Ronald Reagan Tax Review

Democrats, oops, progressives, make me laugh. They entertain noble and politically correct notions of moral superiority with their attitudes toward social issues regarding gay rights, illegal immigration (is it a red and white striped ambulatory device or a candy cane?) and forget their own history. Abolitionist ancestors of the liberal East Coast elite who joined economic nationalists to elect Abraham Lincoln to achieve their goal to liberate the slaves, conveniently forgot about the Negro after Appomattox. Result: de facto slavery resumed in the South and remained in many sections until World War II. Inattention to the plight of free blacks in the nineteenth century has resulted in an underclass that drags down society with a self-destructive “cool pose” culture.

Keith Olbermann is an egocentric (emotionally challenged) retard, masquerading as an intellectual. His regard for others does not extend to interpersonal relationships: “Even those who admired Olbermann’s broadcasting skills felt that his behavior, such as making his staff leave notes outside his door rather than speaking to him, had gone too far. He was a royal pain, they said, and management had become exhausted trying to rein him in.”

Republicans are a joke. They cling to the fatuous falsehood that the Reagan presidency represents a lost Golden Age of less government and lower taxes…some blueprint of good government. One of the chief spokesman for this Reagan cult is , a former speechwriter for Reagan and George H. W. Bush: “Read my lips: no new taxes.”

“Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, ‘an actor.’ She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ etc. This is how she did it: ‘Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in “Bedtime for Bonzo,” Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.’

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.”

Excuse me, the beginning of the continuing decline of the middle class can be pin-pointed to the years of Reagan’s presidency: Reaganomics.

From 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to the bottom 90 percent of Americans — effectively, all but the rich — increased from 64 percent to 65 percent, according to an analysis of tax data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, that means that the average income of Americans in the bottom 90 percent was growing, too — from $17,719 in 1950 to $30,941 in 1980 — a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

Since 1980, it’s been a very different story. The economy has continued to grow handsomely, but for the bottom 90 percent of Americans, it’s been a time of stagnation and loss. Since 1980, the share of all income in America going to the bottom 90 percent has declined from 65 percent to 52 percent. In actual dollars, the average income of Americans in the bottom 90 percent flat-lined — going from the $30,941 of 1980 to $31,244 in 2008.

In short, the economic life and prospects for Americans since the Reagan Revolution have grown dim, while the lives of the rich — the super-rich in particular — have never been brighter. The share of income accruing to America’s wealthiest 1 percent rose from 9 percent in 1974 to a tidy 23.5 percent in 2007.

Though personable and grandfatherly, Reagan was relatively clueless, an actor: (His mind has been supplied with a fund of simplistic generalizations…) in real life. During the memorable October 27, 1980 debate with President Carter, Governor Reagan delivered a one-liner that cinched his election. In response to a Carter statement about government health care, the Gipper quipped: “There you go again.”

In his concluding statement Reagan asked: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment…than there was four years ago?

When Reagan’s two terms ended, the economic situation which confronted our nation was partially described by the following:

Beyond the star performers, many U.S. companies and industries still do not produce well enough. MIT’s new report, exclusively excerpted here, tells why — and what America must do.

By Sylvia Nasar REPORTER ASSOCIATE Rahul Jacob
May 22, 1989

(FORTUNE Magazine) – EXPORTS ARE BOOMING, manufacturing productivity is advancing smartly, and in 1988 the FORTUNE 500 had their most profitable year ever. Why, then, is a high-powered commission of MIT professors warning that American industry is in grave trouble? The answer is that the battle is far from won. Get beyond the star performers and the shrunken dollar, and you find a deep reservoir of outmoded attitudes and policies. That is the somber conclusion of Made in America, the report of MIT’s Commission on Industrial Productivity. Says the report: ”American industry is not producing as well as it ought to produce, or as well as it used to produce, or as well as the industries of some other nations have learned to produce.” The exclusive excerpts on the following pages underscore the seriousness of the message. The commission counted among its 16 members the institute’s provost, the dean of engineering, the dean of the Sloan School of Management, and a Nobel laureate in economics, Robert Solow. It was convened in 1986 when MIT began worrying about its future as the top American training ground for technologists. Says Richard Lester, a professor of nuclear engineering who was the commission’s executive director: ”How could it be, we wondered, that the U.S. cannot translate technical leadership into commercial leadership?”

…Though the report is short on remedies for individual industries, its conclusions apply widely. America has to pay much more attention to manufacturing if it hopes to reap the benefits of its primacy in research and development. That means, among other things, continually improving product design and production processes and rewarding those engaged in that gritty enterprise. The decline of the American machine-tool industry serves as a cautionary tale of how both makers and buyers paid too little attention to manufacturing. Their failure slowed innovation, undermined quality, and kept producers from responding quickly to customers’ needs. The report’s single most useful recommendation is that American companies should measure their performance — in raising quality, lowering cost, and innovating — against the best companies wherever they are.

CONSUMER ELECTRONICS: Already surrendered. From dominating the world consumer electronics business in the 1950s, the U.S. has slipped to a feeble also-ran. No turnaround is in sight.

