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Monday, September 1, 2014
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    The Chasm

    by | Apr 29, 2010

    When I was a kid in the ’50s and ’60s, government service was cool. There didn’t seem to be a huge difference between my dad who sold cars and my friend’s dad who worked for the Department of Agriculture. There wasn’t a huge disparity in our families’ incomes. Both worked honest, respectable jobs.

    It’s taken a good 30 years since Ronald Reagan first uttered the words, “Government is not the answer to our problem, government is the problem,” for the complete and utter vilification of government to take place.

    The signs are everywhere. Glenn Beck hates the government. Sean Hannity hates the government. Neil Boortz refers to the public school system derisively as the “government schools.” In the eyes of these guys, the government can do no right.

    On the one hand, it’s easy to see how over the course of 30 years a constant barrage of pejorative speech has made people see government as dumb and wasteful. As a CBS News/New York Times poll indicated last week, self-identified Tea Party members hate big government. And boy, do they hate taxes! And did I mention that they really hate government? Interesting then that when asked if they’d give up their Social Security or Medicare they demure.

    So I’m having a problem understanding which parts of government they would cut. The military? Would they privatize police and fire protection? Clearly they hate the “government schools.” Current polls seem to indicate that they want regulation of the financial markets so that we don’t have to bail out any more banks that are too big to fail. Do they want the government to stop inspecting meat? How about just scrapping the Food and Drug Administration? Caveat emptor, right? Take those pharmaceuticals at your own risk. No giant drug company would ever knowingly put a dangerous substance on the market. You know, except the occasional Vioxx or Phen Phen.

    Money — now here’s a new one — appears to be at the root of this evil. You see, for the vast majority of Americans there has been no real income growth since 1976. Call it The Chasm. And no, I’m not about to make an argument for socialism. I’m just saying that 30 years ago when bankers made what lawyers made, and that was the same as most everybody else in the white collar world, and that was about 20% more than most of the workers in the blue-collar world, decisions about national or local service went through different filters.

    Around 1985 when Grover Norquist said of government, “I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” income disparity began running wild. The chasm that did not exist between the haves and have-nots, at least not in significant numbers, in 1970, was very real by 1990 and is a Grand Canyon here in 2010.

    In 1975 an honors finance graduate from a good school was just as likely to choose the community food bank as a big Wall Street bank for the first rung on their career ladder. Government got a good crack at our best and brightest back then. Once the Wall Street bonuses passed seven figures and got into the stratosphere, many of our best and brightest stopped contributing their services to our local communities or our national government in favor of Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.

    Now this isn’t to say that there hasn’t always been a chasm. I will never forget bringing my college girl friend, a young woman of means and extraordinary breeding, to my upper-middle-class neighborhood for a holiday party. We were both from white-collar families, but hers was an industrial family whose name you would know, and mine was, well, not. She clearly had a good time at the party, but in the car on the way back to school, she must have said three or four times how strange it was that we had invited our mailman to the holiday party.

    Of course these were the days when the difference between the upper-middle-class and the regular old blue-collar middle-class was that the folks in the UMC drove Chevy Caprices while our blue-collar brethren drove Chevy Biscaynes. Today, a new Mercedes versus a beat-to-crap, 12-year-old Chrysler Sebring marks that difference.

    Frankly, I had great hopes for the revival of government service as a compelling and honorable option for our college graduates when Barack Obama was elected president. I thought service would once again be cool. It would be fashionable to get a federal appointment or simply go to work for the city. But the rancor from the right, the predictable and constant stream of invective that continues to vilify the government seems to be overwhelming any youthful and idealistic sense of responsibility that might lead our younger generation to a life of honorable government service, and thus help rebuild government’s competency. A friend just told me that when a distinguished guest — an astronaut — asked an assembly full of high school juniors what they’d like to do with their lives, the near-unanimous answer was be a rap-star or pro-athlete. Not a single budding chemical engineer or teacher in the bunch. They see the bling on the other side of the chasm, and the only way they envision getting there is by cashing in on the longest of shots.

    The chasm wasn’t a problem when we had a solid middle class. Now, the chasm is going to be a big problem.

