Makers and Takers
There seems to be a vast difference of opinion in this country as to who are the makers and who the takers. People like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and other members of the 1%, their apologists or both have for decades portrayed themselves as delivering to American society the wherewithal that has created the greatest economy the world has ever known. Through their superior knowledge, hard work and inner strength, they have risen above the rest of us in terms of economic wealth and political power. The only thing holding them back from even greater accomplishments is the fact that so many of their fellow citizens expect a free ride and a free lunch at their expense.
The fact that we have a degree of economic inequality in this country that allows many to go homeless, hungry and without adequate health care means nothing to many of the wealthy in our society. They tend to blame the circumstances of those less fortunate than themselves on personal character flaws. In their view, sufficient opportunity for advancement exists within our system to advance within it as they did, if only they have the talent and willingness to work hard to achieve their goals. There are plenty of examples of people who started with little or nothing and became wealthy, right? Just look at professional athletes, entertainers, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for instance.
Little attention is given to the fact that much of the wealth accumulated by these people, particularly in the past few decades, has been due to advantages given to them by the government in the tax code which were put there for the express purpose of giving them incentives to provide good jobs to others and help build the economy for all. It hasn’t worked out that way, as may be seen by any cursory glance at statistics related to employment, wages and poverty and how they have evolved over time. The results have been abysmal for most Americans, both in terms of wage stagnation and economic mobility for most of the population. The trend has gotten worse, if anything, in the wake of the most recent recession, which has yet to end for most.
Rather than turn their economic windfall into investment to benefit society as a whole, many have seen fit to further evade taxation by moving their money abroad – both on the personal and the corporate level. Rather than treat workers better here by sharing profits with the people who make the products and provide the services that make the profits possible, they concern themselves with making shareholders wealthier, often by finding ways to increase profits even more. The word greed comes to mind. Who sees the money that never gets spent in this country to improve education, health care or other services for those who have more limited economic resources than those at the top of the economic ladder? Why do our schools, hospitals, housing, roads and other important infrastructure used by all of us everyday have to suffer because our tax code has made it very easy for venture capitalists and large corporations to avoid paying taxes to pay for the economic and political structure that enabled them to gain so much wealth to begin with?
In my mind, the real takers are not the people working their butts off to eek out a living and support their families, or maintain a modest lifestyle, but those who profit most from underpaying them. The wealthy keep the rest from gaining more economic opportunity by failing to contribute what they can to their educational and other needs while they are young and blame us when we can’t make ends meet on the pittance the government says is permissible for them to earn for their labor. Taking profits made off of American consumers and using paperwork shell games to pretend that the profits were “earned” in another country just to avoid taxes or hiding money in tax haven banks offshore may mean that these people and companies have the skill to accumulate vast sums of wealth legally if given the slightest wiggle room, but it neither makes their doing so morally right nor socially acceptable. Going the further step to move factories and jobs to other countries with lower wages and deplorable working conditions enables them to gobble up an even bigger share of the world’s wealth, but should never be condoned by a government that is supposed to be representing the interests of each equally.
The fact that our government, at least the elected officials in Washington, is dominated by members of the 1% who owe significant allegiance to the corporate elites and their wealthy benefactors does not do much to give them incentive to change the status quo. Why do they take any measure possible to avoid addressing the issues affecting us all in our everyday lives? They will takes hours and months debating whether or not to even vote on an issue that is a hands down no-brainer for the vast majority of the population. That many cannot even relate to the plight of most of their constituents can be gleaned by even a cursory reading of the Congressional Record or a recap provide on some of their preposterous statements on cable news or Sunday News programming.
Mitt Romney illustrated his inability to empathize many times during the 2012 campaign. The 47% remark was perhaps the most famous one, but he also told a crowd at one point that he knew what it was like to be unemployed because he didn’t have a paying job at the time. Like a guy with a $100 million IRA and several houses had to worry about where his next paycheck would come from. He also suggested that young people borrow money from their parents to get started in business. Right, everybody has $10k to bet on a whim like he does. True, there are millionaires, some of whom hold elective office, who are capable of such empathy and do try to improve the lives of their constituents, but they are drastically outnumbered in this Congress.
Why do our our elected representatives steadfastly refuse to even broach the subject of increasing revenues by changing the tax laws and reducing or ending subsidies to corporations and individuals who only use them for personal gain either for themselves or their shareholders? Is it really more important to maintain a tax system which enables extremely profitable corporations to pay little or no federal taxes while telling single mothers they need to get three minimum wage jobs to pay to house, feed and care for their children? Kids shouldn’t have preschool or head start because some multimillionaires need to pay a lower tax rate on their “carried interest” or dividend income than most people have to pay on their wage income? Why do seniors have their retirement income threatened while the wealthy get to exempt most of their income from the Social Security tax due to the cap on the tax?
Our media does little to push back against this sort of propaganda. In fact, much of its time is devoted to perpetuating it. This year so far has been dominated by stories about one man – Chris Christie – and his travails on his journey to reside in the White House. Congress went to work very briefly to pass a jerry-rigged budget and refuse to even vote on a proposal to extend emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed – then promptly took another recess. If any of us went to work, refused to do anything to accomplish our jobs, then went on vacation again after taking half a month off, how many of us would keep our jobs? Should they?
The State of the Union Address is coming up on Tuesday. If history is any guide, the president will make an excellent speech with many proposals for excellent legislation to be passed in what remains of the year before Congress refuses to work anymore in order to get re-elected in November. 99% of those proposals that would improve the lot of 99% of us will either not come to a vote at all or be so watered down as to be virtually worthless in achieving the goals laid out in the Address. All of this means that, unless the people get really riled up (and I don’t mean just answering public opinion polls, which the politicians seem utterly immune to), the status quo will exist at least until the next Presidential election. That means the wealthy and their corporations will get to continue amassing even greater wealth unhindered by progressive legislation to the detriment of the country and the economy as a whole. Or perhaps they will even make matters worse by passing another Unfair Trade Agreement or two.
We need a little less media coverage of the “who’s going to run against Clinton” sweepstakes and more concentration on getting things done for us now. Re-election of the President in 2012 doesn’t mean nothing new has to happen until 2016, but you wouldn’t know that from the way Congress has conducted themselves since then. Chris Christie will never be president of this country Focusing on his political problems to the exclusion of everything else does not serve the interests of anyone but the 1%. It is a distraction from putting pressure on our government from getting real work done to help real people NOW. We need to get the real takers to put more of their enormous bounty into alleviating the problems faced by the real makers who they have blamed for not rising above the enormous obstacles they have placed in the way of their advancement. Allowing the deregulation of the economy and erosion of the social programs enacted to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our people to continue unabated for at least another two years is unacceptable and should no longer be tolerated.
There is a marked difference between a ruler and a leader. Right now, we have way too many of the former in office and not nearly enough of the latter.
Selected Further Readings: