Paul Buchheit
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Monday 10 December 2012
Listening to their rants can be educational for a progressive, because the anti-government sentiment highlights the masterful job done by conservatives and the wealthy over the years, as they have basically convinced much of America to argue against themselves on matters of politics and the economy.

Some Better Targets for the People Who Hate Government

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One of the pleasures of a weekend away from the city is visiting people who express points of view that are different from my own. A lot of them hate government. Their comments are sprinkled with colorful references to taxes, waste and socialism. 

Countering with facts and statistics doesn't seem to work. Instead, listening to their rants can be educational for a progressive, because the anti-government sentiment highlights the masterful job done by conservatives and the wealthy over the years, as they have basically convinced much of America to argue against themselves on matters of politics and the economy. 

It would make more sense to take on the real villains. 

1. Medical Providers 

They're taking a lot more of our money than Medicare does. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, medical administrative costs as a percentage of claims are about three times higher for private insurance than for Medicare. The U.S. Institute of Medicine reports that the for-profit system wastes $750 billion a year on waste, fraud, and inefficiency. As a percent of GDP, we spend $1.2 trillion more than the OECD average

That's an amount equal to the entire deficit wasted on private medical care companies. One out of every six dollars we earn goes to doctors, hospitals, drug companies, and insurance companies. All good reasons to redirect our hatred. 

2. Retirement Brokers 

Various reports have concluded that administrative costs for 401(k) plans are much higher than those for Social Security—up to 20 times more. 

It would be difficult to find, or even imagine, any short-term-profit-based private insurer that is fully funded for the next 25 years. Social Security is. It works for all retirees while private plans work for a limited number of investors. 

3. Banks 

Government is often blamed for local budget shortfalls, but cities and towns around the country have been repeatedly victimized by a "bid-rigging" process that diverts billions of dollars—a few thousand at a time—from numerous unsuspecting communities to the accounts of a few big banks. 

Individual homeowners, especially minorities, have also been victimized by the banks. Because of the housing crash and the corresponding decrease in home values, black households lost over half of their median wealth and Hispanic households almost two-thirds. 

There are scandals and scams galore: the privately run Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) headed up the illegal foreclosure business; the banking association LIBOR was guilty of interest rate manipulation; and plenty of financial institutions have engaged in the subtle art of imposing hidden fees. Credit cards are loaded with "gray charges" like surprise subscriptions and auto-renewals that cost the average consumer $356 a year. 

Yet we're forced to keep paying. Shockingly, it has been estimated that 40 percent of every dollar we spend on goods and services goes to banks as interest. 

Public banks, on the other hand, focus on the needs of communities and small businesses rather than on investors. The most well-known example is the Bank of North Dakota (BND), which has successfully worked with local banks throughout the state, promoting business growth through loans that a larger bank might be reluctant to make, while managing to turn a profit every year for the past 40 years. 

4. Higher Education Operators 

Outside of the banking industry, there may not be a more egregious example of public abuse than the expropriation of higher education by profit-seekers who have subjected underemployed young people to years of student loan obligations. The collection of outstanding student debt is managed in good part by big banks like JP Morgan and Citigroup. 

In most countries tuition remains free or nominal, but in America, as noted by Noam Chomsky, the belief that education strengthens a country is giving way to a philosophy of paying for your own educational benefits. Meanwhile, the "corporatization of universities" has led to a dramatic increase in administrators while relatively expensive programs like nursing, engineering and computer science are being cut

But the easy loans keep accruing interest long after college ends. With a hint of foreboding, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Education reported that the student loan debacle has been fueled by the same forces that led to the subprime mortgage collapse. 

5. Big Box and Fast Food Companies 

Smaller government is promoted by the very companies that make record profits while forcing their employees to accept public assistance. 

While McDonald's enjoyed profits of 130 percent over the past four years, and Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC) made 45 percent, and while the Walton family made $20 billion in one year, the median hourly wage for food service workers and Walmart employees is about $9 an hour. Many workers are stuck at the $7.25 minimum wage, which according to the National Employment Law Project is worth 30 percent less than in 1968. 

Food service and big box store employees, among the fastest-growing job segments in the nation, are making barely enough to stay out of poverty. And it's not just the employees who are subsidizing their bosses. We all are. Low-wage employees are more dependent on the food stamps and Medicaid that are paid for by our tax dollars. 