    ###
    Jon Sinton

    Jon Sinton

    Jon Sinton is an Atlanta-based serial media entrepreneur and writer. He was the founding president of Air America Radio, is a radio syndicator, and co-founder of the nonprofit Progressive Voices Institute Inc, whose smartphone app, Progressive Voices, aggregates everything watched, read and heard in the progressive world, and puts it in all one place on the Mobile Internet. ProgressiveVoices.com @jonsinton @progvoices

     

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    • Tom Pain

      What you on the left don’t realize is the colossal failures of government and how it operates in areas where it clearly doesn’t belong. The United States government caused the credit crisis, financial meltdown or whatever you want to call it. Why does the goberment need to make a market in mortgaged backed securities? Why are salaries for goberment jobs increasing much faster than those of the private sector? Do you believe that these income inequality and increasing goberment employment are non-correlated, mutually exclusive events? Goberment corruption and income inequality are highly correlated. The people should not trust a goberment that seeks to employ all the professional classes and bankrupt the private classes, as Barry seeks to do (for instance, by hiring all the doctors).

      There is a place for gobermint service but that place is subordinate to individual enterprise and liberty. Except in times of war. Many people now realize a dangerous wave of collectivism and statism is spreading among the political class, GOoPs and demoncraps. I don’t think these people care what letter comes after a politician’s name. They want them to stop, listen to what the enlightenment founders of this country had to say about liberty and governance — and dispatch their duties accordingly. But the problem is decidedly not against Americans having a due respect for the value of our public servants. For the most part, they want us to serve them rather than the other way around.

    • http://likethedew.com/ Keith Graham

      Jon: You make so many good points here. The income disparity is shameful, and, no question, it is growing. That’s why we need progressive taxation, which was considered a virtue of America when I was growing up in the Deep South (and before the so-called “Reagan revolution”), and intelligent programs aimed at giving all people a semi-fair chance in life. We also need government regulation of business, as appropriate. The fact is unbridled capitalism has proved itself to be a failure. The economic crisis we’re still unraveling and the failure of the private insurance system are cases in point. I’m not anti-capitalist at all, but some people seem to have made a religion of capitalism, which is an amoral system when it works properly and an immoral one when it’s cynically manipulated. Can government be badly flawed, can it make mistakes and can it even be corrupt? Absolutely, those are possibilities and realities. But the government in this country is still — far more than business or other institutions — something that people can influence and it can change for the better. What we need is a society that works for people. For most Americans, that means no more government than necessary but — and this point is equally important and seems to have been lost in some fairly large circles and on at least one cable TV network — no less either. And we need people who at least honor the idea of government enough to make it work better.

      • George Costanza

        So Keith, do you associate taxation with equality of outcomes? That is, tax-policy should be used to level the distribution of wealth across the country? That the gubmint’s role in taxation is to take from people who have to much and give to people who have too little?

        I thought taxes were designed to pay for national defense, roads and schools — ostensible “public” goods. Not to confiscate private property and redistribute it without due process.

        You seem to indicate taxation is a tool of politicians to pick winners and losers, “The income disparity is shameful, and, no question, it is growing. That’s why we need progressive taxation.” This is how taxation works in Cuba.

    • http://raybearfield.com Ray Bearfield

      The presence of so many arguments that “progressive taxation” is equivalent to a Cuban collectivist form of income redistribution — and the implied argument that such a system takes from decent, hard-working All-American types and gives to worthless, shiftless, hands-out abusers of “Christian charity” is a direct reflection of several factors.
      1) The incredible marketing job associated with the Reagan presidency.
      2)The ascendance of a class of relatively prosperous young adults who matured during the Reagan era. This group lacks perspective into the struggles that preceded them, i.e., Vietnam, civil rights, women’s rights and the income equality that was a product of the strong labor movement that grew from the excesses of the Gilded Age. It tends to see any competition for “their” entitlements through the filter of the fortunate generation that raised them.
      3) The failure of public schools to effectively teach young people why the American system works, and why those issues they find “unfair” or “intrusive” or the result of governmental “overreaching” are in fact direct consequences of the horrible inequities that a study of history might reveal.

      I once had as a neighbor a high school AP American government teacher who bragged that his class “survey” made the front page of the local paper. More than 90 percent of his students thought government should approve of news before it was published. Most thought the freedom to speak and assemble was too often misused and should be regulated. Amazingly, he was proud of the publicity.

