Yeah, yeah - everybody thinks taxes are unfair (you pay too much, somebody doesn't pay enough, and so on.) And yeah, the government spends too much money on - fill in the blank. You can hear both sides, right and left arguing about this - just change what/who the problem is to shape the argument to your taste. But you know what? Important as these are, it's what's missing from the debate that's just as big a real issue, and why the right wing keeps winning on this stuff.
We can argue all we like about who the government should tax, and how much. We can argue till the cows come home, let them toss and turn all night, then go out again over where the government spends tax dollars, and how much.
But here's the deal - the economy is about a lot more than government taxing and spending. How about talking about how much money people make before taxes come into the picture - and just who gets it? Let's talk about income, as in wages and benefits.
The 1% have been fighting a two-pronged war on working people for the last 30 years, and gotten us to only pay attention to one side of it. We can vote on taxes and spending - but what do we do about how much we get paid in the first place? How do we do something about that?
Here's what we've been getting instead. Trade policies that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas, and technology too. Trade policies that give multi-national corporations the right to steamroller local governments on environmental and labor policies. Trade courts that settle disputes behind closed doors, with no appeal and no transparency. Trade policies negotiated and written by people who turn right around and go to work for the corporations for whom they've just finished stacking the deck. You want to see bipartisanship in action? That's where you'll find it. Both parties are complicit in this, but for conservatives it's their end game. If you can get outside the Hedge Fund wing of the Democratic Party, there are still people who understand what's really going on.
If you've listened to the debates so far, you've heard a lot of talk about taxes, tax cutting, government spending, loopholes, 'saving' Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. You've heard about how bad unemployment is, and how terrible the deficit is. You've heard Mitt Romney come flat out and say there's nothing the government does that Private Enterprise can't do better.
What you haven't heard is much criticism over what Private Enterprise has been doing to make things worse. We've heard about the 30%, and the 47%. What about the 99%? What about the people who've seen no real rise in wages or benefits in the last 30 years? What about the people who've seen them stripped away? What about all the jobs that have been offshored, outsourced, or just eliminated? What about the fanatical program to destroy organized labor? What about the policies against increasing wages for working people because it's "inflationary" - as is trying to bring down unemployment? What about the American Legislative Exchange Council and its program to turn states and the federal government into subsidiaries of the business sector? What about the people who've been ripped off by Wall Street and the Too Big To Be Held Accountable For Anything Banks?
When the rich are richer than ever before, when corporations are sitting on huge profits and not hiring anybody, why aren't we talking about that - and blaming government exclusively for what's wrong?
We've had some baby steps. It tells a lot about how bad things have gotten that the idea of letting tax cuts for the richest people in America expire is somehow class warfare and redistributionist - but no one uses those labels to describe what's been done to the middle class since the Reagan Revolution started us down this slippery slope. How is it we're supposed to worship "job creators" and celebrate people who start businesses - but the employees of those businesses who fill those created jobs are supposed to eat shit and like it, rather than getting their share of the success their work makes possible?
You hear a lot of talk about "growing the pie" - but for 99% of us, the slices we get keep shrinking even as the rich are going all bulimic on us from gorging to excess. Frankly, that's a better metaphor for the periodic bubble and crash economy we've been living in; bubbles are relatively innocuous. Describing it as economic bulimia incorporates the idea that somebody has been pigging out, and "crash" doesn't begin to capture the visceral reaction that you get from describing the resulting mess as what happens when the financial sector barfs up toxic assets and junk bonds all over the rest of the country.
By making the debates on the economy all about the government's role in taxing, spending, and regulating, damn little attention gets paid to the way the private sector funnels where that money goes before it even gets near the government. It also creates a false impression of unity. While government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, the private sector breaks down increasingly into the haves and the have nots, the screwers and the screwed. (Forget Makers and Takers - unless you're willing to swap to whom those labels apply.)
The fact that the government ends up nurturing just one part of that private sector on the theory that it will trickle down to the rest does not get the attention it should. But then, who's going to call attention to it? Politicians who need vast amounts of money to compete at election time? Pundits living inside the bubble of Very Serious People who all go to the same parties? Media whores working for megacorporations? Purveyors of infotainment news?
It takes a lot of gall for someone to complain about "borrowing from China to fund the government" when that same person has made a personal fortune enriching China in the first place. It takes even more gall to insist that the people who make their living moving piles of money back and forth need to have their taxes lowered - while the majority who work in the real world at crappy jobs for crappy pay must sacrifice their health and their hope of retirement to pay the bills run up by those on the top.
How about the next debate getting into some new territory instead of the same old sound bites? How about something like:
"I'm going to raise your taxes the old fashioned way - by seeing that you get paid what you deserve! I'm going to see YOUR hard work rewarded. You're going to pay more taxes and like it because you're getting more money in the first place AND you'll be getting decent schools for your kids, roads and bridges that aren't falling down, a stronger Social Security system and better health care. You'll be getting cleaner air and water, food that won't make your children sick or kill your pets. You'll be investing in your country instead of "increasing shareholder value" at your expense.As long as we let the Right make it all about the government when it comes to the economy, they're going to continue to get away with murder. It's maybe too much to hope for that this will get a mention at the next debate - but think how it would change the conversation! Think of all the centrists who would have coronaries! We've been fighting this fight on Conservative turf for too long. It's time to stop working within their framing and break out for the future that's waiting for us if we have the courage.
The best way to grow the economy and the middle class is from the bottom up - it's a hell of a lot larger than the tiny handful on top. We've tried "trickle-down. We've tried supply-side. It doesn't work - unless what you're really trying to do is make the rich richer. The last time the rich blew up the country, it took the New Deal to set things right. This time they're trying to sell us the Raw Deal - the joke that if we just give up enough, sacrifice enough (except for them), it will make us all rich. They're telling us we're stealing from our children - to blackmail us into meeting their demands. They'll be laughing all the way to the bank (which we'll have to prop up) if we fall for this malarkey again.
Folks, if the private sector says the government isn't the answer, let them prove it. Taxes are lower than ever; corporate profits are up. Instead of expecting the government to do it all with tax cuts and spending cuts, how about they try raising the minimum wage. If paying millions of dollars to top executives is such a wonderful idea, how about giving entry level people more? Don't just give us bullshit about 'creating' jobs - how about taking the jobs we already have and making them better? If the private sector is the solution, how about they start proving it?