The Sunday Doonesbury strip nailed the problem:
The 400 richest families in America now hold as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the country combined!
So, in the midst of an economic crisis, how do our leaders (nearly every Republican and most of the Democrats, including the President) make use of this information?
They celebrate two things:
- Cut that “waste” in government, especially the bit going to spending on job training, education, food, housing, and healthcare for that no-good 150 million, and
- Absolutely, under no circumstances, allow any new taxes, especially on those 400 families, who provide so much for the rest of us.
There is an parallel universe, one with people just like us, an economic downturn, and people out of work. But there are two differences: People there believe that increased spending now is actually vital to get the economy going, put people to work, and in the long run actually reduce the deficit. (This by the way is the view of most economists, liberal or conservative in both of these universes.) So, point #1, austerity now, is considered an extremely dumb and ill-timed idea.
Second, those people think that the short-term deficit and the long-term debts are very real problems that need to be addressed intelligently and comprehensively. That means management of spending, but also fair contributions from all, including what middle class we have left and even those 400 families. They don’t believe that all of the economic sacrifice ought to fall on the bottom 50%. So, point #2, no new taxes ever, is also viewed as a wacky idea.
In that parallel universe, people would like to
- Get the economy going.
- Develop a thoughtful plan for revenues and spending, one that involves shared commitment from all.
Is that parallel universe possible?
The parallel universe only becomes possible once we’ve discarded our current one. Unfortunately, I think that governments in Europe and America will continue with their austerity plans for a few more years yet, before this vision loses credibility. Certainly in Britain the conservative approach of cutting public services has not yet received mainstream disapproval – the rhetoric of this being something which ‘needs to be done’ is still clinging on. Only history will tell what it takes for it to swing back the other way.