I consume way too much news from a variety of sources. My only real TV consumption is watching Morning Joe while I have my coffee in the morning. There are times when they have really good guests and informative conversation, but I am regularly treated to moments when I am just overhearing a bunch of millionaires stroking their own egos before a live television audience.
It seems to happen most often when the hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, are joined by their friend and advertising tycoon, Donny Deutsch. As if they were perched on mountains of bags of money, they presume to give the Democratic Party advice about their branding, their marketing profile, their appeal to voters.
On Monday, the trio confidently assured one another that Americans are, at best, a bit right of center politically. They are turned off by the social reconstruction proposed in Biden’s infrastructure and reconciliation bills. Deutsch always has to throw in the scare word, “socialism” to tell Democrats if they keep sounding like socialists, they will lose every election.
What frightens these very wealthy people as they pretend to be journalists with their fingers on the pulse of America can be summed up in a three-word phrase so succinct that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could wear it on the back of a formal gown: tax the rich.
The tax burden in America has left the very wealthy paying a much smaller percentage of their income in taxes than those of us with modest middle-class incomes.
Tax cuts on high income earners from the Regan era in the 80’s all of the way through Trump’s generous tax cuts for the rich is why our government cannot afford to provide the social services provided to citizens in most of western Europe. . . well, tax cuts and a bloated military budget and senseless illegal wars.
But what is this frightening socialism that Joe, Mika, and Donny want to protect us from? What is actually in Biden’s proposed infrastructure and reconciliation bills?
I don’t want to get lost in the weeds about the differences in hard infrastructure like roads, bridges, powerlines, and water systems, and the social infrastructure, most of which is in reconciliation, but I do want to point out that as the media keeps using large dollar figures like “three trillion dollars” to make it seem like we are talking about a communist revolutio - we spent more than that on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, so far as I can see, we got nothing out of those wars but unnecessary deaths and a loss of American credibility.
But, if, rather than wasting our resources on endless and often illegal wars, what if we spent American resources on America? What do we get?
Beyond long delayed and much needed repairs to roads, bridges, the power grid, and water, it is proposed that we strengthen families by providing universal pre-K classes and affordable childcare, which allows more American workers to actually go back to work and helps to give the children of the working class, a better start in education. It is also proposed that there be a child tax credit that will put money back into the households of those who are trying to raise the next generation of Americans. Frankly, I know of many families who have given up on having children because they can’t afford it.
Education, Child Care, Health Care
This tax credit would make it possible for both the wealthy and the poor to have a family. It also provides for 12 weeks of paid family leave in the case of a new birth, adoption, or serious family illness. It will not surprise you to learn that most American voters support these ideas. These are, after all, programs already present in most of the developed world.
And it proposes to make two years of community college education tuition free. Now, two years is not the same as a four-year degree and, in a real democracy, the children of the poor would have access to the same quality of education as the children of the wealthy, but no one is even proposing free college at the best college you can get into. However, two years at a community college is better than nothing and those who do well there will often find a way to continue their education in either a state university or a private college.
This is not a substantive solution to the ways in which the income gap affects access to education, but it is a step in the right direction… a step supported by the majority of American voters.
And while this proposal falls far short of the universal health care provided in most developed nations of the world, it does expand Medicare and Medicaid to cover millions of people who are not covered now . . . something that wins approval from almost everyone but the super wealthy.
And, as I am sure you have all seen the ads on TV that the pharmaceutical companies are paying hundreds of millions to run. It should not surprise you know that they are lying to you again.
What is being proposed is that we allow Medicare to take competitive bids for prescription medication because we, in the USA, pay about 2.5x as much for our prescription drugs as people pay in other countries for the same medications.
The pharmaceutical giants do not want to end this enormous government giveaway. But do you know who does want to end this obscenity? The majority of American voters.
There is also a substantial investment in affordable housing, both to repair decaying houses and to make it more possible for first time homebuyers to get into a home of their own. Something that is long over due and something that would be applauded by the majority of voters.
There is not a “green new deal” as many of us had hoped for but there is some money for improving rail service and also subsidies for buying electric vehicles and even more subsidies for those who buy EVs that are made in America.
West Virginia senator, Joe Manchin, a coal millionaire himself, has made certain that the renewable energy portions of these bills have been gutted . . . so this is not a panacea, but it is a very positive start. The coal industry is rapidly on its way out, whether the government steps in to hasten its demise or not.
These proposals fall far short of the ideal, of really trying to bring Western European social democracy to the USA but it is all so much more than I ever dreamed we would get out of a Joe Biden administration.
Biden was never a progressive and for much of his career, the reason he could work across the aisle that separates Republicans from Democrats was that he seemed more like a Republican than he did a Democrat.
