Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The Reverse New Deal: Reducing food assistance to those in need, to sate the greed of those without need
(Two bakers on a WPA project in Providence, Road Island, remove bread from an oven for distribution to schools in January of 1943. New Deal policymakers thought that all Americans should have an adequate supply of good food, regardless of income. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)
In 1931, while governor of New York, President Franklin Roosevelt said, "It is clear to me that it is the duty of those who have benefited by our industrial and economic system to come to the front in such a grave emergency [the Great Depression] and assist in relieving those who under the same industrial and economic order are the losers and sufferers. I believe their contribution should be in proportion to the benefits they receive and the prosperity they enjoy" (Joseph J. Thorndike, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 2013, p. 65).
As president, a few years later, Roosevelt would usher in such ideas, in the form of New Deal tax policies that targeted the super-wealthy, i.e., those who benefit the most from the physical labor and military service of others. These tax policies, along with policies that broadened the income tax base, set the stage for the greatest expansion of the American middle-class in U.S. history.
Things have changed significantly today...
When Mitt Romney gave his infamous 47% speech to a group of wealthy Americans, he scoffed at the idea that low-income Americans have a right to food. Romney's attitude was in line with other right-wing politicians, officials, and candidates for office, who have, for example, called food stamp recipients "lazy pigs" and "wild animals," and have warned against feeding the needy because they might breed.
These sentiments are the inevitable product of the right's devotion to the ideas of Ayn Rand. Rand felt that a small group of elite men and women were superior to the masses of people who lived beneath them, in "hopeless ineptitude." Further, she felt that feelings of responsibility and sympathy towards the less fortunate were immoral and irrational. In 2013, Harry Binswanger, a member of the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute, wrote (after quoting Rand's "hopeless ineptitude" remarks): "Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor."
(A WPA food distribution project in Maryland, circa 1935-1943. During the New Deal, there were large projects to distribute surplus commodities and unwanted items to the less fortunate, e.g., food, clothes, and toys. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)
Rewarding the rich and punishing the poor is the central tenet of the modern conservative movement. They have fully embraced Rand's philosophies; and have placed one of her most strident followers in charge of the House Ways and Means Committee - Paul Ryan, a man who required his staffers read Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" and credited Rand with his interest in becoming a politician. The Ways and Means Committee is the most important committee in Congress with respect to tax policy. (See, "What Paul Ryan Learned From Ayn Rand," The Daily Beast, August 16, 2012.)
And now that Rand's philosophies have taken over the U.S. Congress, we are seeing the results: Republicans have recently voted to (a) make major cuts to food assistance programs and (b) eliminate the estate tax - a tax that only affects the wealthiest of the wealthy. And they are voting for these policies at a time when the number of homeless children in the United States has reached a record high and at a time when the super-wealthy are seeing their wealth reach record heights.
Yes, our Republican "leaders" in Congress want to reduce food assistance to low-income children, so that the children of the super-wealthy can have more billions of dollars in their bank accounts (and when these children grow up they will, of course, give a certain percentage of that money back to Republican politicians--in the form of campaign cash--to keep the aristocratic-plutocratic cycle going).
And we can be certain that while all this foolishness is going on, these very same Republicans will flaunt their "Christian values" and plead with America to "return to God."
Far from being offended by this behavior, tens of millions Americans continue to vote for right-wing politicians. Our Congress is now controlled by the right, and it's quite possible that the next president will be an Ayn Rand follower too. What kind of country will we have when all three branches of government are controlled by people who subscribe to the idea that American workers and low-income citizens are inferior people? What kind of policies will be generated by a government mesmerized by the Rand ideology of superiority?
Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Reducing food assistance to those in need, to sate the greed of those without need.