Wednesday, March 24, 2010
For the country as a whole, trickle-down economics haven't worked. At least they haven't worked for most Americans who aren't ultra-rich -- the middle-class and underprivileged entreated to sit beneath the the table of the wealthy and wait for the scraps to fall, to "trickle down" as it were. More than any other socio-political paradigm, this overarching pseudo-Randian belief that wealth should and will flow top-to-bottom, from the elite to those who supposedly benefit from their actions and largess -- espoused and imposed nationwide by Ronald Reagan -- has been the defining ideal of the last thirty years. It's been the one factor that's remained constant throughout the tenures of five presidents. Despite plenty of lip service paid to a constantly expanding economic inequality in this country -- with, as the zero-sum cliché goes, the rich seeming to get richer while the poor get poorer -- no one's ever attempted an honest-to-God sea change in the way America practices capitalism.
Maybe until now.
Today there are a couple of really interesting articles highlighting inequality in this country and what's being done about it. I'll say right off that bat that I'd be one of the first people to agree that while the Declaration of Independence stakes its claim on the notion that all are created equal, it doesn't mean that all are entitled to reach the same level of status. Equal human dignity at birth and throughout life won't guarantee equal wealth, power or prestige; it just doesn't work that way. I'd also agree that we don't outright punish people for striving to be the best or get the most they can out of life, provided they're not breaking the law or depriving others of the same opportunity. But you're a fool if you deny that something is very wrong in this country when a tiny portion of it -- the insulated elite -- are allowed to seemingly run roughshod over a middle-class that's dwindling in numbers. There were always the very rich in our nation, and it helped to make us powerful -- but there was also a strong middle-class to provide a foundation for the American dream. More and more, that foundation is weakening -- due in large part to an entire way of thinking, fomented by a government and media that themselves have become tools of the super-rich, which held that the quest for wealth above all was the greatest good and that anybody could get to the prize at the end of the rainbow.
Today's New York Times looks at how, despite what many claim is a payout to the insurance industry, the new health care reform bill is actually the first major piece of legislation in thirty years to attempt to turn the tide against the very ideals of Reaganomics.
From that piece:
"Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.
Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would 'mark a new season in America.' He added, 'We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.'"
The article goes on to spell out the ways in which the Reagan-era's laissez-faire attitude toward big business practices and corporate excess contributed to our current Great Recession. But make no mistake: A minor step in the direction of changing our views on Greed-is-the-Ultimate-Good economics doesn't mean we're all suddenly all living in Utopia (as if something like that would even be possible). A short piece in the Examiner Online gets into not simply the current fight over extending unemployment benefits to the 14-million Americans still without jobs or severely underemployed but details what would've happened had the money given wantonly and without restriction to failing Wall Street titans instead been put in the hands of average Americans.
"Think of all the trillions that have been spent on banks and insurance giants yet underemployment has reached record levels. I mention this stat on occasion because it shows you just how much money has been wastefully thrown at corrupt and insolvent financial institutions. According to numerous reports, the US Treasury and Federal Reserve have pumped upwards of $14 trillion to support failing financial institutions. There are approximately 100 million households in the US. So if you divide that $14 trillion by 100 million and that means that each and every US household could have been sent a check for $140,000. Just think of what the American consumer would have done with $140,000 in their checking account. Instead of a failed trickle-down economy, we would have had a robust trickle-up economy."
Of course this is a pie-in-the-sky notion, but as an object lesson it goes a long way in showing how our government's priorities have always been the people at the top -- and how its efforts to appease them have rarely benefited the rest of us. No, contrary to the knee-jerk idiocy you'll hear from the tea baggers, this isn't a suggestion that socialism is the way out; as I said, not everyone can be assured an equal standing in our culture, nor should they be. But the massive inequity just can't be overlooked or disregarded.
Far too many of us are getting screwed by this system -- and we're tired of it.