SEMICONDUCTORS: Entrepreneurialism’s Achilles’ heel. The U.S. share of the world semiconductor market has shrunk from 60% in the mid-1970s to around 40%, while the Japanese share has almost doubled to 50%. The decline is worse than the figures suggest, because the U.S. has lost ground in some of the most advanced and important technologies.

(1911 – 2004), the 40th president of the United States and the 33rd governor of California, acted on the most important world stage, in the Oval Office. He developed his acting craft with Warner Bros. and when his acting career began waning in the 1950s, he became the spokesman for General Electric and hosted General Electric Theater. His last film was “The Killers” in 1964; his final roles were on the popular “Death Valley Days.”

As a spokesman for corporate America, Reagan became a symbol for anti-communism during the coldest days of the Cold War. Originally a Democrat, Reagan cut his ties with liberalism while employed by General Electric; he gave speeches at dozens of plants around the country. His speeches included anti-government rhetoric directed against high taxation. He also became a disciple of arch-conservative William F. Buckley. Reagan resisted the entreaties of wealthy friends to run for public office but when General Electric Theater was cancelled, the actor changed his mind.

“GE was invaluable to Reagan…It gave him an opportunity to practice speeches and answer questions to sympathetic, but demanding, audiences. He learned how to polish his speeches and incorporate the events of the day into every talk he gave.”

Ronald Reagan emerged on the national political stage in October 1964 when he delivered a televised speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.

…I have an uncomfortable feeling that this prosperity isn’t something on which we can base our hopes for the future. No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of its national income. Today, 37 cents of every dollar earned in this country is the tax collector’s share, and yet our government continues to spend $17 million a day more than the government takes in. We haven’t balanced our budget 28 out of the last 34 years. We have raised our debt limit three times in the last twelve months, and now our national debt is one and a half times bigger than all the combined debts of all the nations in the world.

Hotel California. Don’t worry, be happy.

Reagan’s perceived small town traditional values of God, hard work, independence, less government and rugged individualism appealed to the electorate. His rich friends like car-dealer Holmes Tuttle recognized that the former actor could take his act into the political arena to advocate their free-trade/free-enterprise ideology.

In 1966, Reagan was elected governor of California; he proved to be pragmatic and willing to make deals. He was re-elected in 1970. In 1976, now out of office, Reagan made a run for the Republican presidential nomination but his bid was thwarted by the incumbent president, Gerald Ford, who lost the election to Jimmy Carter. Undeterred, Reagan continued to keep his name in the public consciousness by offering commentaries on a weekly radio show. During the primary season of 1980 his challengers included George H. W. Bush, who was selected to be Reagan’s vice-president. Considered to be likable and trustworthy, the “Great Communicator” was the ideal candidate in the right place at the right time, an anti-dote to the malaise of the Carter presidency.

Governor Reagan’s optimism and our nation’s intense desire for change overwhelmed Jimmy Carter. President Carter was a vulnerable candidate because the economy was crippled by the combination of inflation, slow economic growth, and high unemployment: stagflation. Beyond bread and butter issues, the Iranian hostage crisis and the failed rescue attempt in April 1980, a disaster which prompted the Rose Garden strategy, crippled his campaign.

Carter’s Strategies
Carter also fell victim to his own “Rose Garden” strategy, formulated in the early months of the crisis, which kept him from actively campaigning while the hostages were being held. “Dad could not be the Jimmy Carter that’s so good in a small audience,” Chip Carter remembers, “the one that really looks you in the eye and brings you on his side, just by his body language and knowing that he really cares about you. It was very difficult to project that from the White House.”

Without a strong record of accomplishment to run on, the Carter team decided its only chance was to go after Ronald Reagan, painting him as a wild-eyed conservative ideologue who could not be trusted to maintain the peace. With the help of several gaffes from Reagan, the strategy worked, and by October the race was too close to call. Why, then, the landslide for Reagan? What happened in those final days?

The Candidates Debate
First, there was the one and only televised debate between the two candidates on October 28 in Cleveland, Ohio. Ironically, the Carter campaign had pursued a debate with Reagan because they thought it would give the president a chance to display his great command of complex issues, and that Reagan might stumble or look confused. Only when the Reagan camp saw how tight the race was did they agree to debate at all.

They were glad they did. Rather than sounding dangerous or overwhelmed, Reagan calmly brushed aside Carter’s attacks, shaking his head and saying, “There you go again.” As Carter speechwriter and journalist Hendrik Hertzberg put it, “When people realized that they could get rid of Carter and still not destroy the world, they went ahead and did it.” And in his closing statement, Reagan brilliantly framed the election in his favor: “It might be well if you ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?” If so, he said, vote for four more years of Carter; if not, “I could suggest another choice that you have.”

The Republican candidate captured 50.7 percent of the popular vote while the Democratic candidate got 41 percent. Independent candidate John Anderson from Rockford, Ill. received 6.6 percent of the vote. President Carter was crushed in the electoral vote: 489 – 49.

