21 December 2012

The Price of Civilization

Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute (Columbia University) laid it out really well in an interview Thursday with Ian Masters (ianmasters.com). Allow me to very briefly summarize, with a bit of my own panegyric thrown in for good measure:  

The current budget negotiations are a case of both parties toying around the edges of a much more fundamental problem, which is that, in thrall to a destructive Right Wing ideology, this country is no longer paying the price of civilization. Our infrastructure is crumbling, we are not investing in the energy resources of the future or the social systems and services (education, preventive health options, housing for aged and poor, transportation, etc.)... that would be necessary for us to have the kind of robust democratic civilization we once strove for. Obama and the Republicans are arguing about a revenue rise of 0.7% of GDP vs. 1% of GDP when what we really need is to increase revenues substantially to pay this price. And hysterical concern over debt, when the world clamors to buy our debt and money is practically free, is beyond stupid right now. 

Major corporations and rich people are avoiding all social responsibility. They ensconce their money in foreign tax havens, and live in a privatized world, while the country as a whole has lagged far behind other developed countries in these essential government functions.

Rich people have essentially all the power, over both parties, and until the people demand that government start paying attention to the needs of the many, not just the few, we will have an oligarchy and a society in decline, resembling ever more and more a third world country: with a wealthy elite and a rapidly declining standard of living for everyone else. Eventually, America’s ability to carry on the technological innovation and cost of being a superpower will also collapse, if we don’t go back to forcing everyone with means to pay a fair share of the price of civilization, and for those with the most means to pay the largest share. This is how it works; and nothing else will work. Period. 

President Obama has failed to lead. He has the right rhetoric, but he tries to accomplish policy goals through backroom negotiations, not by taking the case to the people and asking them to make the policymakers do it, which is how these kinds of reforms (both Roosevelts, Kennedy, Johnson), have been accomplished in the past. If he doesn’t change course soon, things will continue to get worse, and the proposals being discussed now will actually make matters worse than just letting the stupidly named “fiscal cliff” happen, which would at least bring in Clinton era revenues for a while. Of course, there are much better ways to do it (such as really eliminate tax havens and subsidies to oil, tax media companies for use of airwaves, impose a transaction tax on speculation, bust up big banks, raise top marginal tax rates a lot, increase payroll tax cap, impose carbon tax, convert the ACA to single payer, restore estate tax and some excise taxes… in other words make those who have benefited most from the American economic system pay the real costs of maintaining it). But none of this can be made to happen by negotiating with people who hate the very idea of commonweal, and whose goal is only to protect the narrow, selfish interests of plutocrats. Only sweeping leadership… a broad and emotionally charged appeal to the masses to force change; in other words what people were hoping for when they voted for Obama in the first place… would have any chance of achieving what we must do.

We can’t give up, even if this president will not or cannot do what is needed. We have to work to elect people who understand what we’re up against, and make them do it. There is no other way.

1 comment:

  1. Choose where you'd like to live, because it ain't gonna happen in the good ol' U S of A. December 9, 2000 was, I believe, the day we allowed the Supreme Court to appoint the president. Party is over. Nothing to see here. Just pigs at the trough. Move along now.



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