By Walter Borden
In the coming months, we will hear a lot about the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party’s plans for the U.S. during the 112th Congress. No doubt we shall hear how such plans signal a new, brighter era.
But do they?
The principles espoused by the Tea Party and their Republican allies already dominate policy across America in many of the red states, such as South Carolina and Nebraska. These states have for many decades now served as laboratories for TEA Party neoliberalism. They share very low tax rates on wealthy individuals and businesses, high carbon emissions, low unionization (enforced via so-called Right-to-Work statutes), privatized and under-funded public healthcare and so on.
When viewed in contrast with blue states, such as New York and Washington, what is the quality of daily life in the red states?
The picture that emerges from the numbers at left and below shows that blue states provide cleaner air, higher rates of education, and higher per capita income than red states. Furthermore, blue states pay more into the federal government than they get back while red states take more than they pay.
American states paying more into the U.S. Treasury (the blue states for the most part) also have higher rates of unionization combined with higher standards of living than their red tea party counterparts. In red states we find less unionization, lower rates of education and income coupled with higher rates of infant mortality and teen pregnancy. Arguments about the failure of abstinence only approaches to family planning aside, some may argue that a lower cost of living offsets some of these drawbacks for red state citizens. But given the extent of red tea party breastbeating about “economic growth,” it is an interesting irony that these red states take more from the Treasury than they provide and afford their citizens a lower quality of life as described in Chart 1.
Chart 2 breaks out how most red states are subsidized by blue states and have much higher rates of carbon emissions, the emerging standard measure of general pollution. The not so astonishing observation we make about Charts 1 and 2 is that they would appear to suggest that the well-being and productivity of blue state citizens surpasses that of their red tea party neighbors.
Recent and ample anecdotal evidence supporting this conclusion abounds.
In Florida, a state loosely defined by a deeply conservative northern panhandle, and a progressive Southern portion, we see HDI scores just above the national average and a consumption of roughly .97 cents for each dollar of tax revenue provided. Florida’s incoming governor, Rick Scott, recently made headlines by calling for an end to public education and providing vouchers for families of up to $5280 to attend private school. Yet Florida spends $8,800 per pupil. The average cost for private schools per year is $8,549 while the median income is $24,543. Where do the families get this extra sum which amounts to more than 10% of their income? Does this not in effect, amount to a new tax? Mr. Scott’s inability to grasp the glaring problem of federal subsidies to private enterprise (eg the bank bailout) is further demonstrated by his involvement as a CEO in the largest (medicare) fraud settlement in U.S. History according to the Department of Justice.
Texas scores just under the national average of 5.17 at 4.67 on the HDI while its near neighbor Arizona manages 5.11 and takes 19 cents per dollar more from the U.S. Treasury than it pays. Perhaps that is why its Governor Jan Brewer (R) attracted attention from both parties recently for her statements that Arizona needs more Federal funds for Medicare. Gov. Brewer commented recently on her cuts to the state’s Health Care Cost Containment System, which have imperiled the lives of patients in need of an organ transplant. Brewer said that people branding the cuts as a real-life incarnation of death panels should be asking the federal government to send more money – a surprising position from someone who continues to oppose the The Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2010. As Think Progress points out, “AHCA would foot 100 percent of the bill for states to expand [Medicaid] until 2016 and 90 percent after 2020 for states that are able to maintain current eligibility levels in Medicaid and CHIP.” However, the Brewer Administration recently claimed that it had been forced to cut the transplant program because the health care reform overhaul had prevented the state from being able to save cash by making it harder to qualify for Medicaid. Go figure.
Brewer – who declined to hold a special session to reinstate the funds, a refusal that leaves some patients’ lives hanging in the balance – blames Arizona’s dire financial situation. (Apparently “death panels” aren’t such a big deal when a Republican is in charge.) She argues that if people are so worried about the transplant patients, they should ask the federal government for more money. A report from the Arizona Republic gives
some insight about how Brewer used stimulus funds, and clearly healthcare was not a priority for her. Whither the death panels, Governor Brewer?
Even given the odd logic at work in Arizona, it’s still hard to hard to understand the need for the State to sell its Capitol buildings to a private real estate company, only to lease them back at an eventual loss to the taxpayers in the millions of dollars. Ken Silverstein introduced us to the likely results of Arizona style Tea Party Politics in the July 2010 issue of Harpers .