Biden is an ardent Catholic, but he was never a Mother Teresa, Daniel Berrigan, Thomas Merton, or a Dorothy Day sort of Catholic. Somehow, we are seeing a different Joe Biden in this current debate. We are seeing someone whose political agenda does bear the fingerprints of Christian social values.
What has made the difference? With your permission, I will speculate that at least a large part of what has made the difference is the pandemic itself.
Not just 700,000 deaths but a massive disruption of the economy. Restaurants have closed, bookstores and dress shops have been reduced to curb service rather than in-store browsing. The pandemic has required relief checks and stimulus checks… government spending at an unprecedented level. They even gave payroll protection grants to churches which, I don’t mind telling you, made the difference in me being paid or not being paid last summer.
The pandemic has been a health disaster, but it has also been an economic disaster that the government has stepped in to prevent it from causing a massive depression. We have spent money in the past 18 months that we never would have spent had we not been in the middle of a crisis.
Build Back Better
It is like when a powerful hurricane hits several miles of very valuable beachfront property. It is a huge economic and human loss when this happens but the other thing that happens is that old, poorly built or maintained buildings fall down. Badly planned development with old hotels too close to the water, all get wiped out. And when the water subsides and the debris is removed, communities then have the opportunity to build back in smarter, more eco-friendly ways. If I may be allowed to say it this way, they get a chance to build back better.
Major natural disasters as well as human caused disasters, like a major war or mass migration, can change the face of society so that it doesn’t just snap back into what we have called normal.
I love the way that Arundhati Roy writes about it in a brilliant essay about the pandemic and the opportunity it gives us.
She says: "And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.. . This . . . is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Our millionaire friends on the sets of morning news talk shows are trying to shutter our imaginations, limit our options, by trying to make the price tag sound comical, “3.5 TRILLION dollars,” without mentioning that this is a 10 year program. So, simple math shows it is 250 billion per year.”
What’s more, in the midst of this crisis, the most wealthy Americans, the super-rich, our billionaires who are shooting themselves into the sky for very expensive five and six minute long joy rides, they have become 60% richer during the pandemic!
They have exploited the government spending and business panics to pocket nearly 2 trillion dollars in the past year of pandemic. Just a flat 15 or 20% tax on these obscene profits would more than pay for every program that I have mentioned.
Mark Zuckerberg has become 137% more wealthy in the last year. What if he had only doubled his immense fortune in the last year, would he have to start clipping pizza coupons to make ends meet?
Most of us grew up playing the board game, Monopoly. Three or four players start out with a certain amount of money and then they roll the dice to see which properties, or utilities you land on. You can buy available properties, make improvements on it and charge rent to other players who land on your property. Predictive skill helps in this game but mostly it is the roll of the dice. Eventually, one player gets all of the land and money and everyone else is broke.
What you may not know is that the game was invented near the end of the 19th century by a very clever woman named Lizzie Maggie. She invented it as a teaching tool about the downsides of a capitalist economic system that allows people to hoard so much wealth that they impoverish everyone else. She told a reporter in 1906, “In a short time, I hope a very short time, men and women will discover that they are poor because Carnegie and Rockefeller, maybe, have more than they know what to do with.”
The myth that the super wealthy want to sell to the rest of us is that they are just so very very clever that they actually earned the huge fortunes they have and that they deserve this disproportionate hoard of the country’s resources…. Even if they just inherited it from daddy, Sam Walton, still, it is theirs.
This is a myth that is based on a little bit of truth but their wealth, like in a Monopoly game, depends in part on their insight and intelligence, but it depends a whole lot more on the roll of the dice. . . being in the right place at the right time to ride the wave of changes in the economy to end up with a mountain of money.
The billionaires of America, and mind you, a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars, but the most wealthy have hoarded not a billion dollars but more than a hundred billion dollars.
Just the top ten of this club of billionaires are collectively holding more than a trillion dollars which makes the Carnages and Rockefellers look like paupers.
Why don’t we have universal healthcare, paid leave for new parents, tuition-free higher education, and more investment in renewable energy? Because a tiny club of businessmen have been allowed to hoard way too much of the nation’s resources.
We know that income and wealth disparity will destroy the capitalist systems of the west. We know that we have to fix it or there will be a total economic collapse. We know that we need to take drastic measures to save our planet’s ecology but it never seems to be a good time.
It seems to be impossible to muster the moral will. However, in a pandemic, when money is moving at this scale is exactly when we can best afford to make changes in our social structure that we preachers have been talking about for decades but we always seemed like we were pie-in-the-sky idealists but now, now, we really could do it.
If we simply strive to return to “normal” a normal defined by the violence of poverty, crime, homelessness, illness…. Then that would be a failure of government, a failure of public morality, and, sadly, a failure of preaching. I don’t want to fail. I hope you don’t either.
Imagine a new and better world, that is better than normal, better than the way things were, and never stop fighting until we have succeeded in making the world the better world that we’ve been talking about for 3000 years.
Dr. Roger Ray