      “You teach the Constitution?” I asked him. He proudly said he did.

      If I did my job as well as you do yours, I’d get fired, I told him.

      No, he didn’t understand.

      • George Costanza

        How is it “fair” or “just” that the government housing agencies led by political appointees spend more than $10 trillion of taxpayer funds buying inflated mortgages, securitizing them and selling them to investors as risk-free Treasurys? What “gilded age” injustice is that designed to correct, to bankrupt savers and retirees while providing underwriting fees to investment banks? Who benefits by the government creating a secondary mortgage market where taxpayers assume all the obvious downside risk — a market that private capital would have never created? Who benefited? Homeowners? Taxpayers? Blacks? Women?

        In the years since the gilded age, Jim Crow, women’s movement, etc., etc., America has made great strides in social improvement to the affected groups. This progress has occurred because of voluntary, consentual changes in prevailing social attitudes toward race and gender — not because we needed some bureaucrat or government agency to show us the light. But you could never countenance this uncoerced social improvement because your every argument must be reducible to a wealth transfer to benefit a victim class. You don’t care about roads or schools, but only “fighting injustice” by confiscating private wealth and growing pedantic bureaucracy.

        And herein is the lie. The victim classes can change, but the grievances and wealth transfers remain in spite of manifest social improvment. The grievenances are mere pretense to confiscate the wealth. In reality, you really don’t care at all about the road or schools nor the victim-class grievances. In fact, you need all the more narrowly defined victim classes (thus all the narrow ethnographic identifiers on our census forms) to manufacture more claims upon private wealth to justify growing beloved sanctimonious bureaucracy. But many of us grow weary of subsidizing this loser’s game and we want to end it.

        Ray-gun… Racist!… blargity, blarg…

    • parker

      So 20% of the people have 93% of the wealth. Fact. So if we’re going to levy taxes, wouldn’t it be smart to levy them on the people who have the money? Do we need the money? Do you like roads? Cops? You may not like the schools, but do you want to, like, fix them? Or just shut them down so we can be poor and illiterate too?
      Your rant about the victim classes misses the point. It’s not that we’re making up victim classes “as mere pretense to confiscate the wealth.” It’s not pretense. There’s no lie. I just want to confiscate the wealth, and distribute it down — to the victim classes and to others who don’t fit nicely into the standard categories. What all these people have in common is that they’re in the bottom 80%, scrambling to get their bit of the 7% of wealth left over after the rich are done with it.
      The French Revolution was fought because the poor were being taxed into starvation so the rich could have ever fancier houses. How are we not on that same path?
      Every since President Blargity-Blarg, we’ve been distributing wealth up. Some people think that’s the right thing to do, griping only when wealth gets distributed down. You know, like to the people who actually need the money.
      And, George, about that last paragraph. So tired of these ad hominem attacks. Wow, you disagree with me, so I must be a moron? I’m so much nicer than you.

    • Monica Smith

      Government is us--we the people. Some people prefer to have a stratified society with some people calling the shots and others following orders. Money, it turns out, is a marvelous shield behind which the same populations that were subordinate before the insistence on equality took off can be kept subordinate now. Of course, there are always exceptions. They are necessary to prove the rule. Besides, the specific composition of the subordinate groups isn’t as important as that there are some.
      What we now know is that, regardless of how much monetary wealth some people amass, they need more. That’s because their basic insecurity is impossible to assuage. Who knows why they are insecure. Perhaps fear is an addiction that some people just can’t shake. What we do know is that letting these people control our currency is disastrous.
      I have visions of Blankfein, dragging his blankie of securities and derivatives behind him, like the Linus of Wall Street.

    • http://www.jeanielbaum.com Jeani Elbaum

      I have an idea to help Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Neil Bortz save on their taxes and thereby hate America less—they can all move to a Third World country. Most have open borders and if they don’t, I’m sure they won’t mind opening them up for some rich old white men. Just sayin’….

    • Tom Pain

      These arguments are 1) stupid and 2) dangerous. You insist that the government should tax to level wealth. I only assume you will trust that government to treat everyone equally. Only an extremely naive person would put such trust in a government. How can you people be so gullible as to believe that a well-armed and financed authority would not simply take everything for themselves? Every single time this experiment has been run, it ends in violence, autocracy, misery and economic failure.

