Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Poverty threatens our domestic tranquillity

The LA Times is running a series of editorials on the values and issues they feel will shape the 2008 election, i.e. the environment, liberty and justice, etc. Today, they focused on our country's domestic tranquillity, which they believe is being tested by new challenges, chief among them persistent poverty and the fraying of our connective infrastructure. It's pretty good stuff, especially the part about poverty. Here's an excerpt:
If tranquillity is best assured by "a more equal distribution" of the nation's wealth, we have much to fear. Our schools are faltering; our healthcare system leaves millions without access to doctors. Many are homeless or face the loss of homes. Some seethe at illegal immigrants who compete with Americans for jobs. In our America, 60 million people survive on $7 a day.

As we contemplate the coming election, we seek a president who understands that the unchecked spread of poverty is not a natural condition but rather a failure of government, and that action is required. Democrat John Edwards has been the most ardent anti-poverty crusader in the campaign; his ideas include strengthening labor laws, stimulating job creation and distributing housing vouchers for poor families that could be used anywhere, not just in government housing. The latter proposal alone would vastly expand shelter for those in need. The rest of the Democratic field offers little in the way of ingenuity, opting instead for the obvious observation that money spent in Iraq could better help America's poor.

On the Republican side, lack of specificity is matched by conspicuous indifference. When the GOP candidates were invited to debate poverty at Morgan State University in September, not one of the then-front-runners attended; present were Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul and Alan Keyes. Now a leading contender, Huckabee frames fighting poverty as a "pro-life" position; more constructively, he also addresses issues such as prison reform. Other Republicans have done meaningful anti-poverty work -- John McCain in housing and Mitt Romney in healthcare.

Although these candidates present ideas that might contribute at the margins, none goes far enough. Here are some ideas we'd like to hear them discuss:

  • President Bush came to office on a promise of "compassionate conservatism," but in housing, as in so many other areas, he's proved far more conservative than compassionate. His administration has sought, for instance, to cut Section 8 housing vouchers by 850,000; his successor should not only replenish the voucher program but add to it. There is no poverty worse than homelessness.

  • The next president should support and pay for early childhood programs such as Head Start; he or she also should endorse tax breaks for college students and their parents. Low-income students would benefit if community college tuition, in particular, were tax-deductible. And here's a proposal we would welcome: federal assistance for states educating the majority of the nation's illegal immigrants. Education can lift a poor person into prosperity; the government owes its people this chance to raise themselves.

  • Free trade is an engine of growth and jobs and thus opportunity. Yet open markets bring dislocation, and for the worker whose plant moves to Mexico, it is cold comfort that jobs are being created abroad. For Democrats especially, this last issue is a trying one. President Clinton was a champion of free trade and a supporter of NAFTA -- this page supported it then and still does. Today's candidates, however, are less enthusiastic. Edwards blames the pact for sending 1 million jobs abroad. Sen. Barack Obama calls for it to be "renegotiated." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says it should be "fixed." Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich veers into absurdity by proposing to scrap NAFTA and withdraw from the World Trade Organization.

  • Our goal should not be to abandon free trade but rather to make it work -- for the economy and also for the poor.
    These are good ideas that I'd like to hear discussed too, but will it change anything? The candidates will say whatever they think will get them votes. Bush is a prime example of that. People really believed he would be "compassionate." I guess the best we can do is vote our conscience and hope the next president really does care about poverty and inequality. That pretty much rules out all Republicans.


    abi said...

    It seems to me that the only way to "fix" NAFTA is to make it unprofitable for US companies to export jobs — and that means, effectively, getting rid of NAFTA.

    Like Michael Moore said, Bill Clinton is one of the best Republican presidents we ever had, and NAFTA is one of the reasons.

    Lew Scannon said...

    I agree with abi, sending our jobs across the borders does not make for a stronger economy, it only creates more unemployment, which then leads to more lay-offs as less and less American manufactured goods are being purchased by the consumers here at home.

    Kathy said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Kathy said...

    Fellas, I agree with both of you, but I'm not sure we can put the NAFTA genie back in the bottle. I read sometime ago that our three (US, Mexico and Canada) economies are so intertwined now that it's virtually impossible to go back. On the other hand, I think Naomi Klein's book on "Disaster Capitalism" thinks it is possible to dismantle NAFTA. (Abi, is that the book you recommended? You might be able to clarify this.)

    Anyway, if we can't dismantle NAFTA, then we need to make it more equitable and fair to workers. I like one of Edwards' solutions:

    Eliminate Tax Incentives to Move Offshore: The U.S. tax code encourages multinational corporations to invest overseas by allowing them to indefinitely defer taxation on their foreign profits. A recent $90 billion "tax holiday" for multinational corporations failed to create jobs, as President Bush promised, and many of these companies laid off employees instead. The effective tax rate on foreign non-financial income is less than 5 percent, which is well below the U.S. statutory rate of 35 percent. In some cases corporations actually receive subsidies to invest overseas through a "negative tax." Edwards will eliminate the benefit of deferral in low-tax countries, ensuring that American companies' profits are taxed when earned at either the U.S. rate or by a foreign country at a comparable rate.

    This should be a no-brainer.

    abi said...

    Yes, that's the book I mentioned (Shock Doctrine). I don't remember her talking about NAFTA, though. She may have, and I just forgot. I have no faith in my memory. ;-)

    Tax incentives to export jobs? How dumb is that? Sounds like something only a Bushite could love.