Friday, March 6, 2015

Ferguson, Missouri: The intersection where trickle-down economics meets racial discrimination

(President Roosevelt delivers a fireside chat on September 30, 1934. Not all of the tax policies of FDR and his colleagues were wise, but one certainly was: Raising taxes on the super-wealthy. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

The political right has spent decades reducing tax rates for millionaires & billionaires. As result, we now have a federal government that is less willing & able to financially assist state & local governments. A Republican politician in Missouri recently said (in regard to his state's deteriorating infrastructure), "You're seeing states all across the country that are looking to do something, because they realize you can't count on the federal government." So, he's pushing for an increase in his state's sales tax, which will disproportionately burden the middle-class and poor. What he doesn't say, of course, is that his Republican colleagues in Congress are creating this mess by constantly protecting Corporate America and the super-wealthy from increased taxation at the federal level (and also protecting them from law enforcement when they engage in tax evasion).

This tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy foolishness is also running rampant at the state level. For example, in 2014, over a veto from the governor, the Missouri legislature reduced income and business taxes. One editorial board just couldn't contain its joy over this trickle-down economics victory: "One Midwestern state is showing everyone else, including policymakers in Washington, how it's done" ("Missouri Passes A Needed Tax Cut Over Governor's Veto," Investor's Business Daily, May 8, 2014).

(***Are tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy good for society? See, "Missouri Dept. of Transportation Budget Shortfall Expected To Impact Local Roads And Bridges,", March 3, 2015***)

 (A WPA road project in Harford County, Maryland, 1936. During the New Deal, massive federal investments were made in American infrastructure. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

A very simple fact is ignored by those who scream for more tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy: The revenue lost through such cuts is going to be made up for with other revenue initiatives - and those other revenue initiatives are going to target middle-class and poor Americans, through a variety of taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rate increases at the state & local level. Indeed, this type of revenue shift has been occurring for many years now, often at the behest of Republicans (see my previous blog posts, "Ten Ways The Political Right Is Vacuuming Money Out Of Your Wallet With Their Trickle-Down Economics. Welcome To 'The Great Right-Wing Revenue Switcheroo,'" February 3, 2015, and "The Great Right-Wing Revenue Switcheroo...continued," February 17, 2015).

The top two revenue sources for Ferguson's general fund are sales taxes and municipal court fines (see pages v and 50-51 in Ferguson's 2013-2014 budget). Unfortunately for the city's African American population, a recent report from the Department of Justice highlights how the city has been targeting them for most of the revenue related to the fines. This has been accomplished through predatory & discriminatory law enforcement - specifically, piling up the fines for black residents and excusing fines for some well-connected white residents; all the while, believe it or not, scolding black residents for supposedly not taking personal responsibility for their behavior. Is that an awesome display of hypocrisy or what? (See, "A City Where Policing, Discrimination and Raising Revenue Went Hand in Hand," New York Times, March 4, 2015) 

(***What do you do when many super-wealthy Americans don't want to pay more taxes and also hide money in offshore bank accounts? See, "Ferguson to Increase Police Ticketing to Close City's Budget Gap," Bloomberg News, December 12, 2014. But also see, "Missouri Attorney General Sues Municipalities Over 'Predatory' Traffic Fines," Huffington Post, December 18, 2014***)

  (When times were tough, during the Great Depression, African Americans could find jobs in a variety of New Deal work programs. Above, two young men in the National Youth Administration are repairing a roof in Washington, D.C., in 1938. Today, as one Ferguson activist has pointed out, there is a lack of access to employment. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

The troubles of Ferguson, Missouri have been caused by a toxic mix of greed, corruption, discrimination, and right-wing politics & economics. Ferguson is the intersection where trickle-down economics meets racial discrimination. Of course, this phenomenon is not isolated to Ferguson. All across the nation, as super-wealthy Americans are enjoying historically low tax rates and record wealth (while also enjoying & utilizing offshore tax havens, tax shelters, tax loopholes, tax deductions, and so forth), the squeeze is put on everyone else to make up the revenue difference. Higher water bills, higher bridge tolls, higher sales taxes, higher DMV fees, and a higher utilization of just about any type of regressive money extraction tool available.

Let's not sugarcoat this: The middle-class and poor are being aggressively targeted for revenue, so that the massive private fortunes of the most wealthy Americans can be protected.

What Ferguson's black residents (and the rest of us) need is a New Deal. But instead of a New Deal, it's likely that they're only going to get more parking tickets and court fines. A city official stated as much while acknowledging unfair court procedures: "...the city cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our Courts, nor experience any decrease in our fines and forfeitures." In other words, "We need the money, and if we have to get it in unjust ways, well, so be it."

Isn't that amazing?

(***See my blog post, "FDR, the New Deal, and Racism," for ten examples of how New Deal policymakers tried to make a less racially discriminatory society***)

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