Friday, October 28, 2011

Conservatives Get Their Way

At the heart of America's often shallow debate about political economy, policy, and the direction this country should take, is the cluster of variables surrounding taxes, regulation, economic policy, and the proper role of government. The basic conservative argument is that taxes are too high, regulation is too onerous and counterproductive, and business is too hobbled by misguided bureaucrats. 

The Republican prescription has been simple, persuasive for some, and amazingly consistent for a generation: cut taxes and everything good will happen. It is the elixir, the panacea, the cure-all for all that ails you. And if tax cuts are not enough (they are always a prerequisite), then just cut back on all that wasteful spending, which for conservatives means the welfare state and other transfers that go from deserving producers to the undeserving takers. 

To hear Republicans tell it, America is near comatose because of high taxes, radical unions ("big labor," as they say with a straight face), and more recently, government spending, not on defense of course, but on character-destroying entitlements such as social security, medicare, welfare, public education, and infrastructure boondoggles. 

Millions of Americans believe this argument; teabaggers in particular have been convinced that they are "taxed enough already" and that Democrats are transferring massive amounts of money "we don't have" to undeserving liberals who vote Democrat for that precise reason. Joshua Holland has an excellent article the title of which precisely captures what has become a real problem for the reality-based community: Thanks to Decades of Conservative Spin, Americans Are Hopelessly Confused About Taxes, Spending and the Deficit

As Holland states:
A good number of Americans are hopelessly confused about taxes, deficits and the debt. And it's no mystery why – conservatives have spent 30 years divorcing the taxes we pay from the services they finance. They've bent themselves into intellectual pretzels arguing that cutting taxes – on the wealthy – leads to more revenues in the coffers. They've invented narratives about taxes driving “producers” to sunnier climes, killing jobs by the bushel, and relentlessly spun the wholly false notion that we're facing “runaway spending” and are “taxed to death.”
Holland implicates the mainstream media for its failure to critically assess and challenge what has been Republican class warfare disguised as common sense. It is a narrative that has proved persuasive to people who do not often hear, and don't want to hear, analyses that challenge that narrative.

My immediate purpose is not to resolve ideological differences or to prove the efficacy of certain policy preferences. In this occasional series; let's call it "Conservatives Get Their Way," I want to show that regardless of how else you or I might feel about it, the inescapable conclusion is that on economic policy and legislation, including taxation, conservatives, the right-wing, the Republican party, and most assuredly, corporate America, have gotten most of what they have wanted on the policies, legislation, and legal opinions that overwhelmingly benefit them.

It is not a matter of conservatives wanting to move away from what they consider to be harmful, liberal policies. The reality is that Republicans, with the help of some Democrats, have undercut what they hate, and have already turned over power to wealthy oligarchs. The conservative charge that liberals, socialists, Democrats, dirty fucking hippies, a black President, "teh gays," and all the rest are destroying America, is demonstrably false. We do not have "Big Labor", high taxes, or profit-killing regulations, a large and expensive public sector, high social spending, or job-killing environmental regulations. In fact, we lag other industrialized nations on each of these points; our taxes are among the lowest, as is union membership and pubic sector spending.

So where does the US lead? Corporate profits and executive compensation. And of course, we do spend a pantload on defense, precisely what most conservatives and nearly all Republican politicians demand. 

The evidence more clearly shows that corporate America, the Republican party, and the conservative policies and legislation they say we need, but have already enacted, are undermining America's economic strength, its political institutions, and its social fabric. In other words, America's right wing not only has got its arguments mostly backwards, it is precisely the conservative policies they claim we need that have created the current mess, one that has been in the making for 35 plus years.

Conservatives get their way and they have the results one would expect; massive inequality, an unending gravy train for our bloated defense industry, executive compensation that has reached obscene levels, is largely detached from job performance (golden parachutes anyone?), and is loaded with money-saving perks denied to the rest of us. 

They succeeded in largely gutting private pension systems for workers, outsourced much of our manufacturing base to cheap labor countries, hobbled unions, have enjoyed significant productivity increases but have not shared those increases with their employees, and have beat back nearly all efforts to hold them accountable on the environment, tax loopholes, and regulations.

Much of this is vividly on display on Wall Street, where the perpetrators of massive fraud and malfeasance have managed to beat back essentially all efforts to hold them accountable and to rein in their ridiculously irresponsible behavior. 

Any no, it is not because Congress can't do anything; progressive Dems favor and vote for legislation that would return us to more stable and equitable times, legislation that we once had in place, such as Glass-Steagal.

It is because nearly all Republicans, joined by a few Blue Dog Democrats, have voted for the legislation that is so overwhelming favorable to the overclass.

It isn't Congress; it is Republicans in Congress.

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