Some Alternative Targets: Panic, Poison, Plowing, Postage, Prison 

What is the incentive for private companies to deal with tragedies like Hurricane Sandy? The Pacific Standard aptly stated that "the free market doesn't want to be in the flood business." 

What is the incentive for private companies to keep the poisons out of our drinking water? Without sufficient government regulations the Clean Water Act was violated a half-million times in one year. 

What is the incentive for private companies to plow the county roads? Or to reduce the number of prisoners in profit-seeking prisons? Or to allow you to send a birthday card for just 45 cents? Or to simply treat its customers with respect rather than as a source of profit? 

The "invisible hand" of the free market is unable, or unwilling, to satisfy the needs of society in all these areas. For that, it is worthy of our contempt.



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ABOUT Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher with formal training in language development and cognitive science. He is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, RappingHistory.org, PayUpNow.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

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16 comments on "Some Better Targets for the People Who Hate Government"

bruderly

December 11, 2012 10:42am

According to Smith, the legitimate role of government in a market economy is to regulate the markets with fair and just enforcement of laws that protect “the Commons” from exploitation by “the Mercantilists.” Since the day President Reagan stated that “.. government is the problem” Republican tacticians have exploited this misinterpretation of capitalism with generous financial support for academic and corporate economists to rationalize and justify policy that ignores this basic tenet of capitalist philosophy. For example, the laser focus on quantitative economics and computerized trading have made short-term exploitation of market inefficiencies extremely profitable; the lure of big money has made it too easy for academic and corporate economists to ignore fundamental macroeconomic principles. There is no need to delay action to fix this problem by engaging in prolonged philosophical debates over macroeconomic theory; the solutions have been in the open literature for more than 230 years. Smith’s concepts merely need to be updated with 21st century language and knowledge that defines the role of government in protecting “the Commons” that is essential to our collective quality of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Smith has made It easy to defend government policy that, for example, mandates market transparency, universal healthcare, clean energy, healthy communities and a stable climate. These are not radical, socialist ideas; when placed in the proper historical context these policy concepts are not only rational, but quite conservative.

bruderly

December 11, 2012 9:56am

Adam Smith addressed this issue when he warned “beware the mercantilists” (Wealth of Nations, 1776). Mr. Buchheit left out the most invidious mercantilists of this century; the lobbyists for “Big Oil” and the Military-Industrial Complex who advocate using the military power of the United States government to protect the market power of OPEC and Oil Oligopolies (Eisenhower, 1960). Rather than supporting policy that creates competitive motor fuel markets that empower consumers to choose the type and form of motor fuels that power their vehicles, modern mercantilists lobby to protect their domination of American motor fuel markets by suppressing competition from non-petroleum motor fuels, such as electricity and natural gas. Over the past 20+ years the Oil Oligopoly has succeeded in adding about $5 trillion to the national debt through unfunded military intervention in oil producing regions of the world and oil price volatility. These mercantilist policy initiatives not only helped trigger the 2008 current economic meltdown, they made the consequences much worse for the consumer than if motor fuel markets were truly competitive.

Leddy Smith

December 11, 2012 9:45am

Most of those people that hate the government live in red states whose population is the greatest participant in all the programs they are supporting to be cut. They are all ignorant and either get their information from Fox News or someone they have talked to who has watched Fox, which by all standards of second and third hand information has a low threshold of fact. Thats it Bubba...
cutoff the hand that feeds you. Ignorance is bliss.

brad roon

December 11, 2012 7:58am

And WHY would anyone think a "good" corporate executive is a fit for a govt position? They are diametrically opposed in goals. They have different structure, objectives, behaviors, actions, authority, etc.

To think a Drug Dealer (pharmaceutical company) is a good fit to put in the FDA is really a stupid obfuscation of reality.

There is now, in the FDA an attempt to start a war on obesity with an emphasis on childhood obesity. Yes, there is a problem - wait a bit on that. What the FDA is having proposed is the combination of two drugs to fight childhood obesity. These two drugs BOTH failed approval because they were so toxic. One greatly increased risk of death by stroke, and one risk of death by heart attack.

So the assumption is what, that combining these two deadly (stupid) drugs somehow magically makes them safe?

