Post-Pandemic Fix No. 3: Did You Say Raise Taxes?

The next big fix on our post-pandemic list is wealth and income distribution. Of course it involves raising taxes. But not for everyone. We need to raise income taxes at highest levels of compensation and get back to an effective graduated income tax. The purpose is not to punish the rich. It is not even to raise revenue for the government.

The two major reasons for doing so are 1.) to allow tax cuts at the lower levels and 2.) to remind corporate managers what their jobs really are.

Yes, of course, people who work hard and have big ideas should profit from their industry and their innovations. I accept that they are deserving of rewards exceeding minimum wage. By golly, I don’t even have a problem with smart, hardworking people getting rich. But really, some limits are needed.

Why? Because, contrary to what we all learned in business economics in junior high school, the purpose of a business is not to make money. The real purposes of any business are a little more complicated. They include:

  • to provide some product or service needed by the market,
  • to provide a livelihood for the owner and ALL others involved in production,
  • to provide enough profit to expand and perfect production and distribution and to reward investors through the payment of dividends,
  • and to do all this while taking proper care of the environment in which they operate.

When CEO compensation rises to levels that exceed their needs by obscene levels, they tend to lose sight of those purposes and focus all their efforts on shooting for the numbers to which their compensation is tied – often the short term capital gains of the corporate stock.

Workers become expendable, the environment is theirs to exploit without compensating anyone, and production is focused on what sells and not so much on what serves. It is a recipe for environmental, social, and economic disaster. Thus, controlling CEO compensation is more than simply middle-class envy, it is an essential step in re-focusing them on their real purposes and making their businesses socially responsible and productive beyond typical balance sheet measures.

There is ample evidence of rapid growth in income and wealth inequality, especially, since the beginning of the Reagan years in 1981. We once effectively moderated the maldistribution of resources in the economy with a graduated income tax. We have slowly eroded it with a variety of tax reductions and dodges available only to high earners (a term I use advisedly) and the imposition at the same time of regressive sales taxes at the state level. As a result, a small proportion of the people have benefitted inequitably from the growth in the economy post-WWII while the people who drive the economy, producers and consumers, have seen incomes stagnate. I am not sure what we should call this but it isn’t capitalism.

The instant high level of unemployment that occurred with the closing down of much of the economy to control the spread of the virus gave us a quick lesson in the true engines of our economy. It turns out that all those highly touted innovators and job-makers were only part of the key to economic growth. They needed consumers at the household level, or it all went for naught. It is workers and families who drive economies, not rich white guys who manipulate markets and turn obscene short-term profits to justify obscene salaries and bonuses.

So post-pandemic fix number three is to repair the distribution of wealth and income so that all Americans stand a chance of prospering some humane level. And, of course, that requires much more than a simple tax increase on the wealthy. But it gives us a clear starting poing.

Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America: Thing Number 2

Bringing our electoral and legislative processes into the 21st century is the next item that commands our attention. Really, this includes several things we tend to think of as separate concerns: the security of electronic voting devices, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and legislative processes. But they really all become part of the same problem if we accept the premises that full voter participation is desirable, that political power should be distributed equally across the voting population, and that modern technology should be applied to make participation easier for voters, more secure from manipulation by bad actors, and available to Congress to enable remote participation in situations like the one they are confronting now.

If this seems like a Democrat’s partisan wish list, I simply point to the person who found his way into the White House with the help of a foreign power, who continues to seek their help for re-election, who won the office with less than a majority of the vote, and who avoided removal from office by threatening primary opposition to any disloyal Republicans in the Senate. The result has been a travesty of government, something that looks more like low budget television than a process for governing for the welfare and defense of a nation. Even the Republicans I hang out with don’t like it. And, for all that, it’s not even entertaining.

And, more consequentially, it has left us poorly equipped to meet the challenges of the pandemic. We started late, we planned poorly, and we put out incorrect information and dangerous advice.

Continue reading “Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America: Thing Number 2”

America’s List of Things to Fix When the Pandemic Subsides: Item #1

The last few weeks have caused me to notice a few things we have neglected to take care of in our society, aka, the Greatest Country on Earth. The experience of a frightening and deadly pandemic has argued for certain social and economic policies much more forcefully and persuasively than the liberals in the “Democrat” party have been able to with everyday facts and logic.

