There is a huge debate in this country, being fought on territory defined by conservatives since the days of Ronald Reagan. Nicholas D. Kristof weighs in on the results of their long experiment in remaking the United States from the perspective of someone who was without power for 12 days - his third extended outage in the past 4 years.
There's nothing that cuts through the conventional wisdom like sitting around in the cold and dark waiting for someone - anyone! - to get the lights back on. It's been a reality check for a lot of people, though for some more than others.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
Kristof has had demonstrated in a very personal and graphic way the consequences of a nation pretending that increasing levels of inequality and the exaltation of the private over the public are a good thing.
So Generac, a Wisconsin company that dominates the generator market, says it is running three shifts to meet surging demand. About 3 percent of stand-alone homes worth more than $100,000 in the country now have standby generators installed.emphasis added
“Demand for generators has been overwhelming, and we are increasing our production levels,” Art Aiello, a spokesman for Generac, told me.
That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.
It’s manifestly silly (and highly polluting) for every fine home to have a generator. It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.
But our political system is dysfunctional: in addressing income inequality, in confronting climate change and in maintaining national infrastructure.
The Fiscal Cliff debate currently being stage managed in Washington seems to be driven by an implicit desire to keep the status quo intact with tweaks rather than admit rising inequality is destroying the country. Kristof again:
So time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.emphasis added
Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!
Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.
Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!
Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!
Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!
I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.
Kristof is a rare breath of fresh air on this; too much of the chattering class is still invested in the myth of job creators and the idea that government is not the answer - more money to gazillionaires will fix the problem. To recycle some info from a diary yesterday, the corporate media is still giving too much weight to the people who got us here, CBS especially.
...CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley is especially egregious - they actually asked the head of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein what we should know about the fiscal cliff!!! They turned to the CEO of Honeywell for his expertise; Must address Medicare-medicaid! The BS in CBS might as well stand for Bowles and Simpson. The C is a tossup between Corporate, CEO, or Capitalist.You know that the 'debate' on the Fiscal Cliff Fandango is being driven by the wealthy when all the problems that are considered critical all have to do with money. Fights over tax rates, fights over how to cut back Social Security and Medicare - Medicaid, fights about cutting back spending by the government. Where's the talk about jobs? Where's the talk about how many people are still struggling to have a secure retirement or get adequate health care? Where's the talk about our collapsing obsolete infrastructure? Where's the talk about dealing with climate change? (And be ready for the arguments about why we have to leave the Northeast wrecked by Sandy, unless we cut money from somewhere else in the government to pay for it.)
The one entitlement that should be on the table is the conviction by the rich and powerful that they're entitled to still more, that their needs must be served before everyone else. Their hysteria over the deficit is about two things: it's disaster capitalism by the rich to shove through the changes in society they want, and it's all about protecting their wealth from the consequences of their starvation of the public sector and evisceration of the middle class. Kevin Drum points out that the deficit is actually going down - and that this is the wrong time for it to do so!
Also, just about anything by Paul Krugman.
The real fiscal cliff we've gone over is the one where the rich have been rigging our government and our economy for decades. The accumulation of more wealth by those at the top does not constitute success for society as a whole. A massive collection of decades of research shows that even in a developed country where the poor are relatively well off, things work better for everyone when the economic distance between the top and the bottom decreases.
Kristof's last question in the piece (read the whole thing) is a question that should have been asked a long time ago:
This question of public goods hovers in the backdrop as we confront the “fiscal cliff” and seek to reach a deal based on a mix of higher revenues and reduced benefits. It’s true that we have a problem with rising entitlement spending, especially in health care. But I also wonder if we’ve reached the end of a failed half-century experiment in ever-lower tax rates for the wealthy.emphasis added
Let's hope the End IS Near - we can't take much more of this.