The arguments -- as usual, reduced to meaningless sound bites -- over "income inequality" are pretty damn annoying, and I think Ds and President Obama are more to blame for the indigestion than the Rs. The latter are framing it -- would you believe? -- entirely dishonestly and cynically; and the Ds -- who could be surprised? -- are doing it with disorganized ineptitude. So the Fox "news
" version, the Romnified reductio ad absurdum,
is swallowed whole by the right with little or ineffective resistance from the left: Obama wants to end capitalism, envies success, wants to punish
success, is waging class warfare.
Shocking stuff, right? Easy to grasp, like straws. Poorly -- because it takes more than five words to get people to understand, and requires a desire to do so -- refuted by progressives. The result, as intended, is that the point is missed entirely. It's not, in my view, about the rich getting richer, per se
. It's about the consequences
of it, as currently manifested, and what it means for our future.
Let's get this part out of the way: anyone who thinks much about it recognizes that capitalism depends on profits; that employment derives from successful businesses; that hard-working or inventive or creative successful people will -- and ought to -- make more money than others. Not a lot of people begrudge the trappings of success as defined in this country. I have no problem with Bill Gates' money, or Jeff Bezos', or Charles Schwab's. Or A-Rod's. (Okay, that last one...) I'm a little less sanguine about Mitt Romney's; the reasons are significant, but not relevant to the "income inequality" argument. Romney's money was made in the worst way, money for its own sake, money on paper, with no regard for the human substrate, for lack of a better word -- the people at the other end. Buying companies cheap, laying off people to make the bottom line look good, selling them off and raking in profits for himself and his investors, unconcerned for the companies themselves, letting them go bankrupt and walking away with millions. No goods; no services; just a lot of profit from shuffling paper and playing games with lives. Capitalism, sure; but at its worst, with no benefit to anyone but Mitt and his partners. None.
But that's still not the point.
Here's the point about income inequality. Two points, actually. First, it means, in a political system as corrupted by money as our is, that power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few. That's what OWS, when you strip away the fuzz at the edges, is about. The very wealthy, the big corporations, get to write the rules, and the rules they write favor themselves at the expense of everyone else. Banks, big corporations. If shit flows downhill, money flows to the right. And the right, methodically, rapidly, is taking down all the protections against abuse that the left had been able to establish over several decades. Planning much more, while using their propaganda machine to make it look like patriotism, they've managed to convince the likes of teabaggers to act against their own interest. Behind the fog of disinformation and distraction, there's a serious threat to what little remains of our democracy; you'd think any non-corporation type of person would be concerned.
The second -- and, given the political leanings of those with the most money -- the more dire point is that income inequality in the US is leading to the end of civilization. Yeah. I guess that'd be called dire, all right. Is it true? Take a look around.
In the Washington D.C., speech where he laid out his budget vision, he said “we’ll need to find almost $500 billion in savings a year in 2016.” But Romney has not given many details on what that would entail. ... Perhaps that's because the impact of these cuts would scare the bejeezus out of some people.
Taking half a trillion dollars out of $3.6 trillion works out to a 14 percent reduction. (To be precise, it would be 14.1 percent.) Applied equally to all non-defense spending, that would mean approximately $130 billion less for Social Security and about $90 billion less for Medicare, just in 2016 alone. To give you a sense of context, the Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act amount to around $50 billion a year in 2016. And those cuts, unlike Romney's, are largely offset by expanded spending on Medicaid and subsidies for private health insurance, thereby cushioning the blow on the health care system.
Of course, Romney could decide to exempt Medicare and Social Security. But then the cuts for other programs would have to be much higher: 25 percent, on average. And when I say “other programs,” I mean every other non-defense thing the government does: Education, transportation, environmental protection, safety net programs, law enforcement…you get the idea. Can we afford to spend a quarter less on highways? How about the Centers for Disease Control and the FBI? Or Head Start, food stamps, and Pell Grants?
... These cuts would be in addition to the automatic cuts already set to take effect in January, 2013, now that the deficit super-committee has failed to reach a consensus. ...
What’s more, the above calculations – which I ran by several budget experts, just to make sure I had them right – are probably on the generous side. They don’t account for the impact of interest, which (for reasons I can explain in a separate post) are likely to require larger cuts. In addition, this is just a snapshot of 2016. The cuts to the big entitlement programs, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, would become larger in future years.
Still not convinced? Then keep in mind that Romney also supports a balanced budget amendment, which would likely require even steeper cuts than these calculations suggest, particularly if Romney were to cut taxes as promised (and thus reduce federal revenue).
the bottom line: the Rs all-but-designated hitter has announced (so have all of them) plans for taxes and budgets so skewed toward dismantling government in order to keep wealth sequestered with the wealthy that, if enacted, they'll effectively end our ability to maintain (let alone improve) our country. That's
what this talk of income inequality is about. That's
what's really at stake in this election. Willingness to spend money to have a future. It's not
about simply taking money from some and handing it over to others (you know, Newt's welfare cheats, his rants against whom get standing ovations
from his aggrieved and ill-informed audience.) It's about balancing capitalism and its profits with reasonable commitment to paying for obvious needs.
But the Romneys, the O'Reillys, the Hannitys and Becks, the Limbaughs and the Koch brothers, the Murdochs of the world -- mega-multimillionaires all -- are committed to ensuring that people don't see it that way. That their fodder stand up, waving American flags while shedding patriotic tears and hatefully denouncing the false vision of Barack Obama that's secreted from the propaganda machine, thinking they're giving glory to god, saluting their country, while, in fact, blindly facilitating its demise.