Universal health care has been on the table since the days early in the 20th century as a proposal from organized labor. Democratic presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama have supported the idea. Congressman John Dingell (D-Michigan) first introduced a universal health care bill in 1943. It has been re-introduced in every session since then by Dingell, his son who succeeded him in office, and his daughter-in-law Debbie Dingell who continues the family tradition as the Representative from Michigan’s 12th congressional district. The bill has never moved beyond a committee hearing in all those years.

In 2010, President Obama barely eked out a much compromised bill to increase the availability of health care in the US. The Republican Party immediately set out to kill it and has been trying ever since, in spite of its popularity. It took one Senator to get off his death bed to pass it and another, a Republican this time, to keep it from being rescinded.

While the rest of the developed world moved toward universal health care, the U.S., for the most part, continued to treat it as a fringe benefit attached to employment. It has become staggeringly clear what a bad idea this was when we saw unemployment shoot up to almost 20% over the last few weeks.Suddenly, people who were used to having coverage found themselves naked in the face of a deadly pandemic.

Moreover, many of the people they counted on for service in food establishments, hotels, and even their own homes had always been without coverage and now presented themselves daily as vectors of the epidemic. Many, more likely most, had no health insurance, no sick leave policy protection, and no alternative but to continue working to pay for rent, utilities, and food. 

It is a formula for a public health disaster, and we walked right into it with our eyes wide open. Indeed, the Democratic Party knew the value of good social policy yet even most Democrats had no appreciation for the perfect storm scenario Republican skinflintism had created.

Obamacare is a good place to start. Add a public option. Then, over time, work toward a Medicare-for-All plan. Personal health is a public asset. Nothing says it quite like a pandemic.

So the need for universal health care is number one on our list of things to do post-pandemic. I will add a few more things to America’s To-Do List in the coming days. But this has to be the one aspect of social policy that requires immediate attention.

Coronavirus Walk: Day 40, Downtown Lake Jackson

Yes, there is a downtown in Lake Jackson. It is formed around a fan-shaped layout of streets designed by Alden B. Dow when his family decided to build a chemical plant here in 1943 to make chemicals and to mine magnesium from sea water to support the war effort. The streets have names like Parking Way, Center Way, Circle Way, This Way and That Way. I have lived here thirty-eight years and I still get lost in the downtown area and it runs less than three quarters of a mile from one end to the other.

I was tired of walking the same route from our home around the nearby blocks. So I drove over to the mid-town area and parked the car in front of the State Farm office. The town was locked up. On a normal Tuesday afternoon, there would be a goodly hum of business in the restaurants and professional offices. Today, nothing.

It turned out to be a good day to see some things that I had never seen before. And some that I have seen and just ignored. Here’s an example of the latter from the outer wall of the Fill Station BBQ joint:

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Courage as defined by America’s Cowboy: “… being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” It is what America’s health care workers are doing at the beginning of every shift.

Moving on down the block to the area behind the old, restored offices of architect, Alden B. Dow I stumbled across something I had not seen in Lake Jackson – homelessness. I knew we had it but somehow it had always stayed hidden from view. No longer.

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Home (temporary) for a few LJ residents.

And then, on around a few more turns, I found this stone in front of the Lake Jackson Library with good advice for the newly homebound from the Friends of the Library.

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are. –Mason Cooley

There are all kinds of little treasures you can see only if you carry a camera around on your coronavirus walk. Get to know your own town a little better and share your pictures with friends. You can see more of mine on my Flickr site.

Then wash your hands.

Day 32: Lake Jackson Coronavirus Lock-In.

We tackle the garage again. It is an adventure in which we travel back into our past, winnowing through our collections to sift out the treasures and tote the rest out to the trash. And we do it all in service of making space in our suburban two-car garage for two cars.

I threw myself into the project with relish when I spotted my U.S. Army duffel bag on a high shelf in the back of the garage this morning.

My Army duffel bag contents 50-plus years after being released from duty ca. January 19, 1970.

It was fifty years ago this January that I dragged it off the luggage conveyor at the brand new Houston Intercontinental Airport. I threw the bag into the trunk of our car and took it home where I changed out of my travel uniform, stuffed it in as the top layer of the bag and threw it all in a closet. I kept it just handy enough that I could find it in case international politics required me to get the haircut again during my four year reserve commitment.

