Three days ago, I sent the following to a few friends who follow more conservative media than they probably should:
In the last few days, primarily in response to the recent op-ed on high-end taxes by Warren Buffet and the harsh rhetoric on the right in response, the Daily Show did one of the more poignant shows I've seen them do in years:
The Daily Show: World of Class Warfare 1
The Daily Show: World of Class Warfare 2
Several weeks ago, much of this content (specifically, the study of the living condition of the poor that was released by the Heritage Foundation last month) was addressed equally poignantly by the Colbert Report:
Stephen Colbert: Poor In America
Both clips are well worth watching, and pretty funny as well. I felt that they deserve a little follow-up.
It's bad enough that a well-known think tank is giving ideological and rhetorical cover to conservatives in government to heap regressive cuts and policies on the already-struggling poor, but the feigned victimization and claims of "class warfare" thrown about by conservative elites, as well as the push to blame the poor apparently for being freeloaders and not doing their share is disgusting and just plain mean. The following editorials make the case in particular against the Heritage Foundation's misleading and ideologically slanted brief better than I could hope to:
Center for American Progress: What You Need When You're Poor
Poverty and Policy: How Many Poor People in America? Heritage Foundation Says Damn Few
Matt Yglesias: Poor People Own Appliances Because They're Cheap
The main points of these pieces: The cost of the appliances that the poor own is very low these days, and is no longer the driving cost in their budgets; food, rent, education and medical care are the driving costs, and to the extent that shortages of housing, food, etc. are not as bad as they COULD be, it is because of the welfare programs that the Heritage Foundation implicitly supports slashing. The Heritage Foundation's contention that far fewer people live in conditions of poverty than the numbers reported by government is misleading at best, flat-out false at worst.
And when the conservative Christian leader, pastor Rick Warren, tweeted some fairly ignorant words last month:
HALF of America pays NO taxes. Zero. So they're happy for tax rates to be raised on the other half that DOES pay taxes.
he was rightly taken to task:
Slacktivist: The Purpose-Driven Lie
The important conclusion that the Slacktivist arrives at is the following:
He was bearing false witness. ... But more importantly, it was malicious false witness. ... This is a lie aimed at poor people like a weapon. This is a hurtful and harmful lie. It's the sort of lie that doesn't just violate several of the Ten Commandments, but back in Bible days it would have earned you an unpleasant visit from Nathan or Elijah or Amos.
Claims like those of the pastor are wrong. They're sinful. And they're not wrong because they're sinful; they're sinful because they're WRONG.
I'll add my own point to these: it's intellectually dishonest to have a discussion over the fairness of the tax code and welfare programs without FIRST addressing the inherent inequality of our labor markets, capital markets, access to education, access to the judicial system, access to infrastructure, and intellectual property laws. Fundamentally, if a business leader makes his profits from paying his employees minimum wage at $7.50/hour in an area where a decent livable wage is $15/hour, but where workers have little negotiating leverage and few other options, then it is RIGHT to expect government to tax the business/owner at a high percentage and the workers at a low percentage, and to use tax funds to provide the under-compensated workers with housing and food assistance, as well as other forms of aid. In that scenario, the scenario in which most of our country operates (accounting also for middle-class wage-earners that are under-paid), it is disturbingly unfair to demand that "equality" be applied only at the tax code (even moreso that it only be leveled at the income tax, specifically), as if wealth is earned solely in proportion to some fantastical Randian ideal of personal worth and NOT heavily influenced by real-world power dynamics.
Aside from their generally beneficial impacts on society at large, our progressive tax code, our public services, and our welfare system, all provided by government, are the main means we have to ensure fairness in a society whose benefits would otherwise consistently accrue to those with the most power entering the game. The obvious alternative would be to empower workers more and more to organize and negotiate collectively so that they can receive fair compensation, but until we reverse the long decline in unionization in a big way (AND organize workers worldwide), major progressive government policies are a necessity, in good times and especially in bad times.
We should be yelling loud and clear that there's nothing "fair" about a system that operates on a clean slate only after one side has had every opportunity to take advantage of the other.
Before signing off, I'll leave you all with a related quote from the book Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich:
When someone works for less pay than she can live on ... she has made a great sacrifice for you ... The "working poor" ... are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.
Those who think the poor and the low-income working class are not giving enough could use a few years walking in other people's shoes. Short of that, it can't be said often enough that their views are hateful, destructive, and wrong.
Thanks for reading,