In January 1980, Ronald Reagan converted to supply-side economics, an ideological theory that held by cutting corporate taxes, investment would be unleashed to compete with the Japanese and increased revenue for the government would result. Instead, under Reagan, corporate takeovers and mergers became the order of the day, which reduced the number of jobs available for the average American. General Electric for example, acquired NBC and RCA. Michel Milken, Ivan Boesky and Gordon Gecko became household names. Corporate raider, green mail and arbitrageur became common terms. In the words of William Kleinknecht: “Rather than build cars, forge steel, or build new airplane factories, industrialists used their tax windfall to generate quick paper profits by buying up other companies. The tax cuts — combined with increased military spending — also yielded record-breaking budget deficits that drove up interest rates and actually produced a credit crunch, discouraging new investment.”

Reaganomics, or voodoo economics, entailed four principles: decrease tax rates, deregulation, decrease government spending and reduce inflation through monetary policy.

Deregulation gave the country James Watt and the . Watt, who looked like a weasel, was appointed by Reagan to serve as Secretary of the Interior. With an anti-environment background, Watt was a typical appointee, the type of person the Reagan crowd wanted to deregulate the government. William Baxter led the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. His agency was tasked with reviewing corporate mergers in the public interest. Between 1981 and 1987, Baxter’s lawyers litigated less than 1 percent of 10,723 mergers. John Van de Water, an anti-union consultant, was named to lead the National Labor Relations Board.

Instead of being a steward of the nation’s natural resources, Watt favored oil, mining, and timber interests. According to Watt, Independence Day concerts on the National Mall attracted the wrong, criminal element. He referred to the crowds that came to see the Beach Boys in 1981 and the Grassroots in 1982. When Watt gave a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that mocked affirmative action, he was forced to resign in November 1983. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

The Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s cost taxpayers more than $150 billion to clean up. Like the sub-prime real estate bubble that burst in 2008, bad real estate loans were a primary cause. In 1982, the Garn–St. Germain Depository Institutions Act was signed into law. This legislation deregulated Savings and Loan institutions and allowed banks to make adjustable rate mortgages. Bad loans were made because crooks like Marvin Warner controlled deposits; the thrifts became piggy banks for the dishonorable. Real estate developers were allowed “to own S&Ls [which] gave them such free rein in their lending practices that they could virtually loan funds to themselves, with no money down. Gone was the regulation requiring thrifts to have four hundred stockholders. They could now be owned by a single operator, however reckless or unscrupulous. Had their express purpose been to create the conditions for widespread fraud and financial disaster, Reagan’s deregulation zealots could not have done a more complete job.” During the G. H. W. Bush administration, housing starts plummeted to World War II levels which contributed to the 1990 – 1991 recession. Bankers who had traditionally been pillars of society became Texas hold-em gamblers with other people’s money…a familiar story.

One year after his 1981 tax decrease, the Economic Recovery Tax Act, focused for the rich, Reagan increased taxes by signing into law the . Taxes on the Gross Domestic Product increased one percent, the largest peace time tax increase in American history. Taxes increased during the Reagan administration every year except 1981 and 1988.

The Reagan presidency failed to decease government spending — real spending increased 2.5 percent. The number of federal employees increased by 200,000. The Pentagon received a blank check to spend 1.5 trillion in five years. Waste, fraud and abuse was exemplified by $600 toilet seats and $400 hammers that the Pentagon paid for. During Reagan’s second term dozens of contractors were under investigation and despite previous warnings that profligate spending would cause problems, Reagan and his crowd had failed to serve the public interest.

Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger presided over a spending policy rather than defense policy. Though weapons systems such as the Multiple Launch Rocket System that were paid for contributed to the defeat of Sadaam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War, billions were wasted on the redundant B-1 bomber for the benefit of officers because there is more opportunity for glory and promotion than commanding a missile squadron in silos. President Carter wisely killed the B-1 program to shift funds for the B-2, a stealthy platform, while B-52s, which first flew in 1952, remained a core component of the Triad.

National debt tripled from 900 billion dollars to 2.8 trillion dollars during Reagan’s two terms. This financial policy gave Republicans license to spend with abandon during the Dubya years. As Dick Cheney remarked in 2001 to Secretary of the Treasury O’Neil: “You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don’t matter…”

When Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, the prime interest rate was around 20 percent. Home loans were around 12 percent. Paul Volcker, head of the Federal Reserve from 1979 – 1987, killed inflation during Reagan’s first term by keeping interest rates high; his monetary policy worked but set a precedent. Volcker’s policy of maintaining high interest rates was intended to support bond-holders and the financial markets, just like Obama’s policies assist the big banks and Wall Street.

Inflation and the weak dollar had produced jobs focused on exports in the 1970s but reduced the value of financial assets owned by the wealthy. The Federal Reserve’s high interest rates in the 1980s hurt farmers and factory workers suffered. “But what damaged American production was rewarding for American finance, especially for banks active in the international markets. The rising dollar meant simply that the value of their overseas dollars was rising too. It also meant that market demand was growing for the commodity that American financial institutions trade — U.S. financial assets. As long as the Fed held interest rates high – higher than competing return in foreign countries — capital naturally flowed across boundaries, seeking the higher returns available in American financial instruments….In other words, the stronger dollar was good for business — if your business was finance.” Once, manufacturing was good for America and many Americans. Now, finance is good for America, fewer Americans, and wealth is not distributed throughout society to increase the middle class.

