PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Too many Americans are unaware of the extreme disparities that have been caused by the unregulated profit incentive of capitalism. Our winner-take-all system is flailing away at once-healthy parts of society, leaving them like withered limbs on a trembling body, even as the relative few who benefit promote the illusion of opportunity and prosperity for all. Concerned citizens armed with facts are not fooled. Instead, the more they learn the angrier they get. And as in revolutions of the past, discontent leads to change.
Hacking Off the Poor Half of Society
Some wealthy and uninformed individuals have referred to the lowest-income 47% of Americans as the "takers," who enjoy government benefits at the expense of the high-earning one percent. But their claim is meaningless. The total amount paid out in 'welfare' (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is less than the investment income of just three men in a single year.
The monthly TANF income for a family of four is less than what the average member of the Forbes Top 20 made in one second at the office.
The 47% don't own stocks. They don't own anything. The so-called 'takers' have ZERO wealth. The value of any assets owned by nearly half of the country is surpassed by their debt.
Slashing the Security of the Elderly
Recipients of 'entitlements' are accused by the uninformed of getting something for nothing. The opposite is true. According to the Urban Institute, the typical two-earner couple making average wages throughout their lifetimes will receive less in Social Security benefits than they paid in. Same for single males. Almost the same for single females.
Getting something for nothing? Yes, the rich are. Tax expenditures, which are deductions and exemptions that primarily benefit the highest-earning individuals, cost about 8% of the GDP, the same percentage that goes to Social Security and Medicare.
If just one of the tax breaks for the rich, the $113,700 cap on Payroll Tax, were eliminated, Social Security would be almost entirely funded for the next 75 years.
Slicing Up Justice
In the last few months American citizens, some of them children, have been arrested for
- Looking for Indian arrowheads on federal land.
- Throwing peanuts on the school bus.
- Lying about a home address to get the kids into a better school.
- Sitting on a milk crate.
Meanwhile, not a single banker was arrested for these actions:
- HSBC Bank laundered money for Mexican drug cartels.
- Goldman Sachs designed and sold mortgage packages that were meant to fail.
- Bank of America and Lehman Brothers hid billions of dollars of bonuses and loans from investors.
Severing the Head from the Global Body
If you could gather together the world's 200 richest individuals, ask each one his or her net worth, get the actual numbers from Forbes, and then add it all up, the total would be more than the total wealth of half the population of the world, 3.5 billion people.
The U.S. is one of the greatest contributors to this shameful disparity. It's no coincidence that we're both the third least taxed developed country and the fourth highest in wealth inequality among all nations. It's also no surprise, with so little revenue going to the general public, that our country is the fourth worst in the overall well-being of its children.
Castrating the Taxman
Corporations have doubled their profits and cut their taxes in half in ten years. The burden of taxes, which Oliver Wendell Holmes called the price of a "civilized society," has been shifted to workers. For every dollar of employee payroll tax paid in the 1950s corporations paid three dollars. Now it's 22 cents.
Globalization has allowed U.S. corporations to stop paying for national defense and infrastructure and all the benefits of the U.S. legal and educational systems. All of the following companies had sizable U.S. revenues, but they claimed losses here while declaring billions of dollars of profits overseas.
- Bank of America, with 82% of its revenue in the U.S., declared $7 billion in U.S. losses and $10 billion in foreign profits.
- Citigroup, with 42% of its revenue in North America (almost all U.S.), declared a $5 billion U.S. loss and a $28 billion foreign profit.
- Pfizer, with 40% of its revenues in the U.S., declared almost $7 billion in U.S. losses to go along with $31 billion in foreign profits.
- Abbott Labs, with 42% of its sales in the U.S., declared a $256 million U.S. loss and $12 billion in foreign profits.
- Dow Chemical, with 32% of its sales in the U.S., declared a $15 million U.S. loss against foreign profits of over $5 billion.
If there's any way capitalism can work, it has to be regulated. Otherwise greed takes over. Blind greed. The sneering head at the top of the body watches limbs being chopped off, but it doesn't seem to recognize that we're all bleeding to death.
(Photo: Michael Fleshman / Flickr)
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org).