I am writing to encourage Louisiana’s senators and representatives to engage seriously in negotiations to avoid the impending fiscal cliff. I would like to frame the debate in terms of the dramatically increasing income gap.
Since 1979, the income gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans has been steadily increasing, with a rapid acceleration following the Reagan administration’s dysfunctional trickle-down theory of economics. It could better have been called the gusher-up theory, with the top 1 percent of Americans increasing after-tax income by 155 percent, compared to the lower 20 percent’s increase of 37 percent, which amounted to an overall decrease in real income.
The majority of Louisiana delegates are now rallying behind a tea-party rhetoric of no more taxes, as if they were John Hancock and members of our government representatives of King George. The humiliating status of Louisiana in the face of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “read-my-lips” pledge is a state on the verge of fiscal, moral and educational bankruptcy.
The truth is that we need taxes to support a functioning government, an educational system and a developing infrastructure. The question is never one of taxes or no taxes — it’s a question of tax structures and what those taxes are used for — for instance for wars against imaginary weapons of mass destruction or for schools.
The current Republicans, with Sen. David Vitter and Jindal leading the charge, promote policies that increasingly punish the impoverished while enriching the wealthy. I believe we should promote different values — the primary one being the value of the community. It may sound heroic to say to the unfortunate that they have to learn how to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, as George Bush may have thought he did. But the reality is that we need a government that promotes the general welfare, not just the welfare of those who profit from gusher-up socioeconomic policies.
By curtailing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the Republican agenda affects those who can least afford it. Wealthy people will not lose if the government cuts social programs. We are already more than well-enough off. Wealthy people who want to keep their tax cuts want only to increase their gains, citing some kind of myopic Darwinian sociology.
Louisiana stands as an exemplar of how keeping more for ourselves doesn’t work. We know that for the greater good, those of us who have been benefitting from past policies may need to contribute a bit more, perhaps cutting our after-tax incomes from something like $180,000 to $170,000. The past election shows that a good many upper-middle-class and upper-class citizens are willing to pull in their belts just a little tighter. It might, in fact, be good for us to lose some weight.