Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Republican Party Cannot Govern Anymore: Part 2

Last week I posted an article about why I feel the Republican Party is no longer fit to govern. In that article, I focused mainly on the intransigence of the current Party, and the refusal to compromise on anything, even lunch orders.

This time around I want to start homing on specific areas in which the Republican Party is lacking, and maybe even offer up some helpful advice to prevent them from sliding into the abyss (granted, my first piece of advice is "disband the Republican Party entirely because 21st century conservatives are complete douchewhistles," but I don't think they're gonna go for that). So, without further ado ...

It has often been claimed by Republicans -- even prior to trumpenstein -- that "we need to run this country like a business." Everything is about reducing spending, spending less, cutting back on the money that is spent, and so on (except when it comes to the military. The GOP absolutely loves to blow stuff up. Moving along ...). In fact, pretty much everything the Republicans have offered, complained about, advocated for, or publicized has had to do with money, its movement through our economy, and helping those who already have a shit ton of it hang on to even more. It's almost an obsession with these guys.

So here's the problem with this approach: The government is not a business, no matter how much you want it to be one.

The biggest difference between businesses and government, and the easiest to wrap your head around, is intent. Businesses are there to make a profit. It is their raison d'etre ... nobody opens an auto repair shop, say, with the mindset of "Hey, let's spend a bunch of money for equipment and tools so that everybody involved ends up bankrupt and with walloping debt" (granted, that's where a lot of them end up, but nobody sets out to do this from the start). In a for-profit enterprise, money is spent when the cost/benefit analysis points to a resulting increase in revenue, or to address an emergency situation.

For example, let's consider the Ford Mustang. Everyone who is even marginally aware of what an automobile is knows the name (hell, I was able to identify one driving by when I was four). It has been a part of popular culture for over 50 years. Ford spent a lot of money developing the Mustang (it went through several design iterations, including an air-cooled V4 version, before production), and spends a decent chunk of coin annually keeping it updated ... after all, Ford has the second largest R&D budget in the world, second only to Pfizer. Yet at no point has Ford lost money on the car.

This demonstrates that the main focus of any business is maximizing value -- as measured in dollars and cents -- for the stakeholders of that business. It doesn't matter whether it's a huge multi-national public corporation like Ford, or the local pizza joint run by a guy named Tony, the goal is the same: to have more money left over after expenses at the end of the month than at the beginning

This tends to have a dehumanizing effect on the people working there, since the company is not concerned, by and large, with the employee's potential or well-being, except insofar as it applies to the very narrow topic of the business's bottom line. The concern here is whether or not the employee provides more value than the expense of keeping that person employed. If an employee ends up costing more than the amount of revenue that can be attributed -- directly or indirectly -- to that employee, the prudent business decision is to not have that employee any more.

Contrast this to governmental units at any level -- the state level, for example. Let's say a big snowstorm hits, and the DOT sends out trucks to plow the roads. This activity does not generate any revenue, nor is it billed to anyone directly. It costs a bunch of money to send these things out, and not a cent flows back in from anyone that is directly earmarked for snow removal. Yet it is an accepted maxim that it is the job of government to clear the roads.

Government, at its heart, is about intangible benefits. It is extremely difficult to put a dollar value on giving children a good education, or providing disaster relief after a hurricane, or sending people to the moon, or paving highways, or clean air ... or clearing the roads after a snowfall. The role of government, at a very fundamental level, is to protect the population ... from foreign invasion, from public health scourges such as flu epidemics, and so on.

This is not to say that we should be completely irresponsible and carefree with our budgeting, far from it. We absolutely need to make sure that our revenues at least match our expected expenditures, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to have revenues exceed expenditures slightly so that we have a rainy day fund for unexpected events (such as the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that hit Virginia in 2011). On this there is general agreement between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. The differences lie in how we achieve this.

Let's take a look at just one area under the purview of the government: environmental regulation. Putting aside the ideological differences for the moment, we will consider simply the cost of environmental regulation versus the benefit to the population as a whole.

The Republican outlook on this is that environmental regulations are nothing more than a burden on business, and that we would be much better off if they just weren't there. True, the cost of keeping our air and water clean does impose some extra expenses on businesses, and yes, reducing or eliminating these regulations will help the bottom line of these businesses -- in the short term. Because of this, the GOP argument is at least internally consistent in that environmental regulations often do impose an extra cost on business that can only be recouped by raising prices or cutting employment expenses.

The problem comes when we start looking past the next quarter, or the next year.

Consider the pre-EPA days of the 1960s. During that time, American cities were so choked with smog and soot that warnings were issued regularly for people to stay inside because the air outside was unsafe to breathe. Someone standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building on a summer day was unable to see the twin towers of the World Trade Center three miles away because the air was a thick, nondescript gray. Even the Chrysler Building, about 3/4 of a mile away, was a blurry, indistinct smudge. A study was conducted that found that simply living in Los Angeles was equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. The Cuyahoga River famously caught fire due to all the toxic sludge floating in it.

Businesses had virtually no environmental regulations they were required to follow. Coal-fired power plants could exhaust the smoke and soot directly into the atmosphere. Dow Chemical was allowed to dump crap directly into the rivers. Mining companies could likewise dump mine tailings -- a toxic brew of chemicals and debris -- into waterways with no treatment. Automobiles did not have to meet any fuel economy or air quality regulations.

