You Can’t Have Healthy Businesses Without Strong Government

As much as conservatives want to pretend otherwise, you can’t have strong, healthy, prospering businesses without a big, strong government. The kinds of businesses that don’t want a big, strong government are exactly the kinds of businesses that We, the People don’t want.

Government Provides The Soil For Businesses To Thrive

Government creates the “public structures” that support smaller, innovative business. Government defines the playing field for business, right down to defining and regulating the money itself. Government creates the laws that define what business even is, and the police and courts to enforce that law. Government provides the infrastructure that is the soil in which businesses thrive — or whither and die. Government educates the employees and innovators. Government negotiates the trade agreements that let businesses sell outside our country, and is supposed to protect our businesses from being undercut by those in other countries.

Government keeps larger, ultra-wealthy businesses from dominating, monopolizing and destroying the newer, innovative, disruptive, creative businesses that rise up out of We, the People.

But government can only do those things for us when it is big and strong. And that is why the very people and businesses — and countries — that want to dominate, monopolize, cheat, scam and take everything for themselves at the expense of the rest of us don’t want our government to be big and strong enough to stop them.

Government Protects

Imagine this, though it might be difficult: some people are greedy and want more for themselves, at the expense of the rest of us. Yes, this is shocking, but true!

Government protects us from those who would take advantage and take too much. Government does this both domestically and internationally. At home it protects us from criminals and exploiters. Government also protects us from physical and economic threats from other countries. As I discussed last week in Why Can’t Apple Make Your IPhone In America? we as a country face an updated, economic-attack version of these threats to our national security,

China sees itself as a country, and we no longer do. China competes with us as a country. But our businesses see themselves as GLOBALIZED, not as part of a country.

So since we – at least our businesses – no longer see themselves as part of a country we are not responding to this competition. We are not mobilizing to fight back.

In fact, China has essentially recruited our own business leaders to fight against our own government.

Government Keeps The System Going

Our “system” generally works when it is in balance; consumers with jobs and money are customers for our businesses. When customers are coming in the door, companies hire more people to serve them. However, in a system the things that each individual wants to do can be bad if too many of them do those things at the same time.

An example of an unbalanced system: if every driver decided to drive on the same road at the same time no one would be able to move. This is where government is absolutely necessary to regulate the larger system and make sure it maintains balance.

Am economy example: all businesses want to reduce costs, and one way to do this is to cut the number of employees they have, increase the workload of the rest and do what they can to cut their pay and benefits. This is an example of something that each player in a system does that might be “good” for that individual player, but is really bad for the larger system if they all do it. When too many business reduce costs by cutting employees or paying less, the system collapses from lack of demand. Government is needed to keep businesses from laying off too many people or cutting pay. Sometimes government does this by stepping in and hiring people (or just giving them money like unemployment benefits), or buying things, thereby creating demand, causing businesses to hire. (See Actually, “The Rich” Don’t “Create Jobs,” We Do.)

Another example: When a business becomes powerful it uses that power to monopolize, to keep competition from being able to compete. Pretty soon there are just a few large businesses that can charge whatever they want. Without strong government to keep this from happening the system breaks down.

Taxes

Taxes are the payback We, the People receive from our investment in creating the public structures that protect and empower us and enable our business to thrive. Taxes pay for the protections, courts, infrastructure, education and all the rest of the system that creates the prosperity and redistributes that prosperity to all of us, thereby balancing the system.

These diagrams are from Tax Cuts Are Theft, (please click through for more.)

The American Social Contract is supposed to work like this:

virtual_cycle
A beneficial cycle: We invest in infrastructure and public structures that create the conditions for enterprise to form and prosper. We prepare the ground for business to thrive. When enterprise prospers we share the bounty, with good wages and benefits for the people who work in the businesses and taxes that provide for the general welfare and for reinvestment in the infrastructure and public structures that keep the system going.

We fought hard to develop this system and it worked for us. We, the People fought and built our government to empower and protect us providing social services for the general welfare. We, through our government built up infrastructure and public structures like courts, laws, schools, roads, bridges. That investment creates the conditions that enable commerce to prosper – the bounty of democracy. In return we ask those who benefit most from the enterprise we enabled to share the return on our investment with all of us – through good wages, benefits and taxes.

