Thursday, February 16, 2012

Poverty of Spirit

Over 15 percent of Americans live in poverty. That's over 46 million people. I fail to comprehend how people can claim with straight faces that deregulation and lowering taxes on the wealthy will raise people out of poverty. We've been following that tack as a country for decades now and even during boom times, the income gap has widened.

The more we deregulate, the more we relax the tax burden on the wealthy, the more wealth will concentrate in the 1%. It's not as if there's an unlimited amount of money. If we lower taxes on the wealthy, they will have more money. Natch. They are not likely to share it. George Bush doesn't care about black people. The Dick Cheneys and Kochs of the world do not care about poor people. They care about their friends. It's human nature. Explain to me how lowering taxes is going to bring jobs to cities with no industry? Will it bring the steel mills back to Bethlehem? Will Detroit's crumbling architecture be returned to its former glory. Or have tectonic shifts occurred in this country's demographic landscape, condemning certain areas to slow death.

Does anyone actually believe the tortured proposition that is the centerpiece of the loudest conservative argument on addressing poverty: that making the rich richer will also make the poor richer. Will we all get richer to infinity?

That's why we have progressive tax. Redistribution of wealth is not a socialist scheme to ruin America. Taxation is, by definition, redistribution of wealth. The rich person subsidizes the indigent's police protection, fire service, road maintenance.

You know what the poverty line for a single person is as of Sept 2011? $10,890. Is it supposed to be acceptable that 15 percent of the citizens of this great and powerful nation make less than $11,000 a year? I guess that's a bit of hyperbole: the line moves up depending on the size of your family. A family of four is below the poverty line if its income is below $22,350.

I have heard people argue that America's poor are wealthy compared to, say, African poor. Are you shitting me? A kid living in the slum has a cell phone and nice sneakers that a kid in the Congo could never afford, so the American kid is really well off. No matter that he's moved seven times in the last six months because his mom's minimum wage job can't pay the rent. In fact, it's his fault, it's his mom's fault for daring to spend money on sneakers and cell phones.

Aside: Where would some powerful American companies be without the money they reap from the poor community?

I'm not insensitive to the fact that bad regs can hurt businesses large and small alike. I also think there's some merit to the argument that the way that social welfare programs are administered can encourage dependence and teach helplessness. And I certainly would like the tax code to be simplified. But let's fix these problems. Let's not assume that, because our social service system is near broken, that an efficient social service system cannot exist. Have people who want to end public assistance considered what would happen? Many cities would essentially go up in flames as people with no money, no jobs, and no hope, drove out those with enough money to flee. People would starve to death in some areas. We should be putting more energy and more money into the shameful state of poverty in this country. So absolutely, let's rewrite the tax code. But let's make it fairer, not more oppressive to the lower classes (I'm looking at you flat taxers).

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Free Market Fantasy

Can there be any such thing as a free stock market when corporations and stock exchanges are creations of law? The stock market is a rarefied OTB where gamblers/investors/speculators place bets on companies' success or failure. Because the shares are fungible and entitle the largest holders a say in the operation of the corporation, the quickest paydays will be made by artificially inflating the value of the the corporation at the expense of long-term planning. Success has become synonymous with apparent profitability. Investors expect an eternal rise in profits.

Both corporations and markets are entirely legal creations. Thus, there is no such thing as a "free" or "unregulated" stock market. If the power of law is in the people and the authority for the corporation and stock market created by law, then we the people should ensure that corporations operate for the maximum benefit of the people as a whole. Acting as if a certain set of rules that protects the supremacy of the powerful represents a state of freedom is how this nation's elite have convinced a majority of the populace that we need to treat GE in the same way that we treat Pop's Grocery.