Thursday, August 4, 2011

169. Senate bill 5 is politics as usual

It is a rare occasion that State Representative Boose and I agree on an issue. Usually I find his interpretation of the issues to be intellectually insolent to those who follow politics. In the past, he has demonstrated the unique ability to take the most debatable of ideology, insert the word "taxes," and spin it into the most inexplicable of fabrication.

However, the sea has parted, and we finally agree on an economic philosophy-most specifically on his final point in his July 27 letter to the Editor. Like Boose, I wholeheartedly support "largely eliminating the disparity between the public and private sector." It does sound a little socialistic to me, but let's consider the arguments.

President Obama in his position as President of the United States, which represents the executive branch of the most important country in the world, makes $400,000 per year. His private sector counterparts, such as Philippe P. Dauman of Viacom made $84.5 million in 2010. Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum made $76.1 million and at number eleven of the top 20 CEOs was Howard Schultz of Starbucks who made $21.7 million. Consider for a moment that the CEO of Starbucks, who does not do much more than sell overpriced, calorie-laden coffee-like drinks, made $21 million more than the president of the United States.

It is interesting to note that Starbucks is doing well, recording record third quarter profits. Of course, this comes after major layoffs in 2008 and 2009 when Starbucks terminated an estimated 18,000 jobs. Record profit, in the midst of employee layoffs, seems to be a common business practice these days. But I digress.

In comparison of private and public sector jobs, there is clearly a higher upside in the private sector. The public sector, by itself, does not create millionaires and billionaires. In terms of comparing middle class salaries, many public employees leave for the higher private wages-though to be fair, it is on a case by case basis and often by occupation. Obviously, there are not a lot of private firefighters. However, public benefits are often superior to private benefits-many times simply because of the reluctance of private companies to provide them.

But maybe the answer is not reducing public wages and benefits but raising private compensation. Maybe we should spend more time trying to raise the minimum wage, rather than eliminate it. Maybe more time should be spent paying American wages to American workers, rather than exporting them to countries whose workers will work for pennies on the dollar. Maybe private companies should stop paying their CEOs, lobbyists and shareholders millions of dollars that could be used to hire new employees or give raises to their current ones. Or, maybe, just maybe, we need more unions in our private companies-to promote worker interests and ensure they are paid as well as their public counterparts.

But if Boose and I are now partners in the disparity elimination business, and it seems that we are, clearly the largest disparity is not between the private and public sector but between the upper class and the middle and lower classes. The numbers just keep getting worse; in fact, 2007 data showed that the top 10 percent of Americans control two-thirds of America's wealth. As a Mother Jones article entitled it, "It's the Inequality, Stupid."

In our collective expedition to end the disparity, I expect that Boose will now support higher taxes, as well as the estate tax, on the wealthiest of Americans. This revenue can not only be used to help reduce the deficit, but also pay fair wages and stop the layoffs of public employees. As that money is reintroduced into the economy, there will be more for the middle class, and more for social programs-inspiring the economy and creating jobs in both the private and public sector. I am glad that Boose now recognizes the socio-economic plight of the bottom 90 percent and is committed to spread the wealth.
I guess it is off to the Batmobile for Boose and I-now firmly united as disparity crime fighters!

In reality, and although there are parts of Senate Bill 5 that I agree with, the idea that it is pro-middle class is a disconcerting proposition (some might even say an inexplicable spin of fabrication). Senate Bill 5 is about politics as usual-power, fundraising and reelection. Terrified of upsetting big business, and the wealthiest of Americans, Republicans have turned their attention to the teacher, police and fire unions-seeking to limit the very thing that created the middle class in the first place . . .the right to bargain collectively.

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