America is dying of loneliness. America is dying of opioid overdoses, guns, isolation, lost jobs, lack of health care, anger, racism, and a bottomless desire to be famous, if only for 15 minutes. America is dying from an authoritarian government, indifference to its children, cruelty, voter suppression, and the weight of the rich squeezing the last breath from our lungs and the last dollar from our pockets. America is dying of Stage Four Capitalism.
America was never even close to perfect, but there was a time when we could build interstate highways, dams, bridges, and schools. And that was because the rich, despite their Trumpian tax-fraud schemes, were forced (mostly) to pay taxes.
In 1950, the effective U.S. corporate tax rate was around 50 percent. It now hovers around 15 percent. In 1950, the top income tax rate for the richest Americans was 91 percent. In 2018, it’s 37 percent. In 1950, the top one percent of ultra-rich Americans, in reality, paid a tax rate of about 42 percent. That’s now around 35 percent. The bottom half of American earners paid total taxes of about 15 percent in 1950. That’s now 25 percent. Corporations paid a top tax rate of over 50 percent in 1950, as opposed to 21 percent now.
What all that means is simple. The burden of paying for America – our Social Security, Medicare, military, social programs, school aid, highways, food inspections, all of it – has shifted from the people most able to afford it to those who have the least money.
And America’s national debt and federal deficit keep growing not because of profligate government spending, but because our oligarchy refuses to make corporations and the rich pay their fair share.
As bad as the national balance sheet may look, the freeloading rich represent less of a financial failure than a moral one. In the rightward lurch of national discourse that began under Reagan and continues with the white nationalists currently in charge, money is the most important arbiter of virtue. “Job creators” are more important than the rest of us because wealth has become a moral scorecard. If you’re poor, or lower middle-class, or struggling financially, it’s not because of racism, a rigged system, or the echoes of the financial implosion of 2008 engineered by unregulated Masters of the Universe. It’s because you’re lazy, lack ambition, have made lousy choices and are, generally, unworthy.
The rhetoric of “makers versus takers” has become a standard right-wing trope echoed by Republican politicians, conservative voters, and braying TV talking heads and talk radio blovators. In the creation myth of modern conservatism, virtuous capitalists are the victims of a “nanny state” intent on taking their hard-earned money and redistributing it to drug-using promiscuous dimwits who have attached themselves, like barnacles, to the otherwise pristine hull of the USS Free Enterprise.
In their minds, public schools are “government schools,” Social Security and Medicare are “entitlements” and programs like SNAP and free school breakfasts and lunches are “welfare.” To them, America is not great because we help our neighbors and fund schools and infrastructure for the common good. America is great because it enables rich leeches to bankrupt the public treasury and then buy the pieces, whether schools, airports, or bridges, once the government is too poor to maintain them, and turn them into profit-makers for the already-wealthy.
There is also a clear (but usually unspoken) racial component to all of this. Studies of voters and deep dives into the numbers from the 2016 election show that racial animosity, not economic anxiety, elected Trump. This, of course, is merely an acceleration of the racist attitudes inside American conservatism that began with the Civil Rights Act. When GOP voters fume about “welfare leeches” or “lazy takers,” they’re not talking about white single mothers in West Virginia but poor black people in North St. Louis. To them, the face of government assistance programs is black and urban and therefore, undeserving.
Rolling back programs aimed at racial justice, from public assistance to voting rights and affirmative action, has been one of the goals of the oligarchs from the start, along with destroying unions, rolling back government regulations, slashing taxes, and cutting back public services until government becomes so small and enfeebled that, in the words of anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, “I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
Until that day, conservatives and their oligarchical masters need to keep control of government, so it’s not surprising that voter ID laws and voter suppression are central to that. The idea for voter ID laws to suppress non-white turnout originated with a lobbying organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC was the creation of anti-tax extremists and corporate lobbyists in 1973. Ever since, it’s held regular seminars for right-wing legislators pushing state laws now widely in effect throughout red America – right-to-work and voter ID, for example – and federal laws – tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks, and privatization.
The ruins of the decades-long rule of predatory corporate capitalism and the glorification of the rich are all around us. Towns and neighborhoods hollowed out while corporate America swam toward the bottom and shipped jobs overseas for cheap labor. A flood of guns as the Second Amendment became a fetish. A tsunami of drugs as communities self-medicated while impoverished neighborhoods disintegrated. Stagnant wages and a falling standard of living as unions were eviscerated. A sense of isolation and despair as government of, by, and for the rich allowed the one percent to vacuum up most of the nation’s resources and stick the rest of us with the tab.
The tax cut bill introduced in the House last month would slash taxes so deeply that cuts in Social Security and Medicare will become inevitable. And yet none of this is showing up in any of the debates and discussions surrounding the November 6 midterms. Free market capitalism has metastasized and eaten away at this country.
It’s time for economic euthanasia.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.