Paul Buchheit

How right-wing conservatives laid waste to America for 50 years

What is a conservative? We've seen a lot of them in 2020, refusing to respect the needs of society.

The Heritage Foundation says: "Foremost among [conservatism's] transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force." Stanford University adds: "For conservatives, individuals and local communities are better assessors of their own needs and problems than distant bureaucrats." A 2003 study for the American Psychological Association stated: "The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality." There are many other forms and definitions of conservatism as political, economic, and social philosophies. The usage here may best be understood as the evolving marriage of individualism and neoliberalism (privatization, deregulation, low taxes, austerity) since the 1970s.

Conservatism has made 'social' a dirty word. Here are some of the details of fifty years of damage inflicted on America.

The Disastrous Effect of Placing Individuals Over Society

The anti-government, "all about freedom" individuality of conservatives has failed terribly in a time of national emergency. How did the misdirected mindset get its start? With Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who are commonly referenced with connection to neoliberalism. Friedman is the author of some remarkable quotes: "The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people." And, according to The Guardian: "There is evidence that a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy."

Then came Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The former UK Prime Minister said about society: "There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families."Reagan, whose campaign slogan was, familiarly, "Let's make America great again," famously stated that "Government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem."

So now, at a time when we need to work together as a society rather than as a crowd of individuals, we've been betrayed by conservatism. As historian Neil J. Young puts it, "Now, 40 years later amid a global pandemic, that unbridled individualism has shown its deadly dimensions in Trump and the Republicans' lack of response to COVID-19...it's evident in the millions of Americans who—in refusing to wear masks, practice social distance, and momentarily deny their self-gratification—have selfishly exploited the language of 'individual responsibility' as license for their own recklessness."

Just as frightening is the recent conservative Supreme Court church-gathering decision that "placed religious freedom before pandemic precautions."

Deregulation and Subsidies: Corporations Running Rampant


The euphemistically-named Citizens United (CU) is an example of the deceptive measures used by conservatives. CU refers to an initiative that "seeks to reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security." But it helps corporations, not citizens, by allowing unlimited funding for corporate-friendly candidates.

Conservatives argue for less government intervention—except when it comes to subsidies. Leading the pack of favor-seeking lobbyist groups is the pharmaceutical industry. Few companies have benefited more than Pfizer, whose former CEO Ian Read once complained that U.S. taxes had his company fighting "with one hand tied behind our back." In 2019 Pfizer made nearly half of its $17.7 billion in profits in the U.S., yet the company claimed $1.8 billion in federal and state tax refunds. And it takes from America in another way. In recent years Pfizer has increased the prices of dozens of prescription drugs at over ten times the rate of inflation.

Now Pfizer is basking in the glow of media coverage for the so-called "Pfizer Vaccine." The company deserves credit for its all-out efforts to distribute the medication to millions of people. But the vaccine was created by the Turkish/German founders of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, who guided the development of the messenger RNA process that triggers an immune reaction against Covid. The groundwork for the relatively rapid production of the vaccine was laid in place at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania by research on the prior SARS and MERS outbreaks. More expertise came from the taxpayer-funded Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, "The speed is a reflection of years of work that went before." Indeed, a successful vaccine is the product of long-term social cooperation, not individualism.

Inequality: Going Viral

Thanks to the insidious conservative-minded 50-year-old "trickle-down" philosophy—which astoundingly continues to be preached by many of the super-rich—inequality has stretched our nation nearly to the breaking point.

At one end, the 25 million adults who make up the richest 10% of America increased their wealth in this pandemic year by an average of $200,000 each.

At the other end: it is estimated by Moody's Analytics that nearly 12 million American renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by the beginning of 2021. Little of America's surging income and wealth since the 1970s has gone to the poorest 50%.

Some Hope?

Philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill once said, "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."

As Mill made clear, smart people have also gravitated to the conservative side. Among them were the aforementioned anti-government crusaders Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who expressed support for a Universal Basic Income. In fact, the UBI concept has been promoted by both political parties over the years. But it will take the will and fortitude of Congress to make it a reality. And Congress is overflowing with John Stuart Mill's conservatives.

