Tuesday, September 05, 2006

[Labor Day]

The Ownership Society (Revised)

I don't mean to make Hog a mirror site for BlueOregon, but there are posts I feel must be brought over. This is one.

When you're within spitting distance of your 40th year, a few things become clear. In my own case, barring a terrible catastrophe at the Rose Garden, the likelihood of me playing point for the Blazers has passed. I'm also thinking it's now a longshot I'll win that Yale poets-under-40 prize. (I'm old enough to run for President, though, so I got that goin' for me.) Finally, I am never going to have the kind of money so that my income will come from capital gains. In terms of ownership, I'm a paycheck man.

This is not exactly what the GOP means when it promotes "the ownership society." Although it's cleverly packaged to emphasize freedom and controll ("In the ownership society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children's education, and workers control their retirement savings"), what what the ownership society mainly liberates is the very wealthy from their obligation of contributing to the federal tax base.

If you're extremely wealthy, health care is cheaper than income tax. Since capital continues to generate wealth whether you're employed or retired, those with ample stores would prefer not to chip into Social Security--they've already got theirs. Education is likewise for the masses, not for the wealthy whose kids already attend Choate. Why pay twice for an education?

If this sounds like class warfare, it is. Best get used to it and the fact that, unless you're perusing that Choate brochures, you're probably getting jobbed by the "ownership society." Working stiffs own one thing--their paycheck--and we've done a rotten job protecting it.

Median_1 Since the grand Republican revolution, median incomes have stagnated while the wealthy have seized a greater proportion of the US lucre. You know the stats: since 2001, when the GOP really consolidated power, the median income has fallen. The top 20% of American families now own over 50% of the wealth--a record.

Meanwhile, because the radicalized government has made privatization a fetish, there have been no investment in, in in some cases defunding of, public and higher ed, medical care, defined benefit pensions, and so on. The median household that in the 70s received health care from work, put their kids through school--the good old days before fees, when your daughter might have studied viola--and looked forward to decent Social Secuity benefits to augment their pension, now has to buy all of it on their own. On the same salary.

The rich own half the wealth and we own bills. Nice system if you're in the top 20%.

On this day after labor day, I think it's time to join the class war. It's time for average workers to stake their claims. We need to go back to a time when we collectivized risk and demand that our federal dollars support things we actually own, not the Wall Street and real estate speculation of the ultra-rich:

  • Health care. Should be a right of every citizen, and every citizen should have to pay into the system to support it. Far from bankrupting the country, it will save us money, costing only the private health providers and insurers who are making windfall profits.
  • Public education. Public schools should always be funded first, at an adequate level, before any funds flow to private educators.
  • Minimum wage. No family in America should work full time and not be able to feed their family. (This isn't as pressing an issue in Oregon.)
  • Higher education. The surest way to get ahead is an education. That is currently becoming the domain of the upper classes, and the federal government is defunding public assistance to students.
  • Defined benefit Social Security. Dubya would love to turn Social Security into a vast 401 (k) scheme where citizens would lose the assurance of a regular check for the risk of regular investments into a system that may be bankrupt when we retire. This is an egregious attack on the poor and middle class--and worse, on the elderly who are least able to absorb the shock of poverty.
  • Bankruptcy protection. Given all the burdens placed on citizens by the plutocrats in power, it is plainly immoral to remove bankruptcy as a last-resort method of escaping debt, as the GOP did a couple years ago.

These are bare minimums. We could add child care and transportation to the list, but you get the idea. Thanks to a generation of GOP rule, we have begun to think of these things as frilly extras in a life of Darwinian survival. It doesn't need to be that way, and the only thing stopping a return to sanity is accepting the "ownership society" as responsible governance.

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