Deficit reality: Income inequality is the problem

The drumbeat of austerity and budget cutting is nearly deafening. One would think that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy, about to go “belly up.”

It is loud enough to make even levelheaded people forget that we are the richest country in the world.

We no longer sit unchallenged at the apex of the global economy for sure, but we still generate enough wealth to provide every American with a decent standard of living as well as solve the so-called crisis in state finances.

But listening to the dominant media and the Republican right, one would never guess this is the case. In their view, we can’t live as well as we did in the past, and what’s more, we can’t aspire to live better in the future.

Sacrifice is the order of the day, they say, although not sacrifice in general. None of them asks the wealthiest corporations and families to “give back,” not even to share the pain.

No, that isn’t on their agenda. Rather, the crisis of state finances is to be solved at the expense of public sector workers and working people in general, period. They are the ones who have to “share” all the pain.

But where is the logic here?

First of all, working people – whether the “middle class” or the poor – did not cause this crisis. They were not the architects of the political and economic policies that triggered the crisis.

Second, you don’t ask working people, employed or unemployed, who have few or no financial reserves, to solve the problem of exploding deficits.

Get real! Go where the money is! Take money from those who have plenty of it and who caused the crisis in the first place, that is, the wealthiest families and corporations.

For the past three decades, the U.S. wealth gap has widened by leaps and bounds. And the reasons are incontestable: an increasingly regressive tax structure, deregulation, union busting, offshoring, wage repression, casino-like speculation, and so on.

While both parties have been accomplices in this robbery by the capitalist ruling elite, the Republican right has done the heavy lifting ideologically and politically. Going back to Reagan, it has not only facilitated the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the wealthiest corporations and families, but also attempted to destroy the political and organizing capacity of the working class and its allies.

By 2008 this (legal and illegal) theft of the riches of working people reached extreme and obscene levels. And yet neither the Republican right nor the top tiers of our capitalist society were satisfied with their ill-gotten gains. For the first two years of the Obama presidency, they opposed even the most minor measures to stem and reverse this process. And with the GOP victories at the state and federal level in last fall’s election, the Republican right is again ramping up its offensive.

Falsely claiming a mandate to slash people’s programs in the name of fiscal responsibility and reinvigorating the economy, it is insisting on more sacrifice from the very people who have the least to sacrifice, while letting off the hook those who have trillions of dollars of unearned wealth that could, if radically redistributed, easily solve budget deficits, eliminate poverty, and provide economic security for all.

The overarching problem facing the country isn’t fiscal irresponsibility, but gross income inequality.

Getting our fiscal house in order and setting our economic ship on a new course is doable, but only if we massively transfer trillions of dollars of unearned income of the richest families and corporations back to the pockets of working people and the government treasury at every level – city, state and federal.

The actions of the people of Wisconsin are showing us what it will take at the local, state, and national level to effect such a radical change.

Nothing short of a vast and sustained mobilization of labor, the racially oppressed, people of all ethnicities, women, youth, seniors and others, will reverse the assault coming from right-wing extremism and place our country on a trajectory that puts people before profits.

On Wisconsin!

Photo: Kaptain Karrot CC 2.0 



Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.