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

How right-wing conservatives and their insidious 'trickle-down' philosophy inflicted 50 years of damage on the US

What is a conservative? We've seen a lot of them in 2020, refusing to respect the needs of society.

The Heritage Foundation says: "Foremost among [conservatism's] transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force." Stanford University adds: "For conservatives, individuals and local communities are better assessors of their own needs and problems than distant bureaucrats." A 2003 study for the American Psychological Association stated: "The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality." There are many other forms and definitions of conservatism as political, economic, and social philosophies. The usage here may best be understood as the evolving marriage of individualism and neoliberalism (privatization, deregulation, low taxes, austerity) since the 1970s.

Conservatism has made 'social' a dirty word. Here are some of the details of fifty years of damage inflicted on America.

The Disastrous Effect of Placing Individuals Over Society

The anti-government, "all about freedom" individuality of conservatives has failed terribly in a time of national emergency. How did the misdirected mindset get its start? With Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who are commonly referenced with connection to neoliberalism. Friedman is the author of some remarkable quotes: "The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people." And, according to The Guardian: "There is evidence that a democratic society, once established, destroys a free economy."

Then came Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The former UK Prime Minister said about society: "There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families."Reagan, whose campaign slogan was, familiarly, "Let's make America great again," famously stated that "Government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem."

So now, at a time when we need to work together as a society rather than as a crowd of individuals, we've been betrayed by conservatism. As historian Neil J. Young puts it, "Now, 40 years later amid a global pandemic, that unbridled individualism has shown its deadly dimensions in Trump and the Republicans' lack of response to COVID-19...it's evident in the millions of Americans who—in refusing to wear masks, practice social distance, and momentarily deny their self-gratification—have selfishly exploited the language of 'individual responsibility' as license for their own recklessness."

Just as frightening is the recent conservative Supreme Court church-gathering decision that "placed religious freedom before pandemic precautions."

Deregulation and Subsidies: Corporations Running Rampant

The euphemistically-named Citizens United (CU) is an example of the deceptive measures used by conservatives. CU refers to an initiative that "seeks to reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security." But it helps corporations, not citizens, by allowing unlimited funding for corporate-friendly candidates.

Conservatives argue for less government intervention—except when it comes to subsidies. Leading the pack of favor-seeking lobbyist groups is the pharmaceutical industry. Few companies have benefited more than Pfizer, whose former CEO Ian Read once complained that U.S. taxes had his company fighting "with one hand tied behind our back." In 2019 Pfizer made nearly half of its $17.7 billion in profits in the U.S., yet the company claimed $1.8 billion in federal and state tax refunds. And it takes from America in another way. In recent years Pfizer has increased the prices of dozens of prescription drugs at over ten times the rate of inflation.

Now Pfizer is basking in the glow of media coverage for the so-called "Pfizer Vaccine." The company deserves credit for its all-out efforts to distribute the medication to millions of people. But the vaccine was created by the Turkish/German founders of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, who guided the development of the messenger RNA process that triggers an immune reaction against Covid. The groundwork for the relatively rapid production of the vaccine was laid in place at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania by research on the prior SARS and MERS outbreaks. More expertise came from the taxpayer-funded Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, "The speed is a reflection of years of work that went before." Indeed, a successful vaccine is the product of long-term social cooperation, not individualism.

Inequality: Going Viral

Thanks to the insidious conservative-minded 50-year-old "trickle-down" philosophy—which astoundingly continues to be preached by many of the super-rich—inequality has stretched our nation nearly to the breaking point.

At one end, the 25 million adults who make up the richest 10% of America increased their wealth in this pandemic year by an average of $200,000 each.

At the other end: it is estimated by Moody's Analytics that nearly 12 million American renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by the beginning of 2021. Little of America's surging income and wealth since the 1970s has gone to the poorest 50%.

Some Hope?

Philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill once said, "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."

