Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Right-wing economics meets infrastructure. Result: Crumbling roads & bridges, as well as higher costs for the middle-class & poor.

"If you remember the 27-month [infrastructure] bill, we had a hard time with all these Republicans... We had a bunch of demagogues down there, Republicans who were trying to say, 'Oh, we can't do this. We can't spend all this money on it.' I thought that's not right... A true conservative looks at it and says... 'we're supposed to defend America, and build roads and highways'... That's why I'm critical of a lot of the so-called conservative Republicans complaining about a highway bill."

--U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), "Top GOP Senator Blames His Party For Lack Of Highway Funding," Huffington Post, May 19, 2015

Above: This is a bridge in Mineral County, West Virginia. The deck is in horrible shape. According to a 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), 944 bridges in West Virginia are structurally deficient (the next ASCE infrastructure report card will be coming out this March). Photo by Brent McKee, January 2017.

Above: A closer look at the crumbling bridge. In 2013, the ASCE noted that poor pavement is prevalent across the United States, "costing U.S. motorists... $67 billion a year, or $324 per motorist, in additional repairs and operating costs." Photo by Brent McKee, January 2017.

Above: An even closer look at the bridge, showing exposed rebar (this particular spot was recently filled in, but the rest of the bridge remains in very poor condition). Photo by Brent McKee, January 2017.

Above: The other side of the bridge isn't faring any better. Photo by Brent McKee, January 2017.

Above: This is a photo of the bridge that I took two years ago (see my blog post, "As its infrastructure crumbles, West Virginia embraces anti-infrastructure Republicans"). As you can see, nothing has changed. If anything, the bridge is even worse today.

Right-wing economics vacuums money out of the wallets of the middle-class and poor

One of the key tenets of right-wing economics is to give massive tax breaks to the wealthy. Reagan did it, Bush Jr. did it, and Donald Trump is about to do it (see, e.g., "Trump Tax Plan Gives 47% Of Cuts To Richest 1%, New Analysis Finds," Forbes, October 11, 2016). Even Democrats have done it from time to time. And this tax-cutting behavior tends to reduce the amount of infrastructure assistance that the federal government is willing & able to give to the states (see, e.g., "The 70-Year Trend in Federal Infrastructure Spending," Eno Center for Transportation, May 9, 2016; especially the last chart, "Outlays from Federal Grants for Transportation Infrastructure as a share of U.S. GDP," showing how infrastructure spending has dropped and flat-lined since we gradually, and then drastically, cut taxes on the wealthy from the 1960s to the present).

Other governmental behaviors tend to restrict infrastructure spending too, for example, America's endless military adventures, from LBJ's war in Vietnam to Bush Jr's wars in the Middle-East. We spend as much on defense & provocation as almost every other nation on Earth combined. And that sort of military-on-steroids behavior inevitably reduces the amount of money we are able to spend on domestic needs. That's one of the main reasons why millions of American children are drinking lead-contaminated water and incurring irreversible brain damage (lead is a neurotoxin).    

State-level governments that are led by right-wing politicians also hand out massive tax cuts to the wealthy, which further erodes our ability to maintain (let alone modernize) our infrastructure. In Kansas, for example, Republican Governor Sam Brownback has repeatedly been sneaking his hand into the state's highway fund jar, to extract cash to plug revenue shortfalls that have been caused by his huge tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy experiment (see, e.g., "Gov. Sam Brownback plans another sweep of highway funds, other cuts," Wichita Eagle, April 20, 2016).

All of this right-wing pampering of the wealthy has a very negative effect on the finances of the middle-class and poor. Because, if the rich are not going to be taxed more to pay for infrastructure, then the costs will inevitably fall on lower-income groups, through a series of tax, toll, fee, fine, and utility rate increases that will be imposed on us at the state & local level. Indeed, it's already been happening. A whole series of regressive revenue structures have been put into place and made more burdensome. Bridge tolls have been increased; sales taxes have been increased; property taxes have been increased; DMV fees have been increased; more aggressive law enforcement (usually against minority groups) has been used to raise revenue for municipalities; and the list goes on and on. 

A recent study shows that water rates have been increasing dramatically across the U.S., and are likely to continue to climb to the point where many people won't be able to afford it. A public water advocate correctly noted that "Water bills are incredibly regressive. They disproportionately impact poor, working families."

In 2015, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported "Virtually every state tax system is fundamentally unfair, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families." This report seems to have not mattered a bit to right-wing voters, as evidenced by the fact that they have elected even more right-wing politicians into high political offices all across the land. The effect will be more tax cuts for the wealthy, and then the inevitable increases in taxes, tolls, fees, fines, and utility rates on the middle-class and poor to make up the difference.    

Revenue systems that disproportionately burden the middle-class and poor have been gradually put into place over a very long period of time, and so most Americans can't see the sinister link between (a) these regressive systems that are pounding them into the ground, and (b) the right-wing habit of giving tax breaks to the wealthy; not to mention the other right-wing habit of looking the other way when super-wealthy "Americans" hide their money in foreign banks accounts. In fact, Republican politicians sometimes even encourage illegal tax evasion, knowing full well that some of that illegal money will make it back to them in the form of campaign contributions. This seems treasonous and criminal to me (because it benefits other countries while burdening us with a large national debt); but again, I don't see it fazing Republican voters at all. They just keep putting more and more right-wing extremists into office, to replicate these disastrous polices over and over and over again. 

And make no mistake about it, these regressive revenue systems (as well as job outsourcing, stagnant wages, massive student loan debt, etc.) are pulverizing the middle-class and poor. You see, as the richest 400 Americans keep adding billions to their already-record wealth, thanks in large part to the tax cuts, "Most Americans don't have enough money to cover a $500 emergency" (Chicago Tribune, January 7, 2016).

And do you remember how trickle-down economics was sold to us by right-wingers? I do: We were told that if we gave gargantuan tax cuts to the wealthy, that the extra after-tax income of the super-wealthy would flow down to us, because of their magical, god-like investments, and our quality of life would soar. Just praise the holy "JOB CREATORS" we were told, and well-paying jobs will fall like manna from Heaven. But here we are, decades later, and I don't see the manna - just some stale crumbs of bread laying around. And yet still the worshipful wring their hands, and cry to the heavens with wide-eye devotion, "job creators! Job Creators!! JOB CREATORS!!!" Oh, how the billionaires must be loving it: "Damn! Look at those suckers! Still praising us and giving us tax breaks... after we've exported their jobs and run them into the ground! Ha!!"

The fact that so many tens of millions of Americans keep supporting the same plutocrats & policies that have eroded our quality of life for so many decades shows that we are truly a lost, delusional society. And only when we learn our history, and realize how the policies & infrastructure of the New Deal facilitated the rise of the middle-class, and the rise of the U.S. as an economic powerhouse, will we snap out of the delusion.

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