What kind of country do we want to live in?

The most recent episode of This American Life is all about “the battle between proponents of small government and those fighting to maintain public services.” I thought that you might want to pop open a can of beer and listen along with me.

On the bright side, taxes on the rich are lower now than ever, and everyone worth a damn can afford to send their kids to private school, hire private security, and a join private country club.

That was sarcasm, or course.

I was going to go on an epic rant at this point, but then I realized that I could just cut and paste something that I’d written before and save myself the upset stomach.

I’ve read that the wealth disparity in America is greater than that in Egypt, where the masses just recently rose up and took back their country. Conventional wisdom seems to be that it can’t happen here, though. Americans, it’s thought, are a complacent bunch, as long as they have decent football to watch, an ample supply of beer and the promise of the lottery. (Porn and reality television help too.) I’ve got to think there’s a breaking point, though. And, I can’t for the life of me understand why the rich in this country can’t see that it’s approaching. I get that it’s nice to be rich, and that it’s hard to hand over money that you feel that you feel as though you’ve earned (even though you likely inherited it), but I can’t see how it makes good business sense to sacrifice stability for another 5%. Personally, if I were in the Koch brothers’ shoes, I’d rather make a million dollars less a year and live in a country where someone wasn’t waiting around every other corner, looking for an opportunity to hit me in the head with a brick and steal my last crust of bread. I’d want people to have opportunities. I’d want people to have access to health care and a decent education. I’d want neighbors who really believed that, if they worked hard and applied themselves, their children could achieve more than they did. And I know that some folks at the top feel this way, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but I don’t get why there are so many who insist on fighting for their loopholes and those few extra percentage points. Stability, I would think, would have to be worth something. I can’t imagine that these people who comprise the top 1% would want to live in the America that they’re creating. But, I guess they feel insulated, as though they’ll be able to escape what’s coming somehow. I don’t see as how that’s going to be possible, though. And I have to think that some day they’ll regret allowing our schools to crumble, or social safety net to decay, and our public libraries to close.

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  1. Posted March 6, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    This is a related and interesting video from the Wall Street Jopurnal about local economies and jobs. http://online.wsj.com/video/does-america-really-need-more-jobs/E49FDEC2-1596-4A1B-970D-486CBDF1FE5C.html

  2. Erika
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I was especially struck by the guy who was willing to pay $300 to turn on his own streetlights, but unwilling to pay $200 in taxes to turn on those same lights and fund police, etc. The people with money had light, the rest lived in darkness.

    This is a good example of something that I have been noticing lately: people who are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces. “Ha! I’ll show them! I won’t support the very community that I live in! That’ll show ’em!”

    If we lived in a city like Trenton, NJ, or even Detroit, MI, I would definitely say that I think that not another dollar should go to the city until the corruption is ferreted out and the criminals are removed from office. Corruption is not something with which Ypsi struggles. From what I have heard, people don’t trust our government because in the past, they spent too much money on beautification projects and hopeful projects conceived of in order to bring something nicer to the downtown area.

    Sounds like a great reason to bring out the razor blade and take aim at the source of all of our problems… that nose, sitting right in the middle of our face.

  3. Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    All of this is making me so depressed, almost to the point of being clinical.

    I stopped in the parking lot this morning, almost started the car again to drive to Metro to get the fuck out of this absolute shit hole of a country.

    Anywhere but here. In November, Mitt Romney will win another election, the Republicans will keep the House and take the Senate, all under a guise of “fixing the economy” as exit interviews seem to suggest.

    Americans, dumber than logs, have no clue as to what “fixing an economy” entails. I suspect, that the American public, aside from instituting short sighted and unsustainable protectionist measures (small government, my ass), sees eliminating all public services and taxes that fund them, repealing the minimum wage and keeping women pregnant as solutions to “the economy.”

    Democracy is the joke to end all jokes. The entire fate of the world rests on the decisions of a few uneducated television watching morons in Ohio, that don’t want to pay to let black people have street lights.

    I can only hope that the rest of the world picks up economic steam (its inevitable) and makes this absolutely stupid and backward thinking country even more irrelevant. Maybe this will temper the vast damage our ignorance inflicts and keep it at home.

  4. John
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    “The entire fate of the world rests on the decisions of a few uneducated television watching morons in Ohio, that don’t want to pay to let black people have street lights.”
    This makes no sense to me, why are they not paying themselves? Why are they “Black” and not just people? Does it make a difference to you what color they are? Sorry I’m just so sick of labels, they are humans! Are you suggesting this is about racism? I’m just at a lose as to why someone else has to pay for them. If I want something I figure out what I need to do to get that, I dont look for someone else to supply it for me, thats just not logical, unless I want to be beholden to someone other then myself. We all need to be strong and if someone isn’t strong, why dont we spend our resources trying to lift that person up and make them strong too? Lets empower people, not enable them.