But the “Reagan Revolution” broke the contract. Since Reagan the system is working like this:

virtual_cycle_diverted

Since the Reagan Revolution with its tax cuts for the rich, its anti-government policies, and its deregulation of the big corporations our democracy is increasingly defunded (and that was the plan), infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are falling behind, factories and supply chains are being dismantled, those still at work are working longer hours for fewer benefits and falling wages, our pensions are gone, wealth and income are increasing concentrating at the very top, our country is declining.

All Of Us Or Just A Few Of Us?

“We, the People” are the first three words of our Constitution. The writers of the Constitution were making a point, and to drive that point home they also made those three words the only words you can see from any distance:

“We, the People” was the point. This country exists for We, the People not for just a few people. We had fought a war to free ourselves from a system that was of, by and for a few wealthy and powerful people who controlled the levers of power, and we said, “Never again!” We designed a new system that was supposed to ensure that all of us prosper instead of a few people at the expense of the rest of us.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This Constitution is supposed to be for our benefit — all of us. The economy is supposed to be for the benefit of all of us. For our general welfare, not for just a few. And to protect us from the wealthy and powerful, government has to be big and strong.

When Government Is Weak

Conservatives, funded by the already-wealthy — the 1% and their giant corporations — say we need less government, smaller government, government out of their way. They say they want our government to be small enough that they can “drown it in a bathtub.”

Think about what they are saying when they say they want less government: they want less decision-making by We, the People. They want less protection of our general welfare. They want less infrastructure for our smaller businesses to thrive in. They want less enforcement of laws that protect our wages, safety, environment and rules against scamming, scheming, and defrauding us. That is what “less government” means in a country where the government is We, the People…

When government is strong we have more enforcement of a level playing field for all of us, more education for all of us, more security for all of us, more protection of our environment, more infrastructure so our own startup businesses can flourish and compete, more parks, more promotion of the general welfare.

And when government is weak we end up with a very few greedy, ruthless billionaires and their giant corporations controlling the economy, stifling competition, scamming and defrauding us, and consuming the environment and resources for their own short-term profit.

What Government Does For Us And Our Smaller Businesses

Protect:

  • Law.
  • Police.
  • Courts.
  • International agreements.
  • National Security.
  • Regulate and balance business activity.

Enable and empower:

  • Education.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Define and regulate money.
  • Redistribute – keep the top from having too much and the rest of us from having too little money, power, etc.

Invent and innovate:

  • Public universities.
  • Scientific research, esp. basic research for our businesses to apply.

Sustain:

  • Protect the environment and resources from those who would use them up for their own profit.
  • Fight monopolies so new businesses can innovate and compete.

Help me fill in this list. Leave a comment.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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People Distrust Government — Conservative Mission Accomplished

The corporate/conservative plan for decades has been to turn people against government and democracy. Because when people stop accepting the idea of We, the People making decisions, guess who gets to make the decisions instead? Last month a retiring GOP staffer explained how it works, this month a new poll show how well it works.
Distrust
NY Times today: New Poll Finds a Deep Distrust of Government,

Not only do 89 percent of Americans say they distrust government to do the right thing, but 74 percent say the country is on the wrong track and 84 percent disapprove of Congress — warnings for Democrats and Republicans alike.
… A remarkable sense of pessimism and skepticism was apparent in question after question in the survey, which found that Congressional approval has reached a new low at 9 percent.

The Gameplan
At the beginning of September a Republican Senate staffer retired, and wrote a widely-read “confession” that laid bare the conservative gameplan: turn people against government and democracy. In Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, retiring Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote,

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.
[. . .] A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

Please read the whole piece. This Republican, writing from the inside, explains that they are doing it on purpose. They are making the government dysfunctional on purpose. They are making people hate government on purpose. They are working to turn people against democracy and put themselves and their corporate sponsors in power in its place.
#occupy Brings Signs Of Hope
There are signs of hope in the poll. Even with a dearth of media coverage (compare to the well-funded, billionaire-backed Tea Party!!!) the #occupywallstreet movement has changed the national conversation. From the NYTimes article,

Almost half of the public thinks the sentiment at the root of the Occupy movement generally reflects the views of most Americans.
With nearly all Americans remaining fearful that the economy is stagnating or deteriorating further, two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country. Seven in 10 Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich. Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number prefer increasing income taxes on millionaires.
[. . .] With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, income inequality remains a palpable issue for Americans. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats, two-thirds of independents and just over one-third of all Republicans say that the distribution of wealth in the country should be more equitable, even as a majority of Republicans said they think it is fair.