William Greider’s brilliant work Secrets Of The Temple explains this era of economic history in voluminous detail. This book should be required study for freshman in all institutions of higher learning. Politicians control government spending and taxes while the Fed controls the money supply and interest rates. When policies clash, the public suffers. The economy went into recession from 1981 – 1983. Business failures in 1982 were the worst recorded since the depths of the Depression in 1933. Real unemployment peaked at about 20 million in December 1982. Unemployment was concentrated in mining, manufacturing, and construction. Lost income was concentrated among blue-collar workers, those Reagan Democrats. Farmers lost their land and agri-business grew.

The top 20 percent of earners in the population prospered due to Volcker’s monetary policy while the remaining 80 percent lost income. Wages fell but income derived from dividends and interest payments grew. Reaganomics depressed “U.S. Manufacturing and agriculture while encouraging consumers to buy foreign-made products. The Administration’s de facto policy would be good for many sectors — for home-computer sales and housing, for the construction of high-rise buildings and retailing, for all the thriving service-sector businesses that did not have to compete for sales with foreign rivals. It would be disastrous for farm exports, for heavy industry, for any enterprise whose market was not protected by national boundaries.” Translation, fast food workers are more valuable to the economy than production workers. Decades later, Reaganomics set the precedent for the globalization that rules our economy today.

In 1984, it was morning in America — President Reagan was re-elected.

Like George Bush (43) who lacked sufficient knowledge to effectively preside over the government for the majority of Americans, Ronald Reagan depended on others to make judgments for him: Grenada, Lebanon, Star Wars. The following quote from a national security expert, Richard Pipes, describes Reagan in action during a National Security meeting in 1981.

RR totally lost, out of his depth, uncomfortable. After making some commonsensical remarks did not speak for forty-five minutes or so; when he finally spoke up it was to sigh “Oh boy” — meaning “what am I to make of this mess?”…He did not listen attentively, looking away or staring at the papers in front of him — except when Jeane Kirkpatrick spoke up and he briefly engaged in a dialogue with her….All this — both the substance and human conflict — is above and beyond him. He has not enough of either knowledge or decisiveness to cut through the contradictory advice that is being offered to him…

According to author Will Bunch, the Reagan years instilled a myth among the American people “that in a time of growing perils, from rising energy costs and diminishing supplies, from the dramatic threat posed by climate change, from a debt of nearly $10 trillion [14 trillion] heavily owned by foreigners not always friendly to the United States, with aging baby boomers about to stress the Social Security and Medicare programs, with American prestige in retreat around the globe, there is no problem that can not be solved with a mix of optimism and painless policy choices. The transparently false ideas that any economic malady can be cured with irreversible tax cuts, and that foreign policy is simply a game of rock, paper, scissors in which rock always wins, are the core values of Reagan’s distorted legacy…”

Ronald Reagan’s presidency was a performance, not a revolution, because the people did not bring about change as in 1776 or 1789. The transcontinental railroad, Boston to Sacramento in six days instead of six months, that was a revolution. The number of Americans below the poverty level increased from 29.272 million in 1980 to 31.745 million in 1988, which means, that as a percentage of the total population, it remained almost stationary, from 12.95% in 1980 to 13% in 1988.

Any doubt that the historical source of the current economic climate rests with Ronald Reagan and his crowd of policy advisers and adherents can be dispelled, by the following:

Reagan Insider: ‘GOP Destroyed U.S. Economy’

by Paul B. Farrell
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

“How my G.O.P. destroyed the U.S. economy.” Yes, that is exactly what David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, “Four Deformations of the Apocalypse.”

Get it? Not “destroying.” The GOP has already “destroyed” the U.S. economy, setting up an “American Apocalypse.”

Yes, Stockman is equally damning of the Democrats’ Keynesian policies. But what this indictment by a party insider — someone so close to the development of the Reaganomics ideology — says about America, helps all of us better understand how America’s toxic partisan-politics “holy war” is destroying not just the economy and capitalism, but the America dream. And unless this war stops soon, both parties will succeed in their collective death wish.

SOURCES: William Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America; Will Bunch, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future; William Greider, Secrets Of The Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country

Fast Track to Inequality

Published: November 1, 2010

The clearest explanation yet of the forces that converged over the past three decades or so to undermine the economic well-being of ordinary Americans is contained in the new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.”

The authors, political scientists Jacob Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of the University of California, Berkeley, argue persuasively that the economic struggles of the middle and working classes in the U.S. since the late-1970s were not primarily the result of globalization and technological changes but rather a long series of policy changes in government that overwhelmingly favored the very rich.

Those changes were the result of increasingly sophisticated, well-financed and well-organized efforts by the corporate and financial sectors to tilt government policies in their favor, and thus in favor of the very wealthy. From tax laws to deregulation to corporate governance to safety net issues, government action was deliberately shaped to allow those who were already very wealthy to amass an ever increasing share of the nation’s economic benefits.

