Investing in Us for a Change
The time has come for us to revise our national spending and taxing priorities to better reflect where we stand today and where we would like to be in the future. There are those who wish to double down on the failed theory of trickle down economics by turning fiscal policy into trickle down austerity – slashing spending on social programs while cutting taxes on the wealthy and maintaining defense spending. Such policies are the brainchild of those economic heavyweights Boehner and McConnell, among others.
While it may be important to reign in spending and reduce budgetary deficits, it is also important to meet the needs of our people and try to improve our lives. Creating jobs is one thing that giving huge tax advantages to the wealthy “job creators” and large corporations has failed to accomplish. Decreasing money spent on food stamps and unemployment insurance without addressing the obvious need for more jobs paying a livable wage may help balance the books, but it does so at the price of increasing human misery. So also is cutting Medicare by raising the eligibility age without adequately addressing the causes of skyrocketing costs of medical care.
The economic inequality that has been increasing in our country ever since the Reagan administration must be put in check. An economic system that consistently fails to provide adequately for the needs of increasing numbers of its citizens must be regulated differently to achieve better results. While wages for those at the top – CEOs and other corporate executives, for instance – have been rapidly rising during this time, those for the rest have stagnated and in some cases failed to keep pace with inflation. The federal minimum wage, for instance, would now have to be over $10/per hour if it had kept pace since the 1960’s.
There is no excuse, in my opinion, for anyone in this country to work a full-time job and live in poverty. Many do now. The discrepancy between wages of CEOs and those who work for them in this country is also exorbitant, when compared to the differentials in other advanced economies. Inequality in income must be addressed and decreased to make this a more just society. The minimum wage should be made a livable wage and indexed to inflation as is the case with Social Security (however inadequately calculated that may be) in order for it not to lapse as far as it has in recent decades. Having Congress raise it manually when it becomes painfully inadequate obviously has not worked.
Though I’m sure any politician calling for it would be laughed out of Washington for doing so, a maximum wage might not be a bad idea, either. Absent that, raising rates on enormous amounts of income is not inappropriate. Those who have benefitted most from our economic system should be expected to pay for its maintenance. Certainly, their incomes should help to maintain and improve crucial infrastructure that has been neglected for many years. Spending money on such projects may even produce some good paying jobs that can’t be outsourced to other countries. Corporations and wealthy individuals do not seem to be inclined to perform such tasks on their own, so maybe there is a role for government in creating jobs, after all. There is certainly something to be said for building infrastructure in this country rather than blowing things up in foreign lands for no discernable purpose and then rebuilding them at our expense with foreign labor. Especially considering the human costs on both sides when it comes to war.
Education is another area where government should be investing more for improving our society now and in the future. Adding corporate profit to the mix by privatizing public schools is not a solution to their problems. Also, more money should be available for students in higher education. When I attended college, much more was available in the way of educational grants and work-study. Now, it seems that if one wishes to get a college degree and doesn’t have the financial assets to pay for it on their own, they need to be willing to go into debt for years to do it. Even more so if they pursue a degree requiring more schooling, such as medical school. Perhaps subsidizing higher education and providing options for things such as national service would enable us to better fill needs for trained professionals than is currently the case, without burdening them them financially before they even start their careers.
Labor relations is another area where justice demands that changes be made in the status quo. A big part of the growing gulf between the economic haves and have-nots in this country has been a result of the legal system tilting heavily in favor of the corporations and against the workers who produce for them. Organized labor is under increasing attack in many states right now, and has been for decades. It seems to be getting worse, as state legislatures seem to think they can gain jobs for people living in their states by reducing collective bargaining and other labor protections in both public and private sector jobs. Recent efforts in this regard in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan come to mind. The reason is obvious – workers who are not organized get lower wages and benefits than those who are. States also seem to fall all over themselves offering tax breaks to large corporations or easing environmental requirements to entice them to bring their businesses in and helping to improve their economies.
I think there is no reason why national labor regulations should not be used to raise the levels of protection for all workers in this nation. Why should a worker in one state be afforded fewer rights in the workplace than a worker in another? Why should different states be encouraged to reduce how well their citizens are treated by their employers in order to compete with states that choose to treat their workers like they should be happy to just have a job, no matter how impoverished they are? They seem to be in a race for the bottom when it comes to meeting the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of working people. Without the right to organize in strong unions and collectively bargain with their employers, workers are left to deal with whatever makes their employer more profitable, regardless of what it means for their own welfare. Many of these issues, especially the economic ones, are also applicable on a worldwide scale, but that is best left to discussion in a future blog.
Our elected officials now must choose which path they want to lead us on from here. Hopefully, the current budget discussions will lead to progress along some of the changes outlined above. They won’t be able to address all of these issues by the end of the year, but they should at least be able to put themselves in a position to do something other than just kick the can down the road like they have for the last two years with no real resolution to anything. If not, I’m sure many of those responsible for the current impasse of inaction that has befallen our government over the past couple of years – even decades – will be replaced by women and men more visionary in their outlook and compassionate in their policy directions.