October 27, 2008

spreading the wealth around

One of my pre-election pasttimes is to click on a few of the links in my daily Washington Post political round-up email. Today was particularly good, with both liberal (The New Yorker) and wacko (The National Review) links. And every one of them (except this one about getting people to vote, which is interesting and should be read) centered on the idea of Obama as a [gasp] socialist.

Why? Because Obama told JoeSam the Tax EvaderPlumber that "when you spread the wealth around, everyone benefits." This sent the Republicans into an apoplectic, eye-bulging, spittle spewing fit of screeching, not unlike the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the rabble demand that a young woman is a witch. Which is sort of like Salem in the 1600s and Washington in the 1950s.

And why shouldn't they scream? After all, Joe just wants to keep his own wealth for himself. He's no rich guy. He's just like all of us. Mike the Dock Worker and Ralph the Garbage Dude and Tiny the Enforcer and Molly the Nurse and Bill the Software Tycoon and Warren the Investor and Andy the IC Engineer and Jack the Lobbyist and Bill the College ProfessorDomestic Terrorist. Every one of us has a job and wants to keep our hard-earned money out of the greedy hands of people like fire fighters, policemen, librarians, and teachers. You know, people paid out of the government welfare system of taxes, living on the state dole. Having our wealth redistributed to them.

I know, I know, that's not what worries Republicans. They're worried that if you start giving poor people money, they'll only want more. And of course, all poor people are poor because they're lazy and stupid and don't want to work. If only we would stop giving them handouts and instead let Joe keep his wealth, there wouldn't be any more poor people. They'd all see how good Joe has it and get off their lazy, fat, stupid asses and move to India or Mexico so they could get honest, outsourced jobs.

It's funny that Palin recently extolled the virtues of Alaska's system, in which all Alaskans collectively own the resources and benefit from their use by oil and pipeline companies. (To the tune of a government check of over $3,000 per household.) Sounds an awful lot like communism to me, Governor. You must have learned a lot by watching the Russians from your back porch.

Personally, I think this country could benefit from a little better redistribution of wealth. I don't see it as an evil thing at all, especially if the view is "a hand up, not a handout." I am well aware that there are many people who are up to date on their cable TV bills but behind in their rent and not providing decent breakfast for their kids. But there are far, far more that are working multiple jobs to try to stay off the dole, to try to lift themselves out of poverty.

But fundamentally, I'm not sure why Republicans are so scared of a few socialist-leaning programs. It's a blind, irrational fear. We can have free enterprise and nationalized health insurance. We can have job creation and anti-poverty programs like workforce development, individual development accounts, child care subsidies. We can still have obscenely wealthy people and use a little of their obscene wealth to end up with fewer poor people. It's really possible.

Oh, and a parting shot at McCain's campaign and the far right: You're running out of labels. Arab Muslim, anti-American, terrorist-lover, baby killer, promoter of kindergarten sex, tax-and-spend liberal, socialist. It's pathetic. You are not the America I want to be. I want America to have the attitude that "when you spread the wealth around, everyone benefits." Not that the best way to a better society is through fear-mongering and witch hunts. I really like having "everyone benefits" as the driver for the "spread the wealth around." This, my friends, is known as "enlightened self interest." When the community is strong, the opportunity grows. Many big time capitalists (see Bill the Software Tycoon and Warren the Investor) understand this and take it upon themselves to redistribute their own wealth. Socialist? Witch? Whatever. McCain, you have been marginalized to the point where all you can do is throw names in the hopes of making the ignorant fearful, and it's a sad thing to watch. If you should succeed in winning, I hope you run the country with more grace and nobility than you're running your campaign. (Oh, wait, did I say nobility? Does that make me a monarchist?)


Sarah Laurenson said...

Bring back the WPA. Let's put people to work who want to work and get some of the national infrastructure fixed at the same time. Why not?

Stacy said...

Great post, Pete. You said it better than I ever could.

Blogless Troll said...

Do we still own any infrastructure? I thought we sold it all off to foreign companies.

