Does anybody besides me think we’re looking at the wrong end of the horse? The wealthy of this country, and their political emissaries the Republican Party, attack Obama’s healthcare reforms declaring it will result in jobs being taken away from American workers. Jobs, jobs, jobs, they say, is what Americans need the most, and what government ought to focus on. This from the wealthy—the plutocracy, if you will—that have spent the last 30 years systematically eliminating jobs in this country by taking their business overseas to exploit cheap labor and, in effect, exploit our less organized, less represented, more desperate brothers and sisters.
Even more cunning is the way they make the focus of the economic conversation about out-of-control spending. There isn’t enough money to pay for basic services, they say. Why the hell not, I ask? Where’d all the money go? Aren’t we the richest nation on earth? We used to have basic services covered. And we had decent schools. And we took care of the less fortunate members of our community.
Oh, that’s right—the money trickles up. The wealthiest 1 percent take home 23 percent of all the income in this country. The wealthiest 10 percent take 50 percent of the entire wealth of the country. By the way, it didn’t use to be this way. The largest period of growth for the middle class occurred between 1945 and 1980. But between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent.
The wealthy have manipulated the system so that corporations have many of the same rights as individuals but few of the responsibilities. How else to explain that Exxon Mobil, the most profitable company on Earth, made $19 billion in 2009 in profit and paid zero in taxes. Yeah, you read that right. Zero. But it gets better. Indeed, they got a $156 million refund from the IRS. What? How could that be? And whatever happened to the notion that everybody ought to pay a fair share? Even corporations?
You don’t have to be a genius to see that we wouldn’t need to be talking about spending cuts to basic services, schools and the Christian values&–based work of Social Services if the wealthy paid their fair share.
The decline of the middle class began with the same guy who didn’t know a vegetable from a condiment: Ronald Reagan. And every Republican since Reagan has accelerated the erosion of the middle class. But to be fair, some Democrats have also had their hand in it as well. That’s because the divide that is growing in the country isn’t actually between Republicans and Democrats any more than it’s between the right and the left. It’s between the wealthy and the rest of us.
So the public conversation is about spending too much. And who could argue with that? Even decent, hard-working, middle-class people know that you shouldn’t spend more than you take in. Working-class people understand this very well. Why? Because when you live on a limited budget, you learn how to make sure your basics are covered before you look at what my own working-class mother called “the extras.”
When the wealthy direct the conversation, we are told to look at the hard facts of not enough money for all of our needs. But what we miss by looking only in this direction is that the wealthy are doing just fine.
Remember the banking crisis? The deregulation sought and obtained by George W. and company created the ground for rampant exploitation of regular working people. And after they created the economic disaster, who did they turn to for the bailout? Us. We the People saved their sorry asses. So with foreclosures happening everywhere, job losses everywhere, basic services threatened everywhere, it’s a bit galling that Wall Street CEOs are now earning more money than they were before the bailout.
The depletion of money for basic services isn’t happening because there’s no money to be had; it’s because the wealthy have found ways to avoid paying their fair share. It’s an old story: the rich get richer while the poor, and now middle class, gets poorer. This is the conversation we’re not having. And to the extent that we don’t, we participate in our own demise.