  5. Demetrius
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    @ John

    Do you live in Ohio?

    Do you happen to watch a lot of television?

    Did you vote in yesterday’s Republican primary?

  6. John
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    @ Demetrius
    And no
    I’m guessing thats a good thing?

  7. Edward
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Samantha Bee of the Daily Show interviewed Grover Norquist a few days ago. He explained how he’d come up with his anti-tax ideas at the age of 12.


  8. Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Poor people can’t afford streetlights. Poor people are poor because they:

    a) lack jobs and access to jobs that pay sufficiently to be able to afford things like streetlights.
    b) lack capital and access to capital with which to start businesses
    c) lack skills to improve a) because of our disastrous locally funded educational system
    d) are bogged down with health care expenses because of our disastrous employer provided health model. Without solving a) and b) we can’t solve d), but without c) we can’t solve a), but without solving d) we can’t solve any of them.

    So we are stuck and the poor will remain poor and get ever poorer and that’s totally ok with John, because he’s empowered, through his access to inherited wealth, inherited access to a decent ZIP code with good schools and sufficient access to capital. Since John has employer provided health care, he doesn’t have much to worry about, until John gets fired, then he’s up shit creek.

    But John’s empowered. He pays for everything on his own. He’s got his own personal school, personal hospital, personal research institutions looking for new medications to solve John’s addiction to hamburgers and beer…. hell, John has his own personal military and police force. John lives in a nice, gated bubble. He doesn’t have to worry about the problems of the poor, because John’s life is pretty good.

    But, I guess since they have refrigerators, they aren’t poor, right? In John’s world, the reason they can’t pay for streetlights because the poor are just so lazy and stupid. Worse yet, the poor are actually poor BECAUSE John has to pay taxes.


  9. Dan
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink


    While I agree with many of your points (well the nature of them anyway), and think we should be providing basic services to all citizens, your 4 point “trapped” synopsis is simplistic and flawed.

    If an “inherited” nice zip code means you are set up for success, because you have decent schools, etc; then why do many students go on to college degrees and a decent wage and many from the same school/district go on to collect welfare? Both groups had access to the same education.

    Of course some people need govt assistance, and were dealt a bad hand to start their lives or perhaps had a tragedy to set their life off course. But you can wave your hands and ignore all of the “uneducated television watching morons” that dont give a shit about their children’s education and are happy to live off government assist.

  10. John
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    What I find the most disturbing about this is nobody has a solution, I know I dont. I do know that providing free stuff to people doesn’t help, in fact I think providing free stuff to people only keeps them where they are. I think we need to find a way to awaken the spirit in the people who are down and out, we need to motivate people to want to exceed to the point that anyone who stands in their way of being successful gets knocked on their can. Years ago my family used to volenteer at Alpha house and the thing I noticed was the longer the familys were at Alpha house the less chance they had of getting back on their feet, or staying together for that matter, you could see the spirit just drain out of them the longer they were there. I don’t have any money to help out in that way, but I and my family do have time to volunteer if there is a cause that truely helps people.

  11. Mr. X
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    As evidence of our further slide toward stupidity, it looks as though Dennis Kucinich has lost his primary race, and there’s a good chance that the “Joe the Plumber” (aka Samuel Wurzelbacher), the welfare queen made famous for railing against welfare, will take the seat.

    While it may be true that Wurzelbacher doesn’t pay his taxes……


    He does have one big advantage over his Democratic opponent. He’s in communication with God.


    Here’s some info on his views concerning welfare, which, although he said that it has helped his family on more than one occasion, shouldn’t be available for others.


  12. Mr. X
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Are we really having that argument that putting streetlights in poor neighborhoods is “providing free stuff to people”? Are we spoiling the poor with free light?

  13. Mr. X
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    And nothing will “awaken the spirit in the people who are down and out” and motivate them to work harder than warehousing them in 60-kid classrooms.

    Oh, and I’m not sure what you mean when you say that there are no solutions. There ARE solutions. Here’s the big one, staring us all in the face. Tax the rich at the same rate they were taxed under Reagan, when Republicans were evil, but still sane.

  14. Posted March 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I have a solution:

    Single payer health care for all residents of the United States, citizen, resident and undocumented alike.

    Barring that, enforce strict and standardized price controls on all health care products and bar health insurance providers from turning a profit on health care plans.

    Put money toward single source funding for public schools, infrastructure repairs, and expansion of public transit.

    Make all university, college, community college and vocational education free for all and institute strict rules on educational budgets. Education is a public good, not a business.

    End subsidies for oil companies and large agri-business.

    To pay for it, tax the rich, end loopholes for corporate entities and cut the defense budget in half.