We've had a mix of capitalism and socialism for quite a while now. This whole thing about pegging Obama as a socialist or Marxist, to me, entirely misses the point. Both candidates have done nothing but pander to our gimme gimme gimme society, and both are promising huge handouts. If the McCainiacs don't think buying up mortgages and $5K for health care are handouts, then they're as blind as the Obamatrons who believe you don't actually have to pay income taxes to have your income taxes cut.

Call it what you want, but neither capitalism nor socialism is the problem in this country. Nor will they likely ever be. The "failed economic polices of the past 8 years," which are often floated but never specified, are corporatism and big government "planning" dating back to the nineties. Both of which need to go. But they won't. Because neither the charismatic demagogue nor the uncharismatic demagogue are interested in "real change." Have people already forgotten that all 3 senators in this race voted to "redistribute the wealth up" (to use the illogical rhetoric of the day) less than a month ago?

We're going to get bigger government no matter which politician wins, and the people seem to be salivating for it. But the idea of big government working for the good of the people is a utopian fantasy. You give them the discretionary power to determine who's wealthy enough or who needs open heart surgery and who can wait another heart attack or two, and you're asking for nothing but trouble.

One simple thing would go a long way in changing my mind. A simple mention, not even a promise that I wouldn't believe anyway, a simple mention by either candidate of reforming monetary policy. Because without that, the rest is academic. But that won't happen because they're two sides of the same coin, and when it gets down to really fixing things, taking on the real power structure, they all vote yes to more of the same: corporatist bailouts legitimized with the frothy rhetoric of fear.

PJD said...

You're a crafty Troll, you are. You're starting to turn me to the dark side.

But the alternative to "bigger government" has not proved to be better, has it? For example: You give them the discretionary power to determine who's wealthy enough or who needs open heart surgery and who can wait another heart attack or two, and you're asking for nothing but trouble.

That discretionary power now rests in the hands of insurance company managers consulting actuarial tables calculating risk versus profit. It's certainly not in the hands of doctors. (And yes, I've seen "Sicko," but I came to this conclusion years ago.)

The medical profession is even worse than that. HMOs provide decent care if you can get in, but you can't get in to see a doctor. PPOs provide decent care whenever you want, but then you get billed four times for the same service from each of the nine practitioners involved, and if you're not careful you've paid for your broken arm three times over.

Personally, I believe what we have is a flawed culture, not a flawed system. Short-term gains are easy, but long-term health is not. Starting a war is easy, but maintaining peace is not. Getting stocks and house prices to go up is easy, but keeping a population clothed, fed, and educated is hard.

As a culture, we are so focused on the immediate return, the high end brand, and the individual superstar that it's no wonder we end up inflating the balloon until it pops, then just find another balloon to inflate. We've lost the ability to understand what really makes a society--a community--strong. It's the interconnections between people, the common purpose, the tolerance and acceptance of others, the ability to care about and care for others.

At one time we took it for granted that our neighbors would help protect us, help us raise our barns. And we'd do the same for them without being asked. Now we don't even know who our neighbors are.

I do not believe in the trickle down approach to societal health. I do believe in requirements like CRA which require certain industries to do business in poor communities as well as rich ones. I do believe that the poor people of our country could be a huge part of making us a world leader again, if only we'd invest in them. I'm not talking about government checks. I'm talking about incentives to do business in LMI communities, investment in authentic child care and transportation and education in LMI communities. That's the redistribution of wealth I'm interested in, not taking from the aristocrats and throwing coins to the masses.

But that takes a 20-year, 50-year, 100-year plan. We are so focused on the quarterly earnings reports and daily (hourly) DOW that we've lost the ability to make a 20-year plan.

Some things I'd love to see: Simplify the income tax and remove nearly all loopholes. Let's save a few billion dollars a year right there. Expand programs like Individual Development Accounts to encourage building assets. Limits on construction in new areas, especially suburban sprawl areas, when urban areas are available; reward companies for locating in urban areas and employing local workers and being involved in the local communities with job training, education, and other programs. Single-payer health insurance. Financial, cultural, and religious literacy taught as part of the base curriculum. Schools reduced in size, and tenure abolished.