Sitting on the review panel are people who have an economic conflict of interest. These people had and will have jobs with the drug pushers that manufacture the drug. Refused to participate on the panel is a doctor who is familiar with the numerous safety issues of these drugs. He was refused because FDA mgmt (drug company exec types) stated that he had "an intellectual conflict of interest". Well, unlike these mgmt types he at least has an intellect!

So the drug pushers want to force deadly poisons down your kid's throat for profit, and the weight loss benefit is basically imaginary.

One true cause of childhood obesity? HFCS. Regular sugar in most people's biochemistry turns one to two percent of those calories into fat. That fat can develop virtually anywhere in the person't body. With High Fructose Corn Syrup about FORTY PERCENT of those calories WILL turn into fat. Most of that will be abdomenal, and MUCH of it will actually be inside your organs.

You can develop Non - Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease within 3 weeks of taking reasonably high amounts of HFCS, and that is basically the same as cirrhosis of the liver. Not Good by any means. Yet corpse-orations treat HFCS as a health food. It is not. It is GMO corn (proven to kill kidney/liver cells, damage reproductive systems, cause massive tumors) subsidized to sell for less than it costs to produce because OUR tax money pays for that, and thus it is cheap for the manufacturers to use in lieu of better sweeteners.

This is one simple example of how corporations screw we the people daily, and it convicts two huge, powerful industries with tentacles in every phase of govt: the drug dealers and the Ag Chem businesses/GMO corpse-orations. Evidence that we must not only have separation of church and state, but business and state.

When a govt is run by and for business, it is called FASCIST. Welcome to the UNazied States of America.

brad roon

December 11, 2012 7:37am

Great comments here.

First: we are not supposed to be a democracy, but a limited republic. That has some holds and protections against the people simply voting theirselves all the money which would turn us into a socialist state.

Second: every problem mentioned (and virtually all the others) has one cause: Uber rich people in suits, making decisions in the name of the corporation.

We are basically given a paradigm in which the size of a corporation and the number of minds available to it implies a greater wisdom, a detachment which enables it to see and act for the long picture, and a more vast intellectual integrity.

The TRUTH is that money does NOT make a person smarter. It does NOT make them wiser. It certainly does NOT make them more compassionate. These people literally control the country through the purchase of our sycophantic govt, their intrusion into the educational system to set the paradigms that society follows, their control of the media, and the leverage of their huge amount of dollars.

They make decisions which are inimical to our interests all the time. They get the govt to subsidize them as much as possible. Tax breaks, exemptions, price supports, subsidies, not paying US taxes and getting millions in tax "refunds".

Every decision made by the powerful large corporations (there are some good people/companies out there, but they don't run the show) selfishly benefits the rich people running that corporation. Example: All the companies sending their manufacturing off shore. One can say that they have to do it to remain competitive, or one can say the mgmt failed to make the company competitive. Regardless, when have you seen a chinese manufactured "American company" product that has really gone down substantially? Sometimes i see a small percentage of price drop from this, but the decreased expense of the foreign jobs slips into the rich person's bank account.

GE sent thousands of jobs overseas and Obama made the CEO a hero, an economic genius. Well, my GE silicone isn't any cheaper. My GE appliances aren't any cheaper - but they DO break down way faster! Ever have a toaster last more than a year? i do, but it's made in Europe. When i grew up my family of ten used a Toastmaster 4 slice for 30 years and it still ran.

Point being, the offshore job toss doesn't benefit the consumer, but the executives get richer.

In building houses for the wealthy i've found that basically these people use money in lieu of brains. Get a variance to put a house in a known avalanche chute? OK. Put 3" thick bullet proof glass in a pointed prow formation so that when the avalanche comes it "won't damage the house"? I can imaging the trees and snow weighing tens of thousands of tons coming down the chute at 100+ mph and shoving that window (in one safe piece - 30 ft high, too) right through the housecleaner into the back walls.

Our problems are caused by a society engineered to worship money as the ultimate value. Everything has a dollar value placed upon it, whether that is relevant to reality or not. Oh, a person is diseased? That's a ___ thousand dollar "fix". Even when the fix is the bs of drugs (which don't cure and WILL cause damage) and when it is assinine to place a dollar value on health, life, wellness, feeling vibrant.

