Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Reason to Vote Democrat

This is really an attempt to reach any friends and family who normally vote Republican, or who are considering voting Republican in 2012. I know we don't normally discuss the sensitive issue of politics. For all I know, everyone may be voting Democrat in the next election. But I suspect not.

Forgive me if this comes off as a lecture--I am just trying to expose you to some of the things I have seen, read and heard over the past few weeks. I am not an economist or a political commentator, but I will do my best. I feel very strongly about the future of this country, and feel protective of its most vulnerable citizens (most people).

I am an American adult who faithfully went to college and got good grades, and have not been able to find a decent paying job in ten years. I have no savings, and am deeply in debt. I don't take vacations except for Christmas with family and weddings. I can't afford to go snowboarding with friends or go to concerts. I have been living without health insurance for about nine of the past ten years. I know there are a lot of you out there like me, who are in debt and scared shitless about being able to retire, and who never go on vacation. But nobody talks about it because it's considered inappropriate to discuss personal finances.

The fact is, $8, $10, $12 an hour--what so many jobs pay right now, is not enough to survive. Even jobs that pay a little bit more are not enough for people who have children. Many of us would be going hungry right now if it wasn't for credit cards and student loans. I believe that's why there's not a mass uprising right now--because access to credit cards, combined with the myth of being able to achieve the American Dream one day, keeps people comfortable, even if disappointed. It is not our fault that we don't have savings, if what we earn is not even enough to cover basic costs.

The key issue drawing people to the Republican party seems to be the promise of job creation, achieved through keeping tax rates low for the wealthy and corporations, combined with likely deregulation of the business and finance worlds. This may create more wealth for the very richest individuals and corporations, but will likely result in the creation of more jobs that pay $8 or $10 an hour. It may result in a stripping of rights for these workers, making them even more vulnerable than they already are. Look at what is happening in Wisconsin right now with public workers, something that can set a precedent for the rights of workers in both the public and private sectors for years to come.

I have heard that there are entrepreneurs right now who are trying to start businesses, which would definitely create some new jobs, but I have also heard that banks are refusing to grant start-up loans to these potential businesses, squelching growth. It is not a question of banks not having the money, because they are sitting on more money now than they have had in years. It is a question of banks having much more power than American citizens, and being able to control their money to suit their own financial interests. From what I understand, they are waiting until interest rates get higher to start doling out loans.

If you have a moment, please spend some time looking at this graph that shows the history of the gap between the rich and the poor in this country. The top line represents the top .01 percent of people, and the bottom line represents the bottom 90 percent of people, or most of us.

You can see that the gap was wide in the 1920s, before banks were regulated, and that things started to get better for most people in the 1930s and 40s, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. He put in place many regulations for banks and corporations, raised taxes on the rich and corporations, and created a lot of jobs. He was also a Democrat.

A lot of these regulations and tax rates lasted for most of the last century, in combination with unions becoming stronger. Look at how healthy the middle class was in the 1950s, when unions were at their strongest. This supports my argument that it is not tax breaks for the rich, but ultimately giving rights and a voice to the poor, that creates job security for Americans.

You may remember a posting I wrote a couple of years ago, The American Nightmare, in which I compared the life of a bread truck driver in the 1930s (able to buy a home and support a family), to the life of a bread truck driver today (unable to afford his own apartment). If you'd like to read it, you can find it here.

Now look at the graph again, and look at what begins to happen in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan takes presidency. He begins to cut government spending and cut tax rates for the rich and corporations, all in the interest of economic growth. And the gap begins to widen again. The rich got richer and the middle class got poorer. And it continued. And from what I understand, those tax rates were never raised again to what they once were. Yes, the economy grew in terms of the wealthy in the country prospering, but most people remained secure if lucky, or became worse off.

Obama does not want to raise taxes on the poor and middle class. He wants to raise taxes on the very wealthy and corporations, in order to bring about some sort of security that we had in the last century. And in the Republican debate last week, all candidates vowed to not raise taxes during their presidency. They believe they can fix the deficit by cutting spending in vital programs for poor and vulnerable Americans, and improve the quality of life for most people by simply hoping that businesses will create jobs. But who wants to work at Wal-mart or McDonalds?

If you have another moment, please take a look at this graph that shows taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans. You can see that most of their wealth comes not from job earnings, but from investment income. And the tax rate on these investments was cut during the Bush years. And despite that tax cut years ago, we still have a high unemployment rate. There is much more money in their pockets now, but they are not setting about creating new businesses with decent paying jobs. Another interesting note is that the article says the deficit could be fixed by simply raising this capital gains tax. But Republican lawmakers have refused to do just this.

If you are a low wage-earning American, or if you care about people who earn $8, $10, $12/hour, please consider voting Democrat in 2012. It will create a better quality of life for us in the long run.