There it has stayed fifty years unopened except to pull that travel dress uniform off the top layer to have it adapted into a Halloween costume for our son. (DOD, be at ease. There was no official insignia displayed that would have caused the enemy to think the United States was drafting children.) He was dressing as General Eisenhower, five stars and all. I think he probably copied the fruit salad of medals from an encyclopedia and I would bet he had them pretty close to true.

Continue reading “Day 32: Lake Jackson Coronavirus Lock-In.”

Day 25 of Lake Jackson Lockdown

From time to time, I used to do thought experiments in which I would watch the president and pretend that I am a supporter. I didn’t try for the mind set of one of the Republicans in the Senate who may actually have something to gain from their obsequiousness, but rather more like a member of “The Base,” — one of his adoring fans who attend his rallies, wear MAGA hats, get most of their political input from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and have everything to lose by pumping up his ego and giving him power over their lives.

Friends, don’t do it. Don’t try to pretend you are a Trumpist. At first I thought it would be good to try to see the world from their point of view but I gave it up as a dangerous experiment. When I tried it, it made me a basket case. I felt I had leapt right into that basket of —dare I say it?— deplorables. .

I don’t know how anyone can watch his recent coronavirus daily briefings without concluding that he operates below the knowledge level of most fourth graders, possesses the language development of a 1980s citizen band enthusiast, the manners of a pro wrestler, and the leadership skills of a low level mobster.

He was elected as the head of our government and he knows less about it than most of the college freshmen I encountered in my basic government classes. When I read his remarks in print later, I grade them as kindly as I can and give him a D. And that is giving him a little extra credit for knowing a few bits of presidential trivia. What color is the presidential mansion? What shape is the president’s office? What is the name of the first African-born American president? He gets creativity points for that last one.

We are in Day 25 of our coronavirus lock-in here in Lake Jackson and after several days of watching the afternoon briefings from the White House I stopped watching. When I pretended that I was part of the president’s fan base they turned my brain into one of those mushroom soup casseroles that are a staple of Methodist pot lucks. But just watching them as an average citizen trying to stay informed was doing the same thing. There seemed to be no point in adding to his ratings since there was no useful information to be gained and I risked tipping his rating scale up one more tiny point by tuning in.

So I wait for the morning papers and read the reports in my internet editions of The New York Times and Washington Post. I read a little in the Houston Chronicle and The Facts. I pay for all of those but I freeload on The Guardian. They do the best job of keeping up with their own copycat Trumpist P.M. who has this day gone into the ICU with his case of Covid-19. I appreciate The Guardian and I do not enjoy admitting that I freeload on their journalism but my priority is to support the press in this country first. The queen never claimed the press was the enemy of the people.

Aside from reading in the mornings and catching up with news analysis on cable (Go ahead and guess!) in the evenings, we have been cleaning out the garage.

What a joy it is to go through old photographs and see my sisters, both of them little girls standing in the front yard of our house on Flaxman Street in Jacinto City. To graduate from high school again. To re-live some college years. What an adventure to live again in 1968, to feel the pain of being drafted and leaving a young wife on her own. To hold once again those precious band medals and the trophies from gymnastics meets, math competitions, and more. To read the poetry and science fiction my son wrote in junior high.

One of his science fiction stories was about a US biological warfare lab that had developed both the killer virus and, so they thought, the vaccine. A former president who had authorized the venture wanted to see the dramatic tests at the end of their experimentation. To make a short story even shorter, the virus succeeded but the vaccine did not. One of the infected monkeys went berserk after being stuck with the hypodermic needle and jumped against the glass separating the ex-president from the laboratory and the virus. The monkey infected the ex-president and he became the first casualty of his own biological warfare weapon.

My son was savvy enough to leave the ex-president unnamed, although his reference to his number in the presidential succession made it clear that he had fictitiously killed off President X. I will not name him but leave it to your imagination instead.

So that’s the kind of thing we get into as we probe around in 50 to 60 years of things that seemed too important to throw away yet not important enough to look at again for all those years. Today we are going through it all and judiciously deciding what parts of the memorabilia should be kept for another half century or so.

A small stack of photos and letters has come inside the house again. Approximately eight sizable boxes of refuse sit on the curb waiting for the City of Lake Jackson Sanitation Department to make the rounds and squeeze it all into the back of a truck to take off the the city dump.

Lost forever is my master’s thesis bibliographic card file that would tell you all you could ever wish to know about American political parties, circa 1964. How quaint was the state of political partisanship then.