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The Expansionist
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
 
Ending the Race to the Bottom
The largest economic problems in the United States today result from what should be called "The Plutocratic Revolution of 1986" but is only called "The Tax Reform Act of 1986". That legislation at once (1) lowered the income-tax rates on The Rich and (2) eliminated the tax-deductibility of interest paid on consumer debt — credit cards, auto loans, bank loans, "payday lender" loans, etc. The results? (A) The Government became unable to pay its bills except by going ever deeper into debt, because the tax rates on The Rich were too low, and The Rich have all the money; and (B) consumer debt, once manageable for being in part dischargeable thru the tax code, piled up to catastrophic levels, burying much of the middle class, and esp. the lower middle class, and ending their rise to prosperity, even basic security; (C) the distribution of wealth did a 180 — instead of The Rich and the Rest of Us becoming more and more equal from year to year, The Rich drew farther away from the Rest of Us each and every year, so that we now have a distribution of wealth like that of the worst days of Latin American oligarchy: the top 10% of the population control 2/3 of the Nation's wealth (I can't find a breakout for the top 2%, only for the top 1%: 34.6%), and more and more of the Nation's wealth continues to flow upward, from the poor and middle class to The Rich. Indeed, the poor are pretty much reduced to slavery now: wage slavery and debt slavery, where they have to work for whatever miserable rate of pay and whatever miserable benefits — if any — they can find, because if they don't, they will find themselves out on the street or in welfare-provided shelters or minimal housing in terrible neighborhoods devastated by decades of economic war by The Rich against the Rest of Us. Even welfare as an institution has been ravaged by malicious cuts inflicted by the servants of The Rich, in willful conspiracy with The Rich to reduce the poor to veritable slavery.
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This is not one whit overstated.
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If the cause of all our worst economic troubles today is The Plutocratic Revolution of 1986, and it is, the solution is obvious: undo that revolution by repealing The Tax Reform Act of 1986 and restoring the relevant provisions of tax law that were in place before it went into effect: all the tax rates on the rich, and the deductibility of interest on consumer loans. That is a quick and simple fix that will entirely undo the problems caused ONLY by that Act. It will take a few years to mitigate the worst harm that the Plutocratic Revolution has done, but within three to five years, most of its worst effects will have vanished. And people will be astonished that we suffered appalling harm for 30 years because the people who should have spotted the problem and demanded repeal 20 years ago were asleep at the switch.
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Why hasn't the public realized the main cause of our economic nitemare, apart from different provisions in the present tax code that encourage the export of jobs)? Because, sadly, most people are too young to know from firsthand experience how much better things were before 1986. That was, after all, 27 years ago, and a lot of people buy the "It's morning again in America" Reagan-Revolution crap that the Radical Right and their captive Republican Party keeps spewing. The Reagan Revolution WAS the Plutocratic Revolution, and it has been a catastrophe for the Nation.
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The average age of the American public is only 36.8 years. They were 10 years old when the Plutocratic Revolution took place, so haven't a clue as to how things used to be. They have lived in a time when the rich are taxed almost not at all, and public and private debt have always been oppressive. It is inconceivable to them that one piece of legislation produced theretofore unheard of economic inequality and oppression.
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Worse, there are actually a large number of people, if not even a majority, put into Congress by The Rich, for the express purpose of protecting the perquisites and unjust wealth of The Rich, who (pretend to) believe that the current economic order is natural and fair. So the poor are crushed, so what? The poor have always been oppressed. And why are they poor, in this "Land of Opportunity"? Because they are lazy, and stupid, and on drugs or booze. They deserve to be poor!, that's why.
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Underlying this vicious conception of social order and socioeconomic justice is the grotesque Protestant concept of Predestination. The Elect, which some people can plainly take as political, are chosen to go to Heaven even before they are born. They get the best things in life BECAUSE they are the Elect, and their good luck is proof of their virtue in God's eyes. They don't have to do anything to earn their place in Heaven, because they were chosen to enjoy the best in life and afterlife, before they were born. Their good fortune, and any good works they might conceivably do, are mere EVIDENCE of their being among the Elect.
