What Am I Missing?

I have to admit I frequently listen to a political or policy discussion, and have what might be called a “duh” moment–wondering why I see a rather obvious approach that everyone  else is ignoring.

This week, Governor Pence announced that state revenues have fallen below budget estimates for the past few months, and the only remedy is to cut funds to education and state agencies and sell the state airplane. Leaving aside the airplane gesture (a one-time, largely symbolic “sacrifice”) why is the administration focusing on cutting services rather than delaying or foregoing its beloved tax cuts?

There are two ways to handle revenue shortfalls, after all–cut expenses or raise revenue.

Despite the fervent belief that lower taxes stimulate the economy and foster job growth, there isn’t an iota of evidence supporting that belief. Indiana is already one of the lowest-tax states in the Midwest, our economic indicators still lag those of our higher-tax neighbors, and the case for continued tax cuts is thin, to put it mildly. (Indeed, research indicates that quality of life drives economic development; continued service cuts that diminish quality of life indicators–far from stimulating the economy– are probably counterproductive.)

Then there was the research report presented at a recent meeting of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Working Families. The subject was paid sick leave, which relatively few Indiana employers offer. When researchers talked to those who opposed a law requiring a sick-leave benefit, they found that the major objection wasn’t to paid sick leave, it was to the idea of a government mandate. (Don’t tell me how to run my business!!)

If the objection is to the use of a stick, why not offer a carrot? Why not give a tax deduction or other incentive to employers who voluntarily decide to offer paid sick leave? Avoid the mandate, but reward the desired behavior.  Evidently, such an approach hasn’t been considered.

My grandmother used to say there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

What am I missing?


Pigs and Hogs

There’s an old saying: pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered. If that’s true, there’s a reckoning due.

Let’s just review a few recent news items. Florida’s governor has signed a bill forbidding local government units from requiring businesses to pay sick leave. While this is somewhat less egregious than originally reported–early descriptions suggested the bill was an outright outlawing of sick leave–it is still horrendously bad policy. It’s particularly ironic that the governor who approvingly signed the bill is the same “job creator” who paid huge fines when his company  (a company that depended upon government-provided medical care for its profits) was convicted of  Medicare fraud.

Closer to home, Indiana Congressman Marlin Stutzman wants to separate food stamp authorization from the farm bill, so that it will be easier to reduce the SNAP payments that poor Americans depend upon to buy food, while retaining those all-important farm subsidies. (Stutzman knows how important those subsidies are because he himself has reportedly received at least 200,000 worth. And he’s hardly alone.)

Then there are all those “right to work” laws (while there is no evidence that they generate economic growth, there’s plenty of evidence that they depress the wages employers pay). There are all of the companies scrambling for ways to avoid compliance with the Affordable Care Act (wouldn’t want the cost of basic medical care for the most poorly-paid employees to affect that bottom-line!). There’s the GOPs hysterical reaction to any suggestion that our historically low tax rates be raised even modestly. There’s the stubborn opposition to equal pay for women (remember the howls over the Lily Ledbetter Act?), and even more stubborn resistance to proposals to raise the minimum wage.

These are just a few examples of the relentless campaign being waged by the most privileged against the working poor, a campaign accompanied by sneering references to “takers” and “moochers.”

Leaving aside issues of simple justice, what I want to know is, whatever happened to enlightened self-interest?

I often think back to a conversation I had years ago with a wealthy friend who explained his support for higher taxes on the wealthy and a more robust social safety net thusly: “I’m better off paying higher taxes than I would be if people get so desperate that they take to the streets. Social unrest isn’t good for anyone’s bottom line, and when you grind people down too far, eventually that’s what happens.”

Corporate America has evidently lost sight of Henry Ford’s central insight: workers should be paid wages sufficient to allow them to buy your product. The poor and the dispossessed can’t afford to participate in the market. 

People with money and status will always be better off than those without. Most of us are willing to live with that reality. But at some point, excesses of greed will generate unpleasant consequences.

Pigs and hogs.