Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Accountability is the subtext of the inequality debate

The liberal progressive faces an uphill battle in these neoliberal times. They face campaigns in a Congress filled with safe seats. They face an army of paid political mercenaries intent on securing for themselves and their employers an impermeable dominance. They face the scorn of so-called free market agitators with labels like "socialist", "communist" and "moocher".

Yes, the conservative right has been careful to set the scope of debate. They are happy to debate the merits of inequality. They will happily claim that the lust for money only increases the desire of one to innovate and create jobs, despite the evidence to the contrary so plain to see over the last 30 years.

When Elizabeth Warren takes the podium in the Senate and fires off another populist speech, does anyone give a rebuttal to her claims? I think that if someone did, it would be news.

Warren has been beating the drum of inequality since she landed in the Senate after defeating Scott Brown. She has not only shared her views on the problem of inequality of opportunity. She has also been brazen enough to talk about accountability to the point that Wall Street executives have openly discussed withholding campaign funds from Democrats. They seem to think that if they withhold campaign funds from Democrats that peer pressure will prevail upon Warren to simmer down. That didn't happen.

The subtext of this entire debate is accountability. Bankers who robosigned loans and foreclosures before and after the housing bubble collapse did not even see a judge. Insurance companies that denied health insurance due to pre-existing conditions or jacked up rates just to build opposition to Obamacare did not go to jail. Oil men who leave a vast polluted and destroyed landscape after fracking get a check, not a cellmate. Between bankers, insurance and energy, we have a tag team working the country into a froth. Clearly, these are mistakes of a huge proportion. Did we learn from them? Yes, everyone learned from them except the men who perpetrated them. They are not held accountable.

When raising children, we are quick to hold them accountable for their errors. At first, it's just a mistake so we show them the way. But if they continue as before, without following instruction, then we try punishment to curb the errors. Parents can hold children accountable because of their power.

An alcoholic parent cannot be held accountable by his child. The child cannot make a parent responsible when he's passed out on the couch. When she comes home late. When he forgets to attend the baseball game. When she brings McDonalds home for dinner. When he crashes the car. Other people make the parent accountable because they are equal in size and power. They can arrest the errant parent.

Our financial sector, bigger than ever before, is too big to fail, too big to jail. Same goes for the oil, gas and coal industries. Energy, banking and health insurance are all divided by a few really big monopolies. Executives working for those industries pull down tens of millions of dollars a year. Very large corporations can now plow millions into a political campaign, and a million is just chump change when the gross income of a company runs into the billions. This explains why the wealthiest corporations pay very little income tax.

Our public policy at the national and often, the state levels, is dictated by the top 1%. Unlimited campaign contributions find their way to the office holder with no transparency. So when a very large donor makes an error that costs millions of people their jobs, houses or livelihood, it only takes money to make it all go away. We saw this with Wall Street in 2008.

This is the point of progressive taxation. It's not just about inequality of opportunity. It's about inequality of accountability. A CEO making 300x that of his employee cannot be held accountable by the latter. If such a CEO has connections, then he can always avoid accountability. The employee cannot. Progressive taxation helps to level the playing field so that we hold each other accountable for our errors.

A little accountability can go a long way towards better citizens and a better country.
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