How many dollars will it cost me to get you to surrender your freedom of speech? Your freedom to choose what is your best decision regarding your health? Your freedom to spend your own money how you choose? The ability to live in a house you own? Your right to take care of your children? Your ability to work, where you can play?

These are ALL being stripped from us, and more. The psychopaths running the big corporations are making these decisions and giving their pets in govt the marching orders.

evernewecon

December 10, 2012 9:22pm

The Easter Islander ate their trees, we've
incentivized it. Oligopolistically static-
closed systems ultimately are extractive
and/or dependent on adveristy for the
oligoplists to make money.

In 1929 the rich ran out of un-rich to lend
to but lent anyway. In 2007 they sold the loans,
insured them, and sometimes shorted them.

Any program structured to conform to
monopoly or oligopoly will benefit
primarily the monopolists or oligopolists.

Where're they're "extractive," the system
is a loser overall.

TBTF is definitionally an oligopoly.
ObamaCare replaces in-your-face exclusions
and cherry picking with a blanket-universal
exquisitely, precisely oligopolistic structure--
essentially single provider indeed--cartel.

The high risk exchanges are "outskirts of Medicare,"
which is national health insurance for customers the
carriers don't want but take back again for extra
pay. Where then also paid specially to manage on
a capitation basis, then bango! credit due them
that does create an ounce of "accountable care" and
then there they have made a contribution to
rationalization. Outside helping the carriers
milk not just the easy money but the high risk
patients, that kind of rationalization will only
struggle to exist meaningfully in the high risk
exchanges, subject to funding, but you can bet
(I'd imagine) those will be in the same sights
as is Medicare.

Where monopoly is extractive, it's profoundly
less desirable for the customers, and needlessly
inefficient and expensive system-wide.

So someone has to get shafted.

So, in a monopolistic system the unprivileged
participants pay for their being controlled so that
they may have less desirable markets and so they
can have much worse outcomes than necessary.

Economically, mathematically the opposite is thus:
empowering people enriches those who enable the
empowering, unless they're the actual monopolists.

Where the oligopoly shortchanges employment, such as
that taking a back seat in favor of massive
money supply concerns stemming from massive free
reserves, and if also there are concomitantly intensely
limited employment opportunities, then that begins
resembling supply side slavery.

Where one has no choice but to surrender their retirement
income to nominal interest rates for the same reason,
then that begins resembling demand side slavery.

The only differences from the familiar plantation are the
degree and the cotton. But understand, undoubtedly
Thomas Jefferson was a benevolent master to his slaves.

The slavery bit kicks in, to matters of degree, as in where
employment is thereby intensely limited, though most
simply to one employer. Then, remove the protection
afforded by a union. Voila. Sharecropper.

On the demand side it's spinning wheels. Retirement savings'
income appropriated w/o choice not due to fair market
behavior.

It used to be a single wage earner could raise a family in
a house and put a couple kids through college w/o
incurring debt up to his scalp.

MoniqueDC

December 10, 2012 6:40pm

Kansas is a perfect example of what happened to the formerly independent thinking Mid-West (I am a former Kansan). I recommend you check out the book: What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) a book by American journalist and historian Thomas Frank. There is also a documentary derived from the book: http://whatsthematterwithkansas.com/
This web site will give you the details.

SunFlowerBio is right. Kansas has become an oppressive almost indescribeable place (exception is Lawrence). When Mr. Franks was interviewed, he said the approach the Radical Right/Republicans were taking to steer Kansas to such an extremist position was a roadmap for the formula they would use in any state were they were allowed to achieve a majority. ALEC is a part of it as is the propaganda perpetuated by Fox News.
To fully understand the approach, I highly recommend the book and/or movie.

