Monday, September 06, 2010

This Labor Day, it will take more than prayer to protect us from the gathering storm

Tea Party members and their Republican enablers talk a lot about freedom and the free market, but actually, fewer and fewer things are free. A growing list of police and fire emergency services, for example, are not. The Sunday NYT had a story about the so-called "crash tax."
ABOUT a year ago Cary Feldman was surprised to find himself sprawled on the pavement in an intersection in Chicago Heights, Ill., having been knocked off his motor scooter by the car behind him. Five months later he got another surprise: a bill from the fire department for responding to the scene of the accident.

“I had no idea what the fire truck was there for,” said Mr. Feldman, of nearby Matteson. “It came, it looked and it left. I was not hurt badly. I had scratches and bruises. I did not go to the hospital.”
These scenarios are being repeated moreand more often throughout an America deeply divided on economic grounds in which the rich can buy anything they need or want, while everyone else has had to cut back -- not just on what they want but, incresingly, on what they need. And the rich resent any of their tax dollars going to fill the gap. Call it a plutocracy, or call it a banana republic -- the result is the same. The Haves are getting richer and the Have Nots are getting poorer.

A few months back, Roger Ebert wrote a powerful blog post that he titled "The Gathering Storm" and illustrated with dramatic photos of approaching bad weather. This Labor Day seems an appropriate time to link to it.

Ebert also began by discussing the rapid growth in fees for municipal services as cash-strapped municipalities are unable or reluctant to raise enough tax revenue to pay for needed services. He went on to talk about the growing divisions between the Haves and Have Nots, and the unfairness of the way the pie gets divided.
We're in for some hard times. We need to pull in our belts, pay more taxes, demand more value for our taxes, and say no to an ideology that requires converting our health money into corporate profits. We should to raise the lowest wages, and lower the highest ones. We have to return to the saying my father quoted to me a hundred times: "A fair day's work for fair day's pay." No, I don't think everyone should be paid the same wage. If you earn a lot of money, you have a right to a lot of money. If you earn it. But when Wall Street bosses are paid millions in bonuses for bankrupting their firms, and their political tools in Congress oppose a better minimum wage, that's plain wrong. It's rotten. People who defend it with ideology are strapped to a cruel ideology.
I took this photo in Janesvilla a few years ago during a time when we were having a lot of bad weather, and at the time I thought I was taking a picure of an approaching thunderstorm. Since then, Janesville's economy has been further decimated by the closure of the GM factory there, and it's looking less like a photograph about meteorology and more like one about economics.

The American middle class was built on the notion of "a fair day's work for fair day's pay." Henry Ford jump-started the 20th century American middle class economy by paying wages sufficient for his workers to buy the products they produced. Ford was no progressive, but he knew that if a small group of people are allowed to accumulate most of the wealth in a society, there won't be enough money left in circulation to promote healthy economic activity.

That used to be just plain common sense. These days it's considered controversial. As the storms clouds keep gathering this Labor Day, we need to decide how this country went wrong and what to do about it. Prayer is not enough. Besides, they say God helps those who help themselves.


Cybergabi said...

Interesting story about the fire truck. If there were such a tax here in Europe, and I am pretty sure there isn't, it would be covered by the vehicle insurance of the person causing the accident. Every motorist needs to have insurance here, otherwise the car won't get a license. The cost for restoring/ replacing the scooter and all health costs of the scooter driver related to the accident would be covered just as well.

It's ALL kinds of wrong that the person who got hit by someone else should pay the (unnecessary) fire truck. Or anything else, for that matter.

Leslie F. Miller said...

Gabi, we have that policy here, but people will often buy their cars and let their policies expire or lapse, and because the payments are not tied together, the lenders don't know. It's illegal to drive without insurance—and without a license—but it doesn't stop people from doing it.

I'm not even sure how this can happen, Peter. We do pay taxes, and those taxes are, in some part, to ensure we have a fire truck to put out our fires, an EMT to respond to our emergencies, and a police department to combat crime. How do people living in some municipalities have to pay when the services are used?

I wonder about stories like these—whether they are true.

Anthony Thompson said...

It seems to be a stirring manifesto for a new populism...a progressive populism, not the tea party kind. BTW, the DFL candidate for governor here in MN (Mark Dayton, a wealthy man himself) is running on a 'Tax the Rich' platform. His Republican opponent is essentialy a tea-partyer. We shall see which argument wins in November! One thing's for sure: The Dems moving to the right isn't going to help them win any elections!

Gamma Infinity said...

L.A. has charged for paramedic services as long as I can remember. Everything bad starts in California.

I **SO** want out of this crumbling empire.