All of the red tea party’s empty rhetoric about austerity (for the middle and lower classes, the rich need more tax breaks) needs to be viewed in the light of the past and future.
Aristotle wrote, “It is clear then that the best partnership in a state is one which operates through the middle people.”
The conscious effort by the founders to create this middle class defined American success and stability since the founding. But now, with more than 9 in 10 American families experiencing significant economic shocks year in and out, the middle class in the U.S. – and with it our nation’s future – is seriously endangered.
“Shaky Ground” , a recent study released by the Rockefeller Foundation and authored by Jacob Hacker and Mark Schlesinger of Yale University paints a grim picture of widespread economic insecurity in the era of the Great Recession.
The study concludes, “Economic insecurity has become the rule, not the exception, for many Americans — even in good times.” This report finds that between March 2008 and September 2009, fully 93 percent of American households saw substantial decreases to their wealth or income, or increases in emergency spending, often for medical needs. It further shows that the impact of those shocks was not confined to the working class. The report found that more than half of families making between $60,000 and $100,000 who experienced employment or medical disruptions weren’t able to meet minimum economic needs.
Importantly the study asserts that the recession — which officially lasted from December 2007 until June 2009 — exacerbated some of these economic woes, but that many were in place even before that. “Job-related concerns did increase dramatically during the recession,” Margot Brandenburg, an associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation, told The Lookout. “But other drivers of economic worry — wealth, medical needs, family-related issues — were very high before the recession, and they’ve remained high.”
This trend formed over the last three decades. In 1985, just 12 percent of Americans lived in households that saw a drop in available income of more than 25 percent from one year to the next. By 2009, it was 20 percent according to the report. Where does the shift come from? Why is economic insecurity the new normal? Brandenburg stated what many of us already realize: economic risk has gradually shifted away from corporations in recent years onto individuals through developments such as defined-contribution retirement and high-deductible insurance plans.
Professor Hacker, who authored “The Great Risk Shift” in 2006, argues that since last year’s “winner-take-all politics,” government policies have accelerated a shift that benefits the rich at the expense of the middle and working class. Brandenburg attributes growing economic insecurity to, “the hollowing out of the middle”. Increasingly, the sectors that produce the most jobs either pay high wages and require highly skilled workers, or pay low wages and require unskilled workers. By comparison, the sectors in the middle — manufacturing, technical support, and clerical work, for example – continue to evaporate. These members of the workforce find themselves replaced by cheaper foreign workers and machines.
It is difficult to see then, in light of the data and anecdotes above, how TEA Party and Right to Work states are valuable models for our nation and our civilization’s future. If workers cannot pool their risk via organized labor – much as insurers do with policy-holder liability – then the overwhelming majority of non-union workers will be at the mercy of resource-rich conglomerates and cartels when they are unfairly denied payment for services rendered. When citizens must stand alone in defending themselves against deep-pocketed polluters they find themselves in the same position. And this soon after the great crash of 2008, it is hardly necessary to point out that banking and other corporate and industrial concerns fail miserably at policing themselves.
Society does not need another instantiation of the TEA Party’s rehashed brand of laissez faire economics. That movie was called the Gilded Age, with all the familiar Upton Sinclair and Dickensian storylines: gussied up slave labor, excruciating poverty, and multi-generational tragedy in the lower classes. Nevertheless, 3D technicolor sequels to that movie are now playing in Red and TEA party states, not surprisingly, the data again tells a tragic story.
Looking forward in 2011, we must innovate away from the proven failures of these 19th century economic models. This does not require a revolutionary rejection of capitalism but rather its further refinement.
Early 21st century capitalism is succeeding only partially or pro tanto as J.K. Galbraith would say. Balancing social responsibility and sustainable economic practice has produced great success all across the Union. Within this framework, the world’s efforts to integrate sustainability into financial and industrial systems emerges as an obvious imperative, along with the rejection of loosely regulated 19th century style economic policy.
Not surprisingly, the data suggests that municipalities that value intelligent public sector-driven resource and pollution management systems will have healthier economies and ecologies than their deregulated neighbors. TEA party policies have already run their disastrous evolutionary course. Returning to them would be a giant and unnecessary leap backwards.
In the coming months at Fund Balance, we will be presenting some of the dawning precepts of the bright green future: policies, businesses and projects that build upon the lessons of the past, not its mistakes.