Reversing The Moral Compass (or Trickle Up)
Who do you worry about more, the rich or the poor? The powerful or the disenfranchised? The man in the Rolls Royce or the man working three jobs to send his kids to college?
The answer should be obvious but, for some reason, it isn’t.
Somehow we have been convinced that the wealthiest Americans are under siege by the poorest and that the future of our nation is directly dependent on the greediest and most selfish of its citizens.
It shouldn’t really be surprising. Whether it is Feudal lords viscously taxing their farmers, Imperial Russia and their serfs or America being built on the backs of its slaves, the rich and powerful have always stood with their feet firmly planted on the necks of the poor and they justify their actions with racism, classism, social Darwinism and every other rationalization.
While every major religion lists charity, compassion and sacrifice among its virtues, there has been, of late, a conscious distortion of morality. Today, more than half of our deadliest sins, Pride, Gluttony, Envy, and, of course, Greed, are seen as admirable. In fact, our so called, “consumer” economy, is predicated on the idea that Greed consumption and selfishness are not only good for us but good for everyone.
This is a lie.
Unfortunately, it is also a very successful lie.
One of the cornerstones of that lie is “trickle down” economics. The idea, pushed by the Reagan administration in the early 1980’s that tax breaks for corporations and the very wealthy would stimulate the economy and eventually those benefits would “trickle down” to all Americans, even the very poor. This economic philosophy has been called many things over the years including Reagannomics and Supply side, but I still think the best name came from George H.W. Bush when he called it “Voodoo economics”.
I wont argue about whether or not lower taxes on the richest Americans encourage investment in the economy. Give a rich guy more money and he will invest more money. The question is, does it benefit anyone else? Even a cursory glance at the last 30 years of American history should tell you that the answer is, unequivocally “no”
The rich have certainly gotten richer in the last 30 years but the poor and middle class have only gotten poorer. In 1981 (at the beginning of “Trickle Down”) the average CEO in this country made 43 times more than his average worker. Today they make somewhere between 185 and 263 times more (depending on where you get your statistics) Doe that sound like wealth is trickling down?
In the last decade income for the bottom 90% of Americans has increased 3.9% (well behind cost of living) while income for the wealthiest .1% has almost doubled. The rich are getting much richer and everyone else is getting killed.
But what about all that money we gave to the wealthy so they could invest in our economy? What happened to all the jobs they were supposed create? Where did they go?
Again, the answer should be obvious. They were outsourced.
You see, the problem here isn’t just economic. It is cultural. Once you say that greed and selfishness are good, then anything you can do to make more money is absolutely justified. If unionized American workers are too expensive... Fine. We can find cheaper workers where they don’t have unions or safety regulations or child labor laws. That call center in Tennessee is costing you an arm and a leg... Fine. You can build a new call center for half the price elsewhere.
Cheaper workers mean more money, but not for everyone.
Still, we all know that increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans will hurt the economy, right?
In the late 1940’s and 50’s tax rates on the wealthiest Americans were above 60% (approximately twice what they are at today). Did the economy collapse? No. It boomed. It was, in fact, one of the greatest periods of growth in American history. The difference is, in the fifties, that growth was across all economic classes, with the middle class benefiting the most. We were also able to use that revenue to build the interstate highway system (which further helped the economy), vastly increase the national parks and launch a space program.
Am I saying we need to go back to 60%? Absolutely not. However, the people that are telling you that asking multi-millionaires to kick in a little more will wreck the economy are lying to you.
Lies, in fact, are one of the major investments they’ve made with their tax breaks. Billions have been spent through news media, through advertising and through high paid lobbyists to spread the gospel that greed is good and that our wealthiest citizens are also our best citizens.
First they took aim at the poorest among us, the ones least likely to fight back, the welfare mother, the juvenile delinquent, and the illegal alien. (all of which are disparaging titles given to those people by the wealthy elite)
The poor are characterized as lazy and dishonest, unworthy not only of assistance but even of compassion. They are, in fact, what is dragging America down. The suber-rich on the other hand, the ones who bankrupted our nation with their greed, the ones who we have spent trillions to bail out, they are characterized as our nation’s saviors.
That is the message that dominates our country today and it is that message that we must defeat at all costs.
Because now, it’s not enough to demonize the very poor and disenfranchised. Now, they are moving up to the middle class (or, more accurately, what used to be the middle class) Apparently it is the civil servants who are the real problem. The policemen, firemen and teachers.
The Wealthiest 1% of Americans receive 700 Billion dollars in tax cuts last year but the people who dedicate their lives to helping children, people who have already endured multiple salary and benefit cuts, people who have seen their responsibilities and class sizes grow while their text books age and their supports dissolves are being greedy when they ask for a living wage and a few benefits.
It makes you wonder who they will come after next.
No, the soldiers who served our country “with the last full measure of devotion” have already seen their health benefits cut, their pensions destroyed and the GI Bill stripped down to nothing.
In the end, that wealthiest 1% will come after all of us because once you declare that Greed is good everything that serves greed is, by definition, justified.
If you hate the idea of people living and benefiting off the public dole... Fine. But ask yourself this, who is more worthy of your condemnation, the Mother who has to stretch her welfare check to feed her children, or the profitable corporation which receives billions of dollars in federal subsidies.
Last year the oil industry received sixty billion dollars in federal money while earning record profits.
This moral shift has manifested itself in another way as well.
Things which can make money for someone are valuable. Things which pay non-economic dividends are not. Government services which can be monetized such as prisons, social security, the military and health care should be privatized. Services which cannot be monetized such as the FDA, EPA, education, national parks and, of course, public broadcasting should simply be cut.
The wealthiest Americans have used their power and influence to turn our moral compass upside down. They have succeeded in casting themselves in the role of victim while transforming the poor, the hungry, the sick, the veteran, the civil servant and the teacher into the villain.
I am not saying the rich are all evil or that Americans shouldn’t strive to improve their economic position. I am merely saying that we can choose where to invest, not only our dollars, but our care, our compassion and our empathy.
We have spent the last thirty years believing that wealth could trickle down only to watch that wealth pool in the hands of the few while the many only grow poorer. It is time, I believe, to reverse that trend and see if wealth can trickle up.