We became enthralled with the view that wealth trickled down from the top and that if you poured money into rich people, sort of like an ingredient, prosperity and jobs would squirt out of them like donuts. … What a great story that the less taxes I pay, the better off everyone else will be. This is a marvelously self-justifying viewpoint, but at the end of the day it hasn't worked.
But if you understand how the system works I think in a more realistic way, what you begin to see is that in the end it's better for me because honestly, what do I care if my tax rate is 15 percent or 30 if my businesses are growing twice as fast. Prosperity for people like me is a consequence of the number of customers I have, not the tax rate that I pay. If low taxes were the way that people like me created wealth, then we'd be starting our companies in the Congo or Somalia or Afghanistan, but we're not. We come to places where there are lots and lots of customers.
Lucy McKeon, writing for Salon, interviews Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein about their book It's Even Worse Than It Looks. Both men have been studying Congress and politics for 40 years and find the current climate worse than it has been in at least a century (they can't tell if it is worse than the pre-Civil War years, but even bringing that up says a lot). Some of the ideas (some of which I've heard before) from the interview:
Politics has become winner-take-all, which is tough on a two-party system. The current GOP is more conservative than in Reagan's time and "unpersuaded by fact and science." We're in a serious economic crisis and the GOP doesn't want to approve anything for which the prez. would get any credit. It doesn't want to negotiate or compromise with the enemy.
The public (at least those who vote) have sorted ourselves into neighborhoods with like-minded people. That encourages the polarization in Washington. The way a democracy should respond when a party gets to extreme is to overwhelmingly vote for the other party. That isn't happening.
At the moment bipartisan solutions can't happen. We need to come up with a way to operate in a hyper-partisan system.
Our strong journalistic norm of fairness insists that both sides be heard equally, and that distorts what is really going on and perpetuates the problem.