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That vacuous theological drivel was probably put forward by clergymen to manipulate people into doing good works with their wealth, by persuading them that if they are among the Elect, they will show that to the entire community, indeed, the world, thru good works that trumpet their fitness for Heaven and justify their good fortune. Some stupid people allowed themselves to think it worked in reverse: you earn your place among the Elect by doing good works, in full view of others, not that you had to be among the Elect from before birth for your good works to bear any relationship to your fitness for Heaven.
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Predestination is a grotesk perversion of the Christian message that acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior, along with inherent goodness and good works sprung from acceptance of Jesus's Golden Rule, earn you a place in Heaven. No one gets a free ride, and good thoughts and good deeds are your ticket into Heaven, not that you have to have been selected before birth to go to Heaven.
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Given that there is no such thing as God or Heaven, the entire discussion is nonsense, and cynical nonsense at that, by individual "control freaks" who wanted to manipulate people to rein in their evil and bring out their good, by lying to them and offering rewards that the individual religious leader doesn't have either authority or power to grant.
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Because it is all so vague, The Rich are able to latch on to one aspect of Predestination, that good fortune shows God's favor, and dispense with the other part, that if one is truly among the Elect, s/he will do good works with their wealth, for all to see. No, good works are too much trouble, and completely unnecessary, because conspicuous wealth in itself proves that one is among the Elect. And since that wealth is a gift from God Himself, no one has the right to question it, demand good works with it, or tax it!
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Of course, if you challenge The Rich and suggest that they are deluding themselves in accepting this convenient version of Predestination, they will deny that they are operating on any such premise. No, they are just asserting property rights: their wealth is THEIR wealth, whether earned (thru work) or unearned (thru inheritance, unfair advantage from birth, a rise in value of owned real estate due to inflation, or a fluke of luck). Moreover, it is GOOD that some people are rich and others poor, because it gives the poor incentive to better their condition! It's not cruel to enjoy unfair and unearned excess wealth while others starve, or die for being unable to pay for healthcare. That's just the natural order: "it's a(n economic) jungle out there", and the sooner you learn that and take measures to protect yourself, the better. In a jungle, there is no such thing as fairness or unfairness. There's just what is. Some are predators, others prey.
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There is no end to the ability of people to delude themselves that the evil they do isn't evil at all, and that the unfair advantages they enjoy aren't unfair. Jesus's message, that there is a moral obligation, positively and actively to do to others as you would have them do to you, is for saps. No smart person gives money away. That's a good way to go broke, and then you will be in a bad way. If anybody has to be in a bad way, let it be the other guy, not you!
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That's not the way to run a society. That's the way to run a madhouse, and insane economics and social disorder often lead to instability, revolution, and mass death. Unfortunately, in such revolutions, there is no guarantee that virtue will triumph, and sometimes you end up merely replacing one set of bad guys with another.
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Democracy is supposed to even out the ruf edges, temper the rages, and institute wise change in time to prevent violent — and unpredictable — revolution. Why isn't it working?
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A large part of the problem, in the United States, is the primary election system, which has replaced the "smoke-filled room" in which party leaders selected moderate, electable candidates from diverse ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic constituencies balanced to represent everyone. Until 1968, primaries played a relatively minor role in American politics, esp. at the Presidential level.
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Now, however, a tiny cadre of extremists control the general-election ballot in thousands and thousands of races at all levels of government, because no one is required to vote, so the typical party primary produces a turnout that equals only a tiny proportion of the general-election turnout, and an even tinier proportion of eligible voters. In New York City September 10th, only 22% of Democratic voters turned out for a heavily contested election for mayor in which there were five Democratic challengers. One of them won 40% of that 20%, so managed to avoid a runoff. You'd think that would mean that 40% of 20% or only 8.8% of eligible voters selected the Democratic candidate for mayor. But The New York Times made this point on September 12th:
Bill de Blasio took first place in the Democratic mayoral primary on Tuesday with the votes from only about 3 percent of all New Yorkers. If that percentage seems small, consider that the number and share of votes received by Joseph J. Lhota, the Republican nominee, was only about one-tenth that amount.
How dare anyone call that "democracy"?! Comparably small proportions of voters select the major party candidates for a very large number of Congressional seats. Garbage in, garbage out. If extremists place only extremists on the ballot, only extremists get elected.