      In authoritarian regimes like Cuba or Venezuela, it fails because those who have wealth, intelligence and initiative leave or are imprisoned or killed by the regime. In western “social-democracies” like Spain and Greece, it fails under the welfare state’s economic burden. The endless voter bribes that citizens will be cared for from cradle to grave and protected from the evil capitalists. When, in reality, these promised protections merely fund an interminable bureaucracy to create high paying jobs with gold-plated benefits to government workers. These state workers contribute far less economically than they’re paid. Meanwhile private capital flees, the economy shrinks and those evil capitalists get to starve with everyone else. Then you finally get your precious equality. That was the whole basis for ObamaCare, by the way. It will result in endless debt, inflation and, of course, crappy healthcare. But you fools believe it will solve all your problems. How sad for you when reality strikes you ill.

      And the ridiculous arguments about money as some conspiracy of the power elite to subjugate the masses. I mean, jeez, really? Are you really that paranoid and deluded? This from a person who writes 2,000-word essays attempting to explain derivative transactions and who obviously doesn’t even know the first thing about a forward price curve.

      Keep entertaining us with your ignorant leftist rabble-rousing nonsense, though. You make great arguments for political alternatives.

    • Cliff Green

      “Tom Pain” writes “Goberment corruption and income inequality are highly correlated.”
      Give us one example, or, to put it another way: Prove it!
      “George Costanza” asked three questions: 1. So Keith, do you associate taxation with equality of outcomes? 2. That is, tax-policy should be used to level the distribution of wealth across the country? 3. That the gubmint’s role in taxation is to take from people who have to much and give to people who have too little?
      If an English-reading-writing-speaking person honestly considers Mr. Graham’s post, I don’t believe he or she will find any of those suggestions therein. Do I detect a strawman, or three, in “George’s”, what shall we call them? Arguments? Positions? Whatever?
      “George Costanza” again: “In the years since the gilded age, Jim Crow, women’s movement, etc., etc., America has made great strides in social improvement to the affected groups. This progress has occurred because of voluntary, consentual changes in prevailing social attitudes toward race and gender — not because we needed some bureaucrat or government agency to show us the light.”
      The sentence,”This progress…” until its ending period is a damned lie.
      “Tom Pain” again. “You insist that the government should tax to level wealth. ”
      Please, go back and read these responses again! Not one responder has suggested that “the government should tax to level wealth,” much less “insisted” on it.
      This entire string proves one thing, if anyone even remotely suggests that government can be a force for good in the lives of its citizens, those who have swallowed the right-wing Koolade will automatically regurgitate the same old tiresome bile. The more telling fact is that they are reluctant to attatch their real names to their pools of vomit.

    • George Costanza

      Cliff: First, break the pills in half.
      Second: if you google “income inequality corruption” on google scholar, you will find extensive academic research on this topic. I am not obliged to spoon feed you this very accessible information to prove it to you. Dincer and Gunalp sum it up nicely: “We find robust evidence that increase in corruption (1) increases the Gini Coefficient of income inequality, and (2) decreases the income growth.” You may first want to look up what a Gini coefficient is.
      Third: Keith and other posters explicitly link the need for progressive taxation to solve the problem of income inequality. Any fair-minded person would look at those statements and draw the same conclusion: that you guys want Robin Hood gov’t, to steal from the rich to give to the poor. That is just to you because you think people who possess wealth and property acquired it unjustly and their consumption patterns don’t fit your collectivist standards.
      Fourth: So you think Americans need politicans and bureaucracies to act civilly toward one another with respect to race and gender? What are you talking about? Do we need a butt-wiping administration, too?
      My point is that gov’t should be limited to the point where’s absolutely necessary with respect to public goods: schools, transportation, defense and the like. Our schools stink, our transportation grid is falling apart and our wars have been comedically mismanaged in spite of our vast military advantages. Why do you see fit to praise the feckless bureaucrats running this train off the rails? What have they done that impressses you so?

    • Cliff Green

      “George” or whoever you cowards are. I’m not Googling a f***ing thing. I’m simply responding to your drivel, and after your last post, all I can say is: “I rest My case!”

      • George Costanza

        Wow, you really put me in my place!
        The quest to further your ignorance continues apace!

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