Rich Man Poor Man: Class solidarity in America

Rich Man Poor Man

by digby

One would think this would be an obvious point, but it isn't:
When it comes to improving public understanding of tax policy, nothing has been more troubling than the deeply flawed coverage of the Wisconsin state employees' fight over collective bargaining.

Economic nonsense is being reported as fact in most of the news reports on the Wisconsin dispute, the product of a breakdown of skepticism among journalists multiplied by their lack of understanding of basic economic principles.

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to "contribute more" to their pension and health insurance plans.

Accepting Gov. Walker' s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.

Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services.

Thus, state workers are not being asked to simply "contribute more" to Wisconsin' s retirement system (or as the argument goes, "pay their fair share" of retirement costs as do employees in Wisconsin' s private sector who still have pensions and health insurance). They are being asked to accept a cut in their salaries so that the state of Wisconsin can use the money to fill the hole left by tax cuts and reduced audits of corporations in Wisconsin.
This is right up there with the logic that says because Social Security will likely have a 10% shortfall 30 years from now we need to cut 20% right now.

But there is some good news on this front from Greg Sargent:
I've got some new polling from Gallup that underscores this point: It turns out that the only income group that favors Governor Scott Walker's proposal to roll back public employee bargaining rights are those who make over $90,000.

As you know, Gallup released a poll earlier this week finding that 61 percent of Americans oppose Walker's plan, versus only 33 percent who are in favor. It turns out Gallup has crosstabs which give us an income breakdown of that finding, which the firm sent my way:

* Among those who make less than $24,000 annually, 74 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 14 percent who favor it.

* Among those who make $24,000 to $59,000, 63 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 33 percent who favor it.

* Among those who make $60,000 to $89,000, 53 percent oppose the proposal, versus only 41 percent who favor it.

* Among those who make $90,000 and up, 50 percent favor the proposal, versus 47 percent who oppose it.

Only the last, highest-income category favors the proposal; working and low-to-middle class folks all oppose it.

Now, as Mark Blumenthal notes, we need to proceed with caution, because there's not a lot of data available on this topic. But I think it's fair to speculate that the focus of Walker's proposal on rolling back long-accepted bargaining rights, and the massive amount of media attention to it, may have reframed the debate and refocused the public's attention in a way that is undermining the right's previous advantage on questions involving public employees.

I think when people focus on the fact that the Republicans are slamming their friends and neighbors, the war on workers becomes a little bit less abstract. It's called class solidarity.
Which brings me to this fatuous blog post asking why liberals don't hate the wealthy donors who support Common Cause? Well, he answers the question himself:

What Common Cause is is a bunch of millionaires and billionaires trying to prevent other millionaires and billionaires from participating in the political process the same way they do. In other words, they are hypocrites. The Times could write a story headlined Billionaires' Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute and have the article be about not the Koch brothers but about the funders of Common Cause. But the left-wing interest groups rarely get that kind of treatment in the Times, where these left-wing interest groups are more commonly quoted approvingly as expert sources rather than scrutinized skeptically or suspiciously as targets.

If a bunch of millionaires and billionaires believe in egalitarianism and democracy and devote some of their resources to ensuring that America is something other than a crude banana republic, that's great. Whether public employees have pensions or not, millionaires and billionaires have many huge advantages, from better health to longer lives to more material comfort. The rich don't need class solidarity. They have the all the money.

Wealthy individuals who are evolved enough to see that our shared world is a more secure place if everyone has an equal chance and that a solid middle class society is not only more enlightened but more stable (ask the Libyans...) are not only decent and compassionate, they are smart enough to know what their self-interest really is. It's the same as everyone else's.

The left wing commie General Dwight Eisenhower once said:
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Americans used to have solidarity simply as Americans. But these people are killing that tradition, pulling the rug out from under the middle class by insisting on a harsh, Hobbesian law of the jungle in which the middle class American Dream is turning into a nightmare.

It's true that their numbers are negligible and they are stupid. But 40 years later they have seized the Republican Party and brainwashed a legion of souls into voting against their own self-interest and do their dirty work for them. One can only hope that Eisenhower's prediction about the outcome of such an experiment is true or we're all going down with the ship together.

h/t to jh