Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Musings: Something for Nothing

Rain fell throughout the night but took a break this morning, allowing Koko and me to venture out under a sky that was multiple hues of dark, and dimly lit by a ghostly waning moon. Wind gusted through the trees, herding the clouds at a brisk pace and sending leaves scuttling along a rain slick street.

The world felt fresh and vibrant — quite unlike the economy, which despite massive infusions of future taxpayer cash still resembles the carnage of post-rainstorm toads sprawled and flattened on the pavement.

Farmer Jerry told me he went to a investment seminar the other day that was attended by about 90 persons. When the seminar leader asked how many had their retirement funds in safe, conservative investments, only three raised their hands. The rest had lost significant amounts of money, at least on paper, causing them to refigure their retirement plans.

Others are scrambling to hold on to their homes, prompting government officials to fight over whether some of the $700 billion bailout should be used to prevent foreclosures, according to a report by Reuters.

On the one hand, we’ve got Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arguing that all the money should be used to recapitalize banks, while on the other, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Chairman Sheila Bair and some lawmakers want to divert funds into staving off foreclosures.

Bair, whose agency insures bank deposits, said some of the bailout money should be used to help homeowners in trouble because current federal programs were inadequate. She said an estimated 4 million to 5 million mortgages will enter foreclosure over the next two years if nothing is done.

Meanwhile, we’re hearing the auto industry sound the same sort of alarm that went up on Wall Street not so long ago, claiming the entire nation will collapse if the Big Three Detroit automakers, which employ some 5 million people, aren’t given a $25 billion loan package to keep them afloat.

The proposal has prompted people like Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to say: "This is just a beginning of corporate welfare in a big, big way.”

The reality is, however, that corporate welfare has been going on for a long time in this country, in the form of tax breaks, agricultural subsidies and other perks financed by the public.

According to the Corporate Welfare Information Center:

"The $150 billion for corporate subsidies and tax benefits eclipses the annual budget deficit of $130 billion. It's more than the $145 billion paid out annually for the core programs of the social welfare state: Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), student aid, housing, food and nutrition, and all direct public assistance (excluding Social Security and medical care)."

And that doesn’t include the biggest form of corporate welfare: allowing corporations to get away with business practices that create adverse social and environmental conditions. The costs created by this are borne by nonprofit organizations and government, or ignored altogether.

The truth is, our so-called free market system depends on placing no value on ecosystems or human lives. If the true social and ecological costs of intensive chemical agriculture, for instance, were factored in, it wouldn’t be economically viable to ship berries from Chile to America in the dead of winter.

The same holds true for war, which is dandy for the economy —and pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression — so long as you peg the cost of human lives and environmental destruction at zero.

Now that we’re starting to see this false, perverted system unravel in a big way, we’re faced with two choices: major overhaul, or continued prop up job on an increasingly grand scale.

As conservative columnist David Brooks asked:

Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests?

I’d say we’re already there. And the most amusing, ironic thing is, it isn't the socialists or the commies who have led the way but the bankers, traders and CEOs, chanting the false mantra, embraced by legions of loyal, deluded followers, that you can get something for nothing and unsustainable systems can be sustained.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

There should be no corporate taxation at all. Anyone who owns shares in a corporation is taxed twice, once when the corporation pays taxes on its income, and again when the corporation pays dividends to the shareholders. They should stop taxing corporations and just tax the individuals owners.

Anonymous said...

These dire anti-consumer/market economy prognostications based in "sustainability" theories are essentially morality pleas and are identical to the arguments of religious conservatives who warn that the moral state to which society has fallen is sure to usher in some sort of divine retribution. People have been warning for centuries that some aspect or other of human behavior is unsustainable. There's even a religious corollary to the Precautionary Principle when adherents warn non-believers of the consequence of being wrong. Ho hum.

Anonymous said...

> These dire anti-consumer/market economy prognostications based in "sustainability" theories are essentially morality pleas and are identical to the arguments of religious conservatives who warn that the moral state to which society has fallen is sure to usher in some sort of divine retribution. <

Right. And our record trade deficits, national debt, mortgage meltdowns, peak oil, global warming, corporate-government melding, enrichment of the elites and the bleeding of the middle class has been brought by the tooth fairy.

Anonymous said...

nothing record breaking about current trade deficits (as if that would even matter. trade deficit. Big whoop), or national debt (as a percentage of gnp (dollar amt is meaningless) especially in war time), or market corrections ("meltdowns").

KonaK said...

Hey, I like my Argentinian blueberries ($6.99 for 18 ounces at Costco)!

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Anonymous said...

how did we ever survive w/o costco? oh my this economy stuff is nutz; sure glad obama will fix it and make america good again.

Anonymous said...

Freon emissions from refrigeration also factor into this.