Part 1: Scavenging
First, a couple of bits of news from the week of July 7, 2008 (when this was posted as its own post):
- People are again picking up Manhole covers to return for cash. Never mind that 200+ pounds of iron only return 15-20 bucks, people are picking them up all over the country.
- Once again there was a piece on the news about people stealing catalytic converters from cars.
Add this to the view of a couple other houses with their aluminum siding torn off in Gary, and I have to keep asking the question of whether the United States has indeed become a third world nation.
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The reason I ask whether the United States has become a third world nation when talking about scavengers is that it used to not make sense to scavenge stuff. Sure, there were exceptions (aluminum cans and glass/plastic bottles in Michigan) but for the most part there was only enough remuneration from scavenging for those who were dedicated or too poor and scattered for anything else. While that meant there was a lot of waste, it also meant a lot of stuff was left alone.
Like a house I remember standing abandoned and open to the weather (somewhat) for a few years. I remember actually walking through it once, wandering around the rooms and noticing the pickles sitting in the cupboards waiting for someone to use them. Nothing was taken (it was a house, I just wanted to explore) and soon enough it was rehabbed. Last time I saw it it had a light green paint job with an MSU Spartan symbol painted on the side.
If that house were to be abandoned today it would be stripped of everything of value both inside and out. Then it would be torched and the local fire department would spend useful time putting out a fire at a now useless building.
And what’s this about manhole covers being stolen? Twenty bucks for two hundred pounds of iron, and this is something you need to have friends help you out with. To make this work out well, you’d have to steal twenty or thirty of them and risk getting a hernia.
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But here’s the point: forty years of Republicratomics (rip off the poor for the rich, give the poor a bribe here and there to make it appear that they’re on our side, sweep the evidence-gathering mechanisms under the rug so we’re stuck with anecdotes, take everything not securely fastened to the ground) has brought things to the state that the people of the nation have become too poor for their surroundings. And when that happens, the surroundings get gutted because the people want money and see that the stuff around them can be used for that.
It’s like fruit trees down on Easter Island. While they may have been fruitful when the natives first landed on the island, it got to the point where there was no longer fruit coming from the mature fruit trees. So, needing something to keep them warm, they cut down those now-sterile trees, then worked on the smaller saplings.
But consider this: now that people are using empty houses and manhole covers and catalytic converters to get money, it means there’s only one way for things to go: down. It’s now become impossible to rehab various areas of the country because the people around them will steal what’s not nailed down or lifted above their heads.
And so areas go backwards. The people live with less, and learn to like it.
Part 2: Privatization of Government
Until recently we’ve always expected government to work. We’ve always expected the trash to be hauled, the schools to educate, the roads to run smoothly and the police to do a good enough job at finding and punishing our criminals. More recently we’ve also expected them to help us through some rough economic patches (maybe not us specifically, but “US” in general) and to protect us from the more problematic tendencies of capitalism and protect us from discrimination from certain groups.But now it looks more and more like things are falling apart. Schools don’t educate, roads fall apart, the police is reviled (by those who don’t know better), the statistics are fixed so that our Social Security won’t be able to help (never mind the spending), and capitalist are getting their disastrous excesses protected, legalized and monopolized while the protections are made illegal. At least some groups get to have “hate crimes against them” illegalized.
So what happens? We’re now getting privatization. Government programs shifted into private, for profit hands.
Think of it: Subdivisions guarded by rent-a-cops, toll roads run by Spanish-Australian conglomerates, schools run by churches but paid for by the government…eventually we’re going to figure out a way to hand control of the governing mechanisms to private corporations, with the idea that someone trying to make a profit off governing people will figure out how to give the people what they want, cheaper better quicker and more satisfyingly.
And we’re going to get a lot of stuff that we’re not bargaining for.
Such as: If a private entity owns the government, they get certain powers that the government by the people doesn’t have.
Like the ability to keep people out. Private schools can kick out troublesome students easier than public schools can, and I see no reason to assume that one (or two) owners can’t insure that some poor sap (or group of saps) is trapped within some small town with a limited number of roads and private ownership of them.
And you think that the bureaucracy of a nonprofit agency is a heavy burden to carry; try a group who not only has to live off you but also has to make a profit for the owners of the right to govern. That person will be forced to be harsher than before, because the people they’re serving isn’t necessarily the people at large but more or less the people who own the government.
