrimination in their choices to donate. They’re perfectly
willing to give to causes that may present them with an “I scratch your back and you scratch mine” opportunity, or to causes that they feel “deserve” their money. But, they’ll scoff at the prospect of higher taxes that would help all middle class citizens and poor indiscriminately. The fear that there will be undeserving others (even if only a small portion of them) that will benefit from such programs, is simply too great a risk for them. And so, by default, many of those who would benefit simply lose out due to spending cuts in social programs used to fund tax incentives for the 1%. It’s this kind of social class warfare that indicates a macro psychological problem which prevents the distribution of wealth to happen at the hand of free markets alone. Free markets are not objective entities in and of themselves; they are the direct result, not only of goods and services, of supply and demand, but also of speculation and human psychology. The free market can’t distribute wealth if those who have it exercise severe cynicism about parting with it. In this case, the role of government is to offset the imbalances of free market wealth distribution by creating objective justice in the face of human discrimination.
Some of the elite will claim that this discriminates against them, but we need only again to observe the power of context: asking someone of the 1% to live on $25 million a year, instead of their usual $32 million, in order to aid someone else who can barely keep a roof over their heads, is hardly an oppressive injustice. At some point we need to observe these issues from a purely humane perspective, rather than on the principals of “I exist, and therefore, leave me alone”. We exist within a society together. Society does not exist to serve the individual; the individual exists to serve society. It is nothing short of pure insanity to think that society and its other members should never ask anything of me, and that I should be left alone to benefit from its establishment anyway.
Another thing: people need to get over the shock of discovering that some people are “gaming the system” at the poverty line. For as long as the systems of civilization have existed, there have always been those who will try to take advantage of it. But that really doesn’t matter so much. According to Game Theory, systems are designed to handle freeloaders; it’s part of what makes a system work in the first place. But perhaps more importantly, freeloading doesn’t just come from the bottom. If you haven’t noticed, those at the top are gaming the system too—and not for a measly 400 bucks a week either. Those head bankers took home 100’s of millions of dollars and no one went to jail. They didn’t just bet blindly with other people’s money, they bet against a sure thing, a system they had rigged themselves, against debts they knew would go bad. Now flip it. If one of these people on food stamps decided they wanted to steal a couple of extra loaves of bread and a KitKat bar, they’d be handcuffed and booked immediately. Let’s make sure we’re keeping things in perspective here.
Lastly, any deficit we see in the current federal budget isn’t from overspending on social programs—those are just the easiest things to cut (because heaven forbid we decide NOT to start another war, or fund someone else’s). Inevitably, civil program spending will have to increase as our population continues to rise. The problem is that our tax rates haven’t kept pace with our population growth, which creates the illusion that social spending is out of control, and therefore, needs to be cut. It’s not true. Total civilian spending in the U.S. is around 4% of GDP, and scheduled to fall to 2% by 2020! The deficit is a result of billions in lost revenue due to three decades of tax cuts for the top 1%. The last time the top marginal tax rates were this low was right before the Black Tuesday stock market crash on October 29, 1929, which marked the onset of the Great Depression, and right before the 2008 crash. Some of the most prosperous years in the U.S. have been during times when the top marginal tax rates were the highest ever. Also, look at Scandinavia—they have some of the highest tax rates in the world; Scandinavian populations also report being the happiest in all the world.
In 1978, when China entered the global economy and opened its borders to international investment, it didn’t destroy American jobs. In the beginning, much of China’s workforce was composed of peasants from the countryside. At that time, Chinese workers lacked the education, skills, and technologies necessarily to compete with workers that occupied the Southern states of the U.S. But over time, Chinese workers received a huge educational push by the Chinese government, which quickly brought them up to speed. So, only when Chinese workers possessed sufficient education and skills were they able to compete with American workers. This is good news actually; it suggests that if American education can be revived to create leading workers in new skill sets and technologies, then American business can even overstep some of the advantages that China has in low cost labor, pollution tolerance, and a lack of human labor rights.
