Common Sense, American Style

Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world. --Thomas Paine

People in power believe that the free market will solve society's ills, that anyone willing to work hard can succeed, as they did themselves. Somewhere along the line the rich and powerful lost touch with the great majority of Americans. Their link to this barely visible world may be a server in a restaurant, or a taxi driver, or a clerk behind the counter. The "other America" has grown larger and more diverse.

235 years after Thomas Paine, we live in a society that allows one man to make enough money in a year to pay the salaries of 100,000 health care workers.

Many of us tolerate - even celebrate - such outrageous incomes because we continue to believe that we, too, will be rich someday. Our elected leaders continue to cut taxes for the rich, because this, they have been told, will benefit everyone in the long run. But in thirty years it hasn't happened. What has happened is the greatest-ever redistribution of wealth.

U.S. GDP has quintupled since 1980, and we all contributed to that success. If the middle class had just maintained the share of income it held 30 years ago, it would be earning an extra trillion dollars a year, about $12,000 per family. Instead that extra trillion dollars goes to the richest 1%.

A trillion dollars a year is seven times more than the budget deficits of all 50 states combined.

Yet our representatives want to cut child care services, food pantry funding, nutritional assistance, elder care, mental health services, after-school programs. What possible reason exists for this? Are we targeting lazy Americans who are unwilling to pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful and..neglect persons of poor and mean the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. --Adam Smith

In Ashtabula County in Ohio, the police force was cut by more than half, and a judge suggested that the county residents arm themselves.

In John Boehner's district in Ohio, over 50,000 residents have been added to a food stamp program that would be cut by the 2012 Republican budget.

For every family in the richest 1%, there is a homeless child in America.

We keep hearing that cuts in social programs are needed to balance the budget. This while the richest Americans pay only a 15% tax on their stock market gains. While over $10 trillion is estimated by the IRS to be hoarded in tax havens. While the richest 1% has accumulated as much wealth as 90% of Americans. While the percentage of federal revenue received from corporations has dropped by more than half.

Defenders of the rich say that the poor don't pay income taxes. But payroll, sales, state, and excise taxes consume almost half their income.

And the argument persists that the rich keep getting richer because innovation and hard work deserve to be compensated. But even the most innovative business leaders rely on the research and infrastructure and technology developed through 60 years of American ingenuity, by millions of people who profited relatively little from their efforts.

Through these years corporate America has lobbied to de-regulate government and revamp tax laws to favor business over social needs, and the financial industry has hired the brightest minds from graduate school to devise new money-making and tax avoidance strategies.

Common sense in the 21st century? An ACLU/NYU study revealed a pattern of incarceration for the poor, even for 'crimes' of speeding and loitering. But the crimes leading to a $400 billion banking collapse were addressed with bailouts and bonuses. Packaging high-risk loans as A+ securities is not considered a crime. Calling hedge fund income by another name to avoid taxes is not considered a crime. Providing executives the option to 'backdate' stocks to a higher price in the past is not considered a crime. The Justice Department, frustrated by their inability to prosecute corporate fraud, instead arranges "monitoring periods" for even the worst offenders.

When you see that..your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against may know that your society is doomed. --Ayn Rand

Corporations are holding $2 trillion in cash after slashing millions of jobs and making record profits. These companies, many of them in the energy business, are holding onto this money even though a joint University of Delaware / Stanford University study found that a third of our energy needs could be met with solar and wind stations along the Atlantic coast, to be built through labor-intensive jobs immediately available to currently unemployed industrial workers.

But our reliance on Middle East oil continues. Common sense, American style.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.