Saturday, May 14, 2016


Dad subscribed to Washington Monthly. I've taken a few of the recent issues to read, as I have for Smithsonian, Consumers Reports, Popular Science (not a lot of substance there), and Mother Jones. For most of these magazines I took only the most recent issues, thinking the rest would be out of date. Even the November/December 2014 issue of Washington Monthly, the one I recently finished, is a bit out of date. One article mentions Hillary gearing up for the campaign season and there's no Bernie in sight.

All of the major articles – nine of them – of this issue are about inequality in America (though we aren't the only country with this problem). There is an introductory article and a concluding article. In between various authors discuss how inequality affects each stage of life – preschool, the usual K-12 school, college, young parents, workers in general, and seniors. One more article discusses how the rise of Big Finance has fed inequality. These articles also discuss ways individual aspects of inequality might be solved – setting aside for a while that the current GOP and their corporate backers have no intention of implementing these ideas.

While reading the article on how inequality affects preschool I got to be thinking about how to frame the issue. So instead of summarizing the articles, insightful as they are, I'm going to use them for my alternate frame. While these WM articles provided input to what I say below, there are several other sources, though I won't always provide links. Onward.

When the subject or raising taxes comes up the 1% are quick to call it something like "wealth transfer." Why should the rich have some of their money confiscated by the gov't so that it can be given to the poor, those lazy people who will turn the safety net into a hammock?

But a wealth transfer has been going on for several decades from the poor to the rich. This is a result of intentional laws and policy choices the rich have inserted into our legal system and government.

We could appeal to the rich by saying their (increased) taxes would benefit them by:

* Creating safer infrastructure that everyone uses.

* Keeping our higher education institutions as best-in-world, providing research that benefits the 1% and their corporations, and educating workers to keep those corporations competitive in a global economy.

* Creating healthier and more productive workers.

* Creating a larger market for the products produced by the rich corporations.

* Creating a citizenry more content and less likely to turn to crime out of desperation and thus a more stable society.

If the rich pursued these goals they would have more money than they have now and be in a better society.

These are some of the ideas that would lessen inequality.

* Fully funded and universally available preschool is critical in pulling children out of poverty and into a life of a productive worker.

* Mix low-income K-12 students with middle- and high-income students. The low-income students begin to copy the aspirations and study habits of their better-off peers, something that doesn't happen when low-income students are kept in schools of their own. They also meet parents who advocate for quality education.

* Adequately fund college, with generous scholarships and grants (not loans) for low income students, and create programs to make sure students graduate.

* Provide and adequately fund more vocational and apprenticeship programs.

* Change the workplace culture, with plenty of input from the workers, to be more family-friendly.

* Boost the minimum wage and link it to inflation so that a worker doesn't have to go on government assistance.

* Restore the bargaining power of unions. Make it easier for them to organize.

* Increase maintenance and replacement of infrastructure, both because it is desperately needed (see Flint water and Michigan roads) and because that will tighten the labor market and push up wages.

* Share profits and productivity gains with workers instead of just shareholders.

* Revise the tax system, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, so that at low wage levels it becomes more of a supplement to wages.

* Fully fund retirement plans and return them to defined benefit plans so retirees can rely on them.

* Restructure incentives to save for retirement so that it benefits those who most need the savings and the incentives. Also simplify the various programs into one. The current model is based on a person's tax bracket, so the most benefit goes to the wealthiest.

* Solidify Social Security so that seniors don't have to work until they drop.

* Regulate the financial system to:
* Cap the fees managers may earn on mutual funds.
* Fully disclose the practices and fees of hedge funds.
* Reconnect the loan originator with the loan holder to reduce the chance of fraud.
* Tax trades in stocks and other investments to reduce speculation and volatility.
* Eliminate lightning trade deals, in which a computerized system can insert itself in a stock trade to make a profit on each trade.
* Demote shareholders to their proper place as only one of many claimants on the profits of a company (other claimants being research, company growth and investment, employee wages, the consumer, and the society in general).
* Restore the focus on long-term corporate health rather than short-term stock price.
* Break up large financial companies so that the failure of one cannot destroy the entire national or world economy.
* Restore the separation between citizen banking and speculative banking.
* Improve regulation to lessen the chance and severity of financial bubbles.