There is hope. The public is not stupid, and can at least sense what is going on.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Businesses Do Not Create Jobs

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Businesses do not create jobs. In fact, the way our economy is structured the incentive is for businesses to get rid of as many jobs as they can.

Demand Creates Jobs

A job is created when demand for goods or services is greater than the existing ability to provide them. When there is a demand, people will see the need and fill it. Either someone will start filling the demand alone, or form a new business to fill it or an existing provider of the good or service will add employees as needed. (Actually a job can be created by a business, a government, a non-profit organization or just a person doing the job, depending on the nature of the good or service that is required.)

So a demand creates a job. A person who sees that houses on a block need their lawns mowed might go door to door and say they will mow the lawn for $10. When houses start saying “Yes, I need my lawn mowed” a job has been created!

Demand also creates businesses. The person who is filling demand by mowing lawns for people might after a while have a regular circuit of houses that want their lawns mowed every week, and will buy a truck and a new mower and hire someone to help. A business is born!

Businesses Want To Kill Jobs, Not Create Them

Many people wrongly think that businesses create jobs. They see that a job is usually at a business, so they think that therefore the business “created” the job. This thinking leads to wrongheaded ideas like the current one that giving tax cuts to businesses will create jobs, because the businesses will have more money. But an efficiently-run business will already have the right number of employees. When a business sees that more people are coming in the door (demand) than there are employees to serve them, they hire people to serve the customers. When a business sees that not enough people are coming in the door and employees are sitting around reading the newspaper, they lay people off. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

Businesses have more incentives to eliminate jobs than to create them. Businesses in our economy exist to create profits, not jobs. This means the incentive is for a business to create as few jobs as possible at the lowest possible cost. They also constantly strive to reduce the number of people they employ by bringing in machines, outsourcing or finding other ways to reduce the payroll. This is called “cutting costs” which leads to higher profits. The same incentive also pushes the business to pay as little as possible when they do hire. (It also pushes businesses to cut worker safety protections, cut product quality, cut customer service, “externalize” costs by polluting, etc.)

This obviously works against the interests of the larger society, which wants lots of good jobs with good pay. And businesses, while working to cut jobs and pay less, need other businesses to hire lots of people and pay well, because that is what creates the demand that makes all the businesses work.

Government To The Rescue

This is where government comes in. Government is We, the People, working for that larger societal interest. In our current system — when it works — we use government to come up with ways to balance the effects of the profit motive — which pushes for fewer jobs at lower pay — with our larger need for more jobs at higher pay for us, and for the good of all the businesses. We, through our government, create and regulate the “playing field” on which businesses operate. We set minimum wages, limits on working hours, worker safety rules and other rules designed to keep that balance between profit incentive and demand, and that playing field level. (We also provide the infrastructure of roads, schools, courts, etc. that is what makes our businesses competetive with businesses in other countries. The individual interest in paying less taxes for this has to be balanced with the larger interest that we all pay more for this, but that is another post, titled, ”
Tax Cuts Are Theft.”
)

Corrupted

Obviously businesses in our system must be kept from having any ability whatsoever to influence government decision-making in any way, or the system breaks down. When businesses are able to influence government, they will influence government in ways that provide themselves – and only themselves – with more profits, meaning lower costs, meaning fewer jobs at worse pay and not protecting workers, the environment or other businesses. And, they will fight to keep their ability to influence government, using the resulting wealth gains to increase their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government which increases their wealth which increases their power over the government …

Unfortunately this is the system as it is today.

