Friday, March 30, 2012

"The rich in America can't afford to help the poor."

That, thanks to economist Isabelle Tsakok, is the most accurate and succinct summary of current Republican ideology. Do they really want to balance the budget, as they have repeated said? No, not judged by actions. They have not been willing to compromise on increasing the wealth of the rich to balance the budget. And the new Ryan budget specifies no closing of tax breaks for the rich, but only a vague proposal that, judging by past behavior, will never be specified. Do they want to reduce taxes for all, as they keep repeating? No, when the issue was increasing taxes on the poor, by stopping the break on payroll taxes, they had to be dragged, under protest, to pass anything. Do they want the free market? No, they are willing to support subsidies to agribusiness, and pass laws to funnel government money to private corporations working on prisons and schools.

The sole issue on which they have been consistent? That the rich cannot afford to help the poor. This is not, I should emphasize, a matter of charity. It is a matter of spending on public goods, such as infrastructure, schools, police, and health care for children. As Tsakok's book, Success in Agriculture Transformation shows, throughout history, government investment in public goods, sustained over decades, has been the key to economic development in every single case, in the US and abroad.

But any investment in public goods, if it helps the poor, the Republicans are against. In the states recently captured by the Republicans in the Governors and Legislatures, savage cuts in education spending have followed.

What is the rationale for this? "Freedom!" The theory is that for the rich to help support public goods is taking away their freedom. This assumes that the public sector has nothing to do with the prosperity of the rich. But as Elizabeth Warren memorably emphasized recently, the public sector is the foundation of private wealth. And Tsakok's book makes clear that without that sustained public investment, countries fail to develop.

Thus in name of freedom, the public is being conned into supporting policies that will hurt our economic future more than any foreign enemy. The threat to America's future is the Republicon.


  1. Yes, you see this in the current Supreme Court Debate over health care. It seems quite apparent that the conservatives on this court would rather drastically diminish government subsidized health care (and standard barriars to easily accessing these safety nets such as "pre-existing conditions") than diminish individual liberty. Once again, in the name of freedom, we will see great increases in the numbers of patients flooding emergency rooms - the most expensive and least effective care in the industrialized world.

  2. What's ironic is that the patron saint of the Republicans, Adam Smith explicitly argued against the current Republican view of taxation as theft. As noted in the Wikipedia article, Smith advocated progressive taxation. And he explicitly wrote "Every tax, however, is, to the person who pays it, a badge, not of slavery, but of liberty." Because without government there is no liberty—see Somilia—taxes to support government are actually a condition of liberty. And for economic growth they must go beyond simply public safety and guaranteeing of contracts. They must invest "provide for the general welfare" as the US Constitution puts it, by investing in public goods. How profoundly anti-American the Republicans are is something they are somehow never called out on.