when we’re not allowed to fix our problems
Recently, an economic think tank funded by a well known billionaire with liberal leanings and demonized by a cadre of Fox News pundits as the manifestation of either the Illuminati or the Politburo, met to discuss what’s been plaguing America. Their conclusions are bleak, to put it mildly, but not at all surprising. Actually, it was a laundry list of issues both parties have been complaining about very loudly over the last three years with no tangible outcome for the public at large.
Nowadays, it’s become a prevalent trend in the all too few remaining pockets of civil discourse to basically mull around the same few problems of which we’re quite acutely aware, then do it over again with the same exact problems just months down the road while in the meanwhile, these issues are left completely unaddressed. The implication isn’t that the United States is completely unaware of what it needs to do to boost lagging economic sectors or balance its budget, but that the legislative circus we were presented in the past few weeks is a symptom of how acutely we’re aware of our problems, but how we managed to back ourselves into a corner in which it’s a taboo to actually apply any sort of substantial fixes…
Simply put, we’re not allowed to fix our problems because someone will complain that a cut here or a boost in some particular area of expenditures is against the nation’s principles or interests, often based on recitations of ideology rather than facts. Let’s start with the biggest target of critics regarding the budget wars happening in Congress, the Department of Defense. Since the beginning of this year, the Pentagon has been sending all the signals that it’s ready for a budget cut and that it’s really fine with the whole idea. Gates essentially froze at what pace defense spending would grow when adjusted for inflation while Mullen made somber remarks that put the yawning national debt as the biggest threat to the nation’s security rather than terrorism.
There was an anonymously released memo criticizing the over-militarization of foreign policy emanating from the Pentagon, citing that too much money is being spent on redundant programs rather than education. Basically, those who actually run the defense establishment took Congress to water and dipped their head in it. But Congress just refused to drink, leaving the military’s budget untouched, even as the military was saying that a budget cut was not going to be a major issue and that it needed to readjust how it handles wars anyway. Why? Because it’s a taboo to touch military spending since it’s election season attack ad gold for opportunists.
There’s also the role of lobbyists who push defense contractors’ proposals through lawmakers, regardless of whether those projects are really even needed and their cash will immediately go to those who vote to shower them with contracts, creating incentives to do what’s right for the defense contractors, not what’s right for most of the nation, and at times, not even towards what the military itself considers truly important. This also works the same way when it comes to energy and financial conglomerates, which are almost buying the laws which favor them by offering campaign donations and jobs to lawmakers who vote in their interests. And when you’re selling votes to the highest bidder, should it be a surprise that whatever is best for those bidders tends to turn into law and sweetheart no bid contracts?
But you see, we’re also not allowed to simply cut off the relationship between companies and lawmakers because both will complain that they’re just representing what’s best for their country and that depriving companies of their voice is wrong. This is, of course, despite that fact that they are substituting what’s really going on with an allusion to free speech, which was never the issue anyway. The idea of simply steering the government with cash to fulfill your personal goals works well in what were called banana republics, but it simply doesn’t work for a government intended to work for the taxpayers rather than a clique of companies with the cash to finance the next election cycle for their candidates of choice.
Oh and we’re not allowed to criticize companies and the wealthy either because they create jobs. We are only allowed to give them tax cuts and any tax hike is immediately labeled as socialism as the ghost of the USSR is marched out with an unholy zeal to drive the point home. Though oddly enough, labeling banks as too big to fail, exempting them from regulation, then handing them trillions of dollars in bailouts they can use to lend to us what is basically our own money every time they get in trouble, is considered capitalism. How? I don’t know but I suppose if you can buy half of Congress, you can also buy the terminology being used in the debate. And just out of curiosity, since when was it a company’s goal to create jobs?
Last time I checked the only goal of a company is profit. They’re not supposed to guarantee a low unemployment rate. They’re supposed to sell and invest enough money to benefit themselves. When did they become some sort of divine power which grants a job to those in need if we sacrifice some of the tax revenue the government needs to run? Have you seen the unemployment rate lately? By official statistics, it dipped from about 10% at its peak to just under 9% and if we consider stats which capture discouraged workers, the numbers are closer to 17% and 15% respectively. It’s not even a statistically significant figure and there’s absolutely no evidence that corporate bailouts helped.
We gave trillions in tax cuts and cold, hard cash to create jobs. We boosted employment by about 1%. This is an absolutely dismal return on investment. And just to top it off, during another round of glorifying businesses as saints, the president appointed the CEO of a company that makes billions but pays no taxes to teach how the rest of the nation should be competitive, by, hint hint, dropping the tax rate. You know, for taxes they already don’t pay. But don’t you dare insult companies. They’re what beat back the Soviet menace and you must be an evil, seditious communist in disguise if you point out that companies are simply groups of people who are out to make money and on whom we shouldn’t rely for assured jobs.
And defending the St. Corporation image of the economy’s savior are, surprisingly, people who believe that one day they too will be rich and any tax hikes on the wealthy or big companies will affect them and discourage them from becoming rich. Really, you will be rich one day, just like that? When some nine out of ten businesses fail and only certain skills will grant you an actual semblance of upward mobility? Don’t get me wrong, I’m an immigrant whose family worked very hard to make a living and who made big strides in America, strides that are impossible in many other nations. But it’s very difficult to make the leap from well-to-do and wealthy in this country and you shouldn’t base any economic policy on your personal fantasies of being the next tycoon who’s practically bathing in money.
I mean do you really think that you’re going to be so upset with your vast mansion, your fleet of exotic cars, and your beach house in Malibu if you get taxed an extra 3% or so? You’re going to be incredibly rich after all! What would a few percent of your income do when you can afford all those things according to your dreams? Does this really make you feel like a noble in early 20th century Russia dragged out of your house by serfs as all of your inheritance is pillaged and you’re reduced to a beggar on the streets? This abject terror of anything that a conniving or paranoid politico can put into an analogy with the USSR, no matter how ridiculous or off base that analogy will be, has to stop dictating every economic policy you craft.
The worship of corporations as job giving saints has to eventually come to an end in light of the simple fact that it’s not why companies exist. And all the dreams of becoming rich used to justify whatever slack is given to those who exploit Cold War fears to live on what amounts to government handouts far exceeding any welfare or Medicaid program in history, simply have to be put into a realistic perspective. Today, the key to social mobility is education, research, and acquiring an elaborate set of specialized skills in advanced study programs. Ironically, the very things that Republicans are so eager to cut while whining about education beyond basic literacy being an utter waste of time…