As Mill made clear, smart people have also gravitated to the conservative side. Among them were the aforementioned anti-government crusaders Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who expressed support for a Universal Basic Income. In fact, the UBI concept has been promoted by both political parties over the years. But it will take the will and fortitude of Congress to make it a reality. And Congress is overflowing with John Stuart Mill's conservatives.

Inequality gone viral: Here are the shocking numbers behind America's economic illness

In a distressing analogy to the relentless surge of Covid-19, which has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and people of color, there has been an unstoppable transfer of wealth from desperate Americans to the people who already had most of our nation's financial assets.

While the great majority of us have been focusing on the health and well-being — and the very survival — of loved ones, the super-rich have become "pandemic profiteers," isolating themselves from Covid while riding the stock market to its highest-ever level. At the same time we are seeing a dramatic demonstration of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, with the "perfect conditions for governments and the global elite to implement political agendas that would otherwise be met with great opposition if we weren't all so disoriented."

We need to ask ourselves: In a year of disease and death and destroyed families, should a massive, inexplicable increase in new American financial wealth go to billionaires or to health care workers? Should unearned gains go to the few hundred richest Americans or to the millions of American households who have lost their means of support?

The numbers are shocking. Here's what happened in the year 2020:

An Average of $200,000 Each to the Richest 10% of Americans. In November of 2019 the Wilshire Total Market stood at about $32 trillion. After plunging at the start of the pandemic, by November of 2020 it had risen to $38 trillion. That's a $6 TRILLION overall increase for stockholders. The richest 10% of Americans (about 25 million adults, most of them millionaires (Table 5-8)) own 84 percent (Table 10) of ALL stocks.

An Average of $1.5 Billion Each to the Richest 650 Individuals. Since the onset of Covid-19 in early 2020, the combined wealth of the 650 American billionaires has increased by nearly $1 trillion. A trillion dollars is enough to provide every U.S. household with a survival stipend of nearly $8,000.

An Average of $25 Billion Each to the Richest 15 Individuals. Bezos, Musk, Gates, Zuckerberg, and the eleven other richest Americans had $922 billion around this time last year. As of Thanksgiving Day this year, their wealth had increased by another $375 billion. That's $25 billion more, on average, for each multi-billionaire, although Elon Musk alone has added about $80 billion to his fortune.

An Average of $600 Billion Each to the 5 Richest Tech Companies.
In March, 2020 the market capitalization for Big Tech (Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook) was $4.1 trillion. By November it was over $7 trillion. A 75 percent increase in under nine months! No one has profited more from 70 years of taxpayer input than these massive technology companies.

At the Other End of Inequality

While the pandemic profits roll in for the millionaires and billionaires, the plight of low-income Americans is growing more life-threatening every day. Just in the past three months, according to research at the University of Chicago and Notre Dame, six million people have been added to the ranks of the poverty-stricken, with the most dire effects on Black people and children.

Many Americans can't even feed themselves and their children. Nearly 26 million adults -- one in nine -- have reported that their households sometimes or often lacked food.

"Pandemics should be the great equalizer," says political analyst Fareed Zakaria. But instead "the virus is ushering in the greatest rise in economic inequality in decades, both globally and in the United States." Brookings agrees, adding that "the costs of the pandemic are being borne disproportionately by poorer segments of society."

What Can We Do?

We won't end the accumulation of wealth. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, "No one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars."

And we won't end corporate welfare. While we laud the work of the pharmaceutical companies in developing a vaccine, and that of the tech companies for providing us ways to communicate with each other during quarantine, everything they've done stems from decades of research and development paid for by U.S. taxpayers, and supplemented by government subsidies. But the CEOs and stockholders get all the benefits.

The only solution may be an implementation of Modern Monetary Theory, the pumping of money into the general population through a Guaranteed Income, so that the ever-expanding disparities in wealth can be countered by a surge in middle- and lower-class wealth.

Something has to be done to heal the rupture in the sickened body of our nation.

