June 17, 2010

Wealth and poverty in America

I still contend that the biggest lie Republicans have told the American people is the idea that they are over-taxed. Well, mostly. I still firmly believe that the tax cuts were more tax shifts, so in a sense, the people in the middle and lower classes have seen their overall tax burden climb, though most of that has come from sources other than federal income taxes. Further, of course, they have seen a reduction in services and subsidies that actually help people make it to the middle class. All, by the way, in the name of cutting taxes.

This morning, I read this very interesting article on income inequality in America, that includes a lot of great charts that display this trend quite well. Since 1979, the wealthy have seen their control of American resources climb while the poorest continue to lose ground.

I sent this to a conservative friend this morning and received a rant about liberal utopian ideas being dangerous for America, and a diatribe against welfare. More, of course, of how Republicans have won on the message. As if welfare was the only issue here. I can completely agree, mind you, that welfare can have a deleterious effect on the poor if all they get are government handouts. Dependency can be a real issue.

But in the middle of this rant--liberal ideas want to discourage work and savings, etc.--I was struck by the nonsensical nature of that argument. Over the last 30 years, conservatives have continually undermined the social safety net--all in the name of moral hazard. One would think that the poor would be pulling themselves up by their bootstraps as we speak?

Yeah, not so much. Because if liberalism is only about welfare, that would be reasonable. But if you look at what built the large middle class of the 1950s, you see far more than welfare and handouts. You see a government that subsidizes a lot of the costs that get people into the next level--but in all of those, the individuals have to work hard for them. No one can suggest with a straight face that the high taxes and subsidized education of the 50s discouraged entrepreneurialism.

Regardless, the numbers are still quite amazing. The rich have gotten amazing tax cuts, clamor for more, and continue to get unbelievably rich. Meanwhile, anyone who suggests that is wrong is accused of socialism, and many of the poor and working class Republicans defend the interests of the rich.


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