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Is This Your Ownership Society?
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Published on Friday, February 25, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Is This Your Ownership Society?
by Holly Sklar
 

Would you invest in a company that cut your wages, laid off your cousin, polluted your neighborhood, cut your health insurance and raided your retirement fund? If so, you'll love President Bush's "ownership society."

At a time of rising support for socially responsible business, Bush's ownership society offers less social responsibility, less opportunity and accelerating dis-investment in the future.

Extensive studies demonstrate the economic benefits of corporate social and environmental responsibility, including improved financial performance, productivity, quality, innovation and reduced operating costs. "For example," says Business for Social Responsibility, "many initiatives aimed at improving environmental performance -- such as reducing emissions of gases that contribute to global climate change...also lower costs."

The ownership society backed by Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget is the worst of all worlds: fiscally, socially and environmentally irresponsible, morally bankrupt, and toxic to democracy.

Lincoln fought for "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Bush stands for government of the owners, by the owners, for the owners.

The richest 1 percent of households already owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. Take-home pay as a share of the economy is at the lowest level since 1929.

Bush is reshaping the tax and budget system so workers pay a greater share of the costs and owners pay less. As wealth is increasingly sheltered from taxes, inequality will become more entrenched and hereditary in Bush's ownership society.

While Bush runs up the national debt to reckless levels, risking economic crisis, to give more tax breaks to millionaires, his budget cuts education, a pillar of individual and national progress, on the pretense of fiscal responsibility.

The unemployment rate is 30 percent higher than it was in 2000. About one out of six Americans has no health insurance, and half of all bankruptcies are illness-related. One out of eight Americans lives below the meager official poverty line -- and many more can't make ends meet above it.

Yet, Bush's budget slashes already inadequate small business assistance, workforce development, community economic development, public health and safety, Medicaid, housing assistance, public transit, food stamps, childcare and much more.

Bush is building a bridge to the 20th century -- the pre-New Deal 20th century. Givebacks to wealthy corporations and people have already given us mid-20th century revenues for 21st century challenges.

Total federal tax revenues, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "are a smaller share of the economy than in any year since 1959, a time when Medicare, Medicaid, most federal aid to education, most child care and environmental programs, and anti-poverty programs such as food stamps did not exist."

With time running out to turn back the global tsunami of global warming, Bush keeps energy policy hostage to the oil and gas lobby. His budget slashes natural resources and environmental programs 23 percent by fiscal year 2010.

Tax cuts for the richest 1 percent will cost more than $120 billion in 2006, Citizens for Tax Justice projects. That about matches Bush's total 2006 budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs combined.

Instead of making irresponsible budget cuts, we should be repealing irresponsible tax cuts.

Wealthy Americans have reaped the lion's share of economic growth. Without fair and adequate taxes, we cannot rebuild the public infrastructure inherited from past generations. We cannot invest in the research and education vital for our future.

We will not prosper in the global economy relying increasingly on low wages and outsourcing in place of innovation and opportunity.

Bush is undoing the New Deal and later advances that made the American Dream real for millions of people -- and made the nation we own together a better one.

Bush wants us to unlearn the lessons of the Great Depression and more recently burst stock bubble. He wants to transform Social Security's retirement insurance, with guaranteed lifetime benefits, into a more costly, risky, privatized investment gamble.

Bush's ownership society would replace the American Dream with the American Gamble, rigged for the wealthy and well connected.

For the Gamble Generation, insecurity would be the norm and opportunity increasingly the birthright of wealth, not democracy.

Holly Sklar is coauthor of "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All Of Us" (www.raisethefloor.org). She can be reached at hsklar@aol.com.

© 2005 Holly Sklar

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