[Audio Slideshow] Comedian Lewis Black At Occupy Wall Street
Comedian Lewis Black, most notable for his “Back In Black” segments on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” program, gave Turnstyle News an interview during the Occupy Wall Street protests on October 5, 2011. Standing on the sidelines of Foley Square, Black was virtually unnoticed by the revelers around him, smoking a cigarette and trying to capture the events for himself on his mobile phone.
Turnstyle reporter Charlie Foster caught up with Black and gathered his thoughts on the growing movement.
I’d almost be willing to bet money that not a single major media outlet will even attempt to interview Lewis Black about what’s going on right now. Here’s hoping somebody at The Daily Show knows/finds out and lobbies to get him on the air.
Posts tagged taxes.
The Reverend Al Sharpton and various labor unions have announced a March for Jobs. But I’m afraid we’ll need more than marches to get jobs back.
Since the start of the Great Recession at the end of 2007, America’s potential labor force – that is, working-age people who want jobs - has grown by over 7 million. But since then, the number of Americans who actually have jobs has shrunk by more than 300,000.
In other words, we’re in a deep hole and the hole is deepening. In August, the United States created no jobs at all. Zero.
America’s ongoing jobs depression - which is what it deserves to be called - is the worst economic calamity to hit this nation since the Great Depression. It’s also terrible news for President Obama, whose chances for re-election now depend almost entirely on the Republican party putting up someone so vacuous and extremist that the nation rallies to Obama regardless.
The problem is on the demand side. Consumers (whose spending is 70% of the economy) can’t boost the American economy on their own. They’re still too burdened by debt, especially on homes that are worth less than their mortgages. In addition, their jobs are disappearing, their pay is dropping, their medical bills are soaring.
Consumer spending slowed again in August as incomes dropped.
Businesses, for their part, won’t hire without more sales. So we’re in a vicious cycle. The question is what to do about it.
When consumers and businesses can’t boost the economy on their own, the responsibility must fall to the purchaser of last resort. As John Maynard Keynes informed us 75 years ago, that purchaser is the government.
Government can hire people directly to maintain the nation’s parks and playgrounds and to help in schools and hospitals. It can funnel money to help cash-starved states and local government so they don’t have to continue to slash payrolls and public services. And it can hire indirectly - contracting with companies to build schools, revamp public transportation and rebuild the nation’s crumbling highways, bridges and ports.
Not only does this create jobs but also puts money in the hands of all the people who get the jobs, so they can turn around and buy the goods and services they need - generating more jobs. Not exactly rocket science.
But congressional Republicans are firmly opposed. Why don’t Republicans get it? Either they’re knaves - they want the economy to stay awful through next election day so Obama gets the boot. Or they’re fools - they’ve bought the lie that reducing the deficit now creates more jobs.
Republicans claim businesses aren’t hiring because they’re uncertain about regulatory costs, or their taxes are too high, or they can’t find the skilled workers they need. But if these were the reasons businesses weren’t hiring - and consumer demand were growing - we’d expect companies to make more use of their current employees. The average number of hours worked per week by the typical employee would be increasing.
In fact, the length of the average workweek has been dropping. In August, it declined for the third month in a row, to 34.2 hours. That’s back to where it was at the start of the year - barely longer than what it was at its shortest point two years ago (33.7 hours in June 2009).
Republicans say America can’t afford to spend more. In truth, we’ll be in worse shape if we don’t. If the economy remains dead in the water, the ratio of public debt to the total economy balloons.
Besides, the United States can now borrow money from the rest of the world at fire-sale rates. Interest on the ten-year Treasury bill is now under 2%. That’s an almost unprecedented deal. With so many Americans unemployed and so much of our infrastructure in disrepair, this is the ideal time to get on with the work of rebuilding the nation.
But it won’t be enough for government to become the buyer of last resort – in Keynes’s words, to prime the pump. If the economy is to continue to grow and create jobs after the government has stopped the priming, there must be enough water in the well. Yet, now and in the foreseeable future, America’s vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the mechanism going.
For more than 30 years, the median wage in America has barely increased, adjusted for inflation – even though the economy is twice as large as it was three decades ago. Almost all the gains have gone to the top - especially the top 1%, who now receive over 20% of total income (it was just 10% in 1980).
As long as America’s vast middle class could continue to borrow on the rising value of their homes, they continued to spend - thereby keeping the economy going. But going deeper into debt is not a sustainable strategy. Now, after the bubble burst, America’s middle class doesn’t have enough money to maintain the economy at or near full employment.
Any long-term strategy for rescuing the American economy must therefore seek to reverse the widening gap in income and wealth. One place to start is tax reform. The earned income tax credit - a wage subsidy for lower-income workers - should be enlarged and expanded. Taxes on the middle class should be reduced - including social security payroll taxes (80% of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes).