It was considered no big deal to throw your McDonald's trash from the car window as you were driving along the interstate.

Since the founding of the EPA in 1970, great strides have been made in cleaning up our air and water. Los Angeles, Denver, New York City, Washington DC, Nashville, Chicago, Dallas ... all became much more livable thanks to cleaner air. The Great Lakes, which were so polluted by the late 1960s that simply touching the water could make someone very ill, are now safe for recreational uses such as swimming and fishing. The amount of solid waste along our roadways has been slashed to a small fraction of what used to be there. None of these things directly contribute to the bottom line of any business, but are instead contribute to the general well-being of our country and its residents.

They would not have happened at all if the current Republican Party had been in control of things back then. At the rate things were going, this planet could very well have been rendered uninhabitable ... and how would that have helped the bottom line? (And yet, the GOP regularly squawks about "job-killing environmental regulations," when what they should be yelling about is "people-killing lack of environmental regulations." But I digress.)

Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, the trumpster fire, and their Congressional cronies are all on the same page, to a degree, about things like this. The EPA is being dismantled, for all intents and purposes. Federal education policy is being rewritten to benefit the banks issuing student loans, even while those loans prove to be usurious, destroying the lives of those who take them. This triumvirate of stupid wants to cut taxes on the rich using "trickle-down" economics as a justification, even though trickle-down economics has been proven repeatedly to be nothing but a boondoggle and a gift for the top 1%.

Corporate taxes are at the lowest rates since the Eisenhower administration ... in the 1950s corporate taxes were responsible for between a quarter and a third of all revenue collected by the federal government; by 2015 that figure had dropped to 10.6%. In addition, corporate tax rates have not kept up with the economy as a whole. From 1980 through 2015, the inflation-adjusted gross domestic product has risen 153%, while inflation adjusted corporate tax revenues have only risen by 115% in that same period.

In fiscal 2018, the federal government is expected to rake in $3.632 trillion in revenues. Of that amount, $1.88 trillion will come from personal income tax and $1.2 trillion will come from payroll taxes (FICA, Medicare, and the like). Corporate tax receipts, on the other hand, will be around $478 billion.

Think about that. Businesses of all sizes -- from the mom-and-pop hardware store on the corner to retail behemoth WalMart -- will contribute only about 13% to federal revenues, while individuals will be paying almost 85% (the rest will come from excise taxes, import and export tariffs, and the like).

The thing is, the maxim that "all crap flows downhill" applies here. Thanks to corporations having enough of a bankroll to fund lobbyists and purchase members of Congress on the open market, any increased costs get passed to the poor schlub who is already paying for almost everything. You want proof? Look at your cell phone bill ... that "$89.99 a month for four lines" plan you are paying almost $400 a month for? Some of that is comprised of taxes levied against the carrier ... that are passed directly to the consumer.

In addition to this, look at payroll taxes (FICA, Medicare). FICA taxes in 2016 were taxed at 6.2% of the first $118,500 of income. This means that someone earning $118,500 a year will pay exactly the same amount of FICA tax as someone earning $118,500,000 a year.Medicare taxes are just as regressive, but with no cap: 1.45% of all income. This means that the poor are shouldering a larger share of this burden -- when measured in terms of the scope of the reduction in their purchasing power for necessities -- than the rich.

The point of all this is that the Republican line -- balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility, and so on -- is ill-informed at best. When you have an entity like the federal government that is responsible for so many things that do not generate any revenue at all, it becomes an exercise in absurdity to try to reduce everything the government does to a simple cost/benefit analysis based on profit margin.

And this gets to heart of why the Republicans are unfit to govern. From Mitt Romney complaining about "takers" to Paul Ryan proposing a health plan that essentially does away with affordable health care entirely, the Republican ethos of reducing everything to a number in a ledger misses the point of government entirely.

And not for nothing, but the majority of those "takers" Romney was bleating about are already working 40 hours per week, but thanks to Republican efforts to bust unions and reduce the minimum wage to 1943 levels -- or eliminate it entirely -- it becomes impossible for anyone working a minimum wage job to survive. In some places like New York and San Francisco, it is impossible for these people to even exist.

A saner, more humane approach to governance requires that the bottom line be expanded beyond dollars and cents, and that it incorporate a single concept: security.

That's "security" as in knowing that your children aren't going to starve because you can't afford to feed them. "Security" as in knowing that a sprained ankle will not send you spiraling into bankruptcy. "Security" as in not being gunned down over a traffic violation simply because of the color of your skin.

None of these issues are very high on the Republican agenda. Their main concern is to make the rich even richer, so that they will continue to pour money into Republican campaign coffers, feeding a death spiral of greed and inequity that will, if left unchecked, reduce the United States to a feudalistic third-world banana republic.

Marie Antoinette has been credited with uttering the immortal phrase "Let them eat cake" when confronted with the plight of the poor in pre-revolutionary France. Today's GOP would maintain that she was too soft, and that if the poor wanted to eat they should have thought twice about being poor in the first place.

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