Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Financing the Common Good

Excellent article by Robert Reich:

Meanwhile, the fiscal demands facing a new Democratic president in 2009 are far greater than when Bill Clinton took office in 1993. Clinton's investment agenda in schools, job-training, health care, and infrastructure was badly needed then. Today, it's urgent. Inequality of income and wealth is wider and upward mobility has slowed. Our schools are worse than they were when Clinton became president, classrooms more overcrowded, and school buildings, falling apart. Job-training is almost nonexistent. At least 10 million more Americans lack health insurance than they did in 1993. Among the 13 wealthiest nations, America now ranks last or nearly last in infant mortality, low birth weight, and life expectancy. Some 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty than when Bush became president. America's infrastructure is older and even more prone to breakage. From New Orleans levees to Minneapolis bridges to New York City's water lines, the nation is literally falling apart.

[...] The Bushies will vanish into history. But the stench they have created will remain.

In this way, the administration of George W. Bush has exploited the asymmetry in American politics. By trashing the institutions of government, the younger Bush personified his central thesis that government cannot be trusted to do anything well. He has shown that Republicans cannot lose at this game. There is no downside in treating government like a sewer. To the extent they have been careless or negligent with it, or crassly mendacious, illegally rewarding cronies and punishing opponents, splurging and plundering at every turn, they still come out on top. If, against all odds, a program or initiative somehow succeeds, they can show how wise they were all along. If programs or initiatives fail, as has been more likely, the failures only illustrate why citizens and taxpayers should not rely on government in the first place. Bush has thus enlarged upon the Reagan-era fiscal tactic of "starving the beast" of revenues into a more insidious strategy of starving the beast of public trust.

Common sense advice to the new President:

In everything you do, emphasize and illustrate competence. Appoint people who palpably take government seriously. Avoid even the suggestion of cronyism. Give the public specific benchmarks for how you, and the public, will be able to judge whether an initiative is succeeding and, hence, whether tax dollars are being spent wisely. If a program or an initiative fails to meet the benchmark, end it.

You won't raise nearly enough revenues merely by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Responding to all the deferred needs of the nation will cost several hundred-billion dollars more. Where to get the additional money? Three sources: The peace dividend from ending the Iraq War, a more progressive tax, and modest deficit spending. Because many of America's deferred needs are felt so directly by a large majority of citizens -- health care, early education, child care, training for good jobs, better public transit, and so on -- you can gain support for additional revenue if you educate the public about what you're doing and why.

What? Let the public in on what you're doing and educate them? What a concept! The public will never stand for being involved in their own fate!

On 'leadership', not a new concept, but sadly lacking under Bush:

Under the other model, presidents decide what's good for the public and then try to sell, cajole, intimidate, or lie their way toward gaining public support. George W. Bush didn't waiver in any of his beliefs, including the wisdom of his supply-side tax cuts for the rich and of invading Iraq. But leading by fiat isn't leading, either; it's bullying. It's also profoundly anti-democratic. Worse yet, it leads to large errors because a president who's dogged in pursuit of his goals is often incapable of hearing evidence that shows those beliefs to be mistaken. If you choose this model of leadership, you subject the nation to grave danger.

[...] In other words, enter into an ongoing dialogue with your public. Educate them, but be humble enough to be educated in turn. That's the only way to preserve and build the trust in your leadership.

Given the difficult hand you've been dealt, it's your only hope for success.

It's more than a 'difficult hand', it's a stacked deck. I remember from Westerns how the locals dealt with crooked cardsharps. Dealt 'em a pair o' fours, as in .44...

Lots more. Go read.

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