“Over the last generation,” the authors write, “more and more of the rewards of growth have gone to the rich and superrich. The rest of America, from the poor through the upper middle class, has fallen further and further behind.”

Last year was a terrific year for those at the very top. Professors Hacker and Pierson note in their book that investors and executives at the nation’s 38 largest companies earned a stunning total of $140 billion — a record. The investment firm Goldman Sachs realized profits of $13.4 billion and paid its employees an average of nearly $500,000 per person in total compensation.

Something has gone seriously haywire in the distribution of the fruits of the American economy.

This unfortunate shift away from a long period of more widely shared prosperity unfolded steadily, year after year since the late-’70s, whether Democrats or Republicans controlled the levers of power in Washington. “Winner-Take-All Politics” explores the vexing question of how this could have happened in a democracy in which — in theory, at least — the enormous number of voters who are not rich would serve as a check on policies that curtailed their own economic opportunities while at the same time supercharging the benefits of the runaway rich.

The answer becomes clearer when one recognizes, as the book stresses, that politics is largely about organized combat. It’s a form of warfare. “It’s a contest,” said Professor Pierson, “between those who are organized, who can really monitor what government is doing in a very complicated world and bring pressure effectively to bear on politicians. Voters in that kind of system are at a disadvantage when there aren’t reliable, organized groups representing them that have clout and can effectively communicate to them what is going on.”

The book describes an “organizational revolution” that took place over the past three decades in which big business mobilized on an enormous scale to become much more active in Washington, cultivating politicians in both parties and fighting fiercely to achieve shared political goals. This occurred at the same time that organized labor, the most effective force fighting on behalf of the middle class and other working Americans, was caught in a devastating spiral of decline.

Thus, the counterweight of labor to the ever-increasing political clout of big business was effectively lost.

“We’re not arguing that globalization and technological change don’t matter,” said Professor Hacker. “But they aren’t by any means a sufficient explanation for this massive change in the distribution of wealth and income in the U.S. Much more important are the ways in which government has shaped the economy over this period through deregulation, through changes in industrial relations policies affecting labor unions, through corporate governance policies that have allowed C.E.O.’s to basically set their own pay, and so on.”

This hyperconcentration of wealth and income, and the overwhelming political clout it has put into the hands of the monied interests, has drastically eroded the capacity of government to respond to the needs of the middle class and others of modest income.

Nothing better illustrates the enormous power that has accrued to this tiny sliver of the population than its continued ability to thrive and prosper despite the Great Recession that was largely the result of their winner-take-all policies, and that has had such a disastrous effect on so many other Americans.

During the Civil War, brave soldiers on both sides suffered shattered limbs from the force of low velocity minié balls that expanded when they struck bone. Amputations without an anesthetic was the frequent outcome — blood-covered bone saws carved arms and legs. Fortunate Yanks experienced less pain due to the benefit of morphine while Rebs usually suffered agony because no pain-killer was available in the shortage-plagued South.

In the second year of the second decade of the 21st century the choice is stark, simple, and final. Do we the American people want individual fiscal pain or collective monetary agony, for sacrifice is required due to the lack of leadership within the political class. Moderate tax increases and serious cuts in entitlements are required else federal bankruptcy will catch up to us. The Boys of ’62

Let rich pay to fix deficit, say Americans

By Heidi Przybyla and Mike Dorning
Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Americans want Congress to bring down a federal budget deficit that many believe is “dangerously out of control” only under two conditions: minimize the pain and make the rich pay.

The public wants Congress to keep its hands off entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security, a Bloomberg National Poll shows. They oppose cuts in most other major domestic programs and defense. They want to maintain subsidies for farmers and tax breaks like the mortgage-interest deduction.

That aversion to sacrifice is at odds with recent studies, including one by President Barack Obama’s debt panel, that say reductions in Medicare, Social Security, military and other spending are necessary to curb a deficit that totaled $1.29 trillion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, or 9 percent of the gross domestic product.

“The idea that we can solve our structural-deficit problems merely by asking more of the well-off is totally unrealistic,” said David Walker, who was U.S. comptroller general and now leads a group advocating against deficits. “The math simply doesn’t work.”

According to the Dec. 4-7 poll, taken days after Obama’s commission sounded an alarm over the nation’s “unsustainable fiscal path,” the public still believes it’s more important to “minimize sacrifice” than to take “bold and fast” action to pare the $13.7 trillion national debt.

“The reality is deficit-cutting hurts, and the American public is in no mood for further hurt than the slow economy and high unemployment is delivering,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa firm that conducted the nationwide survey.

The one place Americans are willing to see sacrifice is in the wallets of the wealthy.

While they say they strongly support balancing the budget over the next 20 years, when offered a list of more than a dozen possible spending cuts or tax increases, majorities opposed all of them except imposing a bigger burden on the rich.

A majority backs raising the cap on earnings covered by the Social Security tax above the current limit of $107,000. Two-thirds would means-test Social Security and Medicare benefits. Six of 10 would end tax cuts for the highest-earning Americans.

