Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Education and Health - Fundamental Rights

We have been bludgeoned over the past few years with the Republican’s mantra that if you haven’t made it, it’s your fault (see my post, “The Mendaciousness of the Responsibility Game”).  So it was with a huge feeling of nostalgia that I was reminded recently of a time not so long ago when a large segment of Republicans had a very different perspective on life and the role of government, or at least the role of the broader society.

In reviewing a new biography of Nelson Rockefeller, the reviewer noted Rockefeller’s credo, “If you don’t have good education and good health, then I feel society has let you down.”  WOW!  How times have changed.

If someone said that today, even if a Democrat said that today, they would be viewed as a left-wing radical.  It sounds so over the top.

But it isn’t.  Let me quote, as I often do, from the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .”

If one is going to have a meaningful right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, certainly two of the most essential elements of that right are having a good education and having good health.  No one would argue with that.

But the Declaration goes further and states that the purpose of government is to secure these rights, which in this context would mean access to good education and access to good health.  I am not downplaying the importance of personal responsibility.  As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  But it is the government’s responsibility to provide the water.

So at a minimum, the government is responsible under this standard for supplying access to a good education (meaning good schools, good teachers, etc.) and good health (meaning comprehensive health care ... medical, psychological, and dental ... that is affordable or free, depending on your circumstances).  Note: Obamacare has not come close to providing the latter because although the basic premiums may be affordable due to government subsidies, the large deductibles and out-of-pocket caps of the basic plans discourage people from getting health care except in emergencies.

If that is the minimum, you might ask, what else is there?  While good schools can make a huge difference even in the midst of a bad inner-city neighborhood, growing up in an area where poverty, drugs, and crime are the norm and often impact family life creates major obstacles to being able to take advantage of a good school.  

Government, together with private agencies and organizations, must do much more to improve the broader context within which such children grow up.  Whether it’s creating more jobs, providing adult education, making prisons focus on rehabilitation, creating social policies that encourage two-parent households (as opposed to the old welfare rule that broke up families by penalizing them if an adult male was living in the household) ... there are ample ways that government and society working together could dramatically change the context of inner-city life.

It is time for Rockefeller’s credo to become the credo of government and of our society.  It is past time for this great, rich, but unconscionably unequal, nation to live up to the promise stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Socialism Canard

Every time Democrats propose having the government provide assistance to those in need or regulate business, the Republicans scream, with their throat veins bulging, “This is Socialism.”  And a large segment of the public, like a hypnotized subject, nods their head and agrees that this is terrible.  It’s only one step away from Communism.  It is against what makes America great.

To listen to the Republicans, one would think that they were against any government spending or action that helps others or in any way interferes with the market place.  That, however, is not the case.

Republicans are very supportive of the billions of dollars that the government spends, either in the form of direct payments or beneficial tax laws, that provide American corporations, especially big business, with government subsidies.  They are also very supportive of government regulation/interference that supports corporations, such as elements of the farm bill.  NOTE: Almost all government farm subsidies go to large corporate farms.  The embattled family farmer benefits hardly at all.

The only difference between the spending and regulation they support and the ones they don’t support is that the former benefit big business while the latter either benefit the average American or protects him by restricting the unfettered ability of big business to act as it wills.

This is hypocrisy.  But the immorality of their stance is even worse. To argue against measures that protect the average American or helps those in need while supporting spending and other measures that help those who are not in need is to take a stand which is immoral.

“Ah,” they say, “but cutting back on such spending or measures will harm American business on which the economy depends and will result in the loss of jobs.”  Any attempts to cut back on these items, or imposing new costs on business, are labeled, “job killers,” by Republicans.

But that is not true.  What is true is that if such subsidies are cut back or new costs imposed, corporate profits will be reduced (unless they raise prices) and thus shareholders will be impacted by lower stock market prices for their shares. 

I am not against corporations making a profit and benefitting their shareholders.  But many of these companies have profits at such high levels that the benefit to the larger society of cutbacks or new regulation/costs far outweighs the reduced profits to industry.  For example, many of our largest, most profitable corporations pay almost no taxes through the loopholes that they enjoy.

The cost to the American taxpayer of these corporate subsidies is unconscionable, especially at a time when the American middle class and the poor are being asked to make sacrifices in order to reduce the government deficit.  It is obscene that our middle class and poor are asked to shoulder the costs of providing subsidies to those who typically already have more money than they know what to do with, other than spend it on more luxury.

The American social contract has traditionally (since the early 20th century) required all aspects of our society to support the greater good, each to its ability.  That concept of fairness and the greater good has been so denigrated over the course of the last few decades by the Republican Party that Republicans in government should hang their heads in shame.

Government and business both have their place in American society and in our economy.  It is past time, however, to correct the balance between the two.