The United States of Inequality

 

This is a long video, but it’s a very important topic. The video brings together a lot of data and analysis. I highly recommend watching it.

The fundamental issue isn’t solutions per se but rather what helped to create a situation that is so in need of solutions. It wasn’t accidental. This is the result of specific policies and market factors which have been a part of a class war that has been going on for a long time.

I gained some insight about this when I saw psychological research showing that social inequality tends to bother liberals and tends not to bother conservatives. To the conservative mindset (in its most extreme form), there is no problem and so no solution is needed. There is no point in talking about solutions if we can’t agree that there is even a problem.

I wrote about some of the psychological research in recent posts:

Right Vs Left: Personality Differences

Violence vs Empathy, Indifference vs Unhappiness

Also, I think insight is to be found in the analysis of George Lakoff which I’ve mentioned before:

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

George Lakoff, Moral Politics, pp 194-6:

The conservative political agenda, for example, is not merely to cut the cost of government. The conservative agenda, as we shall see, is a moral agenda, just as the liberal agenda is.

Consider, for example, the issue of the deficit. How did it get so large?

Liberals like to think of Ronald Reagan as stupid. Whether he was or not, those around him certainly were not. While constantly attacking liberals as big spenders, the Reagan and Bush administrations added three trillion dollars to the national debt by drastically increasing military spending while cutting taxes for the rich. They could count; they saw the deficit increasing. They blamed the increases on liberal spending, but Reagan did not veto every spending bill. Moreover, Reagan’s own actions acounted for much of the deficit increase. Had financial responsibility and the lessening of spending been Reagan’s top priorities, he would not have allowed such an increase in the defiicit, simply by not cutting taxes and not pushing for a military buildup far beyond the Pentagon’s requests.

While the deficit was increasing, there was a vast shift of wealth away from the lower and middle classes toward the rich. Liberals, cyncally, saw this shift as Reagan and Bush making their friends and their political suporters rich. Certainly that was the effect. It is hardly new for the friends of supporters of politicians in power to get rich. This is usually seen as immorality and corruption, and with good reason. Many liberals saw Reagan that way.

But Ronald Reagan did not consider himself as immoral. Certainly he and his staff could tell that their policies were producing vast increases in the deficit, when they had come into office promising a balanced budget. Reagan was not forced to pursue deficit-increasing policies. Why did he do so?

I would like to suggest that he pursued deficit-increasing policies in the service of what he saw as overriding Moral goals: (1) Building up the military to protect America from the evil empire of Soviet communism. (2) Lowering Taxes for the rich, so that enterprise was rewarded not punished. Interestingly, for President Reagan as for any good conservative, these policies, however different on the surface, were instances of the same underlying principle: the Morality of Reward and Punishment.

What was evil in Soviet communism, for Reagan as for other conservatives, was not just totalitarianism. Certainly Soviet totalitarianism was evil, but the U.S. had supported capitalist totalitarian dictatorships willingly while overthrowing a democratically elected communist government in Chile. The main evil of communism for Reagan, as for most conservatives, was that it stifled free enterprise. Since communism did not allow for free markets (open to Western companies) or for financially rewarding entrepreneurship, it violated the basis of the Strict Father moral system: the Morality of Punishment and Reward.

Adding three trillion dollars to the deficit actually served a moral purpose for Ronald Reagan. It meant that, sooner or later, the deficit would force an elimination of social programs. He knew perfectly well that the military budget would never be seriously cut, and that a major increase in tax revenues to eliminate the deficit would never be agreed upon. In the long run, the staggering deficit would actually serve Strict Father morality – conservative morality – by forcing Congress to cut social programs. From the perspective of Strict Father morality, Ronald Reagan looks moral and smart, not immoral and dumb as many liberals believe.

