Theocracy, Plutocracy, & Dumb Liberals
eing of the populist persuasion, I am a terminal fan of Thomas Frank, who has gone from “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” to “What’s the Matter With Liberals?” in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, which is a good spot for it. Those of us in the beer-drinking, pick-up-truck-driving, country-music-listening school of liberals in the hinterlands particularly appreciate his keen dissection of how the Republicans use class resentment against “elitist liberals,” while waging class warfare on people who work for a living. The unholy combination of theocracy and plutocracy that now rules this country is, in fact, enabled by dumb liberals. Many a weary liberal on the Internet and elsewhere has been involved in the tedious study of the entrails from the last election, trying to figure out where Democrats went wrong. I don’t have a dog in that fight, but I can guarantee you where they’re going wrong for the next election: 73 Democratic House members and 18 Democratic senators voted for that hideous bankruptcy “reform” bill that absolutely screws regular people. And it’s not just consumers who were screwed by the lobbyist-written bill. The Wall Street Journal shows small businesses are also getting the shaft, as the finance industry charges them higher and higher transaction fees. If Democrats aren’t going to stand up for regular people, to hell with them. Now here’s some populist lagniappe (that’s a word us populists often use) for you to chew on. The Economic Policy Institute reports the economic well-being of middle-class families has declined between 2000 and 2003 for three reasons: the generally lousy economy, the Bush tax policies, and the cost of health care. Pre-tax incomes for middle-class families of every type (children, young singles, seniors, single mothers) are down, leaving the typical household with $1,535 less income in 2003 than in 2000, a drop of 3.4 percent. After taking into account changes in both pre-tax incomes and taxes, the finding remains that most middle-class families lost ground between 2000 and 2003. This is true for married couples with children, elderly couples, and young singles, although single mothers did gain 1.9 percent because of the greater refundability of child tax credits. Family spending on higher insurance co-pays, deductibles, and premiums escalated, rising three times faster than income for those married with children, absorbing half the growth of their income. The Tax Justice Network recently reported the world’s richest individuals have placed $11.5 trillion in assets in offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes, a sum 10 times the GDP of Great Britain. The most authoritative study yet done shows that rich people clip $860 billion in coupons a year off this money. “Governments appear unable, or unwilling, to prevent the rich employing aggressive strategies to minimize their tax liabilities,” said the Observer of Britain. We can emphasize the “unwilling” with this administration. The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay reached 301 to one in 2003. The average worker takes home $517 a week, while the average CEO earns $155,796, according to BusinessWeek. In 1982, the ratio was 42 to one. Dialogue between President Bush and a citizen during a February meeting in Nebraska, where Bush was trying to sell his scheme to privatize Social Security: Woman: “That’s good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute.” Bush: “You work three jobs?” Woman: “Three jobs, yes.” Bush: “Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)” One out of every two jobs created in the United States over the past 12 months was taken by a worker over 55. Economist Dean Baker says the flood of older workers is caused by the falling value of retirees’ 401(K)s and the cost of health care. The number of long-term unemployed who are college graduates has nearly tripled since 2000. Nearly one in five of the long-term jobless are college graduates, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a brand-new study out showing the uneven division of the fruits of the supposed economic recovery:
The data show that the share of real income growth that has gone to wages and salaries has been smaller than during any other comparable post-World War II recovery period, while the share of real income growth that has gone to corporate profits has been larger than during all other comparable post-World War II recoveries.
In previous recoveries, workers got an average of 49 percent of the national income gains, while corporate profits got 18 percent. This time, the workers are getting 23 percent and the corporations are getting 44 percent—about one half as much as the share that has gone to corporate profits. None of that apply to you? Good. Go listen to Tom DeLay give another lecture on moral values. Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her most recent book with Lou Dubose is Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America (Random House).