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Wait, Who Said We Want Less Government Protecting And Empowering Us?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Cut spending? Wait – where did that terrible idea come from? Government is We, the People and its job is to protect and empower us. Why in the world would we want to cut back on that?
WSJ today, The Bush Tax Cuts and the Deficit Myth, “Runaway government spending, not declining tax revenues, is the reason the U.S. faces dramatic budget shortfalls for years to come.”
Wait a minute. Back up. Where did this come from? Who, anywhere, any time agreed to cut government? Why do We, the People allow these anti-government zealots to pre-frame the budget deficit as a problem of government doing too much for us? Which government function is the “too much” part? Reigning in runaway corporations? Consumer protection? Worker safety inspections? Food safety inspections? Maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure? Educating people? The courts? Keeping the water and air clean? There is a long list of things our government does for us. Why would we want less of that?
Imagine if Democrats voted to just put $500 billion a year in rockets and shot the rockets at the moon, and spent the next 30 years demanding that conservatives do their part and raise taxes to pay for that. Do you think the top 1% would just say, “OH, OK, let’s do that.” Of course they wouldn’t.
But under anti-government conservatives all of these things that our government does to protect and empower us were cut to the bone or just ended, resulting in mine disasters, bank meltdowns, predatory corporations scamming all of us, and the BP oil spill. We, the people got poorer and less secure while the rich got really, really richer.
Why would anyone in their right mind think that was a good idea?
Conservatives cut taxes on the rich, resulting in the greatest concentration of wealth ever. The entire economy turned into an everything-to-the-top vacuum cleaner scheme, filled with scams shaking down and fleecing We, the People of everything we have and delivering it to a few wealthy corporation-owners. And then we get this bamboozlement that “the deficit” is out of control, so we have to cut back on anything that remains of government working for We, the People? I don’t think so.
Think about the level of bamboozlement that is going on here. Conservatives cut taxes on the rich, and then spend the next 30 years saying, “OK, now you have to do your part and cut the things government does for the people.” The whole thing was a scheme to deliver power to a few at the top. In Reagan Revolution Home To Roost: America Drowning In Debt you can see the step-by-step outline of the plan, in their own words. The deficit plan was right there for everyone to see:

  • Step 1: Cut taxes to “cut the allowance” of government so that it can’t function on the side of We, the People. Intentionally force the government into greater and greater debt.
  • Step 2: Use the debt as a reason to cut the things government does for We, the People. When the resulting deficits pile up scare people that the government is “going bankrupt” so they’ll let you sell off the people’s assets and “privatize” the functions of government. Of course, insist that putting taxes back where they were will “harm the economy.”
  • Step 3: Blame liberals for the disastrous effects of spending cutbacks.

So when did We, the People agree to this one-way bargain, cut taxes for the rich and cut what government does for us? We didn’t, and we should stop acting like we did.
Every single one of us knows that the deficits are the result of tax cuts for the rich and huge military spending increases. If we want to fix the deficit problem we know exactly what to do.
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Reagan Revolution Home To Roost: America Is Crumbling

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The conservative argument of the last 30-40 years boils down to this: “Hey look at this big pile of seed corn. Let’s eat it!” Almost 30 years after the “Reagan Revolution” our infrastructure is crumbling around us. Since the Reagan-era tax cuts we have been deferring maintenance of (and never mind modernizing) our infrastructure, and as a result have become less competitive in the world economy.
Meanwhile our economic competitors, countries like China and India, have been building infrastructure like crazy. Other countries are investing, educating, improving public services because they know these things make the economy explode later. A major component of China’s stimulus was infrastructure and public services – including public welfare – because of the economic benefits that come later.
Now for those countries it is later, while for us it’s just becoming too late. Their investment is paying off while we’re having trouble paying off the accumulated Reagan/Bush tax-cut debt.
How did we get here?
Public infrastructure is the roads, courts, education, etc. that enable an economy to prosper. We got ourselves out of the Great Depression with a big investment in public infrastructure. The government taxed the wealthy and built or improved modern roads, bridges, post offices, courthouses, shipyards, schools and other public structures that enabled business to take off.
And then business took off. The idea was, of course, that business would give back some of the returns to keep that process going. But instead the big companies and wealthy families funded a conservative propaganda machine that convinced people to let them just keep it. Look at this chart from 14 Ways A 90 Percent Top Tax Rate Fixes Our Economy And Our Country:

