[Cross Posted at Blog For Arizona]
I've never felt entitled to claim the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. Unlike all the worldly scholars who make that claim, I've never lived in another country, so I have little basis to make such a comparison. But, reading this article about poverty and income levels in America,
I'm starting to question of the wisdom of all those geniuses from South Dakota and Mississippi who are so sure of America's greatness. Most of them haven't even been to Baltimore, let alone Sydney or Berlin, but they're dead certain in their knowledge. It's reminiscent of that old Will Rogers line about Hoover: "It's not what he doesn't know that scares me, it's what he knows for sure that isn't true." Or something like that.
Back to poverty and income in America. A full 15% of the American population, over 46 million people, live iin poverty (defined as less than $23,000 per year for a family of four), and the median income for a family of four is a paltry $50,000 per year. So, I thought about whether the greatest country in the world ought be able to do better than that, and here's where I came out:
Those 12 million families that are living in poverty mostly have some income. So, it wouldn't take $23,000 of social safety net value to bring them out of poverty. Indeed, $10,000 per family undoubtedly be sufficient. At the same time, our Republican candidate for President is showing $20 Million per year in income, almost entirely in capital gains and dividends taxed at the preferential rate of 15%, a twenty percentage point reduction from the ordinary top rate of 35%. I did the math. For the cost of giving one Mitt Romney a tax break, we could provide social safety net services sufficient to lift 400 families out of poverty. I did some more math. For the cost of giving 30,000 Mitt Romneys a tax break, we could lift every family in the country out of poverty. More math. In an average state of 6 million people (Arizona, for example), with an average rate of poverty, poverty in that state could be wiped for the cost we pay to give just 600 of that state's Mitt Romneys a tax break.
So, are we the greatest country in the world?
Hubert Humphrey once said that "the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." It's one of my favorite quotes. Obviously, we fail that moral test miserably when it comes to how our government treats the needy. Do we do better with children? Hardly, if you check out how many teachers have been fired in order to build prisons and confer tax benefits on the wealthy at the state level. Do we do better with the elderly and the sick? No again. Check out the pressure to downsize Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
If we measure greatness by the opulence in which the wealthiest of our citizens live or the capacity of our military to launch unmanned drone strikes, then we likely are the greatest country in the world. But if you see the world more the way Hubert Humphrey did, you should have your doubts.