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    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    Costs of the Culture of Greed

    Check out Robert Scheer's piece on Alternet.

    For half a century, free-market purists have to great effect denigrated the essential role that modern government performs as some terrible liberal plot. Thus, the symbolism of New Orleans' flooding is tragically apt: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's ambitious populist reforms in the 1930s eased Louisiana out of feudalism and toward modernity; the Reagan Revolution and the callousness of both Bush administrations have sent them back toward the abyss.

    Now, I'm far from Socialist. Indeed, I consider myself pretty resolutely capitalist. But I believe that free market capitalism most flourishes in an environment where survival is not a concern of the participants in the economy. Simultaneously, I believe that the very top, say the top 1%, must throw in a bit for the bottom, so as to keep the individuals with lowest incomes active and healthy in contributing to the economy. Finally, I think that pro-business policies can be separated from pro-richest-people policies, like, for example, the estate tax. The estate tax, rather than keeping money out of the national economy, puts money in, as the top 1% already have as much disposable income as they are likely to spend, and the possibilities for the use of the money generated through the estate tax (for example, Medicare and Medicaid) allow others to become more fully involved in the economy as it props them up past survival into having some level of disposable income themselves. Particularly in the case of the estate tax, we're talking about money that is sitting there accumulating interest rather than money which is in motion.

    It is the result of a campaign by most Republicans and too many Democrats to systematically vilify the role of government in American life. Manipulative politicians have convinced lower- and middle-class whites that their own economic pains were caused by "quasi-socialist" government policies that aid only poor brown and black people -- even as corporate profits and CEO salaries soared.

    This convincing is possible because the working-class is barely afloat. Indeed, the working class that we refer to are generally considered those who don't have disposable income but also don't qualify for public assistance (whether Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, or housing). If you convince people who have exactly what they need to survive, but not more, that any change in domestic economic policies will be to others' (here: poor racial minorities') benefit, their logical assumption is that it will be to their own detriment.

    One thing I hope Katrina makes people realize is that it is far costlier to all of us to ignore the poor and the areas in which they live than to help provide basic survival conditions always.

    Read this article next.

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