“We give billions of dollars to these corporations, and in my eyes they pretty much just put it in their pocket,” said Donald Froemming, a 57-year-old independent voter and unemployed diesel mechanic from Moose Lake, Minn.

The Bloomberg National survey of 1,000 U.S. adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Like ice on the interstate, repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, deregulation, another legacy of the Reagan years, accelerated the probability of a financial crash due to excessive risk and imprudent, that is, reckless borrowing, to buy more toxic sub-prime CDOs.

The Banking Act of 1933, the , was signed into law in response to the Great Depression. Commercial banks, which accept deposits, were barred from behaving like investment banks, which organize and allocate capital for business and corporate activity. In 1999, President Clinton signed the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed Glass Steagall. This legislation, championed by Robert Rubin, was supreme folly. Major banks were allowed to engage in proprietary trading and join the Wall Street casino that speculated on paper profits, the difference being, Bank of America and Citibank utilized depositor capital, insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Innovative financial products, those , had been created for the super wealthy to make more money because insufficient return was available for them in the real economy. Instead of investing in America, production and distribution, the super wealthy needed more income. Instead of sharing with the needy for the common good or being satisfied with their leisure and comfort, the super wealthy enablers purchased poisonous pieces of paper that became the fuel for the global financial conflagration that crashed the American economy in 2008.

Repeal of Glass-Steagall did not cause the banking crisis. One of the chief causes of the global financial conflagration was the federal housing policy pursued by both Clinton and Bush. Conceived by liberals, the idea that everyone deserved a house regardless of sweat equity, became ideology and transmuted into sub-prime loans. Liar loans became common place and the mortgage meltdown created toxic assets, those CDOs. Mortgage brokers
found the buyers, fees were collected; the banks make the loans, fees were collected; the banks sold the loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who resold them to banks who then sold the toxic CDOs to investors.

Many factors contributed to the financial meltdown, including lack of Congressional oversight, Barney Frank, along with the collective delusion that home prices would always rise. The common causes of the collective failure of common sense are simple to understand: re-election, something for nearly nothing, and fees.

The Obama administration’s policies favored bank profits instead of putting people back to work. In April 2009, the Financial Accounting Standards Board relaxed rules called “mark to market” which allowed financial institutions to arbitrarily fix the value of near worthless pieces of paper, pseudo-assets. The Federal Reserve and the Department of Treasury also assisted the bonus machine by purchasing pieces of paper from banks and hedge funds. Goldman Sachs earned $13.4 billion “thanks largely to Obama’s policies.”

Republicrat ideology prevents the two major US parties from reaching a consensus on the cause of the financial crash which caused the Great Recession.

To say there’s been no accountability for the crash is an understatement. In yet another spectacular display of failed bipartisanship last week, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, charged by Congress with unearthing the roots of the financial meltdown, split apart in sectarian warfare. The panel’s Republican members issued their own rump report eliminating all mention of derivatives, executive compensation, failed regulatory agencies and even the words “Wall Street” so the whole debacle could be pinned solely on government (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) and deadbeat Americans who took on predatory mortgages.

Our political leaders seem more inclined to hasten the next bust — and perhaps cash in on it — than prevent it. Massachusetts Republicans can’t be blamed if they react with anger, not civility, to The Boston Globe’s new revelations that Scott Brown raked in off-the-charts donations from the finance industry while toiling to weaken the financial regulatory bill. Democrats are equally entitled to be outraged that Obama’s former budget director, Peter Orszag, has followed the egregious example of his mentor, Robert Rubin, by moving from the White House to a job at Citigroup — and only four months after leaving government service.

As The Times reported, Citi is now marketing all-new lines of loosey-goosey credit cards to debt-prone Americans much as it stoked the proliferation of no-money-down mortgages during Rubin’s tenure in the housing bubble. It can do so with impunity, since the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Spencer Bachus, has already guaranteed institutions like Citi a pass. As Bachus’s instantly notorious pronouncement had it, “My view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

In truth, this congressman’s view has been the prevailing view in Washington under both parties since the Reagan administration…

Ideology limits thinking by placing barriers around ideas that are viable options to address real problems and formulate policy. Ideology infects the minds of Black and White; educated and uneducated; Republicans and Democrats. Voodoo economics, an ideological policy favored by the Reagan administration set the stage for our present economic condition, the Great Recession, which has shattered lives and destroyed dreams.

According to author Charles Gasparino:

Barack Obama did not create the financial crisis in 2008, but he certainly created the uneven economic situation of 2009 and 2010 that allowed Wall Street to make so much money while America had to suffer through another dismal year of low employment.

Was Obama just tone deaf when it came to the economy, or just plain financially incompetent? Or was he so ideological in his approach to government that he ignored the suffering of average Americans who were out of work to spend his time pushing for a health-care entitlement and promising higher taxes on individuals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses while the jobless rate remained steady at around 10 percent?

No one will ever know, except maybe Obama himself. One thing is certain: The guy who appeared so smart and poised during the campaign couldn’t seem to get his arms around some simple facts, namely that his policies offered none of the massive incentives to most businesses that they offered the favored few, namely the banks and brokerage firms (and a few large companies like General Electric that embraced the social agenda of “green jobs”), no matter how many tines he called them names. A factory in South Carolina won’t hire additional workers if management expects more taxes (as Obama was promising), bigger entitlements (like health care), and higher energy costs.

