March 25, 2016
I really believe it’s all about inequality. If we had managed to retain the substantially lesser inequality of the 60’s, things would be very different–and so much better for all–the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy, too. That was a time when we had far better opportunity for all, a better social support program, reasonable tax rates, and plenty of opportunity for the best to get rich.
But across the last 35 years, we have steadily moved to the economic Right in laws and policies, now giving much more freedom to the private sector and far fewer protections to the workers. We have steadily decreased taxes and reduced government. Our economic inequality has now risen to the level of the “robber baron” era of the 1920s. The wealth of the Walton (Walmart) heirs is now equal to that of the lowest 132 million Americans. Both political parties have been forced to acknowledge the problem, but that has not resulted in any political agreement as to how to fix it. In fact, it seems we are increasingly polarized over solutions, and each side is making it worse.
I count myself among the liberals or “Progressives,” those who want a greater share of income and opportunity for the middle and lower classes. Some of us are reacting to the above situation in ways that only make matters worse. For example, some Progressives think the solution to rising cost of housing is in more and more regulations and restrictions on landlords. Restrictions that will further limit the rights of landlords to evict tenants or to resolve the grievances or damages they experience with certain tenants. Such measures give some short term protection to certain tenants. They also want to raise the demands on developers for the percentage of new units which must be priced for the lower levels of income
When viewed from the broader perspective, these additive restrictions (on top of a long list which already exists) only further constrain investors in buying and building new rental housing. Those who already own are more and more motivated to use the few remaining escape clauses to take the property out of the rental inventory–owner or family move in, or Ellis Act, as examples. And, such restrictions end up benefitting bad tenants as well as good ones.
Meanwhile, Right wing politicians argue that more freedom for the private sector and reduced taxes on the wealthy, will somehow stimulate economic growth to levels never experienced, and that this alone will solve the problem. They add that getting tough with our trading partners will enhance the US economy, and that further expanding the largest military presence in the world will be a good way to spend a greater percentage of the reduced income we will have after more tax cuts.
One can’t blame the Progressives for wanting tenants to have decent rents and opportunity to stay in the city and live a decent life. Progressives see that on a national level they have little chance against the Right and its lawyers and lobbyists, little chance to promote a comprehensive plan which would ratchet back the decades of laws, rules, contracts, and interpretations, such as to establish a more fair playing field for all. So, they work to chip away at what they can. But in the long run, this doesn’t add to affordable housing. In fact, to the contrary.
And neither can one blame those on the Right (if you stipulate to their beliefs, as in supply side economics and Horatio Alger views of the nature of man). They can’t see that there is any form of redistribution which would be acceptable. Not any. Not even raising taxes on the wealthy a little and using the money to improve roads, bridges, airports and our internet.
It’s as if both sides are frantically fighting to take their respective beliefs further to the extreme, when what we really need is a meeting in the middle: Reasonable (modest) increase in progressive tax rates; restoring some worker rights; less investment in military, more in infrastructure, is a short list of adjustments we should all be able to agree on.
The current state of affairs is not entirely the fault of the political Right. Democratic administrations across the last 35 years have also failed. And, the challenge has been exacerbated by dramatic advances in both technology and in globalization across that period. But there can be no doubt that the increasingly predominant economic policies across that period have been “neoliberal,” meaning Conservative, meaning Republican and Right Wing. How the economy has been managed and how all the rules of engagement in economic transactions have been adjusted has everything to do with the state of affairs we find ourselves in today.
The anger reflected in the voices of millions supporting Donald Trump means that even Republicans are aware that what “establishment” Republicans have been doing for 35 years is not working and is not acceptable. That’s a good thing. It’s only regrettable (highly) that the Republicans could not have found a single candidate (except John Kasich, who seems unlikely to win) who has a clue as to how to fix the problem.