Friday, July 09, 2010
While we probably can all agree on is that the United States is very divided, pretty much half and half (a divide of values that I think in some ways goes deeper than racial could be), what I hadn't thought about so much is the essence of one of those divides.
This divide is one I hear when I travel around blogs, talk radio, or online newspapers. It is from America's middle class as most blogs, most of the people I know well enough to talk to them about such a thing, are from the middle class which stretches from above poverty to millionaires but not the really wealthy. I am not trying to present this either as being one way is correct and the other is wrong. It's how two groups see what is wrong with our country.
In the one camp, we have the left who worry the most about too much wealth concentrated in a few hands. Here we find concern for corporate excesses. It is not suspicion of business per se, but of big business, the world of big banks, big investment companies and huge corporations. The left is not happy that the richest 1% own 40% of the wealth.
To the left, what GW Bush did was to further increase what has always been a natural imbalance in wealth by his tax cuts which most benefited the wealthiest. The fear is that the people with extreme wealth are using it to control events and political outcomes. I want to emphasize, that this is not about those with a million dollars net worth or even a big income (a million isn't so much these days) but multimillionaires, people who often don't even know how much they have. The left would not deny that there are good people who are wealthy, but it also sees that the tax structure must be changed to get some balance back in our society. There is too much difference between the rich and everybody else and it's growing. The left sees a need for regulation, for progressive tax rates, and yes for some social engineering. Only government can do these kinds of big things.
The left looks back to history and sees a time of lords and ladies, of kings and emperors, of peons and serfs and thinks never again. To the left, it's not bad to use government to remedy such imbalances, in fact, it's even essential. So if the left is mad at Obama, it's for not doing enough of this.
Since I am left leaning but a moderate, I share some of that thinking. Contrary to the Limbaughs of the country, taxation to achieve more balance isn't about punishing the richest but recognizing that after you have so much money, trickle down doesn't happen. And after some get to a certain level of wealth, it seems there is never enough.
Now for me, I think the biggest mistake Bush made was cutting income taxes instead of tax cuts that were more directed to encourage businesses to invest. It didn't in the end help business because there was no incentive for growth. Contrary to how many righties think, capitalism is not remotely pure in this country. It's catered and delivered and business has to have government incentives to invest. Income tax cuts did none of that.
Also when you have a certain level of wealth, you don't necessarily spend more just because of a tax cut. You might bank it or buy gold but you don't invest in businesses automatically. That is where government comes into play. Wealth can be an engine in itself for creating more opportunities for everyone. It doesn't have to but government can do a lot to structure it to encourage what benefits most people. The right simply goes nuts at the very idea of what I just said.
To add to my connection to the liberal side of the scales, I do not see the poorest among us as the big problem. I see them, at the most, as sucking pennies out of the system while the wealthiest suck dollars. As a moderate I am concerned there not be abuse of our social programs, believe programs should pay benefits in terms of improving people's lives, lead those who can into self-sufficiency. Those who receive help should be those who need and deserve it... That kind of talk drives the left nuts-- Deserve? who decides deserve and so forth.
I don't routinely see every social program as good. I like the idea of sunsetting programs and renewing them if they prove they are working. Many on the left are more generous with the public till than I would be. However I see the social engineering in play again here and programs that help people become part of the middle class, those where it's possible, I favor those. The left is not afraid of social engineering-- although I think it should guard it wisely.
Now we come to the other camp, the right, who go ballistic at the very idea of social engineering and who regularly see the poor or the programs aimed at helping them as the problem. Listen to Limbaugh for awhile and you hear it. Read the blogs. The poor are poor because they don't want to work. They are draining the energy from the middle class. They are lazy, on drugs, or don't care about bettering themselves. If they did, they'd not be poor. They expect money from someone else for even their own health care, and it's not fair.
If you read right wing blogs, you see it over and over anger at social programs, some go so far as to add in Social Security and Medicare for the elderly. To them, it's those programs that are sucking the country dry. It is destroying the work ethic, damaging the values these people have believed the country was founded upon. The old don't need Social Security. They should save for their 'golden' years or live with their kids-- assuming they have any.
Do the right worry about the rich being the problem? Not that I can tell. They see any attempt to get a tax rate back to what it was before Bush for the richest as a threat against themselves. Just for fun suggest going back to Reagan's tax cut and watch them turn apoplectic.
I do not quite understand all of this as very few middle class people gained much except additional fees or less services (that might be considered good if it's not in military, police or fire protection) from the Bush cuts; but the right's greatest fear is socialism which would make them responsible for their brother... actually a very Christian concept but never mind that. To me it looks obvious that some (not all) on the right would wipe out all social government programs if they could. Social engineering, in pretty much all respects, is a huge no-no to them as they do not trust government to do it.
They fret over restoring the 'death tax' (which is what they call estate taxes) and want to leave multimillionaire families to keep their wealth when they inherit. No social engineering for them other than maybe letting a certain group of people starve if they won't work. They see them as people who would not be in that fix if they wanted to work, and if they got no government benefits, they would work.
I think they are actually angrier at the liberals for this situation (as the left is at the right for the same reasons but just a different group) than the poor but they do see the poor as the source of the problem with their need of social programs. I think they believe those social programs do not help, not that i think they know much about that. To them, it simply holds the poor in poverty for the liberal to also profit. It's not like the right hates the poor-- nor does the left hate the rich. Both hate the system they think is causing this situation.
So right worries about the poorest and the left worries about the richest in damaging our economy and country. Does this division explain some of the other divisions between left and right? If it does, from where does it come? Why don't I worry about someone getting welfare but I do worry about some rich corporation getting a no-bid contract and abusing its power? What explains this gap?
It's not really how we are raised, I don't think. I came from hard working people. Nobody took any government benefits unless they were forced and then only for a brief time. Nobody is exceedingly wealthy. I am not sure why I think as I do or why when I hear the various news stories on either side of this divide that it registers with me as it does. It's certainly not like I have enjoyed paying 40% of our income to taxes. I'd much rather the tax rates were lower but I also see the needs for which taxes provide.
So what do you think-- what explains this difference? If you disagree with me that it exists, I'd be glad to hear that also.
(After I wrote this, I came across two articles that show the issues I was looking at above. First there is how the right thinks: There is no free lemonade. Frankly, a leftie would think-- you're kidding. You got all upset about that? Now this is a serious problem: Income Gap between rich and everybody else. When it comes down to it, the basic difference is not just where we worry the problem lies, but what we think should be done about it.)