Friday, July 22, 2016

Reagan Was The Real Villain

Ken O’Brien

The whole basis for the rise of the racist right led by Donald Trump has its foundation in economic grievances.

Underlying all the inflammatory rhetoric against minorities, immigrants and trade is the perception by the middle class that they have lost any prospect for economic stability and growth.

While Trump has seized upon the time-worn themes of demagoguery that blames today’s problems on “those people”, the reality is far simpler. 

The real cause for the decline of the middle class in America is a direct result of the Conservative mantra praising small government. The primary mechanism for achieving that goal has been to strangle government by restricting its access to tax revenue – primarily from the wealthier segments of society. Accompanying that is the delegitimization of the concept that government has any role in the redistribution of wealth.

That concept goes back to the 19th century and the writings of John Stuart Mill. It was Mill who established the distinction between economics and politics by asserting that economics was concerned with the creation of wealth while politics was concerned with the distribution of wealth.

The new plutocracy cemented its ascendancy in contemporary America through what has become known as “the Reagan revolution”. That “revolution” had as its hallmark the dramatic reduction in taxes on upper income individuals which was accompanied by a decline in the role of government.

Nothing makes this reality clearer than the coincidence of two trends – the decline in upper income tax rates and the emergence of massive disparities in the distribution of wealth in the United States.

This first chart illustrates the pattern of tax rates for the highest and lowest income earners in the United States:

This second chart illustrates the rise in disparities in the distribution of income among various levels of income earners in the United States:

Focus your attention on the year 1980, the year Reagan was elected. This marks the watershed between the postwar period that was marked by higher taxes on top incomes and minimal disparities among income classes.

This is not a case of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin: "after this, therefore because of this"). This is a clear cut case of correlation being directly related to causality.

The reduction in government revenues led to a decline in government funding of public works projects reflected in the current miserable state of our national infrastructure.

It brought about a decline in investment in education resulting in the deterioration of our schools and increasing costs of higher education.

It led to increasing privatization of previously public expenditures, notably in areas such as prisons and schools.

It has resulted in the decline of transfer payments to the poor and elderly and the increase of children, families and seniors living in poverty.

All of this occurred in service of a repeatedly discredited economic myth called “trickle-down economics”.

But Republicans have steadfastly refused to admit this reality.

Rather, they have had to turn to perpetuating lies about the lazy poor and minorities, the job-stealing immigrants, foreigners stealing our industries and tax and spend liberals.

Democrats have only recently begun to address the need to raise taxes. Under Bill Clinton they adopted the tactics of triangulation in response to a nation entranced by tax-cutting and Conservative rhetoric. Obama, while making some progress, has been primarily concerned with recovery from the greatest economic collapse since the great depression.

It is time for Americans to face up to the reality that “the Reagan revolution” has been little more than a millstone around the necks of the American people. It is a set of policies and myths that have sapped our national will and allowed the plutocrats to set the rest of us against one another to preserve their well-heeled lifestyles. 

It is well past time to explode this set of delusions foisted upon us by the wealthy one percent and stage a counter-revolution to restore the sanity of economic and social policies that were in existence before this so called “revolution”.

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