They’re up to it again – this time with what they call the “fiscal cliff.” Beware of con men bearing slogans. The oldest trick in the book is for conservatives – cons – to create hysteria around something, and then get all of us to give them billions of our tax dollars to fix the problem they’ve gotten us all hysterical about. Four generations ago, the right was whipping up hysteria about Reefer Madness. They got us to spend trillions over the years incarcerating mostly poor people for a mostly victimless crime. But they made a fortune doing it! And now they’re even building private prisons to hold potheads. Three generations ago, the right was whipping up hysteria about Communism.
Although Khrushchev never actually said, “We will bury you,” right-wingers and their PR machine made sure every American thought he did. And the Red Chinese were going to take down Vietnam and that domino would flip other countries from Laos to Canada – and pretty soon North Dakota would be filled with commies. They got us to spend trillions over the years building nukes and having pointless wars. But they made a fortune doing it! And now that they’re making money partnering with China, they’d like us to forget that it’s still officially a communist country. No droids in this car!
Reagan and Deregulation: Be Afraid
Two generations ago, the right was whipping up hysteria about taxes and regulation. Reagan told us that – even though the decades of the 50s, 60s, and 70s had been among the strongest in American history in terms of GDP growth and growth of the middle class – still, taxes on rich people were so high, and regulation of industry was so bad, that if we didn’t do something about it now, disasters would happen. They got us to spend trillions giving tax breaks to billionaires, and deregulated giant corporations so they could destroy most small and medium-sized American businesses in the great Mergers and Acquisitions frenzy. But they made a fortune doing it! And in this generation, the right is whipping up hysteria about our national debt.
They want us to be afraid, very afraid, that because of their war on drugs, their war on communism, and their war on taxes and regulation, our country now is trillions of dollars in debt. It becomes particularly ironic when they get hysterical about a program that goes into effect at the end of this year that will modestly raise taxes back to where they were when Bill Clinton was president, and will cut spending, particularly military spending, although not even close enough to take us back to where it was before Bush.
Create a Panic, Then Profit from It
They call this the “fiscal cliff,” as if it’s something we could fall over the edge of and die from the crash. But it’s all hysteria. The tax increases on middle class people are easily remedied with a tax cut – something Republicans say they love. And the spending cuts sound like a lot – over a trillion dollars – but that’s over the next ten years.
That’s plenty of time to go through those things and decide which is important, like keeping long-term unemployment benefits flowing, and which can wait, like building more bombs. In other words, the “fiscal cliff” is another classic example of what Naomi Klein called “Disaster Capitalism.” Create a panic, and then profit from it. For example, Wall Street is helping fund groups like the Third Way that are pushing hard for us to give our Social Security Trust Fund – which has over two and a half trillion dollars in it – to Goldman Sachs and Citibank so they can take care of it for us. Doesn’t that make you feel all safe, and warm-and-fuzzy? While we have a large debt, it’s not as large as it was after World War II. And how did we solve it then?
Presidents Truman and Eisenhower – a Democrat and a Republican – both realized it wasn’t a “cliff” or a debt problem: it was a jobs problem. So they invested billions of dollars in sending millions of Americans to college for free, and billions more in building highways, schools, and hospitals. Those investments paid off in more and better jobs, which meant more taxpayers, which meant more tax revenue.
Change the Conversation
As if by magic, the World War Two debt was paid off! We need to change the conversation. We don’t have a “fiscal cliff” to worry about – we have a jobs cliff. Giant corporations and their conservative buddies have been sending those jobs overseas as fast as they can, and, while it’s making the fat cats rich, it’s wiping out the middle class. It’s time for a national conversation about our insane trade policies and how we can grow real jobs, not just fast-food jobs. No fiscal cliff or grand bargain needed – let’s just put Americans back to work. Φ
Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is The Thom Hartmann Reader.