MSNBC w/ Cenk: Reich – Middle Class & Wages

This video reminded me of why it doesn’t help the economy to give tax cuts to the rich and generally increase the wealth of rich while leaving behind everyone who isn’t part of the ruling elite. From just an economic perspective, there are three problems:

1) Increasing the wealth of the wealthy doesn’t necessarily increase investment. At some point, a person becomes so wealthy that further wealth becomes meaningless. This leads the super rich to gamble with their excess wealth which was one of the contributing factors to our recent economic crash. Financial gambling doesn’t make for a stable economy nor does it have any social value. So, if the government genuinely wants an economy that grows with stability rather than constantly crashing, they should create regulation and taxation that helps decrease wealth disparity so that excess wealth isn’t concentrated at the very top.

2) Most new jobs are created by small businesses, but the tax cuts for the rich mostly only help big businesses. Also, the bailouts help Wall Street while leaving Main Street to suffer. Why help the rich who helped break the economy while sacrificing the working and middle classes which are simply trying to get by? A lot of the working and middle class was in debt for the reason that wages were stagnating even as the rich were getting richer. So, if the government genuinely wants to stimulate job growth, they should ensure that wages grow as the economy grows and they should give bailouts to small businesses while breaking up corporations that are too big to fail.

3) Even ignoring all that, giving more wealth to the wealthy doesn’t stimulate the economy for some simple reasons. Assuming they don’t gamble it, the other choice the rich could do with excess wealth is simply to put it into savings. The middle and working classes, however, will spend any extra money they have which invests back into the economy. For good or ill, the US economy is based on consumerism and consumerism is based on working and middle classes that have money to spend. Let me explain why. A rich person spends several hundred or even several thousand on a pair of shoes. For the same amount of money, hundreds of working and middle class people could buy shoes. The purchase of hundreds of shoes stimulates the economy more than buying one pair of shoes even if it’s the same amount of money. So, if government genuinely wants to stimulate the economy, they should give tax cuts to the working and middle classes.

All of this assumes that those in power actually care about the economy as a whole and actually care about the average American. I suspect that this is a false assumption. It’s hard for me to believe that after all these decades intelligent people (including Democrats like Obama apparently) think that trickle down economics actually works. I think these people know that it just makes the rich richer. That is why they do what they do. Politicians are of the rich and have campaigns funded by the rich. Why would they help the lower classes? So, what if the economy collapses? The rich will always maintain their wealth. If the country gets bad enough, they’ll just move to a pleasant tropical island and take their wealth with them.

Here is another video that relates, but it’s from more of a libertarian perspective:

The author interviewed, Thomas E. Woods Jr, is criticizing the US military-industrial complex. Besides the moral argument, he mentions that military is not a very good investment. When we invest in military that is less that can be invested in other things such as education or infrastructure. Also, funding goes to defense research which uses up public tax money and wastes the most brilliant minds on discovering more efficient ways to kill people. Those same dollars and those same brilliant minds could be used for research to cure cancer or research into alternative energy.

Once again, the only people who benefit from the military-industrial complex are the defense contractors and the wealthy investors in these companies. Certainly, the average American who pays for these wars and dies in these wars aren’t benefiting. The only reason we have any interest in the Middle East in the first place is because of the oil that is there and those most interested in that oil is of course the big oil companies seeking profit from a dwindling resurce.

There were some comments below that last video which gave me some hope. Here is one from a user going by the name capitalist4life:

“I am a recovering neocon. I was converted through Dr. Paul’s gentle suggestion that our foreign entanglements may cause some foreigners to want to kill us. I found that reasonable and I became more anti-war as I saw Hannity and Limbaugh vicously attack that reasonable idea. The one thing that didn’t convince me was strong anti-war rhetoric. I had to be eased into it. Just keep that in mind. Don’t be aggressive and extreme. Gently ease our “conservative” friends into the anti-war way of thinking.”

But let me end with a different quote. One of the last truly moral Republican leaders was Dwight D. Eisenhower who, of course, is famous for warning about the military-industrial complex. He was far from being a pacifist liberal and for that reason his words are all that more important. He seemed to genuinely believe that politicians should serve all Americans and not just the wealthy. Here is what he said in a 1953 speech:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”