Thursday, May 18, 2006

With Justice For All

With Justice For All

Congress has just passed a $70 billion tax cut bill. This $70 billion give-away to the wealthy is futher evidence that we live in an unfair society, and should be yet another wake-up call that our democracy is in deep trouble.

According to Robert Reich, secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, writing in, 87% of this $70 billion will go to the 14% of American households earning above $100,000 a year and 22% of the benefits will go to the richest two-tenths of one percent of American households -- those earning more than a million dollars a year.

Reich says that the rich are now paying a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than at any time in the last seventy-five years, and that middle-income workers are now paying a larger share of their incomes than what people with the largest incomes pay. He calls this $70 billion tax cut, “irresponsible and obscene.”

Ben Stein, in an article in The New York Times, writes that, “America is becoming a nation of many rich people,” and that there are close to 10 million millionaire households, and hundreds of thousands of individuals who make more than $1 million each year.” Stein writes, “Good for them. But it is unlovely for them to pay as little tax as the now pay.” He says, “It's about fairness.”

It would seem that a democratic country logically would structure itself so that a majority, and more, of its citizens would concur that that the structure is fair and that the structure protects and advances the concept of justice for the average citizen. It would seem, that in a democracy, a majority of citizens would demand legislative actions that would advance basic fairness -- justice for all -- and that a candidate's understanding of fairness and commitment to fairness would be the biggest factor in determining whether he or she would be elected. It would seem that, in a democracy, a majority of citizens would demand that structures for economic fairness, economic justice, would be advanced and protected.

But, it is obvious, American democracy is not working in any logical way. What is fascinating about American democracy today is that a powerful clique of individuals has gained control of the levers of government to the point that they flaunt their power. This clique has bought and paid for the opportunity to use the levers of governmental power to shamelessly advance a selfish agenda that is patently unfair to the vast majority of citizens. This $70 billion tax cut for the wealthy is just the most recent example.

The fact that our democracy is not working as it should is obvious by what has happened in the last 30 years. In 1967 a book was published by Herman Kahn entitled, “The Year 2000.” In that book, Kahn speculated that in the year 2000, the average work week for American workers would be 20 hours, that the average worker would have much leisure time and that the average worker would have much increased personal wealth. Obviously this has not happened. People today, generally, are now working more hours, not less, and have diminished economic security, compared to 1967.

Kahn came to his predictions about the future by correctly extrapolating spectacular increases in productivity 33 years into the future and by correctly envisioning the great increase in wealth that this increased productivity would produce. The unstated premise of Kahn’s book was that a democracy would assure that this great increase in wealth would be fairly shared by average citizens. Kahn was correct about the increase of wealth but incorrect in his premise that our democracy would see that this increased wealth would be fairly shared. Obviously, the political process that should have protected the interests of average citizens, over time, was subverted for the advantage of the few. Obviously, this huge increase in wealth created since 1967, has not been fairly shared.

This subverting of our democracy for the advantage of the few has accelerated and, in fact, has been exalted in an “in your face” attitude by George W. Bush and his buddies. This $70 billion tax cut, regardless of massive deficits, regardless of a diminishing social safety net for average citizens, aptly demonstrates the arrogance of those who flaunt power, who show disregard for any sense of fairness or justice, and who seek their own selfish advantage.

How American democracy has been subverted, to the detriment of ordinary citizens, should be a key election issue. We need to support candidates who have a passion for “justice for all,” who can articulate a vision for justice and who can and will advance ideas for increasing justice.

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