A couple of things are on my mind today— what we think we know, what we really know, and how to learn more.
There is a lot of talk in this election year about what the government should or should not do and should not pay for. It is characterized as wasteful, inept, almost like an interfering parent who doesn’t really know what’s best. Much of the polarization comes from assumptions that either eschew fact or propel empty platitudes forward.
As a country, we are big-hearted. We want to help raise the standard of living and quality of life in countries around the world. Yet we don’t seem to extend that noble calling to those at home. In a new book, A People’s History of Poverty in America, Steven Pimpare suggests that we have a notion in our country of deserving versus undeserving poor. This idea enables those with political and economic power to justify their beliefs by rationalizing their failure to intervene and provide assistance.
I don’t think it unfair to say that these beliefs are tinged with underlying racism. But the fact of the matter is that according to the census bureau in 2009, there were 29.9 million whites versus 9.9 million African Americans living below the poverty line. (it should be noted that given the size of these populations blacks outnumber whites in poverty 12 versus 26 percent). Mind you these numbers are based on a federal guideline that is extraordinarily low. In reality, there are millions more who are living in poverty though they have more than a family of four making $22,000 a year.
It seems that the polarizing line in the sand is on one side, you pick yourself up by the bootstraps and become the success story Americans love. The other is that, like in a big family, you provide a social net that can soften the blow until you get back on your feet.
That aside for a moment, I never hear the simple fact that we all benefit from government services. Think about it.
One of the biggest federal aid programs is the home mortgage interest deduction program that benefits all homeowners. A $120 billion per year expenditure through the tax code (Suzanne Mettler, Cornell University).
People who lose their jobs get unemployment benefits to live on. What would they do without it?
That all seniors collect both social security and Medicare, seems to be working just fine. The reason the social security fund is depleted is because it is raided to pay other bills. The rank and file of America don’t make enough money to save through their work lives. They just get by. Privatize social security? How would that work? And for whom?
The toll-free federal highway system enables private companies a transportation system for their corporations.
We don’t think much about what we can’t see but Infrastructure costs and minimum standards are part of a public safety net: roads, bridges, water supply, community sanitation, environmental protection, etc. Do you want to wonder if the bridge you cross daily with your kids has been compromised? Would you rather boil your drinking water than support a water filtration plant? Would you like to band together with your neighbors to plough your city streets after a blizzard?
What about emergency funds for tornados, hurricanes, floods, and ice storms. Your town was wiped out during a tornado and FEMA is gone. What do you do?
I could go on…
So what gives? Look at the list and think about what you’d like to do without.
None of these things can be replaced by the private sector for one reason. Corporate profit. There is nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t look at problems holistically. Government and private industry are two sides of the same coin.
We need both. The candidates will say just about anything to avoid the complicated issues we face. They say things that make no sense and people believe them. Obama isn’t raising gas prices. The oil speculators are. They all should be reading up on the history of world events. What do you think about Syria? How’s it going in Afghanistan? The president doesn’t create jobs. He influences very complex policies. What would you do differently. Just what has Obama actually done that his opponents wouldn’t have. Let our car industry disappear? And that ridiculous stand-off on the debt. Fact check: Bush went into his presidency with a trillion dollar surplus that he blew through to get into an unfunded war on false pretenses. The subprime fiasco began on his watch as well. Obama inherited that and has dealt with it. Our spending has spiraled out of control. That’s true. But this debt didn’t occur in a day and won’t be fixed in one no matter how much grandstanding there is.
So let’s acknowledge that we live in very complex, fast moving times. Let’s let some light in. Find America’s brain power and get them going. A leader, Democrat or Republican, African American, White, or Hispanic, old or young, anyone who has ever worked for any kind of organization knows that you are only as good as the people you work with.