Here are 4 numbers that show America's stunning disdain for its most vulnerable people

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have suffered "deaths of despair" from alcohol and drug abuse and suicides because they could no longer provide for their families. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, during a post-recession period when the economy and stock market were booming, the poorest 50% of Americans lost wealth. And now many of them have lost their jobs, their income, their livelihoods.

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No, we're not all in this together — the super-rich are cheating America

Media outlets keep telling us that we're all together in this pandemic. But we're not. The super-rich have separated themselves from the rest of us, with concierge medicine, private travel accommodations, isolated but well-stocked resort homes, and a variety of other advantages that allow them to look beyond the hardships endured by average Americans.

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Here are 3 dark and disturbing reasons why Trump could win again

It seems absurd to believe that America could make the same mistake again, to elect an ignorant and vulgar narcissist to the most powerful position in the world. But we can't underestimate the ability of the self-serving super-rich to convince millions of Americans that a surging stock market and a powerful military are essential to their livelihoods. All at the expense of jobs and health care and education.

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How a failing capitalist system is allowing Amazon to cripple America

Capitalism is failing in America, and Amazon is both the cause and beneficiary of much of the breakdown. Jeff Bezos said, "We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for 18 years, and they're the reason we're successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient." He might have added three capitalist practices familiar to his company: (1) Pay no taxes; (2) Drive competitors out of business; and (3) Exploit workers.

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Here are 3 reasons the super-rich should embrace a 70% tax rate

Senator Lindsey Graham once said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes...It's a game we play."

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The Taking of Millennial Wealth By Rich White Boomers

Ten years after the recession, most Americans, including Baby Boomers, are still struggling with finances. The Wall Street Journal, cheerleader for capitalist-driven recoveries, noted that Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Boomers are all still poorer than in 2007. But the incredible prosperity of about 10% of the Boomers is beyond dispute, as the numbers below will show. Most of those lucky people are older whitemales

Booming Economy? Yes, for the Richest 10%, Who Took 85 Percent of the New Wealth

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A Vile Act of Inhumanity: Splitting Up Families Like the Slave Traders Did

Jeff Sessions said, "[Your] child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border." John Kelly, White House chief of staff, added, "The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever." Yes, he said "whatever." 

This isn't much different from slave-trading days. People then were forced INTO the country and families separated; now they're forced OUT OF the country and families separated. In both cases families have done whatever is necessary, in their own personal worlds, to survive and stay together and find happiness. And in both cases an institution of authority has made rules on behalf of the better-positioned segment of society, rules which impact the lives of those deemed somehow less valuable. 

This may not be the deadliest act committed by American leaders, but it's incomparably vile in its cruelty toward human beings who have been living among us, sometimes for many years. For conservatives who are always preaching the importance of stable families, it's shocking to see the little opposition to breaking up and turning out so many loving mothers and fathers and children. 


Destroying a Family 175 Years Ago 

In 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup tells us about Eliza, a slave woman with two young children, 10-year-old Randall and 7-year-old Emily, all three of them owned by a slave trader with the ironical name Freeman. When Randall was taken from her in a slave auction, Eliza, in a "paroxysm of grief," begged and beseeched the buyer to take all three of them, promising to be the most faithful slave that ever lived. But he couldn't afford them all. Eliza embraced her son passionately for the last time, kissing him again and again, until the threat of a whip on her back forced her to release him. His last words were "Don’t cry, mama. I will be a good boy. Don’t cry." 

Then another man came to buy Eliza herself, and this prompted Northup to narrate: "[N]ever have I seen such an exhibition of intense, unmeasured, and unbounded grief, as when Eliza was parted from her child. She broke from her place in the line of women, and rushing down where Emily was standing, caught her in her arms. The child, sensible of some impending danger, instinctively fastened her hands around her mother’s neck, and nestled her little head upon her bosom. Freeman sternly ordered her to be quiet...Then, with a volley of great oaths, he struck her such a heartless blow, that she staggered backward, and was like to fall. Oh! how piteously then did she beseech and beg and pray that they might not be separated. Why could they not be purchased together? Why not let her have one of her dear children? 'Mercy, mercy, master!' she cried, falling on her knees. 'Please, master, buy Emily. I can never work any if she is taken from me: I will die.'" 

