Blue Louisa: A blog Covering Central Virginia & national politics from a progressive perspective
We use the term “free market” as if it were a system that functioned like a jungle, in which the fittest survive or the most meritorious rise to the top. But on looking more closely, it becomes obvious that the market consists of rules. There are rules for writing contracts. There are rules for settling disagreements. There are rules for bankruptcy. There are rules for property ownership. There are rules for buying and selling. These rules give it structure that it could not exist without.
Government makes and enforces these rules. Ideally, they provide a level playing field so that two individuals willing to work equally hard and follow the rules will have similar success. That is the premise our country is built on.
Clearly, that is not what has come to pass. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was the norm for a one-income family to be able to buy a house, have two cars and raise children in comfort and dignity. No more. Now, a family breadwinner often needs to have two or more jobs to make it. Chief executive officers of large corporations back then earned an average of 20 times the pay of their typical worker. Now it’s more than 200 times.
Over the past 30 years, that inequality has increased. The more money you make, the more power you have to influence the making of the rules so that they benefit you.
Why are our drug prices so high? Why does the pharmaceutical industry spend so much money on lobbying? Because they want rules that will make them winners.
Some say we have too many regulations. They say government is too big. But you only hear that when the regulations they are talking about are not in their financial interest.
Tyler Adams, in a letter to the editor (The CV, March 21, 2019), says the government should not interfere in picking winners and losers. But the government is already doing that.
I support the Louisa County Board of Supervisors using my tax money to help local businesses get a start; a small leg up in their attempt to compete with the big corporations, who have had so much help from the government.
I want to live in a county where our children have as good a shot to having a successful business in Louisa County as the owner of Dollar General; as good a chance of having a restaurant as the owners of Sheetz and McDonalds.
Editor’s Note: This originally appeared in the March 28th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here with the author’s permission.
There is a specter haunting the Western Alliance structure. Is America going rogue?
As the rise of the “Communist monolith,” under the Soviet Union’s aggression in eastern Europe threatened the devastated and struggling Western European countries, America joined Britain and France in establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to provide collective security against Stalin’s Warsaw Pact. The United States, with its undamaged industry and vast economy, became the core of this new alliance.
As expressed by the New York Times editorial board, “born after World War II, NATO linked America and Europe not just in a mutual defense pledge but in advancing democratic governance, the rule of law, civil and human rights, and an increasingly open international economy. The alliance was the core of an American-led liberal world order that extended to Asia and relied on a web of international institutions, including the United Nations and the World Bank.” Under American leadership, NATO won the Cold War that led to the demise of the Soviet Union.
Today, however, the stability of the Western Alliance structure is on shaky ground. Under the current administration, America is no longer acting like the respected leader of a strong and vibrant NATO. America is reintroducing the chaos of the interwar years with its every-country-for-itself attitude—America over all. President Trump has unilaterally abandoned multinational agreements on which previous administrations and allies have spent years finding consensus, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement, and, most importantly, the Iran nuclear deal. These irresponsible, unilateral abrogations were foisted on our partners without any attempt at normal diplomatic interaction.
The Iranian nuclear deal is emblematic: The Trump administration argued that a massive renegotiation with Iran was needed, encompassing a broad set of issues. The deal had previously succeeded because none of the six partners believed that an all-encompassing agreement on every issue was possible. In the meantime, the United States has reimposed its sanctions while its partners continue to fulfill their responsibilities. The strains on NATO are public. For example, the United States’ ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, openly criticizes German businesses for fulfilling Germany’s obligations under the agreement. Just last week, a top politician in one of Germany’s opposition parties called for Grenell to be expelled from the country.
NATO is an alliance of nations which share similar expectations and goals across a wide breadth of human affairs, not just military, or economic. One of the fundamental strengths of this alliance consists of America sharing the intelligence gleaned from its vast, worldwide collection and analysis efforts involving human, signals, imagery, measurements and signatures, and open-source information. Currently, however, our alliance partners are placed in a difficult position because Trump continues to denigrate the conclusions of his own intelligence community. The continuing reports that the President doesn’t read his daily briefs, forms unfounded opinions without regard to facts, and then issues tweets that mock the congressional testimony of American intelligence agency chiefs, must be intensely troubling to the leaders of our partner nations.
