Sunday, November 20, 2011

Big Money vs. Infrastructure

On Thursday I saw CNBC flipping back and forth between reporting on an Occupy Wall Street march and snippets of their new feature series on the decay of infrastructure, focusing especially on bridges. Yet CNBC’s reporters were somehow unable to draw the connection between those two stories. When you consider CNBC’s financial interests, this can probably be considered an intentional omission. But in case the connection between Occupy Wall Street and crumbling bridges is not obvious to all, I will connect the dots here.

Infrastructure is a fancy word for public products that enable workers to get work done. A bridge, for example, allows a road to connect one point to another. On that road, products can be delivered and people can go to work. (There are other uses for bridges and roads, of course, but when we look into it, we find that when people are out on the roads, it is mostly for the purposes of work or commerce.) The political opposition to bridges and other initiatives to support work is summed in the phrase “big government.”

You can see that “big government” really means infrastructure when you look at the views of the political opponents of “big government.” Some of them oppose military interventions in foreign countries; others call for the United States to be more aggressive in intervening in matters halfway around the world. Some want to create a new national police force to interfere in one way or another in people’s sex lives; others believe the government should not take a position on people’s sex lives. Some of the “anti-big government” crowd want to spend billions in public money to fund institutions that are essentially religious in nature, or to add religious indoctrination to public schools; others want to keep government and religion separate. Some of them, holding office, are busy about diverting public funds for personal profit; others are busy investigating the corrupt practices of the officials I just mentioned. The one point they all agree on is about not spending money on anything that would help workers get anything done. That is precisely the “big government” that gets them so mad. If they can eliminate funding for transportation, the Internet, the electric supply, or health-related initiatives (workers who are healthy do more work), they consider that an accomplishment.

Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street is out on the street calling for a government that works for the people. They use the phrase “the 99%” to make it clear that by the people, they mean the workers, rather than the “1%,” the billionaire-investors and other very wealthy people who make up the ownership class. If the government supports “the 99%” rather than “the 1%,” it will be helping people who want to do things rather than those who merely want to control everything.

You see the same dichotomy in the current tax conversations. Most of the presidential candidates who are talking about taxes at all want to raise taxes on workers while lower taxes on owners. The more extreme proposals would abolish the capital gains and estate taxes. The two taxes that the ownership class cannot entirely avoid under the current system would be abolished. The ownership class would, for all intents and purposes, no longer pay taxes at all. Personal income taxes, payroll taxes, and sometimes consumption taxes — the taxes that particularly hit workers — would be increased to make up the difference. Occupy Wall Street seem to be the only ones out there saying that workers should not have to pay more than their share of taxes.

Bridges are crumbling because the big-money interests don’t want them. These are the same big-money interests, the “1%,” that Occupy Wall Street is warning us about. And it is not just bridges that are crumbling. The whole economy is crumbling because the big-money interests oppose anything that supports workers and work, and as a result, less and less actual productive work is getting done. It is also crumbling because of a tax system that encourages people to get away from working, the one area of the economy that is most heavily taxed, as quickly as possible.

In the fantasy world of Wall Street as shown on CNBC, there is no connection between crumbling bridges and the Occupy protests. But when you look at what is actually going on in the world outside, it is hard to avoid making the connection.