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Moreover, the primary system is an unjust taking of public money. Political parties are not organs of government. Why should taxpayers bear the expenses of private organizations' internal decisions? We might as reasonably make taxpayers pay for corporate elections, union elections, or the elections of any and every other private entity in the Nation. Why should taxpayers have to pay the costs of the Democratic and Republican Parties' internal decision-making? They should not. Even if the results of primaries did not distort American politics, and make them much more extreme than they would otherwise be — and they do — primaries should still be abolished. Between primaries and the general election, American elections are now HUMUNGOUSLY expensive and time-consuming. Poor and even middle-class people cannot run for major office because the costs in money more than just time are oppressive. You can't keep a regular job and campaign full-time for eight months or even, in Presidential contests, two years, thru primary after primary and into the general election.
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The total spent on the primary and general elections for Congress and President in 2012 was $6.285 BILLION.
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To raise that money, candidates must indenture themselves to their contributors, and big contributors get a lot more attention and service than small. This is intrinsically and unarguably corrupting to holders of public office, and corrosive to the process and morality of the laws they pass, because everyone has to suspect that "money talks". It shouldn't, and money itself does not actually talk. But the people who "give" the money do talk, and that money adds weight to what would otherwise be only talk. The typical member of Congress may spend 17% of his time on fundraising. The article I saw does not discuss how much time his staff spend on fundraising, a convenient oversight that minimizes the figure. That not only diminishes the time and attention that a Congressman or Senator has to devote to considering public policy — his or her fundamental DUTY — but also wears people out. They get tired of demeaning themselves in begging for money.
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Do big contributors really "give" money? Or do they merely spend money to BUY the votes of elected officials, the same way they buy a yacht, car, or fourteenth house? "You get what you pay for." Surely big "contributors" to political campaigns believe that they will get something worth their expenditures, or most of them wouldn't give a cent.
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Officeholders would not have to 'spend' so much time and energy raising funds if (a) they faced only one election each go-round, not two, a primary in which they could be eliminated by a tiny but well-funded minority of extremists, and a general election, when they face another candidate put on the ballot by a militant minority. So at all times, the candidate is put upon to mouth the most extreme slogans rather than take nuanced, carefully considered policy positions. And (b) If, in the alternative, we had full public financing of campaigns and a prohibition on private funding, the distortive role of money could be reduced. We would still have to deal with other barriers to ballot access, such as unreasonable numbers of signatures to qualify for public financing. In NYS thirty years ago, any candidate for statewide office had to get a minimum of x number of signatures (I think it was 100) in each and every county within the state! Now, they have to submit 15,000 signatures, including signatures from a majority of the entire state's congressonal districts. Who can do that who does not already have the backing of a major political machine, or enormous amount of money to hire campaign workers across the state? Money is corroding our system of government away, leaving only a skeleton animated by the mechanism of money.
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The conclusion is inescapable that the primary system is responsible for grievously distorting American politics, not just as regards policy positions but also in raising the costs of running for public office and remaining in public office so high that honest, self-respecting people are hard-pressed to run. The primary system must go.
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Socioeconomic injustice has destroyed the American Dream. Unfairness and inequality are now the highest values of American society. Wealth equals virtue; poverty proves unworthiness to enjoy the good things in life. And since we have the best election system that money can buy, elected officials are in the pocket of The Rich.
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Fortunately, there is an escape from all this: public rage. We must demand an end to the primary system, an end to private financing of public campaigns, and an end to the dominant role of money in our politics. We must demand mandatory voting, to end the tyranny of turnout. Only people who really have majority support should win office. Minority control of the general-election ballot in primaries in which almost no one votes, must end. Either require everyone to vote in primaries — if you don't vote in the primary, you can't vote in the general election — or abolish primaries altogether. The second option is much to be preferred, because it would sharply cut the costs of elections, which would reduce the need of officeholders to sell their soul to The Rich for "campaign contributions" that are nothing but camouflaged bribes.
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As for the socioeconomic distortions that have resulted from The Plutocratic Revolution of 1986, the public must become indignant, enraged, militant about repealing The Tax Reform Act of 1986 and restoring the tax rates before that Act and the deductibility of consumer interest.
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If we do all these things, the American Dream will recover from the tatters in which it now lies, broken and bleeding on the ground. No longer will we all (except, of course, The Rich) be in a race to the bottom. We can cooperatively all rise as high as our abilities can take us, resenting no one and doing no one wrong.



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