But this transfer of wealth hasn't been about money. If it was the rest of us would not be feeling the pinch. See above about the rich having more money when more people are prosperous. This wealth transfer has been about insecurity. The rich need to and are able to dominate the rest of us and to keep us from being able to challenge their position as Top Dog. To make their oppression possible they have institutionalized theft.

* Refusing to fully fund preschool for all who may want it is theft.

* Insufficiently funding schools in poor neighborhoods is theft.

* Treating and paying schoolteachers like pariahs, instead of paying them as people entrusted with educating the next generation, is theft.

* Refusing to maintain all public school buildings, resulting in places that are dingy, perhaps unhealthy or dangerous, is theft.

* Isolating residents according to income, refusing to allow the poor to live among the rich, is theft.

* Isolating residents according to race is theft.

* Insufficiently preparing a student for college is theft.

* Burdening a college student with huge mounds of debt is theft.

* Preventing a student from going to college because of insufficient money is theft.

* Pricing college so that the poor can't afford it is theft.

* Refusing to oversee charter schools, resulting in lower student achievement and waste of tax dollars, is theft.

* Refusing to provide comprehensive health coverage, including dental, vision, and mental, for everyone is theft.

* A health insurance company inserting its demand for profit into the doctor-patient relationship is theft.

* Refusing to offer paid maternity and paternity leave is theft.

* Refusing to make affordable child care available is theft.

* Refusing to offer paid sick leave is theft.

* Refusing to share productivity gains with the workers who made those gains possible is theft.

* Refusing to share profits with workers is theft.

* Refusing to keep infrastructure in good repair and up to date is theft.

* Refusing to enact progressive tax systems is theft.

* Refusing full disclosure and transparency of financial instruments is theft.

* Separating the loan originator and the loan holder is theft.

* Inserting a lightning trade computer between the participants of a stock deal is theft.

* Declaring that the shareholder is king and entitled to all profits is theft.

* Allowing a corporation to grow so big that its failure can threaten the economy is theft.

* Government handouts to already rich corporations is theft.

* Corporations claiming university and other federally funded research for exclusive use is theft.

* Corporate use of common resources, such as oil deposits, mineral deposits, timber, and grazing land, without paying license fees or rent is theft.

* Taxing capital gains at a much lower rate than wages is theft.

* Polluting our land, water, and air is theft.

* Denying science when a result interferes with profit is theft.

* Not prosecuting corporate crime is theft.

* Hiding money in overseas banks to avoid taxes is theft.

* Banks speculating with savings account money is theft.

* Refusing to provide affordable public transportation is theft.

* Creating a prison system around punishment instead of rehabilitation is theft.

* Demanding incarceration for low level crimes is theft.

* Putting people in jail when they can't pay fines is theft.

* The Social Security payroll tax is capped to incomes at $118,500 in 2015. Those with wages above that amount will get more in benefits for which they didn't have to pay. A large amount, perhaps all, of the problems in future Social Security shortfalls would be eliminated if this cap was removed. This cap in SS taxes is theft. Insufficiently funding SS is theft.

* Switching the management of pension money from the corporation to the employee, from defined benefit to defined contribution, is theft.

* Structuring savings incentives in favor of those who need it least is theft.

* Gutting union power to blunt their ability to bargain, allowing corporations to cut pay, benefits, and safety, is theft.

* Gerrymandering political districts to favor one party over the other is theft.

* Political debate that pits one group against another is theft.

* Structuring business and culture so that the poor are not able to contribute their talents is theft, from the individual as well as from the nation.

This list of methods of thievery is far from complete.

So what is the standard punishment for theft? Especially when done on such a grand scale?

All this discussion about inequality is not "politics of envy." Inequality doesn't just happen. The current level of inequality is intentional, due to specific policy choices. We can lessen inequality with different choices.

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