    No one cares about anyone volunteering at alpha house. As bad as it is to say, and as honorable as it is, the truth is that no one gives a shit. Piecemeal solution like that won’t help solve any of the vast problems this country is facing.

    What people want are things like access to education, free health care and reliable public transit, but … John’s life is so good, why would we ruin it for him?

  15. Posted March 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    As for what ZIP code you were born in.

    Wake up. Sure, some kids go on to do other things, but that doesn’t mean it came easy or that there wasn’t help along the way.

    I’m from a trailer park, and I almost have a PhD from the University of Michigan.

    I went to WCC, paid my own way for most of it (you could do that then), then finished my undergrad at Michigan, with the gracious help of federal and state financial aid. It was expensive then, too. Without financial aid, I could have never gone there. Did I work hard? Yes. Was it easy? Fuck no. Did I do it without evil “government” help? Fuck no.

    A lot of people from my underfunded and shoddy high school (in Mississippi) couldn’t read. Most didn’t finish. I suspect that a large percentage of them are unemployed. Is it their fault?

    I don’t know, but I find it hard to blame a 15 year old kid for the fact that s/he can’t read. I do know that kids across the county border don’t have the same problems, even if they are poor.

    It’s a stupid conversation really. A lot of what people end up being in America is due to what their parents were, and where they were born/raised. That’s the American way.

    I go a lot of places in the world, but I find that the stupidest place of all has to be the United States of America.

    Yeah, so I’m in a bad mood. I’m clinically fucking depressed. These stupid conversations about whether it’s right to give people streetlights or not piss me off. People don’t seem to have any problem paying for video surveillance cameras in black neighborhoods or prisons.

  16. Watching Laughing.
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Mr. X, Joe the Plumber has NO chance of taking that HEAVY Democrat seat, the Republicans did on purpose.
    Don’t know why you would even think, such a ridiculous thought?


  17. Demetrius
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    @ Mr. X.

    I agree it is a shame to see Kucinich go, but in fairness, Marcy Kaptur — the woman who beat him in the Democratic Primary (in the new district, into which they were both pushed because of redistricting) — has a (mostly) solid progressive record.

    In Michael Moore’s movie, “Capitalism, A Love Story,” Kaptur, who bucked many in her many in her own party to oppose the bailouts of the TBTF Banks, was famously quoted as saying the 2008 financial crisis amounted to a “financial coup’ d’tat.”

    Likewise, in 2009, in a speech on the floor of Congress, she famously urged people who were at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure to refuse to leave, and to become “squatters in their own homes.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYLLqoVqouU

    Most important: Given that the newly-drawn district mostly hugs the Lake Erie shoreline, and includes Cleveland, Toledo, Lorain, and many other smaller, blue-collar and heavily union precincts, it is highly unlikely that “Joe the Plumber” has a chance of beating Kaptur.

  18. Demetrius
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    One other thought: I’m sure that to many liberal/progressives in northern Ohio, yesterday’s vote was a very difficult choice — much like when we were forced to choose between Lynn Rivers and John Dingell — when they were both forced into a single new district by Republicans, who had the upper hand in creating maps for redistricting.

  19. anonymous
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Mission accomplished. They redistricted Kucinich our of Congress. That doesn’t mean that Marcy Kaptur isn’t a good person, who will do a good job representing her constituents. It just means that Kucinich won’t be working with her.

  20. John
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    “Are we spoiling the poor with free light?”
    Thats not my suggestion at all. I’m saying we need to help them, not just make it look like we are helping. Lighting the hood does nothing to help anyone better themselves.
    “Tax the rich”
    I’m all for taxing the rich, but again
    How does this help, sure its make my burden smaller, but please explain how taxing the rich will help anyone? I’ve worked in my kids school and the class sizes appeared less then 30 kids, I didn’t make a count but no where near 60 kids. Not sure what they are doing in Ohio, but in Ypsi the class sizes aren’t a problem. So do you have proven solutions, I’ll get behind any idea that make since even taxing the rich if you have a proven idea of how to help the poor. Now when I was in high school they had trade classes for the kids that were not going to college, I took advantage of these programs and provide for my family without any help. Not sure this is a good plan but I’m sure it will help more then taxing the rich, which seems to be your only plan. “tax the rich” Then what? Any plan at all?

  21. alan2102
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Kids!

    How out-of-touch are you with mainstream working-class (individualistic, “anti-socialist”, traditionalist, red-state-type) people? That is, how out-of-touch are you with people like John in the comments above? That is, with circa 25-35% of the population of the U.S.?

    Take this fun quiz to find out! ——


    How Thick Is Your Bubble?

    Q.1) Have you ever worked on a factory floor?

    Q.2) Have you ever held a job that caused a part of your body to hurt at the end of the day?