Now the bad news. Education in the U.S. (blows). Out of 65 nations, students in the United States rank 15th in Reading, 23rd in Science, and 31st in Mathematics. Shanghai China, on the other hand, ranked first in all three categories. And China isn’t the only one: South Korea, Singapore, and Honk Kong, all ranked in the top ten. It’s pretty well known by now that the U.S. has spent a lot of money on education in the past decade, with little improvement in test scores. I’m not suggesting we invest in bogus educational gimmicks. I’m suggesting we use that money for real education reform that sets national standards for teachers, and weeds out local corruption that wastes tax dollars on ineffective administration costs. However it gets done, the point is that the U.S. needs to continue to invest in education, which is going to be extremely difficult if education spending is cut in order to fund tax incentives for corporations. As the Chinese proved when they entered the market:
it doesn’t matter how many jobs you create, if our middle class workers don’t have the education or skills to perform, we will NEVER be able to fill those jobs and they’ll keep being outsourced.
This is an important point, because it highlights the serous predicament that social spending cuts have for the middle class. As the rich get tax breaks to “create jobs” at the cost of education and job training for the middle class, the only jobs left will be those that require the kind of education only wealthier Americans can afford. If the middle class can’t afford competitive education, and the top 1% can, then only the rich will gain higher income jobs while the middle class slowly recede into poverty as they struggle with underemployment and unemployment.
If you’re an 80’s kid like me, you remember the days when CD’s cost $21. Back then, it was practically a miracle for an entire album to be listenable, like Green Day – Dookie. If the band sucked and only had one single, you had to pay for the entire album just to get that one good song. It was a total rip-off, but there was no alternative. Then, when Napster came along in the late 1990’s, people were offered a new alternative to shelling out a fortune for one lame track. Now, people were able to share music with friends for free using networking software. This was real birth of music piracy. But then, shit got crazy. Piracy ran rampant and the entire music industry was on the verge of collapse because huge profits were being sucked out of their revenue streams. It was absolute chaos, and it appeared that the music industry was done for—that is, until Apple jumped in.
Apple created an even BETTER alternative to free music sharing with iTunes. With iTunes, people could buy top quality music at great prices, while also enjoying the benefits of being able to buy single songs or whole albums. Virtually overnight, Apple had literally saved the entire music industry by offering consumers a LEGAL alternative that was MORE attractive than piracy. Even more importantly, record label revenues bounced back and surpassed previous sales, therefore, making the NEWER, more REASONABLE system even MORE profitable for them. Consumers were happy; record companies were happy. Everyone won.
Think about this one single point, because it’s crucial:
Apple created a legal method of purchasing music that was so reasonable, people DIDN’T WANT to break the law.
The point I’m trying to make with this analogy is that, generally speaking, people don’t want to break the law. They don’t want trouble. However, when presented with no better alternatives, people will resort to deviant methods of doing things. This kind of pattern can be used to explain things like increases in gun violence, drug usage, depression, freeloading, and even divorce. Without better alternatives offered by those in power to help make this country better, and in turn, the lives of its citizens better, people are going to do whatever it takes to get by. When people are pushed to the brink, and they feel like nothing they do gets rewarded, they break. They’ll turn to anything that makes them feel more in control—because (especially in recent times) there’s very little reward for trying hard anymore.
I don’t think that any true American—Republican or Democrat—really believes that the government should take care of them, that everyone should be rich, or that government should ensure that no one gains an advantage over anyone else. That’s not what Americans believe. That’s not how we operate. It’s not how we sleep at night. We sleep best when we go to bed knowing we’ve earned a hard day’s living, when we know our families and loved ones are safe, and when we feel deep down that justice exists for everyone—that everyone gets a fair shot. We work best and hardest when we know that our sacrifices count, that fair play gets rewarded, and that those who cheat get punished. I know these things because I am an American; I was brought up with these very principles. The American people need to unite again under these same pillars that have always made us strong: freedom, justice, honesty, and hard work. We can no longer sit idly by and allow politicians and special interest groups to dilute our core values with spin talk, exploitation, and campaign gimmicks. I can only hope that whoever becomes the next President of The Unites States, will help all of us believe again in our values and each other.
I HAD to include this because I almost peed my pants when I saw it. HA. HA.