How we got here
By Austin Parker
A fifteen minute channel-surf of cable news will offer many villains for who’s to blame for our collapse. There are Wall Street bankers who point their finger at irresponsible homeowners who signed off on loans they couldn’t possibly pay back. There are the likes of New York City billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg who wag their proverbial finger at Washington, claiming that laws passed under prior administrations forced lenders to make loans to people who would not be able to repay. There are economists like Paul Krugman look to the banks, accusing them of designing these exotic financial instruments and then misrepresenting them to prospective clients—all the while minimizing dangers and falsifying paperwork on their behalf in pursuit of larger bonuses at the end of the quarter. And then there are the centrists, people like Barack Obama and Ben Bernanke who say that it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, that we just have to knuckle under and not point fingers—and certainly not investigate anyone in particular for malfeasance or wrongdoing.
I’m not an economist, a politician, a stockbroker, or a talking head on cable news, but I try not to be stupid. We didn’t get to where we are overnight. Watching the collapse and free-fall of the global economy, I’ve been able to glean three primary reasons for how we got here. First, the government doesn’t exist for the people’s benefit any more. Private lobbyists, bankrolled by wealthy interests of bankers and multinational CEOs, have captured the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government. It now serves their corporate interests. Second, banks and multinational corporations have engineered the laws and regulations (or lack thereof) to benefit their bottom line at the expense of the taxpayer and citizens of our country. When they make a bad bet, these same players turn around, hat in hand, to the federal government and demand trillions of taxpayer dollars in order to cover their bad debts, pay their CEOs huge bonuses, and double down on their next risky gamble. Finally, these symbiotic relationships between the uber-rich, politicians, and their enablers have shut us out of the political and economic processes of the nation.
We find ourselves divided on social issues, such as who can marry whom, what kind of gun we can purchase and carry, or how much of an ever-shrinking “discretionary budget” is doled out to our schools. In the meantime, we pull the lever every couple years for someone wearing a red or blue jersey who makes a lot of noise about caring for us and understanding our needs, right up until they arrive in Washington or Frankfort or Topeka or wherever—and the lucrative lobbyist cash flows like water.
A failure of leadership
So how did we get here?
Frankly, things have gotten as bad as they are because of the horror show that passes for American politics and governance. While our entire political system is deadlocked in futile debates on austerity and lower taxes for the 1%, our leaders continue to ignore joblessness, poverty, homelessness and our cratering economy.
It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that the US Congress held millions in disaster relief hostage to forge a suicidal pact on debt reduction. Not far back when our country was driven to the brink of default on our national debt over the notion that increasing taxes on millionaires—even by one penny—was a bridge too far for the political class that lairs in the US Congress. Not long ago that the Senate refused to budge on extending unemployment insurance to hundreds of thousands of Americans unless the government extend tax cuts for some of its richest citizens.
In 2010 as Americans saw their roads and bridges crumble, their educational opportunities priced beyond their means, and their meager unemployment insurance held hostage by an insane agenda of “Austerity now, Austerity tomorrow, Austerity forever!”, General Electric paid a grand total of zero dollars in federal income tax. Hedge fund managers, commodity speculators, and the parasitic class of investors who inhabit Wall Street paid 15% or less of their income in taxes–because of the capital gains tax and the carried interest exemption.
Every promise that’s been made by the organized political machine in this country for the past thirty years has been at its most basic form a theft from the 99% into the bank accounts of the 1%. Insurance “reform”, banking “reform”, housing “reform”, education “reform”, public safety “reform”—behind each of these lurks a well-connected, influential, and incredibly wealthy series of power brokers who stand to profit from our government’s decisions. A tall claim, yes, but consider that the net worth of Congress is over 2 billion dollars. Presidential campaigns cost tens of billions to run. Senate races run in the tens and hundreds of millions.
Here at home, campaigns are also getting more expensive. Kentucky’s winning gubernatorial candidate, Democrat Steve Beshear, spent over $11 million dollars to retain power. For the first time in city history, a Lexington mayoral campaign (Jim Gray’s) cost over $1 million dollars. At the city council level, progressive Steve Kay’s $100 thousand campaign–between 30 and 40 thousand more than the other two winning at-large council-members—considerably upped the economic buy-in for being a city representative.
As the halls of power have become a rich man’s playground, it should come as little surprise that rules get written to benefit these inhabitants.