In last Thursday's issue of The Inlander, our former congressman, George Nethercutt, misdirects and misleads the reader about the Occupy movement and income disparity in America. He leads off with this:
In the debate over the legitimacy of the “Occupy” movement and the frustration some Americans feel over the alleged 99 percent vs. 1 percent (poor vs. rich) ratio in the United States, it’s fair to pose the question: “What is the right ratio of rich to poor in the U.S. today?”
First, he seeds doubt in the reader's mind by saying there's a debate over the legitimacy of the Occupy movement and then uses the 99 and 1 percent numbers as a poor versus rich ratio. Establishing that, he leads the reader further away by asking a question nobody else is asking. And then he's off on a "discussion" about tax fairness and income equality.
Mr Nethercutt gets it wrong from the start and the millions poured into this election season provide an example of why he is wrong. The Occupy movement is not about resenting the wealthy for being wealthy. It's not about establishing a specific ratio of wealthy vs poor. It's about the undue influence of wealth in our democracy that benefits the wealthy to the detriment of everyone else. It's about a system that promotes and protects a concentration of wealth. The expanding gap in income equality is a function of this influence.
The market-oriented society he refers to isn't necessarily the same one envisioned by the 99 percent. In Mr Nethercutt's market-oriented society, corporations and businesses are a privileged class always trying to overcome obstacles placed by a government whose sole existence only serves to interfere. Combined with a theme emphasizing freedom and personal responsibility, individuals are left to their own devices when a weakened government is unable to help after fracking makes their their tap water flammable.
Mr Nethercutt's position is hardly surprising when you consider his actions while representing Washington's 5th District. He voted for the Bush tax cuts, which overwhelming benefited the wealthy and became the single largest contributor towards the deficit. He also voted to make those tax cuts permanent. He sponsored legislation to repeal the estate tax, which affected only 2 percent of Americans. The wealthiest Americans. He voted against campaign finance reform banning soft-money contributions. One fight in the area of campaign finance reform ended up with the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens vs United allowing unlimited donations via purportedly independent groups. One "benefit" of that is that we're now getting to know the billionaires influencing our election process with their millions.
Mr Nethercutt closes his short discussion on poverty with this:
No matter how hard we try to eradicate poverty, we likely never will. While trying to do so is laudable, we shouldn’t stifle the creativity that is a hallmark of American life. Creativity often leads to great wealth for those with ingenuity, drive, energy and free will. Ambition levels, like talent levels, will always be unequal for individuals in a free society, and those disparities will result in disparate income outcomes.
How trying to eradicate poverty stifles creativity taxes even my imagination. But he is right that creativity, ambition, and talent can result in disparate income outcomes. Again, that is not the problem. The problem is the inordinate amount of influence in our democracy by "the haves and the have mores" and the injustices resulting from it. Just look at the criminal behavior by mortgage lenders and the failures of regulatory agencies resulting in the 2008 crash and the disparity in the number of prosecutions there.
Mr Nethercutt closes with this:
While helping America’s poor is legitimate, worthwhile and an American tradition, an income equality goal doesn’t fit a market-oriented society. Capitalism and free enterprise, having produced the strongest economy and most advanced society in world history, should largely be left to reach natural levels, allowing those who seek, and achieve, financial reward to enjoy their good fortune, distribute it as they wish and pay a reasonable income-tax rate.
He again distracts the reader. Nobody is talking about establishing an income equality goal. As for the U.S. being the strongest economy and most advanced society in world history, world history isn't over yet. It has yet to be seen if this most advanced society will allow itself to be bought out.