Republicans like to attack the notion of redistributing income.
Yet in the last three or four decades, congressional Republicans AND Democrats have converted the U.S. economic system into a structure in which the working poor and the middle class subsidize the very rich.
Pulitzer-winning financial writer David Cay Johnston has written that under this change in the way the U.S. economy works, “Since 1980 it has become official policy to ensure that the rich receive the benefits of government. This is a shift from government policy in the years after World War II to grow the middle class.”
How does it happen? There are hundreds of ways. Here’s one – the Bush tax cuts, which are still in place: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the working poor got nothing from them. The middle class got a little – a $1,180 tax cut per year. The one percent at the top received $58,000 a year and the 0.01 percent at the very top received $520,000 a year.
Now, multiply the effect of that one federal scheme by hundreds of additional ways the rich get other people’s money under various laws.
During the same three or four decades, Republicans and Democrats deregulated Wall Street and various industries. Soon corporate wrongdoers like Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, Ken Lay, Steve Jobs and Dennis Kozlowski were wreaking havoc on the economy and the savings of good people.
Meanwhile, some of the protections the system is supposed to offer broke down – prosecutors, journalists, whistleblowers. The U.S. Justice Department was less than vigilant and became particularly tainted during the second Bush administration as it protected torturers and corporate thieves. U.S. attorneys, including Nevada’s Daniel Bogden, were fired for doing their jobs. Whistleblowers were as likely to be harassed or prosecuted as praised.
Some wrongdoers walked out of prison with plenty of other people’s money left to rebuild their images by rewarding teachers (with other people’s money), funding medical research (with other people’s money), and putting together public relations teams (with other people’s money) to harass journalists who wrote about their histories.
Such public relations people were also employed by industries and executives to spin their misdeeds into “reform” and tell falsehoods repeatedly until they become things we all “know” to be true.
Johnston wrote about the “legions of publicists who are paid to report what their bosses want us to hear, the anti-thesis of journalism’s call to pursue the facts without fear or favor. The ranks of these image shifters are growing, while across the country many journalists are being laid off as people pay less attention to the news, reducing further the changes that inconvenient facts will become known.” Incidentally, at the University of Nevada, Reno, public relations instruction is done in the journalism school instead of the business college, in spite of repeated complaints about the conflict of interest.
And during these years, pop culture was used to glorify all the corruption. Movies like “Wall Street” and “Wolf of Wall Street” lionized criminals and programs like “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” made materialism glamorous. Some movies, like “Evita,” even exalted those who helped screw the working poor.
Hollywood, which considers itself a Mecca of creativity, seemed unable to show the human pain Gordon Gekko and his nonfiction counterparts inflicted on workers.
I saw one that came close.
In “Quicksilver,” Kevin Bacon portrayed a Wall Street floor trader who gambled his working class father’s pension on the floor and lost it. There was one scene of the father weeping in anguish at his kitchen table. Then the movie showed Bacon gambling again, winning this time, and restoring the pension. It was difficult to discern anything resembling a lesson there. But it all helped condition us to the new notion that the folks at the bottom must subsidize those at the top.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.