The Lie of the ‘Age of Scarcity’

The big lie is that we’re living in an age of scarcity and that the only path forward is to trim the fat and get our economy growing so that the rising will lift all boats, blah blah blah. The reality of course is much different. There is more than enough money to fund all of the priorities in the industrialized world.

In the United States, in particular, we have the money. We can do this. This is feasible. We can pay for all the things that we need to pay for, for everyone — but we have to go get the money.

Then people say “well you can’t get the money because people will just move overseas and the wealthy will just avoid taxes further.” But the reality is that they are dependent on us as a whole and we have no need to be dependent on their whims.

The reality is that the wealthy in this country would not be wealthy and could not continue to be wealthy without the benefit of the American system, which we largely let them use without strings attached. Their wealth derives from the U.S. legal code and U.S. courts, the U.S. banking system, the U.S. highway system, massive federal investments in technology research, all kinds of water infrastructure — really any of these things and more.

It’s up to us to exercise the political will to go get this money to fund these priorities. To go get this money and make it so that they cannot leave the country with their wealth or move it offshore but still benefit from all these systems.

They cannot continue to hold this wealth and participate in the United States economy with all the advantages that that brings to these wealthy people, unless they are paying a share necessary to sustain and stabilize the needs of the population of the United States of America.

It is an absurd proposition that these people should be allowed to continue to accrue infinite amounts of money without strings attached. It is absurd that the private and public sector keep “trimming the fat,” affecting the lowest in our society as well as the ordinary people in our society, at every possible opportunity — all so that the wealthy can continue to a mass fortunes that are truly beyond all human comprehension, beyond any possible need, beyond wealth itself.

We have enough money to fund all of priorities that we need to fund in our country if we go get that money. No one – no one – should be turning to right-wing populism or other evil answers to their problems just because they have been offered no other solutions to their legitimate grievances within the system.

The reality is that there are billions and billions and billions of dollars being hoarded offshore by wealthy individuals and enormously rich corporations, which should be taken back by the state and re-distributed to the people.

There are folks dominating the media narratives who have a great stake in perpetuating an existing system and saying that there is no alternative, that this scarcity is inevitable, and that we must be “realistic” and cut back, cut back, cut back, down to the bone until they have decided that they are satisfied.

But there will never be any point of satisfaction and there is no reason to insist upon some fictional claim that ordinary people cannot have these programs that are “overly generous.” There is no such thing as overly generous in the systems unless you are talking about the vast fortunes that are accrued to the wealthy for no reason. Out of all rational proportion.

We may live in an age of scarcity of certain natural resources, but we do not live in an age of scarcity in terms of budgets and social spending, except in a manufactured one.

Dispense with this false framing about hard choices when it comes to vital social needs. Dispense with this false framing that the objective of a 21st century civilization is to promote an arbitrary annual economic growth rate that is purportedly the only solution to lifting living standards and is somehow only achievable by cutting back any social spending that was making real gains in living standards.

We don’t live in a hard-scrabble subsistence society. We live in a society where there is no reason not to set, as the primary objective, a mission of raising living standards and life comfort for all our ordinary everyday people. The tangible and real things in life, that is. Not some national growth figures on a chart.

We can do this. If we choose not to, or if we choose to prioritize other things like wealth accumulation and meaningless growth figures, it is entirely a choice, not a forced decision.

Higher taxes (for some) have to be on the table

Bill Humphrey in The Boston Globe: Should higher taxes be off the table in state budget talks? No.
In early 2015 and again last month, Democratic Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo promised that the House of Representatives would not pass budgets that involved new revenues of any kind. This goes beyond Governor Charles D. Baker’s Republican standard of no-new-taxes.

Anti-tax conservatives in both parties have been dominant for a full generation now. The unchallenged politics of tax cuts — and spending cuts to offset them — has become self-sustaining. There has been comparatively little defense of what spending actually means: programs and policies that deliver vital public services.