Taxes on the wealthy, on the other hand, should be increased. The president has proposed closing some tax loopholes that allow the super-rich to reduce their tax liability, and to end the tax cut on the rich put in place by George W Bush in 2001 (thereby increasing the top marginal tax rate to what it was under Bill Clinton - 39%).
But the nation should go much further, particularly in light of the large budget deficit projected several years from now. We need more tax brackets at the top, with higher marginal rates. The capital-gains tax (now at 15%) should be raised to match the income tax rate. And a wealth surtax of 2% should be applied to all wealth in excess of $7 million.
Needless to say, Republicans won’t go along with anything like this. They balk even at the president’s modest plan.
It would be better for President Obama to assume that he will get no Republican support this year and next, and build his 2012 election campaign around a bold plan to revive jobs and the American middle class — and end the American Jobs Depression.
It’s class warfare!
Yeah right. Three decades of laissez-faire economic polices have allowed the rich to double their share of the national income while paying tax rates a fifth lower than before. The result,notes Kevin Drum, was “wage stagnation for everyone else, a massive financial collapse that ravaged the middle class, an enormous deficits that they’ll be asked to pay off eventually.” If the millionaires tax is the only blowback, the wealthy should count their blessings.
It’s a tax on small business
“Don’t forget that most small businesses file taxes as individuals,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Fox News Sunday. “So when you are raising top tax rates, you are raising taxes on these job creators.” Except when you aren’t. ThinkProgress’s Pat Garofalo points out that fewer than 2 percent of the nation’s small businesses fall into either of the top two tax brackets. Plus, many of the small business filers in the upper brackets are merely investors who have nothing to do with running the business. And if small businesses don’t want to pay taxes as individuals, they can file always as corporations.
It reduces incentives to work and invest
Experience shows otherwise. As Nancy Folbre points out over at Economix, “average annual rates of growth in gross domestic product in the high tax era between 1950 and 1980 exceeded those of the last 30 years. Increases in the top tax rate under President Bill Clinton were followed by robust economic expansion.”
It’s an unstable source of revenue
A recent essay in the Wall Street Journal argued that the high volatility of upper-level income makes it impractical to rely on taxing it. But this concern is vastly overblown and can be easily dealt with by establishing rainy day funds.
In the libertarian view, the rich are entitled to their gains because they worked for them. But this ignores how structural changes in the economy such as globalization, financial deregulation, and the rise of the knowledge-based economy has disproportionately rewarded the wealthy. At the same time, we’ve failed to reinvest in government programs that once leveled the playing field, such as financing for community colleges and public universities.
The rich will leave the country
Good riddance, writes Don Peck in a recent Atlantic essay on how to save the middle class: “America remains a magnet for talent, for reasons that go beyond the tax code; and by international standards, none of the tax changes recommended here would create an excessive tax burden on high earners. If a few financiers choose to decamp for some small island-state in search of the smallest possible tax bill, we should wish them good luck.”
So if credit preceded hard currency, why was hard currency developed?
The emerging consensus among historians over the last ten years is that markets based on the use of actual bullion or currency in daily transactions are almost everywhere a side-effect of war. If you think about this, it makes sense. Why did they choose gold and silver as the universal currency of exchange? Well, gold and silver were the sort of things that soldiers were most likely to have a lot of on hand, since that is the easiest and most valuable thing to carry off if you’re looting and pillaging somewhere. But on the other hand, a soldier is the last person you’re going to want to extend credit to, since they are heavily armed and just passing through. So, soldiers wants of stuff (marketplaces always formed around an army), and they’ve got lots of these bits of precious metal; it makes sense that that’s where cash markets would emerge.
What seems to have happened is that states started systematizing the division of the loot into uniform pieces, eventually making them into coins. Then – and this is the big trick – they demanded those coins back, in taxes. One of the great mysteries, if you take the Adam Smith theory of the origin of money (that it arose from the inconveniences of barter), is, why did ancient kings want taxes at all? If gold and silver were naturally money, why not just grab the gold and silver mines directly and keep all of it? Indeed that is in fact what they did, so what’s the point of taking the gold that you already own, stamping your picture on it, handing it out and then saying, ‘OK, everybody, give it back’? The only logical explanation is that they were trying to create a market, and that also explains who they were giving it to. One of the big problems in the ancient world was how to feed one’s army. You have 50,000 people sitting around, and they’re going to eat pretty much anything standing in the area within about three weeks. How do you feed them? The easiest solution is to give the soldiers these metal coins and say, ‘OK, everyone in the kingdom is required to give me one of these coins’. Suddenly the whole population has to figure out a way to give the soldiers what they want in exchange for the coins. So you’re effectively employing your entire kingdom to feed your soldiers. Commercial markets are essentially, then, a by-product of military operations by states.