krugman_chart

You can clearly see that the money that should have been invested in maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure instead has gone to a few wealthy people at the top of the food chain. (We’re the food.) And of course, we all can clearly see the results of this in today’s economy. They ate the seed corn, America is crumbling.
Now, here we are later and we are seeing the result of the Reagan Revolution. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card estimates that we are $2.2 trillion behind just on maintaining the existing infrastructure, never mind modernizing. Please click through and explore what ASCE is saying there. (Conservatives — there are lots of pictures!)
What do we do?
The answer is obvious. It is called public investment. Ask the big companies, the banks and the wealthy to pay back some of the incredible amounts of money they have been piling up as a result of the past investment that We, the People made in building that infrastructure that enabled the economy to boom. Use that money to invest in maintaining and modernizing the infrastructure so that the economy can again thrive for all of us.
We can employ the unemployed and bring our infrastructure up to par at the same time. There is a lot of work that needs doing and we have a lot of people out of work.
The payback will be enormous. The economy will explode. And we can build sustainability into the process this time.
What is in the way?
The problem now is that the corporate/conservative propaganda machine has gone way past talking people into cutting taxes for the rich and cutting back on public spending for infrastructure and our people. Now they have become very extreme, convincing a number of people that government spending – We, the People spending on the common good – and government itself – We, the People making the decisions for ourselves – is the wrong approach. They believe that any government at all is “socialism” — run for the benefit of all of us — and that all public services must be “privatized” — meaning run for the benefit of a few. They believe it is wrong, even immoral to have public schools, public transit, public health care, regulations that restrict what companies can do to consumers or the environment, etc.
They have the megaphone because they have the money. We have to confront this head on.
More to come!
This is another story of a wealthy few selling off the country’s people and future. This is another story of gains for a few at the expense of the rest of us. These stories are becoming all too common. This is the Reagan Revolution coming home to roost, and I will continue to write about the terrible price we are paying and will be paying for a long time for the failed experiment in conservative ideology.
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Obama’s Radical Agenda

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF). I am a Fellow with CAF.
Conservatives are constantly talking about Obama’s “radical, far-left agenda.”
“At last!”, I said. Hearing their whines and complaints I became hopeful that our government would finally serve We, the People instead of the big corporations and the wealthy.
But then, looking around for the change that conservatives were denouncing, I couldn’t find any signs of it at all! What in the world have they been talking about?!
Finally I came across a whisper of change: The Quiet Revolution | The New Republic,

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for–but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. … Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

OK, I get it. Obama’s “radical agenda” is to undo the failed conservative radical agenda that destroyed the government and the economy, restoring the government to minimal operation.
Well, that’s something, anyway. Sigh.
But my own gauge of a return to actual governance by rule of law is when I open my morning paper here in Silicon Valley and see that the government is going after a few companies for age discrimination. Never mind prosecuting people for torture, illegally invading a country, crony capitalism, or destroying the country. No, I’ll believe that radical change is beginning when they are willing to take on something so blatant , obvious and wrong as the firing of people when they reach 40 or so that is going on here in front of everyone’s eyes out here.

Does the Public Think Politicians Are Crying Wolf (Again)?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
A recent large headline in the San Jose Mercury News got me thinking.  The headline was, “A dire warning from the Governor”. (Online headline is different from the morning’s print headline.)   From the story, “Schwarzenegger said … his threat … is necessary to prod lawmakers into swift action.”

I have to admit that even I rolled my eyes when I saw that — even though I understand how serious the problem is. And this led me to think that maybe there is a “crying wolf” factor at work here.  This has been going on now or a long time. 

A few months ago the crisis was reaching a breaking point, dire warnings were issued, and most importantly the public was starting to pay attention.  This triggered the leadership in Sacramento to do what I think was the worst possible thing: they came up with the fluffy budget compromise that “solved” the crisis and resulted in the failed May 19 Special Election.  I believe the compromise was a mistake that broke the tension and led people to believe that the “crisis” was over, so they tuned back out. 

I think the “chicken little” aspect of the whole affair kept people away from the polls in droves.

I am not faulting the Governor and other state leaders for headlines like thos and other warnings because the crisis is real.  Our leaders all need to do whatever it takes to get people to pay attention, to realize this budget crisis is real and that everything that can be cut has been cut, that they really are going to have to let people out of prisons and close parks and still will run out of money anyway.  Bankruptcy and all of its consequences looms.  For real.  The public has to get involved and do their job in this democracy.

