(Originally published as “Obama and the Future of the Democratic Party”)
President Obama achieved some remarkable things during his eight years. Action on income and wealth inequality were not among them. He surrounded himself, especially on the economic front, with people who had direct connections to Wall St. or academic economics. He famously made a speech in 2013 announcing that income inequality was “the defining challenge of our time”. Then, faced with attacks from within the Democratic Party and all Republicans that he was engaging in “class warfare”, he beat a hasty retreat. The rhetoric was trotted out but he proposed nothing and did nothing.
Citibank and Obama’s Cabinet
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Progressives have to declare class war as a central strategy. Otherwise we will all be sitting at the dinner table basking in our glorious diversity with nothing to eat.
For many good reasons identity and diversity have dominated our politics for decades. Progressives celebrate its expansion and Republicans and their brethren on the right pretty universally engage in either dog whistle or outright racist politics.
Simultaneously the rich and corporations have been fighting a class war. They have succeeded beyond belief. As is well known, for 90% of the population real incomes have been flat for the past 40 yrs. Meanwhile, the rich and corporations have gotten fabulously rich. Richer than at any time in history. And, to make things worse they have done this while hiding behind free-market (neoliberal) ideology that has impoverished the government and the public sphere of our lives. Our infrastructure is crumbling, education is outrageously expensive, sending many students to decades of indebtedness. Our health system costs more than twice any of our developed country cohort and delivers third world results.
Progressives, time to fight back. Diversity and identity without a fair share of the pie is not going to make you happy.
This 2013 article “How Much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty” (http://prospect.org/article/how-much-money-would-it-take-eliminate-poverty-america) addresses this question. The answer then was $175 billion. This is a ridiculously small number in the context of a $16 trillion GDP.
As someone who is on the homeowners gravy train I was stuck by this part of the article:
“The utterly ridiculous tax expenditures directed toward the disproportionately affluent class of people called homeowners—mortgage interest deduction, property tax deduction, exclusion of capital gains on residences—by themselves sum to $115.3 billion in 2012.”
Of course we live in a society that knows that poor people are poor because they are shiftless, drug addled and lazy. We certainly can’t reward those people with any help. Meanwhile the rich and corporations are worthy recipients of government handouts without fear that we will be corrupting them.
I’ve often thought it would be a salutary exercise if we handed out these tax breaks at a universal government payout office. Here, everyone receiving funds from the government would line up. As they received their check a big sign above the window would flash out the amount of their check. I think people on SSI would be outraged at how their measly few hundred dollars a month compared to the payouts to the rich and corporations.
So much of this is a question of what and whose priorities are being met by government action/inaction. Presently we don’t have a political system even vaguely responsive to the vast majority of Americans. In fact it is serving the rich and corporations quite admirably.
It is fairly widely known that income and wealth inequality in the US is as high or higher than at any time except perhaps the Robber Baron period at the end of the 19th century. Lots of articles and books explain how this has come about over the last 30 years. In a recent NYTimes Magazine article, “The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy” by Adam Davidson, we are even offered an affirmative defense of this by a buddy of Mitt Romney from Bain Capital Edward Conrad.
Conrad… “aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conrad writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off.”
But, leaving aside the obvious disconnect between any rational measure of value add by the wealthy and their incomes and holdings, does economic inequality really matter? Is it just that those of us in the not wealthy class, now branded The 99%, are jealous of all the toys of the wealthy? Their four or five houses, countless cars, airplanes, and all the rest?
Are their some measurable consequences to economic inequality?
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I came on a set of graphics in Mother Jones, “It’s the Inequality, Stupid: Eleven charts that explain what’s wrong with America” that illustrate what you probably already know. But, a simple refresher course in some of the reasons why the rich are rich. The 99% already have this base covered.
Here are some of the charts I liked. Read the whole article at the Mother Jones website.
Income (constant dollars)
Note that if median family income had simply kept up with inflation over this period it would have grown to $92,000 instead of $50,000.
Are Corporations Over Taxed?
Mother Jones does not make it clear that the Payroll Tax is also a tax on individuals. To add insult to injury the Payroll Tax is not levied beyond the first %106,800 of income.
How Are The Richest of the Rich Doing?
Since my entry this morning I have been thinking more about the Presidency and Bush. My knowledge of 19th century Presidents is a bit spotty. Certainly the names Buchanan, Pierce, Johnson and Grant pop to mind as less than top of the heap.
But, for the modern era, post WW2, Bush is clearly the worst, most destructive President.
In the international sphere, we will be digging out from the morass of his crazed policies for a decade. This will most prominently feature the disaster of Iraq. A particularly problematic consequence of Bush’s policies is the increased militarization of our foreign and domestic security strategies.
On the home front, we have the staggering debt, degradation of civil rights and government practices, and lost time dealing with health care, infrastructure, income inequality, education, housing and more. I do not particularly hold him responsible for the global economic meltdown. That is really the result of a global infatuation for ” free markets” in which both US parties and numerous others worldwide have indulged themselves for more than three decades.