What Does Scaling Back Government Really Mean for You and Me?
Cutting taxes in the guise of putting more money back in the pockets of the 99 percent is a 100 percent wrong approach to our economic woes. It depletes the revenue we need to maintain public services and vital infrastructure that Americans expect and, in many cases, require to sustain our daily lives. Sure, we should trim the fat. But hacking at the muscle decimates the economy and quality of life for all of us.
For over 40 years, the Republicans have used the rhetoric of lowering taxes as a rallying cry to gain power at every level of government. What has their success meant? Today, the 1 percent has a disproportionate share of the wealth in this country, and the United States is falling behind in key areas, from education to technology to health care.
Take the case of our transportation system. Everyone knows what a pothole looks like, because we have failed to properly maintain the vast highway system started by Eisenhower in 1954. We ride antiquated trains, and we lack high-speed rail systems, which other nations over the years understood as the only way to move people efficiently from one place to another. Once upon a time, we prided ourselves on building a nationwide rail system, which by the way, could never been built without the sweat of “undocumented workers.” But in the 20th century, we let the power of the automobile industry shift our prime mode of transportation. The result is our total dependence on fossil fuels, which is dooming us to dinosaur status in the realm of energy and transportation technology. As we fouled our air, we failed to consider the long-term effects of our short-term view of the future, which, regrettably, is now.
This short-term view has thoroughly infected our politics. Time and time again, we are promised quick fixes that give us a false notion that we can solve every problem during the term of office of those we elect. We rarely look to the long-term effects, and we fail to consider the legacy that decisions have on the next generation. This selfish view has gotten us where we are today. But the problems we face did not start when Barack Obama took office, nor will the vast majority be solved when the next elections roll around. In this world of 24/7 news, and having to get everything overnight, we have created a Federal Express society, when what we really need is to slow down and think of the long haul with real and pragmatic approaches.
When we shrink government for the sake of lowering our tax burdens, some of the consequences are painfully obvious. Consider something as simple as the closing of rest rooms on public highways. A long trip on our interstate system now means waiting to go to the bathroom for an extra hour. Young children wait and wiggle around uncomfortably. The elderly suffer. So what do we do? We get off the highway and use facilities maintained by McDonald’s or other places for their customers and workers, and assume they have the responsibility to provide this seemingly innocuous public service. Forget the long lines and wasted time we take looking for these spots. Is it the responsibility of private enterprises to provide a public service, because some idiot in government wants to look like they are saving us tax burdens?
There was a time when this country strived for better service. Have you been to a local motor vehicle bureau recently? Many states have tried to shift services online, but as those unable to do certain transactions that way discover, the lines and waits may be just as long as they were 20 years ago. Those who require human interaction to take care of services are penalized, while cuts to staffs are made in the mistaken belief that it saves money. Sure, it seems like the government is spending less. But just add up the time for those who have to take longer lunch hours or use their time after work to sit on a hard bench, because there are fewer workers in those offices. How does that help the economy? Listen to the stress of workers left to deal with angry people who now have to waste their time on what someone has decreed a bloated expenditure for service. Think of the people laid off from those positions that used to spend money at local businesses — people that not only paid income tax but generated sales taxes and more jobs. Imagine the decent housing they used to have, with enough left over to take care of the rising costs of their health care and provide for their children’s education.
When public sector jobs disappear, the harm reverberates throughout a local economy and to the nation’s economy as a whole. In the '80s and '90s, conservatives held that privatizing services once provided by the public sector was supposed to lower taxes. Did that really happen? Public workers, often unionized and paid wages that made it possible to get by, found themselves out of work. Meanwhile corporate profits soared as the costs of providing services were shifted to other places that benefited from lower priced wages. Communities and services were stripped down to save a company’s bottom line, while the public accepted the bigger lines and longer waits for essential services. We need to look hard at the long-term data and effects of these so-called tax-saving measures on the quality of life throughout this country. Has it really meant reducing our total tax burden? Or has it merely meant more profits for the private sector and our costs are shifted elsewhere? And while we’re at it, let’s look at what the loss of jobs in our towns means to local businesses that depended on those consumers and the local sales taxes lost because the jobs went elsewhere. When thousands of people’s jobs are lost, and the government loses its tax revenue, let’s consider what happens to the cost of maintaining the schools.
Cutting spending to the bone destroys the muscle that drives the quality of life for all of us. Rich or poor, we all pay.