Economic system should work for us all

Published 2:46 pm Thursday, March 12, 2009

As I listened to the debate over the economic stimulus package recently signed by President Barack Obama, I was struck by what seemed to be two very different worldviews in operation.

One was a worldview in which the economic system was engineered to ensure that everyone is able to acquire what they need for lives of relative abundance and dignity. It represents a system in which all of us in the U.S. are able to access basic necessities like food, shelter, education and health care regardless of the accidents of our birth or current circumstances which result in our being wealthy or poor.

The other worldview is rooted in our recent past. It is one in which the economic system was crafted to serve the wealthy. According to this system, if the privileged few are taken care of we will all be fine. In this worldview, greed reigns. A cycle develops in which whatever makes money is what is considered the right thing to do with no regard for long term consequences or the common good. We have seen examples of this many times in the lead-up to our current financial crisis in practices like predatory lending, investment scams and tax inequities.

It only makes sense that we should all pay taxes that are proportionate to our incomes. In fact, this is the only way to begin to balance the budget.

The Bush tax cuts were implemented in such a way that those earning the most get the largest percent decrease in taxes. Citizens for Tax Justice reported that if policy remains unchanged, by 2010 the wealthiest 1 percent among us will have received a 25 percent decrease in taxes. Ultimately, the share of tax burden would increase for all of us except those earning the top 5 percent of income.

After experiencing the devastating effects of the economy-for-the-wealthy approach to managing the country’s finances, the majority of Americans rejected trickle-down economics in the last national election.

Although the electorate rejected this approach, some in government are finding it difficult to act in ways consistent with the will of the people.

It’s painful to watch these politicians selfishly posturing for personal gain and re-election at a time when millions are losing their jobs, homes and hope. Even in Shelby County, we’ve experienced an increase in unemployment. Unemployment in Alabama continues to climb. At the same time, politicians in the state are considering whether or not to accept money from the federal government that could provide additional relief to those who find themselves out of work. It makes me realize that, although we went to the polls in record numbers, our work as concerned citizens is not done.

If we want to develop an economic system that works for all of us, not only must we be involved in the selection of law-makers but we must also stay engaged in the democratic process by letting elected officials know what we think as they govern.