Executive Director Reports

Worth the investment

Anti-government zealots, right-wing pundits and their political soul mates in Congress constantly implore us to cut public spending.

According to their script, increased government spending will bury our kids and grandkids under a mountain of debt from which they’ll never dig themselves out.

Their warnings ignore the fact that our national debt as a percentage of national income is on a downward trajectory and that just as families with larger incomes can handle more debt (e.g. mortgage, car and student loans), the government can take on proportionately more debt, too, as the economy expands.

Borrowing itself isn’t necessarily bad for us or for our kids.

Our parents and grandparents, who survived the Depression of the 1930s, went on to fight a successful war against fascism, vastly expand educational opportunity through a massive expansion of higher education -- allowing many of us to become the first in our families to go to college –  and build an interstate highway system that brought the nation closer together and created economic efficiency at the same time.

Imagine if the Greatest Generation had said we’re not going to borrow money to fight Hitler, to provide greater educational opportunities, or build an Interstate Highway System.

I don’t know what our country would be like if our forebears had refused to make those investments, but I doubt that we’d have the same quality of life that we do today.

Of course, had they simply borrowed and not paid the bills, we would have drowned in debt.

But they weren’t afraid to tax themselves to pay for a war or build schools. And they particularly were not afraid to tax the rich among them, the same people whose tax rates have plummeted since the Reagan era, even as their share of wealth has increased exponentially.

Contrast that with the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were put on the national credit card at the same time President Bush and Congress passed a massive tax cut whose benefits went mostly to the rich.

They weren’t thinking about our kids’ future when they engineered that plan.

Not only was the “Greatest Generation” willing to pay their bills, they were willing to establish and strengthen what were, at the time, bold social programs which would benefit not only themselves but also future generations.

I don’t think my own experience is unique. In their retirement years, both of my parents relied mainly on Social Security for their income. And both of them had the costs of long illnesses before their deaths borne largely by Medicare.

My folks didn’t regard these as “entitlement programs.” They saw them for what they are – programs folks pay into with every paycheck to provide them economic and medical security in their retirement years.

The enemies of these programs assure us that those of us retired or nearing retirement age needn’t worry, that even if they are cut back, both Medicare and Social Security will be there for us.

That’s great. But what about our kids? If these programs aren’t there for them, what will they do when they retire? Will they live in poverty without adequate access to health care? Will they become a financial burden to their kids?

If the anti-government forces really cared about the next generation, they wouldn’t cut funding for higher education and saddle our kids with higher student loan debt.

Those of us who care about our kids and our grandchildren should make sure that education at all levels remains a national priority and that Medicare and Social Security are left intact not just for us, but for them as well.

We should also point out that there are ample options that could be taken to ensure that future generations are not saddled with unaffordable debt.

We could cut off access to offshore tax havens that cost the government billions in tax revenue every year.

We could insist that U.S. corporations pay taxes on their profits when they are earned, not when they decide to repatriate then earnings. According to the AFL-CIO, American companies have as much as $1.9 trillion sheltered overseas. As the Federation stated, “that would make a nice down payment on fixing the debt.”

We could tax the rich at the rates in place during our most prosperous period – from the end of WWII to the 1970s, when, incidentally, the average CEO’s pay wasn’t 354 times the pay of their average employee.

Here in Illinois we could close $2 billion in wasteful corporate tax loopholes, money which could be used to help pay for public safety, health care and education for our kids.

The “Greatest Generation” to whom we owe so much didn’t believe in tearing public services down. They expanded them, even if they had to borrow and spend, and tax themselves to do it.

I shudder to think what this country would look like if we follow the prescription of the doctors of doom who say America must lower its sights and trim its sails to remain great.

That’s not how we became a great nation, nor is it a course that will reverse the decline of the middle class, whose size and income is steadily eroding.

Shame on those who ignore history and cloak their desire to protect their riches with rhetoric about their alleged concern for future generations.

And double shame on us if we fall for their phony claims.