Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Should Winners Account for Economy's Losers?

DAY 36 OF 46

Last week at this time, many of us were fretting over the likelihood of our federal government shutting down from a political impasse over the nation's budget.

And perhaps not surprisingly, at the 11th hour last Friday, our political wizards pulled a rabbit out of their top hat which purportedly included a budget axing $38 billion in government spending.

But now, as details of the sloppily-crafted budget agreement have been coming to light in the media, right-wing Republicans have begun squawking about how many of these spending cuts are actually bogus. Which is true. Speaker Boehner's supposed triumph has turned out to be the same old Washington theatrics conservatives usually accuse liberals of staging.

All this has only further fanned the flames of sanctimonious conservatives who want to indiscriminately chop entitlement programs. Why should the economically moral among us be expected to accommodate the fiscal imprudence of society at large?  Wiping out social welfare sounds quick and easy, especially since we pious conservatives have been so prudent in our savings, temperate in our spending, and diligent in our hard, honest, high-salaried jobs.

Which, generally, theoretically, in a perfect world, is how things work. You get a job, it pays the bills as long as you live within your means, you save a lot, and you retire happy and care-free.

How Much Has What We Have Cost Our Society?

But how much of the stoic, financially-sound good life would middle class Republicans have if it wasn't for the many ways our economy has been sustained by programs and practices right-wingers now revile?

For example, we're all suffering today from the mortgage meltdown, but during America's build-up of property values, home construction, and banking expansion, how many conservatives profited from all of the spending consumers did to purchase, finance, furnish, and remodel their new homes?

When all of us conservatives moved out of the inner cities to the suburbs and exurbs, we depleted vast swaths of already-built infrastructure in urban cores, and deprived needy municipalities of normal tax revenue. The vacuum we created allowed liberal educators to perpetrate pernicious programs like social advancement in big city school districts. It also allowed welfare to take a stronger grip on urban life than might have otherwise occurred had we not abdicated poverty control to governments. Can we claim to not have been part of America's entitlement problem, that white flight didn't allow costly urban decay to take place, as well as the costly development of sprawling suburban schools with huge maintenance requirements of their own?

When we complain about taxation, do we understand how the greedy house-flippers of the mortgage boom helped deplete the limited resources of our elderly citizens, making them more reliant on Social Security? Do we forget how extravagant our expectations for the public education and sports training of our children have become? Have we forgotten that freeways to take us further and further away from the problems we don't want to face in the inner city cost more and more to construct and maintain?

And what about all of our jobs which go into creating and supporting the vast industries which prop up all of the things which we suddenly find so distasteful as taxpayers? Like all of the technology and weaponry our governments purchase to protect us at home and abroad?

I won't even mention the few managers and executives who get to keep their cushy jobs while they offshore everybody else's.  Or the companies that don't want to pay healthcare costs for retirees who spent their careers crafting products from dangerous chemicals or in hazardous environments.  Or the employers who contrive layoffs which impact workers just before their retirement age.

Something tells me that the percentage of our country's population that has had everything work right for themselves jobwise, healthwise, familywise, housewise, educationwise, and investmentwise is exceptionally, deceptively small. The rest of us have made mistakes, some of us have been downright stupid, and a few of us have been insufferably lazy.

Responsibility and Accountability on Micro and Macro Scales

Granted, no one else is responsible for paying my bills but me, myself, and I. And individually, few of us have been responsible for how our nation's economy has evolved. But can right-wingers assume that their perfect financial life hasn't come at somebody else's expense? Doesn't capitalism depend on a certain amount of stratification in the society? If everybody had the same education, earning power, and retirement plan, wouldn't that be socialism?

Face it, people: however good it is, your lifestyle hasn't been entirely achieved in a civic vacuum. There are prices we all need to pay for living in a country as diverse as ours. If you think your salary doesn't benefit from the diversity many Republicans disparage, then maybe your grasp of economics isn't as solid as you think it is.

Not that conservatives shouldn't pursue budget cuts and spending reductions. Clearly, our government needs to be drastically overhauled, and our entitlement programs will need to bear the brunt of this overhaul, since they comprise the bulk of government spending. Americans who contribute little to the economy and prosperity of our country should not expect significant rewards. And institutionalized poverty needs to be disavowed for what it truly represents: a new form of slavery.

But when conservatives evaluate what our government should and shouldn't be doing, we need to remember that the reason some people are poorer than us may not be entirely their own fault.

How many of us can assume that we haven't benefited from the pernicious policies and practices that've gotten us here, and which now may need to be cut? Not that everything we've earned and acquired are ill gotten gains. But they may not all be "earned" as much as "awarded."

After all, might having winners in our economy mean somebody else has lost?

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