by Jon Worley
I've never liked It's a Wonderful Life. I've only seen it once, but that was enough for me. While it's a well-made movie with excellent acting and all that, I blanched at the ending. You know, when all of George's (that's the main character, right?) friends show up at the door and shower him with cash. I know, the moral of the story isn't that money solves all problems...but nonetheless that final scene left me queasy.
I'm not one of those nuts who preaches a Luddite lifestyle, complete with barter system and all that. I'm not opposed to the concept of money--and believe me, money is much more concept that reality. I just happen to be down with the big JC on this one: The love of money is the root of all evil.
I know plenty of people who are quite wealthy. They're mostly decent people. Problem is, some of them hold the decidedly Republican belief that anything separating them from their money (be it government, poor people, thieves, their children--whatever) is evil and wrong.
Our society, in general, loves money. We use it for everything from basic needs to truly sordid forms of entertainment and gratification. A whole lot of people spend their whole lives trying to accumulate as much cash as possible--and then spending it before they die. I think that's the sorta thing a certain Jewish carpenter was rappin' about almost a couple thousand years ago. It's never a good idea to put money before people. And I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of that from our government in the near future.
I can't speak for the Prez, but his policies do speak for themselves. His administration has pushed a bankruptcy reform bill that benefits big corporations at the expense of average people. I've heard the arguments, and this is what I see: Fifteen solicitations a week from companies who want to give me a credit card. That's just me, by the way, not my wife. She gets more. She should. She has a paying job. I've been on the unemployment rolls for almost two years.
Two years without a regular job and still 15 or more companies a week want me to spend, spend, spend! Seems to me that bankruptcy reform is simply a way to provide a free insurance policy to those credit card dealers. They don't have to check and make sure their customers are worthwhile risks. They can run up as many bad debts--stupid debts, really--as they like and not be punished.
So that's exhibit A. Then there's this whole tax cut thing. I happen to agree with economists who say that a tax cut during recessionary times ought to ease the pain and spur a recovery. It's just that the tax cut ought to be targeted at the folks at the bottom and middle of the barrel. See, the folks in the middle and lower classes are the ones buying the products that make the economy run. Rich folks consume, but there are so few of them that their purchasing power is irrelevant. So, say, if we had totally eliminated income taxes on the first thirty grand of income and then let the rest of the tax structure stand as it was back in 1999, we'd have cut about the same amount of money out of the federal budget as the Prez's plan. The folks at the top would pay a little less, sure, but their high wages would still be filling up the coffers. It's absolutely true that rich folks pay a lot of taxes. Of course they do. They make a lot of money. They should pay a lot of taxes.
Enough of that. Let's talk environmental policy. The Prez has always sided with big companies rather than the interests of the average person (even when he calls a big press conference to say just the opposite). We want cleaner air and cleaner water. Making this happen will, in fact, be a negative drain on our economy. Damn straight. Who wouldn't want to pay a little so that we might live healthier lives?
The drumbeat goes on. When a large company is given free reign to do business as it pleases, most of the time it looks at the bottom line first. If it can do something for the rest of us without sacrificing profits, fine. If not, well, that's capitalism. And capitalism, as we all know, is the only way to do business.
I'm tired of having to make this argument. I'm tired of hearing over and over how the most efficient way to run the government is to treat it as a business. I'm tired of being told that inefficiency (as in, money spent without obvious immediate benefit) must be ferreted out at all costs. Except in the case of government contracts, of course, where overruns and $300 hammers are simply "excesses" and will be corrected someday. Maybe.
I'm tired of all of that. Government isn't a business (it's certainly not operated in order to turn a profit), so it doesn't need to run like a business. It needs to run like a government, an entity that exists as a result of a social contract between the citizens of a nation. We agree we need this institution of government to help make our lives better.
The main questions of any government should be: Are our lives better? Is society as a whole better off because of the policies of the government? Does each and every member of our society have the opportunity to communicate concerns to the government? Is the government responsive to those concerns, particularly those who are in most need of a response?
There are a few hundred other good questions that, if answered correctly might indicate that our government is on the right track. But I don't have the energy to scribble them down right now.
My nine-month-old son reached out and hugged me (as a conscious, intentional gesture) for the first time today. This may not seem like much to you, but it's so much more important to me than banging my head against the collective will of the money freaks that I think I will stop now and simply relive that moment for the next hour or two.
A tax cut ain't nothing next to something like that.