But I can understand why most Californians have tuned out.  I think part of this budget problem is that it has become the norm to use drama and fear to prod others into action.  And not just with the budget.  There are so many terrible problems hitting us from so many directions.  The economy really did collapse, and we may be on the edge of another Great Depression.  For real.  This has been a headline swarm for months.  Swine flu is real, but is not as lethal as it first appeared it could be.  This was the headline swarm a few weeks ago.  And of course Global Warming is real, and serious.  It has been a headline swarm for years.  

Those are real and serious problems.  But at the same time there are so many manipulative, well-funded and sophisticated PR campaigns, usually from corporate interests, that use fear and/or other manipulation.  Remember the headlines warning aobut possible terrorist smallpox attacks?  Remember being told that Iraq was on the verge of hitting us with nuclear weapons?   Remember duct tape

So people just do not know who to trust and necessarily are becoming immune to drama.

California’s big media outlets could do a better job of explaining the real problems facing the state, beginning by dispelling the idea that the state is just wasting taxpayer money and everything can be solved with a few painless budget cuts.  They need to do this in a serious, respectful way, with comprehensive investigative reporting.  If print media won’t do that, they should close their doors — they aren’t doing their jobs and aren’t helping anyone anymore so they should let their advertisers support a medium that helps democracy rather than hinders it.  If broadcast media can’t do that, they should relinquish their broadcast licenses to others who will.

The poor, elderly and disabled have already suffered the cuts.  They understand that this is for real.  So maybe we need the crisis to hit home so (middle class) people can also understand that it is for real – this time.  
Click through to Speak Out California.

Government Empowers And Protects Us

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Watch this great video:

The video is funny, but it makes a point: We need government.  Republicans say “government is the problem” but just who is government a problem for?  If you are a top executive in a large chemical corporation and your bonus depends on lowering the cost of discarding toxic wastes, government stands between you and the river into which you want to dump the wastes.  It costs the company less to dump the waste into the river, you will get your bonus, but We, the People don’t want that stuff in our water.  So for you, government is the problem.  And that is a good thing.  But our government is us.  Our government protects us.

Government also empowers us.  In the 1950s President Eisenhower proposed building the interstate highway system.  That was an example of government spending, and the top tax rate was over 90% on income above a certain amount, so after executives and owners of big companies made several hundred thousand dollars additional income was taxed at a very high rate.  (They could still become very, very wealthy, but more slowly.)  This meant that the major beneficiaries of our government helped pay for our government.  And it paid off.  The interstate highway system triggered a surge of economic growth, new industries, new products — and even greater income for the very people who were taxed to help pay for it.

Of course, at the time, some (not all) of the wealthiest objected to being taxed, even though the taxes led to even greater gains for them as well.  They were shortsighted and considered government to be a problem.  Lucky for all of us, even for them, it didn’t turn out that way.

P.S. They’re serious about hating government, and they really do hold up Somalia as an example of what they want!  Go see for yourself at the libertarian Mises Institute, which “defends the market economy, private property, sound money, and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention as economically and socially destructive” where they write in Stateless in Somalia, and Loving It,

Somalia has done very well for itself in the 15 years since its government was eliminated. The future of peace and prosperity there depends in part on keeping one from forming.

And see for yourself at the libertarian Reason Magazine, “the monthly print magazine of “free minds and free markets,” where they write about The Anarchy Advantage in Somalia.
I guess if Cholera and lawlessness don’t bother you, maybe you don’t need government. The rest of us, however,…
Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

A Dialog On California State Spending

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
Over at Calitics there is an interesting diary from ‘zeroh8′ asking “Why Are We Spending So Much More?”  zeroh8 looked at the changes over the last ten years in how the state spends money.  The result, according to the diary, is a per-capita increase of $1088 as follows:

California Government Department
2007-08 less 1997-98 Per Capita Spending

Criminal Justice $185
General Government $14
Health $265
Higher
Education $109
K-12 Education $399
Resources & Environmental
Protection $27
Social Services $59
Transportation $30
Total $1,088 

Robert Cruikshank commented that the appearance of an education spending increase is an illusion, (sadly California still ranks 47th in education spending-per-pupil)

Much of the “increase” in K-12 funds is illusory. When Arnold cut the VLF in
2003 that money had to be backfilled by the state. That backfilling is listed on
the books as “spending” and so it appears as a huge “spending increase” when in
fact it is no such thing. Schools didn’t actually get more money. It’s an
accounting trick.

