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Taxing, Spending and Setting Priorities

December 2, 2012

In deciding a budget, it is important to prioritize what government needs to do to meet the needs of its citizens as well as how to pay to do it. There should be more involved than merely discussing who to tax and how much and then which priorities to meet to what extent. Setting priorities as to which needs are most important and the best ways to meet those needs is of the utmost importance.

In my opinion, it is unconscionable that there should be people who go hungry, homeless or without adequate health care in a society as wealthy as ours. Likewise, the elderly, children and infirm must be cared for in order to live in dignity and develop to their full potential. Our society does not now and never has adequately addressed these issues. These facts seem to get lost in the shuffle in the current debate in Washington regarding how to deal with the “fiscal cliff”.

Debate seems to be centered around the notion that there is not enough wealth to tap into to meet the needs of all concerned. In order to balance the budget, we need to find a balance between revenues and expenditures that helps us to go forward in meeting the needs of all as completely and expeditiously as possible. This mess wasn’t created overnight and likely won’t be resolved quickly, either. There have been some trends in recent decades, however, that need to be halted and reversed in order to make this a fairer society.

The trend towards ever-increasing inequality in income, wealth and opportunity for advancement of individuals in the society is one area that badly needs to be addressed in remaking our tax policies. Ever since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, tax policy has resulted in the rich getting richer and everybody else stagnating in terms of income and wealth. Investment in economic infrastructure, public and higher education have all suffered in the battle to lower taxes on those who can most afford to pay them and who have benefitted most from living here.  The alleged theory that doing so will enable the wealthy beneficiaries of such largesse to grow the economy, create jobs for the rest of us and improve all of our lives has proven to be a myth. We have seen none of that happen. Instead, there have been increasing calls to reduce spending in the sectors most in need of shoring up in times of economic hardships.

To balance the budget or reduce the deficit by cutting spending in domestic programs to aid the least fortunate among us is not necessarily wrong. We should always strive to improve the efficiency of all our spending. But to do so knowing that all we are doing is cutting people off from being able to feed and house their families or take care of their most basic needs is beyond the pale. Having millions homeless while there are more than enough structures lying unused to more than adequately house them is unacceptable. So is hunger in a land that produces more than enough food for all with plenty left over to aid countries abroad that are less fortunate or suffering from natural disasters. Likewise, attempts to roll back efforts to improve health care coverage for millions of Americans and reverse gains made in improving the social safety net in response to the Great Depression and subsequent periods are ill-considered to say the least. Allowing the economy to benefit a few greatly while leaving most of the rest behind lies outside the sense of common decency for most.

To say that we cannot afford universal health care for all our citizens is unacceptable, in light of the fact that so many other developed countries do such a better job of it than we do. To say that we must scale back benefits such as Social Security and Medicare by raising the age of eligibility while simultaneously calling recipients of such programs that they contributed to as “takers” of “gifts” from the government says we are not placing the right amount of priority on the welfare of our fellow citizens. To prioritize the ability of those who are already favored in our society to amass enormous wealth by neglecting such obvious needs is wrong.

It is better to build something than to destroy it. Why do so many believe that we cannot afford to reduce so-called defense spending (when was the last time we fought a defensive war?) when we already spend far more than any country on our military? Yet there are those in Congress fighting to reduce domestic spending, including on social safety net programs, even more than called for in the sequestration cuts in order to lessen the cuts called for in defense spending. These people fully participated in approving two wars without taxing to pay for them.

Now is not the time to return to economic, tax and spending policies in place prior to the New Deal. It is time to move forward, increasing the number of people with affordable housing, education, health care and all the other amenities that fall under the rubric of “pursuit of happiness”. If spending less money on health care means fewer people can get it, the cut is wrong as long as the resources exist to make it possible to provide it. Making sure that a few have enough to afford elevators for their cars when others don’t even have a car to sleep in seems me to be obscene. Likewise, forcing homeowners to lose their life savings due to foreclosure and leaving them homeless in the process in order to further enrich the banks does not serve society well.

Rewarding corporations and individuals for taking actions that negatively impact those of lesser means than themselves should not be allowed. Those who oppose welfare, food stamps and other programs are nowhere to be found when talk of corporate welfare and tax shelters for the wealthy arise. Hiding behind the ruse that they are trying to support small businesses which create jobs doesn’t wash and pales in comparison to the billions in profits and low tax rates afforded the large corporations and the very wealthy these days. They can afford to pay more for the much greater benefits they gain from living in our society than they are now.

The scales have been tipping in favor of the wealthy and the large corporations (which are not people, in case you haven’t noticed) for far too long. The time has come to re-prioritize our spending and taxing policies to more adequately address the needs of all of our people,not just the privileged few. The election of last month was a start in the right direction, but we have a long way to go before we have a government which accurately represents our needs and aspirations as a society. We need to look forward to newer, better times and ways of living, rather than pining for good old days which weren’t all that good for many people to begin with.

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