The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 1, 2013

Jim Scofield | There are ‘makers’ and ‘takers’

Jim Scofield

— Some Republicans want to divide people into an industrious group they call “the makers” and an indolent remainder they call “the takers.” According to this view, financially successful Americans create wealth and jobs while others are a drag.

Given that we live in an era when big wealth takes (“the takers”?) a bigger share of the wealth and income than any time since the 1920s, and that it now pays lower tax rates, this seems a strange assertion.

We have seen the big banks speculative furies drive us into a deep recession and watched astonished as their investors continue to collect multimillion-dollar yearly incomes while paying the low capital gains rate on their income taxes (15 percent).

We have watched them be rescued from insolvency by hundreds of billions of dollars in public funding, but still collect such rewards for their incompetence.

AIG, the big insurance company that needed

$180 billion in government funds, is now running TV ads to tell us how beneficent AIG is because it repaid the government loan. We are supposed to forget that it failed to properly back its insurance policies and that our government paid off its fraudulent coverages at 100 percent when they were worth much less.

These are some of “the makers.”

Meanwhile “the takers” are enduring high unemployment, reduced wages and benefits, higher educational costs and losses of homes.

Corporate profits are up, in part because corporations have reduced employment and pay. High unemployment creates “a more competitive environment for job-seekers,” as a Tribune-Democrat article noted on Jan. 13: “New hires are particularly apt to settle for lower paying jobs than they expected, and college grads are often accepting positions outside their field of study.”

We recovered from the Great Depression of the 1930s because government spending – and government debt – took up the slack in the economy.

The New Deal programs, high World War II spending, and post-war housing, education and transportation programs drove the economy.

Afterward, the debt was easily absorbed. Herbert Hoover’s prescription of austerity was wrong, the same way this philosophy has proved wrong now in some European countries, further decreasing their economies and sending unemployment to very high levels.

Public spending in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s created jobs and stimulated industry, besides setting up the needed infrastructures for future production.

President Obama’s weak stimulus program has helped, as have increased unemployment compensation, food stamps, and supports. But states have undercut much of this by laying off hundreds of thousands of public workers in their forced austerity measures. Austerity programs don’t make nations recover from economic collapses, they don’t produce jobs, and they decrease public revenue.

Those who foster the “makers/takers” propaganda want to blame the people who have been most hurt by this recession for the problems. They picture the 24 million unemployed or underemployed as slackers. They want to seize this opportunity to reduce government support programs by using the national debt as the crucial issue while, contradictorily, cutting taxes for the well-off (which raises the debt). President George W. Bush did this. He criticized the debt while pushing through big tax cuts and expensive wars that increased the debt.

In a recession, because many are fearful, they may join in scapegoating the less fortunate. Anti-government critics who depend on Social Security come to mind.

Minorities are portrayed as lazy and irresponsible, even though they have lost jobs and homes at a higher rate and have seen their family holdings decrease more radically than whites.

In the past, ethnic minorities were similarly misrepresented. In the mid-19th century, Irish-Americans were commonly pictured as slackers and unreliable. So were Eastern and Southern European white ethnics.

Quite often, those who are comfortable don’t want to sympathize with the less well-off. They want to believe that they are doing OK because of their own efforts. But, as columnist Nicholas Kristof sadly points out, toddlers in upper-middle-class neighborhoods are likely to go to college, have nice homes and careers, while 2-year-olds in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to drop out of school, have dead-end jobs, and trouble with the law.

It’s only too easy to just blame the latter group. Not willing to recognize this, we are easily divided. Thus, comfortable people with health insurance may not want to include everyone in health care coverage, for example, rationalizing that others don’t deserve it and are a financial drain on the better-off.

 

Jim Scofield of Richland Township is a professor emeritus of English at Pitt-Johnstown.

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