Trickle Down

“We were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness – embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television. This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.”  Howard Zinn, 2005

Income inequality, the gap between the 99 percenters and the 1 percent, has reached historic proportions in this country and in others. I was around when Ronald Reagan and his band of merry Republicans popularized and promoted “trickle-down economics” as a sure fired way to help the middle class and the poor. They’re aim was to pour gasoline on the fire of economic inequality while convincing us that their intention was to put it out.

I, for one, didn’t know that the phrase, ‘trickle down’, was coined by the American wit Will Rogers who, when satirizing President Herbert Hoover’s economic recovery plan, made the remark that the “money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes it would trickle down to the needy.” His remark was intended as a joke and everyone understood that. It was an insightful and obvious poke.

It took a Hollywood actor to sell it to the American public as a sound economic policy. At the heart of that snake oil pitch was the idea that any economic benefit targeted for the wealthy–investors, entrepreneurs, big business and banks–would inevitably and necessarily ‘trickle down’ to the less wealthy members of society in the form of creating jobs. The theory was that the tax revenues and spending that would be generated by those jobs would drive the general economy’s growth and more than make up for the tax breaks that the wealthy had received. It was a two part plan, however. First, the 1 percent needed to get their relief up front. Then, the theory proposed, there would be an outburst of new businesses that would benefit the 99 percenters.

The 1 percent in America enthusiastically supported any politician at any level of government who would endorse and promote this theory. Purse strings were loosened and campaigns were well funded for those who would hitch their horses to this wagon. We still suffer from that loosening today.

But the general public bought it. The idea was simple enough to understand. In a way, it seemed like it might be a fair way to share.

Long ago, the cartoon character, Wimpy, from the ‘Popeye the Sailor’ series would always declare, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”. What could go wrong with that?

Well…

Decades of financial data since the Reagan era have completely debunked the notion of there ever having been a “trickle down”. The 1 percent basically said, “thank you very much” and found ways to keep their windfall for themselves. If crumbs fell off their table of abundance or some manner of profit managed to spill over, it was the result of sloppiness and not a sense of fairness.

To be sure, the 1 percent were quick to find ways to clean all of that up.

And the disparity between them and the 99 percenters continues to grow even faster.

What could go wrong with that?

 

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