Robert is pointing out that this appearance of a large increase in education spending is actually just replacing spending that was already there, but that was cut from local budgets when Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle License Fee, so the state had to make up (backfill) the loss.  The state is spending more because local governments are spending less, but the total hasn’t increased.  Lesson: you have to look at the whole picture including local budgets to see the whole story because the state has to step in when local governments lose their funding sources.

Health care spending increases are certainly not isolated to California state government.  This is the health care crisis that is eating up government, business and family budgets around the country.  So far We, the People, in our wisdom, had avoided the kind of “socialized medicine” that the rest of the world has, which means we spend vastly more for health care with vastly worse results.  There is little California can do about it, except to further deny health care to people.  Is that the kind of people we will decide to be? 

Then there is that huge increase in criminal justice (prison) spending.  Was that necessary?  Well, we decided to pass laws that put people in prison for life for stealing a pizza or for years for smoking a joint.  And in the last few decades we have cut education spending, which to some extent has necessitated the increases in prison spending, because we know where that inevitably leads,

“18-to-24-year-old male high school dropouts have an incarceration rate 31 times
that of males who graduated from a four-year college”      

We’re seeing the health care crisis eating the state budget, and the problem of the prison costs.  Part of our problems today are because yesterday we were “penny wise
and pound foolish,” saving some money by cutting education only to
spend it on prisons (and who knows how many other ways) later.  Along with foolish tax cuts like cutting the VLF, and cutting property taxes for big corporations, and instead borrowing which has led to huge interest payments, those are the spending problems that brought about the budget crisis and that keep our government from being able to spend more on things We, the People need.

About those choices:  zeroh8 did a ton of research because no California citizen would know any of this from sources available to most of us.  The corporate media is not explaining the state budget and the functions of government to the public.  The example of the state making up local revenue losses in order to save our schools is a great example — instead it is just presented to people that the state is “spending even more”.

So what is the point of this exercise? To give the people the facts, not the phony sound-bites designed to further anger people against government and rail even further about having to pay taxes to fund the programs and services. The goal of the conservatives is to simply unfund government, thus making “We the People” powerless against the big moneyed interests — the people who brought you the sub-prime fiasco, the Wall Street boondogles, the Haliburton no-bid contracts and the Blackwater mercenaries.  As long as the bucks are flowing, what do they care if government can’t do its job…. what do they care about long lines at the DMV, wildfires that burn down communities, gangs that take over our streets and oh, yes……swine flu epidemics that kill millions?  They can just fly away in their private jets or sail away on their yachts — that California won’t tax.
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Public Still Trusts Corporations More Than Self-Government

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This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Marketing works.  But we already knew that.  Big business has been marketing the idea that corporations making decisions for us is better than having government run by the people.  And a lot of people have bought into that idea.

But is it really better to be government by corporations?  In February I wrote,

After decades of anti-government speeches claiming that government holds back business, government takes money out of the economy and government is less efficient than corporations, people came to believe that, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is the problem, not the solution.”  This led to deregulation and budget cutbacks in all areas including education and infrastructure. 

If you think about it, government really is what We, the People want it to be.  In a democracy we jointly make decisions about the best way to manage our affairs.  So saying that corporations do things better is really an anti-democracy message.  What they are saying is that organizations run by a few wealthy elites telling everyone else what to do, with the benefits of everyone’s work mostly going to those few at the top, is a better way to manage society than to have everyone making the decisions and sharing in the results.

Just for fun, here is the video from that post again:




Here is more proof that marketing works:  A recent Gallup Poll of public trust of government vs corporations found that the public still would rather be governed by big corporations than by themselves.

Gallup’s recent update of its long-standing trend question on whether big business, big labor, or big government will be the biggest threat to the country in the future finds Americans still viewing big government as the most serious threat. However, compared to Gallup’s last pre-financial-crisis measurement in December 2006, more now see big business and fewer see big government as the greater threat.