SOURCES: Les Leopold, The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity — and What We Can Do About It; Charles Gasparino, Bought and Paid For: The Unholy Alliance Between Barack Obama And Wall Street

The foregoing post should educate anyone that there is no leadership in this country, a conclusion the blogger reached in 1979. Our problems from illegal immigration to endless foreign combat deployments are self-inflicted because of blind leaders who can’t look beyond ideology, the next election or the next bonus.

Les Leopold

Author, “The Looting of America”
Posted: September 17, 2010 09:01 AM

Poverty Rises as Wall Street Billionaires Whine

The ranks of the working-age poor in the United States climbed to the highest level since the 1960s as the recession threw millions of people out of work last year, leaving one in seven Americans in poverty. The overall poverty rate climbed to 14.3 per cent, or 43.6 million people, the Census Bureau said yesterday in its annual report on the economic well-being of US households.

While 43.6 million Americans live in poverty, the richest men of finance sure are getting pissy. First Steve Schwartzman, head of the Blackrock private equity company, compares the Obama administration’s effort to close billionaires’ tax loopholes to “the Nazi invasion of Poland.” Then hedge fund mogul David Loeb announces that he’s abandoning the Democrats because they’re violating “this country’s core founding principles” — including “non-punitive taxation, Constitutionally-guaranteed protections against persecution of the minority, and an inexorable right of self-determination.” Instead of showing their outrage about the spread of poverty in the richest nation on Earth, the super-rich want us to pity them?

Why are Wall Street’s billionaires so whiny? Is it really possible to make $900,000 an hour (not a typo — that’s what the top ten hedge fund managers take in), and still feel aggrieved about the way government is treating you? After you’ve been bailed out by the federal government to the tune of $10 trillion (also not a typo) in loans, asset swaps, liquidity and other guarantees, can you really still feel like an oppressed minority?

You’d think the Wall Street moguls would be thankful. Not just thankful — down on their knees kissing the ground taxpayers walk on and hollering hallelujah at the top of their lungs! These guys profited from puffing up the housing bubble, then got bailed out when the going got tough. (Please see The Looting of America for all the gory details.) Without taxpayer largess, these hedge fund honchos would be flat broke. Instead, they’re back to hauling in obscene profits.

These billionaires don’t even have to worry about serious financial reforms. The paltry legislation that squeaked through Congress did nothing to end too big and too interconnected to fail. In fact, the biggest firms got even bigger as they gobbled up troubled banks, with the generous support of the federal government. No bank or hedge fund was broken up. Nobody was forced to pay a financial transaction tax. None of the big boys had a cap placed on their astronomical wealth. No one’s paying reparations for wrecking the US economy. The big bankers are still free to create and trade the very derivatives that catapulted us into this global crisis. You’d think the billionaires would be praying on the altar of government and erecting statues on Capital Hill in honor of St. Bailout.

Instead, standing before us are these troubled souls, haunted by visions of persecution. Why?

The world changed. Before the bubble burst, these people walked on water. Their billions proved that they were the best and the brightest — not just captains of the financial universe, but global elites who had earned a place in history. They donated serious money to worthy causes — and political campaigns. No one wanted to mess with them.

But then came the crash. And the things changed for the big guys — not so much financially as spiritually. Plebeians, including me, are asking pointed questions and sometimes even being heard, both on the Internet and in the mainstream media. For the first time in a generation, the public wants to know more about these emperors and their new clothes. For instance:

• What do these guys actually do that earns them such wealth?
• Is what they do productive and useful for society? Is there any connection between what they earn and what they produce for society?
• Did they help cause the crash?
• Did these billionaires benefit from the bailouts? If so, how much?
• Are they exacerbating the current unemployment and poverty crisis with their shenanigans?
• Why shouldn’t we eliminate their tax loopholes (like carried interest)?
• Should their sky-high incomes be taxed at the same levels as during the Eisenhower years?
• Can we create the millions of jobs we need if the billionaires continue to skim off so much of our nation’s wealth??
• Should we curb their wealth and political influence?

How dare we ask such questions! How dare we consider targeting them for special taxes? How dare we even think about redistributing THEIR incomes… even if at the moment much of their money comes directly from our bailouts and tax breaks?
It’s true that the billionaires live in a hermetically sealed world. But that doesn’t mean they don’t notice the riffraff nipping at their heels. And they don’t like it much. So they’ve gotten busy doing what billionaires do best: using their money to shield themselves. They’re digging into their bottomless war chests, tapping their vast connections and using their considerable influence to shift the debate away from them and towards the rest of us.

We borrowed too much, not them. We get too much health care, not them. We retire too soon, not them. We need to tighten our belts while they pull in another $900,000 an hour. And if we want to cure poverty, we need to get the government to leave Wall Street alone. Sadly, their counter-offensive is starting to take hold.