    Q.3) Have you seen last year’s mega-hit movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”?

    Q.4) Can you name this NASCAR champion? [photo at the url]

    Q.5) In the past five years, have you been fishing or hunting?

    Q.6) Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?

    Q.7) During the past year, have you stocked your own fridge with domestic mass-market beer?

    Q.8) Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreement?

    Q.9) Have you eaten at an Applebee’s, TGI Friday’s, or Outback Steakhouse in the past year?

    Q.10) Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?

    Q.11) Have you ever attended a Kiwanis or Rotary Club meeting, or a gathering at a union local?

    Q.12) Have you ever participated in a parade that did not involve global warming, gay rights, or a war protest?

    Q.13) Since leaving school, have you worn a uniform as part of your job?

    Q.14) Have you ever ridden on a Greyhound or Trailways bus?

    Q.15) Did you ever watch an “Oprah” show all the way through?

    Q.16) Did you or your spouse ever serve in the armed forces?

    Q.17) Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial position or high-prestige occupation (defined as dentist, physician, architect, attorney, engineer, scientist, or college professor)?

    Q.18) Have you ever lived for at least a year as an adult in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your nearest 50 neighbors probably did not have college degrees?

    Q.19) Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard?

    Q.20) During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes?

  22. anonymous
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I see the light. (Like one of those spoiled black people, with their fancy, unearned streetlights.) Thank you, Alan. It’s all so clear now. The problem is that we’re not dumb enough! If we see more bad movies, watch cars going around a track at a fast rate of speed, and stop reading newspapers, everything will be better.

  23. Demetrius
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    @ Alan2102

    What exactly is the point of this strange bit of reverse-snobbery? Are you suggesting the problem with “progressives,” is that they’re simply out of touch with the needs and concerns of ordinary Americans.

    Have no doubt: I grew up poor. In fact, neither of my parents finished high school, and there were many times when money was scarce. I’ve worked on a factory floor, worn more than one uniform — and at various times I’ve been a member of both the UAW and Teamsters. And, while I’ve never hunted, I have been fishing man times — and I’ve even caught a few.

    In fact, one of the main reasons I now consider myself a “community-minded, socialist, non-traditional, blue-state type” is because I’ve witnessed (and experienced) first-hand the shitty deal that many people end up getting who have the misfortune of growing up without the advantages that come from having parents who have Ph.D.s or coming from a “preferred” ZIP code.

    Based on your post, I think the better questions is: Have YOU ever met any of these mysterious, so-called “blue-collar” Americans?

  24. Demetrius
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and in response to the question: “What kind of country do we want to live in?” … I would only say this …

    Not this one: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/07/10603296-ohio-school-district-hires-collection-agency-to-go-after-unpaid-lunch-money

  25. Dan
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    “25-35% of the population” seems very low to me. I would guess the “uneducated television watching morons” make up more like 75% of the country.

  26. kjc
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    The fact that Charles Murray made up that quiz is all anyone needs to know.

  27. Jules
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    The last segment of that ep. of TAL pissed me off something awful. I fucking HATE those Planet Money morons. When he talks to the parks and rec guy about how much he’s paid, that was the part where I wanted to punch that fucker. The way he said, I’m paraphrasing here, his pay went to 40 k a year, 40 k! Like that’s some obscene amount of money, for a guy who does parks maintenance. It’s a living wage, you asshole. Barely, if he has a family. Fuck those NPR assholes.

  28. Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    I think that’s pretty good money. It’s twice what I make.

  29. View
    Posted March 10, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Yeah. That is good money for sitting on the lawn mower. Even the guy who was getting the raises could not believe it and knew it would not last. How could his bosses not be able to understand it?

  30. Posted March 10, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    No, I don’t think its enough for sitting on a lawn mower. Sitting on a lawn mower sucks ass.

  31. Brainless
    Posted March 10, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Please don’t despoil Alan’s sense of victimhood. Without it, he and his NASCAR, c-student cronies would have to confront the truth of their own failures. This way, he can continue to think that it’s all someone else’s fault.

  32. View
    Posted March 11, 2012 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    Show me the mower and the 40 thousand. I will sit there all day.

  33. no vote
    Posted July 18, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    One where all of our calls are listened to, labor is dirt cheap, and white people are allowed to gun people people of color in the streets.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By How Thick is Your Bubble? on March 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    […] Bubble?By Mark | March 10, 2012A few days ago, in response to something that I’d posted about the battle being waged between anti-tax, “small government” Republicans and those of us …, someone calling himself Alan2102, emerged from the shadows to accuse a number of us of being […]

  2. […] rich is fair — and it’s necessary…Everything I have to say on the subject can be found here.Speaking of poverty, here are four facts from Sid Mohn, the President of the Heartland Alliance: 1. […]

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