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Helmsley attitude now at the helm
© by Jean Hay Bright
“Only the little people pay taxes,” said Leona Helmsley, in the July 24, 1989 issue of Newsweek magazine, shortly before her conviction on charges of tax evasion.
Helmsley would have a harder time getting convicted these days, now that her snide remark has become public policy in the Bush administration.
Not only does our appointed president have the nerve to propose blatantly skewed and frighteningly irresponsible tax cuts to obscenely benefit the wealthiest Americans, but then he and his mouthpieces have the gall to charge “class warfare” when anyone simply points out the obvious.
CNN’s Crossfire commentator Robert Novak whines that successful people should not be “punished” for being successful. Does that mean that unsuccessful people, defined by their condition of being less than wealthy, are the ones who should be punished?
Only the little people pay taxes.
Yes indeed, it is class warfare, and George W. is the one waging it.
Another conservative commentator (I did not get his name) opined on Public Radio that these tax cuts for the wealthy would indeed stimulate the economy, because the run-of-the-mill tax cut for your average wealthy person would amount to around $17,000, while the maid might get a couple hundred. “This is good for the economy,” the fellow said, “because the maid isn’t going to be putting anyone back to work with her tax cut.”
Oh? So, are wealthy people who suddenly find that $17,000 in their back pocket really going to immediately go out and hire someone? To do what? We’re basically talking a minimum wage job – probably just about what the maid in question is earning. I doubt that that is where their money would end up.
I think they are more likely to put it into the black hole of the stock market. Or into a tax-free bond, or tax deferred retirement account. It might go for a cruise on a ship chartered in a foreign country (as most of them are), which sends that money out of the country. No economic stimulus there.
The maid, on the other hand, actually has more of a potential for putting someone back to work. How? By spending any tax cut money she gets. Anything she buys, from more groceries to clothing to toys for the kids, will reduce inventory, create demand for replacements in the stores she patronized, and directly stimulate the economy by keeping someone employed making (or growing) those replacements. If that happens often enough, the money and the demand just keep the cycle going.
Which, from my perspective, means that if Bush is really looking to stimulate the economy, any tax cut money should go to those on the more meager end of the economic spectrum. The wealthy can take care of themselves.
But only the little people pay taxes.
Beyond the debate over how best to stimulate the economy is the concept of who is responsible for funding society’s ills.
It is no accident that all the states, including Maine, are facing huge budget shortfalls. Not all of it can be blamed on the stock market crash. A good portion of the shortfalls are the result of lowered federal funding for huge budget items like Medicare and Medicaid, veterans benefits, education. Those are a direct result of the federal tax cuts, and subsequent reductions of allocations in many areas made in an attempt to keep the federal deficit from growing even larger than it already is.
Only the little people suffer the consequences.
I have no patience with the wealthy refrain that, “it’s my money, I earned it.”
You may have earned it, but you did so in a society in which the police and the courts keep the peace, in which public education provides the skills for most of the workers who are the real engine of the economy, in which government workers at all levels watch over public health and safety, where public employees maintain and improve public roads over which commerce is conducted, where banks and the monetary system are regulated, where a large, well-armed military is maintained to keep our sovereignty.
None of those wealthy people would have their money if these government services suddenly disappeared. Even the gates on their gated communities could not keep them safe.
George W. Bush either does not understand this concept, or he refuses to recognize it. Politically, he and his cronies are making the claim that wealthy people can be trusted to make frugal purchases, and to donate anything they have left over to the local church, food pantry or battered women’s shelter. And call it good.
Except that’s not what is happening. The rich don’t spend their money that way, and they don’t think that way. Just ask Ken Lay, late of Enron, who was fired after he sacked the company and gutted the retirement accounts of his employees, and whose wife then went on national television, pleading poverty because they were forced to sell their vacation houses in Aspen.
All the while the food pantries and battered women’s shelters all across the nation are hurting badly. And the social services that a civilized society must provide go lacking.
Because the rich don’t care one whit about the little people.
These tax cuts for Bush’s wealthy friends mean you and I have to cover the shortfall, not only in putting up with a reduced level of state and federal services, but also in taking up the billion-dollar slack in the state’s budget. So not only don’t we get any benefit from the federal cuts, but we’re taxed higher at the state level to make up for the wealthy paying less at the federal level.
And the federal deficit continues to climb. And the federal debt ceiling is raised once again.
So the little people in the next generation will be forced to pay the bill.
This has got to stop.
The Bush administration has to be called on the carpet for its refusal to recognize the responsibility of the federal government to fund critical needs. George W. Bush and the Congressional Republicans must be made accountable for running up the federal deficit, for spending gobs on preparing for an unnecessary war while cutting out essential services, for spooking investors uneasy over Bush’s unpredictability.
It is long past time for the Bush administration to grow up.
The best way to stimulate this economy is to put money in the hands of people who will spend it on things that put people to work. That means people in the lower and middle income brackets. It worked during the Great Depression, and it can work now.
The feds must fulfill their obligations to the states to pay for the federal programs that they have mandated. Health care, veterans benefits, education (including special education), homeland security, prisons, the list goes on.
With that money flowing again, people laid off or currently unemployed would be hired, they would buy things, which would keep factories open and other people employed. And they would pay income taxes, which they are not doing now. And the economy would be revitalized.
The federal government must start spending more, not less money, at the same time it brings the federal budget back into balance. That means not only rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthy passed 18 months ago, and refusing to approve this bogus second round of cuts, but also demanding that wealthy people take more responsibility, not less, for funding the federal budget. Forty years ago, the top tax rate was 90 percent. It is now around 35 percent.
It’s time for the little people to tell the big people with fat wallets that the jig is up.
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