I don't even recognize Kansas as the state where I grew up. It is harsh, unforgiving and oppressive. It breaks my heart to see what happened to the state and how it has been molded by right-wing religions and politicians.

wkillpatri

December 10, 2012 4:22pm

Everything described in this article is a symptom of a problem, not the underlying cause of our current state of affairs. Until we get to the root of the problem, we can't address the symptoms. And yes -- the underlying problem is easy to understand. Once 51% of Americans "get it," then we can start fixing things.
The problem was clearly, presciently described in 1835 (sic) by a French essayist or op-ed writer, Alexis deTocqueville in a book named DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. DeTocqueville's premise was (is) that America has been doomed to failure -- exactly as we're seeing now -- because democracy and capitalism are diametrically opposed "operating systems" if you will.
Democracy seeks to level the political playing field by allocating one vote to every citizen. Capitalism, however, does the opposite. It rewards the few who manage to accumulate the most financial resources. So we have one man/one vote vs. one man/millions of dollars.
In short order, holders of enormous wealth learn how to convert financial capital into political capital which, in turn, gives them ever-increasing control over the government. One man/one vote becomes nothing more than a token. Conversely, capitalism becomes not only our financial system, but also our underlying method of governance.
Every progressive needs to read DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. And the first thing we need to do to begin fixing the mess we're in is get private money out of elections. Indeed, there is much more to do ... but campaign finance reform will have a more significant impact on how our government runs that trying to deal with problems that are symptomatic of a very sick government, but not the cause.

ThisOldMan

December 10, 2012 3:49pm

Turning things around is easy: Just buy Fox News back from Rupe, fire all their psychopathic social psychologists and replace them with PR specialists who will get your message out. All it takes is money. Which is precisely the problem.

Rory Larson

December 10, 2012 6:21pm

@THISOLDMAN

I wonder if it would really be that easy, though? This is my question: Are grassroots right-wingers that way because they have passively been indoctrinated by Fox News? Or are they that way because they are regular people who live in circumstances that give them reason - instinctive if not rational - to resent the political and intellectual establishment they live under? Buy out Fox News and change its message: Will that turn them around? Or will they simply change the channel and find another source that will give them the arguments they are looking for? Are they really so passively indoctrinated? Or are they in fact pugnacious primates who just want to shove their middle finger up our nose to say: "Don't tread on me!"?

danh

December 10, 2012 2:41pm

One more target: our hundreds of bases overseas and our multiple trillion dollar wars.

Those hurt us economically and every other way (including even militarily, as education programs for officers have been cut back to pay for wars).

And ---- a lot of tea partiers already get it, while, unfortunately, there are Dems around who do not. :(

Sunflowerbio

December 10, 2012 2:37pm

One hundred to one hundred twenty years ago the people in Kansas (mostly farmers) were leading the charge for Populist reform. Today they are among the most reactionary. Sam Brownback and the Koch brothers just replaced eight moderate Republican state senators with eight Neanderthal knuckle draggers, giving him a veto proof majority of 32 to 8 to compliment his 3/4 majority in the house. I wish I knew how to reach the people in Kansas, but I guess things will have to get even worse before they get any better. A Kansas farmer.

Rory Larson

December 10, 2012 1:25pm

A good article. These are excellent talking points, and should be brought into the conversation. The paradigm of the free market's "invisible hand" has been largely internalized by many people now, and it will prevent facts and statistics from reaching them if it isn't raised to the surface and challenged openly with a better paradigm. This can be done, but it would make a good discussion at this end as well to analyze the free market paradigm from the point of view of a believer. Envisioning where "government" and the "free market" fit in a larger socioeconomic context, considering logically where their limits must be and how they might fail, and being able to communicate these perspectives effectively, would go a long way toward driving the facts and statistics home.

Best, Rory

Arachne646

December 10, 2012 12:40pm

I have another P. Privatize. Public utilities that used to be held by the county, like the water department, or the state or federal government, like prisons, can be done more expensively, with less quality, and without unions, by private corporations. It always turns out badly.

Riconui

December 10, 2012 12:13pm

It doesn't take any unusual analytical skills to see that if there is a threat to our little experiment in democratic rule, the impetus for it is NOT coming from the government except insofar as some of our elected officials are in fact agents for corporate interests and both in practical terms and in the spirit, are traitors to this nation. If a threat exists to our way of life, it cannot and will not be coming from any foreign influences, it will be a product of home grown fascists, elected to office under false pretenses, waving the flag and invoking Jesus at every opportunity. (And I don't use "fascist" in the sense of strict authoritarian police state, in the manner that the term is thrown about by tea baggers and their ilk. I mean in the traditional sense of government being an essential functionary of corporate agendas. There will be plenty of time for a police state later). Now, how do we reach people in Kansas.

Tom Magstadt

December 10, 2012 11:09am

So true.