The purchaser, taking pity on her, offered to buy both of them, but Freeman refused, as Northup recounts: "'I won’t sell her. She’s not for sale.' There were heaps and piles of money to be made of her, he said, when she was a few years older. There were men enough in New-Orleans who would give five thousand dollars for such an extra, handsome, fancy piece as Emily would be.." 

As Eliza cried out in anguish, Freeman "tore Emily from her mother by main force, the two clinging to each other with all their might. 'Don’t leave me, mama--don’t leave me,' screamed the child...stretching forth her little arms imploringly. But she cried in vain. Out of the door and into the street we were quickly hurried. Still we could hear her calling to her mother, 'Come back--don’t leave me--come back, mama,' until her infant voice grew faint and still more faint, and gradually died away.." 


Destroying a Family Today 

The Time story "No One Is Safe" tells about the family of Alejandro and Maria and their two young daughters, Isabella, who was just starting to talk, and Estefania, who was beginning to take her first steps. A third child was on the way. 

Early on a Friday morning, as he drove to his job of picking grapes, pistachios and oranges in California’s Central Valley, immigration agents scrambled out of two cars at a stop sign and arrested him as a "fugitive alien" for overstaying his visa. When Maria got his call from the police station she immediately feared the worst. Despite having no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket, and for ten years doing the punishing but essential field labor that most Americans avoid, and while just beginning a family that dearly depended on him for income, he was subject to immediate deportation to Mexico. He was gone in a month. 

Word of Alejandro's fate quickly spread through the neighborhood. Immigration agents were seen near the park. At times like this, people in a besieged community, some of them desperately poor, are afraidto even apply for food stamps for fear of being raided by government agents. And it terrifies the children. Six-year-old Angel Ortiz was getting ready for school when he saw immigration agents take away his father. Now when he sees DEA agents on TV, he yells out, "Those guys kidnapped my daddy!" It's reminiscent of another U.S. policy that targets people unwanted by American leaders, that of the drone wars, which caused a 13-year-old Pakistani boy to say, "I no longer love blue skies...The drones do not fly when the skies are gray." 

Alejandro's wife Maria now has three little daughters, all citizens, but she herself is undocumented, so she's in constant fear of being deported herself. "It’s a cruel way to live," she says. One effect of the family split-up is that Maria herself has to work in the fields to support her three children. She talks about her little girls growing up without their father: "It’s the worst thing that you can do to a family." When Alejandro calls on FaceTime from 1,000 miles away, Isabella, who is 2-1/2, tells her father that she loves him. She may not see him for years. 

Counting the Ways this is Inhumane 

These are human beings, part of a sacred bond of parents and children united together as a family. Conservatives blame broken families for society's dysfunction, but they just sit by as families are broken up. 

More than 90 percent of deportation attempts in the first two months of the Trump administration were against people who had committed no crime other than to be living in the country without required documents. 

Further, as Juan Cole suggests, it is inexcusably wrong-minded to "take US citizen children away from their mothers and fathers all of a sudden, giving them no time to make alternate arrangements. As for foster homes, with all due respect to the dedicated people who often run them, social science has proven that they are the biggest producer of a criminal class in the US." 

And as for John Kelly's detestably dismissive "foster care or whatever" comment, many parents, according to Jorge-Mario Cabrera, the communications director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), don’t have a trusted friend or relative available to take care of their children. 

Worst of all, many studies show the devastating effects on disrupted families, including higher rates of poverty, along with the psychological, educational, economic, and social damage suffered by children, and even stress-related physiological changes in unborn children. 


Immigrants Are Not the Problem.. 

Immigrants have proven to be entrepreneurs, job creators, neighborhood boosters, and generally law-abiding citizens. Immigrants are not the problem. The massive 30-year transfer of wealth to the richest 2%to 5% of the American people is a big part of the problem. Immigrants are an easy scapegoat for a deteriorating society. Stripping them from their children is the vilest act of inhumanity. 
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