Gallup’s results, graphically:

GallupGovtBusResults.gif

Marketing works.  Especially when it is repeated over and over for decades, unopposed.  This blog reaches a moderate audience, but the message that government by the people is a good thing needs to reach people who don’t hear it very often, and only hear the marketed anti-government, anti-democracy message that is spread by the corporations.  Did you know that Speak Out California also provides speakers to talk to local groups across California and do radio and TV interviews discussing the benefits of government and democracy? Please contact us at info@speakoutca.org to schedule a speaker for your event.

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California Government Is Good People But The System Is Designed To Fail

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
I was in Sacramento for some meetings this week, and have a few thoughts and observations.
The first is the most important. The people in and around our government are good, dedicated people who are doing those jobs because they care and want to do the right thing. You don’t make big money in public service. In the last few decades a government job meant less pay than a comparable “private” sector job and a number of working-environment hassles, like the extra procedures (paperwork and bureaucracy) that are required in public positions to involve transparency and accountability. And, of course, they have to put up with the Republican-inspired abuse of people who work for the government. So give these people a break and assume good faith.
After decades of budget cutting our government is universally strapped for resources and it makes for a difficult workday. The things people went into public service to accomplish are being stripped out from under them by the state’s structured-to-fail system (see below). I hope the Bush years trigger some serious thinking about what things would be like without a government, because we are getting close to that possibility.
The state government is now structurally designed to fail — and this latest budget deal compounds the problem. This situation was created on purpose by anti-government ideologues, usually corporate-funded. Thus really is a choice between government by the people or government by a wealthy few who happen to be in control of large corporations. To them government is “in the way” of making money. Government means food and safety inspectors so people don’t get sick and workers don’t get hurt, and protecting workers and the public costs them profits. Government means regulations stopping them from dumping stuff in the water or air and properly disposing of waste costs them money. Government means regulations that make them pay back customers who are overcharges. Government means regulations requiring delivering goods and services that were promised. SO you can see why the hate government and regulation — they keep them from just taking your money and giving nothing back!
So they have used the power that comes from their access to corporate resources to set up a state system that is giving them what they want. They pay petition-gatherers to get anti-government initiatives on the ballot, and then they flood the TV and radio with lying ads that trick people into voting against their own interests — and here we are.
Here are just a few of our designed-to-fail structural problems:

  • Term limits mean that thinking must be short term, and encourages passing problems along instead of solving them, because then the problems will be “not on my watch.” People who are effective in their jobs are forced out, and voters who want to keep them there are prevented from doing so.
  • The campaign-finance system puts corporate-backed candidates in office by necessitating big money to win elections. And corporations, designed to amass resources, are perfect vehicles for pushing the interests of the few who control them.
  • The two-thirds budget requirement means that a few anti-government extremists are able to sabotage the process, keeping any budget from passing and shutting down the state.
  • The disappearance of political reporting in California media means the state’s citizens are uninformed about what is going on. The corporate-owned media concentrates on sitcoms and what Britney is wearing, and does not let the people find out what government is about.
    These are just some of the structural problems, and the system is. of course, structurally designed to keep us from fixing them. The only way we are going to address this is to get lots and lots of people involved. The election of Barack Obama tells us this is possible but I despair at amount of work that will have to be done to accomplish it.
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  • Government

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
    After decades of anti-government speeches claiming that government holds back business, government takes money out of the economy and government is less efficient than corporations, people came to believe that, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is the problem, not the solution.” This led to deregulation and budget cutbacks in all areas including education and infrastructure.
    If you think about it, government really is what We, the People want it to be. In a democracy we jointly make decisions about the best way to manage our affairs. So saying that corporations do things better is really an anti-democracy message. What they are saying is that organizations run by a few wealthy elites telling everyone else what to do, with the benefits of everyone’s work mostly going to those few at the top, is a better way to manage society than to have everyone making the decisions and sharing in the results.
    As the financial crisis hits, and the fabric of that pro-big business philosophy is shredding the fabric of our society, we can see clearly just how foolish and destructive the right-wing machine has been to our economic, social and political values. (Not to mention cutting off peanut processing plant regulation and inspection, leading to the current situation of 9 dead and hundreds seriously ill across the country. This is just ONE more example of the consequences of right-wing policies.)
    Alone those lines, here is an interesting video, making fun of some of the anti-government propaganda we have heard over the last few decades:

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