Here’s another thing that privatization of government leads to: deification of the rulers. Think of it: “Divine Right of Kings” wouldn’t have occurred if the people didn’t own government. There needs to be a reason for the masses to accept that somebody above them DESERVES to be on top; hence the idea that God (or the Gods) placed said person (or people) on top.
And the thing is, people dislike having the most important things in private hands.
A good example of this is transport. At one time the greatest part of the important cross-nation travel and transportation was done by railroads, which had been forever in private hands. People did not like this. Indeed, they hated this so much that when the car became a viable form of transport they bought cars and joined groups for the improvement of roads. With the nation covered over with named roads (Dixie Highway, Lincoln Highway, Robert E Lee Highway and many others criss-crossed the highway in the twenties), the government had no choice but to take on the responsibility of road upkeep. Now we have the US highway system, the Interstate system, and a passenger railroad network that still bears the scars of having been designed to be killed off.
And now we want to go back to a private system?
Part 3: Regressive Taxation
And as government becomes more and more privatized, taxation shifts from the rich to the poor. The reason is obvious: Since the rich end up being involved directly in the governance, it makes sense that they would be given less of a tax burden. And the rulers, of course, would have little or no tax since they themselves would be the government.
Look at the Middle Ages. What you have is a group of serfs whose purpose is to feed themselves and everyone else. Everything they made was subject to taxation, and if things got really bad they suffered the brunt of the pain. Above them were the landlords. They (of course) had the responsibility of defense and warmaking AND of making sure their serfs made it through the summer to the harvest, as such they had a lighter taxation to the Kings. Kings, of course, had to concern themselves with other kings; they paid a lesser portion of their taxes to governments.
And the people on top? The Clergy. They lived tax free, service free and complete with monopolies in knowledge and the ways to heaven. Indeed, it was said monopolies (knowledge and salvation) that insured that they would be untaxable as they had the monopolies on what was considered the most important stuff around.
So how does that fit what’s going on in the United States? Sure, churches are still untaxed, but they’re hardly seen as the all-powerful forces they are, with the power of life and death over people. That has been handed over to our corporations. Needless to say, the special rules that have been passed so that they have lower tax rates and higher levels of benefits than actual people.
Then there’s “Captial Gains.” At high enough levels, the rich can claim their income under the rubric of “Captial Gains,” which comes at a rate of 15%. This is about what the lower levels of income tax is at, and without an upper limit at which point the tax rate increases.
Mind you, at this point of time the tax rate is still mildly “progressive.” There’s plenty of items here that could easily push it to true regressive (the poor paying a greater percentage than the rich).
Such as the Social Security tax, which is a steady percentage on both Employee and Employer up to $106,000, at which it stops. There’s plenty of fees for stuff (which, when done for government-run stuff, actually stands as a form of taxation). Then there’s the payday loan stores and check-cashing places, which act as de facto taxes on the poor even though they go to private corporations. Various tickets ratchet up rapidly on people who are unable to pay for their tickets immediately; mainly the poor. And, of course, we have selective prosecution of various laws set up to punish the poor for the criminal activity of being poor.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the development of a truly regressive system in this manner:
- Social Security still taxed off people’s checks (complete with a low upper limit)
- A Value-Added Tax (VAT) ON TOP OF EVERYTHING. While I can see the removal of some of the income tax with the VAT still workable as slightly progressive (a 5% tax on everything over $50K, with a VAT on everything else to match), a strict VAT tax would force a bigger burden on the poor as they’re forced to spend most (and more likely all) their $$$ on necessities, whereas there’s only so much one need spend on necessities and therefore less of a necessary burden on the rich.
- Food taxed at the same rate as everything else (yes, the rich pay more for their food. Fact is, they can afford to. Good food is amazingly expensive in the United States, while the bad stuff is still cheap and strangely getting cheaper.
- “unearned income” (dividends, capital gains) becomes untaxed. That’s right, the money gotten from watching other people putting their noses to the grindstone is considered more sacred than the money earned from putting one’s nose to the grindstone.
And through this set of circumstances we have a legal, fully effective regressive tax.
And at that point the proper words to say would be “Welcome to Feudal America. Your Job: enjoy your serfdom, feed the rich.”