Thursday, March 3, 2011

How Much Is Enough?

In a recent Face Book post, New Yorker Phillip Sicks contributed the following illustration:

"A million is ten times a $100,000, and most of us know people who make $100,000 a year, so if someone makes a million a year, we might not know one like that, but it does not seem such a big difference.

A million is just ten times a 100,000. It might mean that with a million a year could you afford a very nice place in some parts, not all parts by any means, but some parts of Manhattan. That's the way we might think about a million dollars.

The very rich, such as the Koch brothers, inhabit a whole different world. A million a year is nothing to them.

The median income in the United States is about $50,000. Suppose the average worker took his pay in $100 dollar bills for the entire year on one day. He would get a stack of bills about 2 inches tall, weighing about a pound. He could carry his year's salary home in his two front pockets without it being noticed.

If he got a great idea and became the one person in thousands who can be an entrepreneur, and he made a million dollars a year which he collected all on one day, he would get a stack three feet six inches tall, and he would need a briefcase to take his money home. The million dollars would weigh about 20 lbs.

The Koch brothers control a conglomerate that gives each of them revenues of 50 billion dollars each year. On their once-a-year payday each would get stacks of $100 bills 33 miles high. If one brother wanted to take his yearly income home with him, he would need some 1376 fully loaded semi-trailers to carry the money home. His salary in $100 bills would weigh 5500 tons.

Knowing how the Koch brothers behave, they would probably save money by hiring scab drivers and overloading the trucks so the pavement is ruined, but they have more money than us, so they are better than us, right? Normal laws don't apply, or if they do, they can just buy a legislature or two.

Now this is the really sick part. If the rich are able to break the public unions, it will make very little difference in tax savings. The economists explain this by pointing out that private workers have had their wages so depressed for so many years that there is no slack to take out of public workers wages.

Public workers already make slightly less in salary than comparable workers in the private sector. They make slightly more in benefits. Reducing the benefits for public workers will drive their wage package so far below the private sector that no one will take public jobs. The younger workers will not stay in the public sector. Why should they?

This dispute is not about money. Even if the Koch brothers were able to save local governments billions of dollars, which they can't, do you think they would let the governments pass it on to the public in tax savings? Let's just say their track record of spreading the wealth has not been the best.

This dispute is about who will dominate this society for the foreseeable future. The last thirty years have seen most people of average means stripped of political and social power.

The Koch's and the rich want to make sure that nothing, no Democratic Party, no union, no federal, state, or local law, regulation, or ordinance can stand between themselves and a couple more truckloads of money each year."

Years ago I found a speech that William Sloane Coffin gave to a meeting of Quakers. In it he spoke about the US military budget and the $1 billion dollar cost of a new nuclear submarine. To put it in greater perspective, he asked his audience to imagine one trillion dollars, roughly a third of the cost to the US for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Remember, these numbers are at least 20 years old:

"Let's talk a trillion. For one trillion dollars, you could build a $75,000 house, place it on $5,000 worth of land, furnish it with $10,000 worth of furniture, put a $10,000 car in the garage and give all this to each and every family in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado and Iowa. Having done this, you would still have enough left to build a $10 million hospital and a $10 million library in each of 250 cities and towns throughout the six-state region. After having done all that, you would still have enough money left to build 500 schools at $10 million each for the communities in the region, and after having done all that you would still have enough left from the original trillion to put aside, at 10% annual interest, a sum of money that would pay a salary of $25,000 per year for an army of 10,000 nurses, the same salary for an army of 10,000 teachers, and an annual cash allowance of $5000 for each and every family throughout the six-state region - not just for one year, but FOREVER."

That may not happen anytime soon, but at the very least the Obama Administration could start with a full frontal assault upon the billionaire's tax loop hole, and use the power of the bully pulpit to do it.


Aaron Milenski said...

What makes me most pessimistic about this is that so many Democrats, people like Shumer and Emmanuel, stand up for the hedge fund managers and so on. A radio show I was listening to today said the only way a Democratic president could get anything done these days would be to have 65 democrats in the senate. That's asbolutely right. and it's never going to happen.

Stan Denski said...

Stop listening to the radio.