How can this happen? Many Americans want to relate to billionaires. They believe that all of us are entitled to make as much as we can, pretty much by any means necessary. After all, maybe someday you or I will strike it rich. And when we do, we sure don’t want government regulators or the taxman coming around!

Billionaires are symbols of American individual prowess and virility. And if we try to hold them back or slow them down, we’re on the road to tyranny. Okay, the game is rigged in their favor. Okay, they got bailed out while the rest of us didn’t — especially the 29 million people who are jobless or forced into part-time work. But what matters most is that in America, nothing can interfere with individual money-making. That only a few of us actually make it into the big-time isn’t a bad thing: It’s what makes being rich so special. So beware: If we enact even the mildest of measures to rein in Wall Street billionaires, we’re on the path to becoming North Korea.

Unfortunately, if we don’t adjust our attitudes, we can expect continued high levels of unemployment and more people pushed below the poverty line. It’s not clear that our economy will ever recover as long as the Wall Street billionaires keep siphoning off so much of our wealth. How can we create jobs for the many while the few are walking off with $900,000 an hour with almost no new jobs to show for it? In the old days, even robber barons built industries that employed people — steel, oil, railroads. Now the robber barons build palaces out of fantasy finance. We can keep coddling our financial billionaires and let our economy spiral down, or we can make them pay their fair share so we can create real jobs. These guys crashed the economy, they killed billions of jobs, and now they’re cashing in on our bailout. They owe us. They owe the unemployed. They owe the poor.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was no radical, but he accepted the reality: If America was going to prosper — and pay for its costly Cold War — the super-rich would have to pony up. It was common knowledge that when the rich grew too wealthy, they used their excess incomes to speculate. In the 1950s, memories of the Great Depression loomed large, and people knew that a skewed distribution of income only fueled speculative booms and disastrous busts. On Ike’s watch, the effective marginal tax rate for those earning over $3 million (in today’s dollars) was over 70 percent. The super-rich paid. As a nation we respected that other important American value: advancing the common good.

For the last thirty years we’ve been told that making as much as you can is just another way of advancing the common good. But the Great Recession erased that equation: The Wall Streeters who made as much as they could undermined the common good. It’s time to balance the scales. This isn’t just redistribution of income in pursuit of some egalitarian utopia. It’s a way to use public policy to reattach billionaires to the common good.

It’s time to take Eisenhower’s cue and redeploy the excessive wealth Wall Street’s high rollers have accumulated. If we leave it in their hands, they’ll keep using it to construct speculative financial casinos. Instead, we could use that money to build a stronger, more prosperous nation. We could provide our people with free higher education at all our public colleges and universities — just like we did for WWII vets under the GI Bill of Rights (a program that returned seven dollars in GDP for every dollar invested). We could fund a green energy Manhattan Project to wean us from fossil fuels. An added bonus: If we siphon some of the money off Wall Street, some of our brightest college graduates might even be attracted not to high finance but to jobs in science, education and healthcare, where we need them.

Of course, this pursuit of the common good won’t be easy for the billionaires (and those who indentify with them.). But there’s just no alternative for this oppressed minority: They’re going to have to learn to live on less than $900,000 an hour.

William Greider, writing in 1987, deserves the last word on the “runaway rich” and Ronald Reagan.

Capitalism had this flaw: there was no natural stop valve to control its appetites. For individuals as well as great institutions of finance, the natural ambition of capital was always to seek maximum return from wealth. There was nothing in the capitalist process that told investors when they were demanding too much from it, that their collective desire for net gain was undermining the system itself. In the absence of political or social controls, the decrees of church or government, the lenders naturally claimed as much as the marketplace would allow; they had no way to distinguish between their normal desire for profit and the destructiveness of greed.

About Jerry Frey

Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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One Response to Ronald Reagan Tax Review

  1. Marie says:

    I think your analysis of Reaganomics was exactly right.

    I’d quibble with your opening salvo against liberal East Coast elites. I’m not smart enough to know their attitudes toward civil rights in 1870, but I know how they behaved in much of the 20th century. It certainly wasn’t only East Coasters: Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson all did a lot for the civil rights movement. None of the civil rights legislation would have passed without strong support from East Coast “elites.” Schwerner & Goodman were “East Coast elites.” (BTW, if Reaganomics were terrific & Reagan had been a GREAT president, I still wouldn’t have forgiven him for his Southern strategy, which he inaugurated when he announced his bid for the presidency in Philadelphia, Miss.)

    I grew up in Miami when it still had a Southern flavor — the first day I went to my new school, the kids asked me if I were a Yankee or a Rebel — I had no idea, & when I was in high school a number Southern-raised kids called me a nigger-lover because I said it was time [1962] that the schools be integrated. My East Coast elite father was out registering blacks to vote before MLK ever thought of it. There were tens of thousands of quiet, white civil rights advocates like my father, who hailed from the East Coast. Were all East Coasters enlightened? Hell, no. Many still aren’t.

    The civil rights movement was necessitated by white men. White men — many of them “East Coast elites” — made it happen. This is not to belittle what black women & men did to instigate & promote civil rights. They were the force that drove it. I’m just saying white men did it because blacks didn’t have the power to do it. Maybe ya hadda be there.

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