Sunday, June 05, 2011

Republicans Converting America Into Pakistan

June 5, 2011, 12:05 p.m.

And the Democrats Aren't That Much Better

A week ago, I was writing about the rising share of costs born by college students, "Paying for College; Allocating Costs, Setting the Price," May 30, 2011, and commenting on Robert Reich's column, Robert Reich, "How Our Prosperity Became Stagnation," Des Moines Register, May 29, 2011, p. OP1.

That blog entry concluded, "Had we been hell-bent on deliberately evolving into a third world country's population, with a statistically insignificant percentage of super-wealthy at one extreme, and 90 percent or more struggling just to get by, we would have adopted almost precisely the policies we have. That's not to say that it was deliberate. Others can explore the conspiracy theories. But that is the result."

This morning [Sunday, June 5], the New York Times's Nicholas Kristof elaborated on that theme in such a powerful and well written way that I'm going to reproduce more excerpts from his column than I would usually reproduce. Nicholas Kristof, "Our Fantasy Nation?" New York Times June 5, 2011, p. WK9. (If he, or anyone at the Times, objects to this Fair Use of the material, simply email me and I'll remove it from this blog. If they do not object, I will recommend my readers subscribe to the Times, as I do, by going to this site.)

With Tea Party conservatives and many Republicans balking at raising the debt ceiling, let me offer them an example of a nation that lives up to their ideals.

It has among the lowest tax burdens of any major country: fewer than 2 percent of the people pay any taxes. Government is limited, so that burdensome regulations never kill jobs.

This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled.

The budget priority is a strong military, the nation’s most respected institution. When generals decide on a policy for, say, Afghanistan, politicians defer to them. Citizens are deeply patriotic, and nobody burns flags.

So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan. . . .

[A]s America has become more unequal, as we cut off government lifelines to the neediest Americans, as half of states plan to cut spending on higher education this year, let’s be clear about our direction — and about the turnaround that a Republican budget victory would represent. . . .

[D]eveloping countries, from Congo to Colombia [are] characterized by minimal taxes, high levels of inequality, free-wheeling businesses and high military expenditures. Any of that ring a bell?

In Latin American, African or Asian countries, I sometimes see shiny tanks and fighter aircraft — but schools that have trouble paying teachers. Sound familiar? And the upshot is societies that are quasi-feudal, stratified by social class, held back by a limited sense of common purpose. . . .

The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans already have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent, based on Federal Reserve data. Yet two-thirds of the proposed Republican budget cuts would harm low- and moderate-income families, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For a country that prides itself on social mobility, where higher education has been a traditional escalator to a better life, cutbacks in access to college are a scandal. G. Jeremiah Ryan, the president of Bergen Community College in New Jersey, tells me that when the college was set up in 1965, two-thirds of the cost of running it was supposed to be covered by state and local governments, and one-third by students. The reality today, Dr. Ryan says, is that students bear 78 percent of the cost.

In fairness to Pakistan and Congo, wealthy people in such countries manage to live surprisingly comfortably. Instead of financing education with taxes, these feudal elites send their children to elite private schools. Instead of financing a reliable police force, they hire bodyguards. Instead of supporting a modern health care system for their nation, they fly to hospitals in London.

You can tell the extreme cases by the hum of diesel generators at night. Instead of paying taxes for a reliable electrical grid, each wealthy family installs its own powerful generator to run the lights and air-conditioning. It’s noisy and stinks, but at least you don’t have to pay for the poor.

I’ve always made fun of these countries, but now I see echoes of that pattern of privatization of public services in America. Police budgets are being cut, but the wealthy take refuge in gated communities with private security guards. Their children are spared the impact of budget cuts at public schools and state universities because they attend private institutions.

Mass transit is underfinanced; after all, Mercedes-Benzes and private jets are much more practical, no? And maybe the most striking push for reversal of historical trends is the Republican plan to dismantle Medicare as a universal health care program for the elderly.

There’s even an echo of the electrical generator problem. More and more affluent homes in the suburbs are buying electrical generators to use when the power fails.

So in this season’s political debates, let’s remember that we’re arguing not only over debt ceilings and budgets, but about larger questions of our vision for our country. Do we really aspire to take a step in the direction of a low-tax laissez-faire Eden Pakistan?

Nicholas Kristof, "Our Fantasy Nation?" New York Times June 5, 2011, p. WK9.

So long as we continue to ride in the back seat and say nothing to the driver, we can't really complain about where we're headed or our destination once we get there.

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1 comment:

john said...

I am a very fiscally conservative guy and I would sleep better if there was progress toward a national consensus that we were going to reform the tax code, raise revenue and cut spending.

Along w/ that, I'd like to see all our assumptions tested against experience and all big spending examined for efficacy. Repeatedly we look bad in comparison to other countries...something is wrong...we're not getting our money's worth.

Finally, I'd like social conservatives to practice the precepts of their faiths, and help the poor.