Maybe you'll notice the pattern: I think communities get healthy when there's thriving business, but business can't thrive in unhealthy communities. Left to themselves, businesses will flee communities in decline rather than work to strengthen them. Fleeing is easy, but leading is hard.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I once worked for a company (as an independent contractor) that decided they needed to boost their third quarter outlook, so they let go half the contractors. Not because there wasn't work for them. Only because not having them on the books at the end of the third quarter 'looked' better for the bottom line. They hired a lot of them back a month later - at a higher pay rate. Sort of pissed me off then that I was not let go and brought back. But really, how idiotic is that? How is that 'good' business?

Blogless Troll said...

Well, I agree with most of that. I think government works best when it creates the right environment for communities and businesses in those communities to help themselves, through incentives but stays mostly out of the way. You're still going to have areas that do need that extra help. I'm not advocating no government at all.

As far as health care goes, I'm not sure there's a single cure all, nor should there be. HMOs are a government created solution. There will always be people and companies exploiting the system. But I've got a couple of refugee friends from England who tell me horror stories about socialized medicine/universal health care. Personally, I don't think we'll ever get there. Medical savings accounts are great for some but not others. I don't know. I'd rather see a variety of approaches that leaves decisions in the hands of patients and doctors than private or public bureaucracy.

PJD said...

I'd rather see a variety of approaches that leaves decisions in the hands of patients and doctors than private or public bureaucracy.

While I agree in principal, my recent experience with a few minor family illnesses and my son's broken arm makes me think what we have doesn't work.

My son broke his arm at school. My wife drove him to the ER, where they x-rayed him and then transferred him by ambulance to another ER. Long story short, he ended up having surgery (routine) and left the next day. We got bills from nine different places for that one event. Many did not explain what the bill was for, and it was unclear whether insurance had billed, how much they'd been billed, and whether insurance had paid anything. We kept getting bills from many of these providers even after we had paid them.

My wife put hours into reconciling the bills and calling to find out what charges were what. We're educated and pay attention, and we had major trouble. I despair to think what it must be like for a family where both parents work and perhaps English is a second language. It's no wonder so many children go without health insurance.

I'm just ranting. Choice is good in theory, but with insurance companies running the industry, it does not work (well) for the patients in practice.

writtenwyrdd said...

And why are the GOP screaming Socialist! when the collected House and Senate just effectively voted to nationalise several banks in the bailout? *shakes head*

Blogless Troll said...

Oh, I completely agree that what we have now doesn't work. We had a similar situation with our two year-old last year. We spent two months driving her around for different tests to find out what was wrong. She had to be put under for a couple of them. Finally, we took her to another doctor, who we should've taken her to from the beginning because he's some sort of diagnostic savant, and within ten minutes he said she had some human strain of parvo (yeah, I know) and it would work itself out in a few weeks. Which it did.

We had the same bookkeeping nightmare, only we paid a couple of the bills twice. Luckily, they sent refunds. One of them only after we called.

I'm right there with you. Insurance is a shitty way to pay for health care. I don't know what the solution is. Hey, maybe we could finance health care by extending credit, and then package the debt as securities and sell them to--oh wait. Never mind.

Sarah Laurenson said...

When my Dad was dying, he got a letter that said he had met his out of pocket expenses for the year. Then he kept receiving bills that the insurance only paid 80%. He questioned this and was told the letter meant nothing.

While he was still alive, there were many calls to doctors, hospitals, insurance, medicare, trying to get it all straightened out and figure out who already got paid and who didn't.

After he died, he was removed from the policy and mom was put in as the main person. And the bills for dad kept coming in. The insurance company actually asked her if she wanted to add him to her policy.

It's been 3 years and she's still getting bills for his care. Bills that were supposedly paid off a long time ago. And medicare is paying them.

These companies, hospitals, etc know how to work the system and get more money than they are entitled to and no one stops them.

Good medical coders are paid a premium because they know how to read through the charts and add stuff to the patient's bill. Did the patient receive all that? Doesn't matter.