In foreign policy, the key questions are: Does a policy enhance predictability and stability? Does it prevent conflict? Does it pursue common goals and objectives? A catch phrase these days is “I have your back.” It means a partner will be there. That is not what Trump is currently telling the world. He treats our allies like expendable employees, not partners. Our NATO partners must be scratching their heads as Trump abandons alliance leadership and goes his own way.
Editor’s Note: this op-ed originally appeared in the March 24th edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been reposted here with the author’s permission.
Our state senator, Bryce Reeves, embarrassed himself last week when speaking to the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors to oppose a solar farm project. He pressed to get more time to speak than is legally allowed and was condescending in addressing the board regarding the “perils of unchecked utility solar development.”
Does he think that nuclear, coal, or natural gas sources of power are actually safer than solar power? Mr. Reeves’ opposition to this project has nothing to do with safety. Rather, his talking points sounded as though they were dictated by Dominion Energy, which opposes alternative forms of power.
Dominion would lose money if citizens were able to purchase their power from another source. Dominion is getting a good return on their investment as they donated $18,000 to Sen. Reeves. Since Louisa is part of the 17th district, we should wonder if Mr. Reeves will also object to solar projects in our county.
The Spotsylvania project is in his subdivision, so he and his neighbors are part of the NIMBY group: Not In My Back Yard. Maybe he would not object to a Louisa project since he does not live in the county.
So far, three candidates have declared their intentions to run against Sen. Reeves. I encourage all Louisa voters to look closely at their choices and support a candidate who is not beholden to corporate lobbyists and not inclined to use their elected position to interfere in local matters.
Editor’s Note: This originally appeared in the March 7th edition of the Central Virginian, and has been reposted here with the author’s permission.
In recent years, the massive growth of income inequality in the United States has served up some startling statistics. The richest 1 percent of Americans have now amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Since the Wall Street crash in 2008, nearly half of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent, while more than 40 percent of American households cannot afford basic necessities without going into debt. In 2017, CEOs for the top 350 companies in the U.S. averaged $18.9 million each in compensation. Meanwhile, the share of national income for the bottom 90 percent continues to decline.
The Virginia Republican Party Creed states that “the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice.” But the question is, justice for whom? If we’re talking about wealthy CEOs and Wall Street bankers, the answer is clearly yes. If we’re talking about the rest of America, not so much.
Is the free enterprise system currently providing economic justice when it comes to the supply of pharmaceuticals in the U.S.? If you’re one of the 30 million Americans struggling with the 300 percent rise in the cost of insulin in recent years, you probably don’t think so. Profit margins for pharmaceutical companies and salaries for CEOs continue to soar while many Americans struggle to afford critical medications.
Is the free enterprise system providing economic justice for teachers, social workers, and other dedicated professionals who serve the public in demanding roles that require a costly education? In 2017, the compensation for the top 25 Wall Street hedge fund managers totaled more than $15 billion, which is nearly double what all 140,000 kindergarten teachers in the U.S. earned last year combined.
Perhaps we should ask the millions of minimum wage workers who work long hours and two or even three jobs to make ends meet. Some Walmart employees may not think they are receiving economic justice. In 2017, Walmart’s CEO made $22.8 million—nearly 1,200 times more than the average store employee. An estimate by Democratic Staff of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce surmised that Walmart’s low entry level wages in past years may have cost American taxpayers more than $6 billion a year in programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing.
The same may be said of other top companies. For the past two years, Amazon has paid no federal taxes. This year, the company will receive a $129 million tax refund. Amazon made $11.2 billion in 2018—up from $5.6 billion in 2017—but will benefit from tax credits and huge tax breaks for executive stock options that eliminate the company’s federal tax burden. How does your tax refund match up?
This country was built on a robust system of capitalism driven by market transactions. Most would agree—Republicans and Democrats alike—that a system that rewards innovation and resourcefulness is a vital underpinning of the American dream. The question then becomes, what level of government intervention, market regulation, and taxation for our wealthiest citizens and corporations is appropriate to maintain economic justice?
The Democratic ideal strives for the greater good—for individuals, our communities, and our nation as a whole. The vast inequities we are seeing in wealth accumulation are not economic justice, but point to the need for sensible measures to enable hard-working Americans to share in at least a portion of the fruits of their labors. In their enthusiasm for free enterprise Republicans have forgotten the American family. Debt-inducing tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy and corporations at the expense of average Americans is not economic justice. Economic inequality is killing the American dream and we should not fool ourselves otherwise.
Editor’s Note: this op-ed originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been reposted here with the author’s permission.
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