Monday, December 13, 2010

More Gifts to the Rich on the Way

Evidently, the Senate is poised to vote on Obama's "deal" with the Republicans in which massive tax breaks are extended to the richest of the rich in the midst of massive budget shortfalls at the state and municipal level. Obama and Co. are also entertaining the idea of extending the retirement age and slashing Medicare as they stand poised to deliver this massive Christmas gift to the ruling class.

Let's be clear. Though both of the corporate parties are talking about the "economic benefits" of these cuts, this is utter bullshit (and trust me, they know it is). This is what's really going on. The ruling class has a difficult time directly attacking social programs (though they are making quite a go of it right now). Thus they attack indirectly by eviscerating public social institutions with massive tax breaks for the rich. Now, as I've suggested elsewhere on this blog, they can't do this directly either: more cover is needed. That is, they can't sell tax breaks for the rich in the way that they'd really like to, e.g. "let us take everything we can get our filthy hands on and leave nothing for the vast majority!". They can't speak the language of petty interests; they must talk about "we" and "us" and justify what they do in general, universal language. Enter bullshit about "economic growth" and tax breaks.

Now, I think that every single word about economic stimulus and tax breaks is ideological in the pejorative sense; it takes our eye off of what matters and focuses the debate on an apolitical, dubious point of detail. But let me say a bit about why tax breaks for the rich and economic stimulus are, basically, topics that are best discussed separately. As Krugman recently put it:
The point is that while the deal will cost a lot — adding more to federal debt than the original Obama stimulus — it’s likely to get very little bang for the buck. Tax cuts for the wealthy will barely be spent at all; even middle-class tax cuts won’t add much to spending. And the business tax break will, I believe, do hardly anything to spur investment given the excess capacity businesses already have.

The actual stimulus in the plan comes from the other measures, mainly unemployment benefits and the payroll tax break. And these measures (a) won’t make more than a modest dent in unemployment and (b) will fade out quickly, with the good stuff going away at the end of 2011.
This is obvious. If you wanted bang-for-your-buck for each dollar spent (and, make no mistake, these massive tax breaks are tantamount to "government spending" in a sense, to the tune of $850 billion, all of which will be added to the deficit), you'd fucking build roads and hospitals and schools and train tracks and wind-power turbines. You'd actually do something with that chunk of change that really met ordinary people's needs and propped up effective demand.

These tax breaks have nothing to do with stimulus: they are part of a strategy hard-line class warfare from above. The priorities of those in Washington are clear: punish the people and shower the rich with extra funds (as though they haven't done well enough already).

Punishing the people is something Obama is getting quite good at. Now, some Democrat apologists will try to convince you that Obama's having "won" the measly extension of the unemployment benefits somehow represents the best of all possible worlds. Some of these jerks even cheering on the "deal". This is bullshit. As Malcolm X put it, "You can't drive a knife into a man's back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress." I'm not even sure if it's fair to say that the small, measly extension of unemployment benefits should count as "six inches".

In order to insulate their fantasy world from encroachment by reality, these apologists must convince themselves that Obama has no agency, that the Democrats are always 'forced' by the Republicans to do all of the shitty things they do, etc. But it's about time these apologists faced the music.

The Democrats, at the Federal and local level, are overseeing massive austerity measures at the same time that they are finding creative ways to lavish the richest of the rich with extra cash. They are cutting public transit at the same time that they lower taxes on corporations. They are for raising the retirement age while simultaneously lowering the top marginal income tax rate. They are for Wall Street, not the vast majority of us. They are for the ruling class, not the jobless.

We, the vast majority of ordinary Americans who make up the bottom 95% of the population, can do a whole lot better than this. Those who think we can't are cynics. Progressives need not pay attention to such conservative dullards, whose allegiances lie more with a corporate party apparatus than with the interests of the vast majority.

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