Speaker DeLeo, explaining his position, cited pre-existing pressures on family budgets. It’s true, many Massachusetts families have been struggling to get by. Unfortunately, further cuts likely will worsen that pressure.

Nobody disputes the importance of fiscal efficiency, but after decades of cuts there is virtually no fat left to trim in the state budget. Even the rainy day fund has been exhausted to plug other budget gaps. Without new revenues, even deeper cuts will necessarily be made in vital arenas that intersect directly with family budgets.

Transportation infrastructure, public education, economic development, social safety nets, our courts, and more are funded in large part or wholly by government spending. “Consolidating” services often means reduced access for citizens, particularly the most vulnerable. Cutting back public investment in these areas hurts families, costs good-paying public employee jobs, and shrinks the economy.

How we raise revenues most effectively and fairly is a good question – and a political one.

Our current state tax system is regressive. It shouldn’t be. The proposed Fair Share constitutional amendment would fund transportation and education via an additional millionaire’s tax on those whose family budgets won’t be broken by an extra contribution to our society’s shared coffers. Increased tax compliance by large corporations likewise would ease the burden on small businesses without access to offshore tax shelters.

What is not debatable – given our fiscal situation and our public investment needs – is that we need more revenues from somewhere. Taking revenue increases off the table is fiscally irresponsible and ultimately harmful to the very people the speaker says he wants to help.

MA legislature blocks Gov. Baker’s painful education cuts


Last week the State Senate voted to restore much of the education funding to the Massachusetts State budget, including: $5.25 million to the University of Massachusetts, $217,000 for Quinsiggamond Community College, and, perhaps most importantly, $17.6 million in kindergarten grants. The House followed along the same lines.

By July 30, lawmakers had restored 60% of Governor Baker’s $162 million budget cuts (via line-item veto) to the $38.1 billion Massachusetts budget originally sent to his desk. As to be expected in Massachusetts, a state consistently ranked as having one of the country’s best public education systems, it was the cuts to education that drew the most attention and ire.

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg (D) spoke strongly about the need to keep funding for education:

“If we’re serious about closing the income inequality gap, expanding educational opportunities for working families must be an important priority. By overriding the governor’s ill-advised education vetoes, we’re helping middle-class kids get the tools they will need to prosper in a demanding and competitive economy.”

Governor Baker, who ran and won his seat as Governor as a moderate Republican in a deeply blue state, has been evasive when it comes to his true opinion of early childhood education. While running for governor, he insisted:

“We need to make sure there’s a runway here between pre-k into strong elementary and middle school and high school education.”

However, as a candidate, he refused to pledge to shrink the waiting list of 17,000 low-income students hoping to get a spot in a subsidized pre-kindergarten program.

As governor, Baker has frequently pointed to the cost of pre-Kindergarten programs, but vetoed a program to establish best practices for cost-control in pre-K programs. Baker also frequently sites a Brookings Institute study, which notes the disappearance of benefits of a pre-K program by the third grade if students are in under-preforming schools. This seems like a thin defense for cutting pre-K programs, but an important reason to figure out how to improve pre-K programs.

Governor Baker points out that the $17.6 million of kindergarten grants he planned to cut was part of a program originally intended to help school districts establish full-day kindergartens and with 90% of MA towns now providing full-day kindergarten, the grants no longer fulfill their original purpose. Many school leaders say their kindergarten programs rely on this funding and if it is to disappear, it should do so gradually, not all at once, leaving school districts in the lurch.

The cut of these kindergarten grants was overridden unanimously in both the House by a vote of 155-0 and the Senate by a vote of 38-0.

The truth is that Baker governs a state where 73% of residents support early childhood education and 53% would support raising taxes to support it. With polls like this one, it is easy to see that Baker’s values may not match up with the state he is governing. It is hard to believe that short-sighted budget cuts like this one will not come back to haunt him.