Friday, January 11, 2013

Welcome to the Corporate Welfare State

While the overblown hysteria of the “fiscal cliff” is behind us (for now, anyway), the assault on the poor, the needy and the disenfranchised continues.

Now that House Republicans have given President Obama his modest tax increases for the wealthy, Washington insiders speculate he will soon be expected to return the favor with deep cuts to essential programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And, contrary to liberals’ blind insistence the president will do the “right thing,” he has stated on numerous occasions he is prepared to enact a “Grand Bargain” with the GOP with regard to these cherished social programs.

Here in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage has been given the go-ahead by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to enact at least some of his proposed cuts to the state’s Medicare program, MaineCare. More than 20,000 low-income Mainers—including senior citizens and those with disabilities—are now in danger of losing their MaineCare benefits by March 1. LePage, who routinely references his own struggle with childhood poverty, insists that Maine is “too generous” with its “entitlement” (read: earned income) programs. This is the same compassionate governor, readers may recall, who blasted welfare recipients during last year’s Republican convention, urging them to “Get off the couch and get yourself a job!”

Yet, right-wingers are correct about one thing: We do live in a welfare state.

But they are confused about the actual recipients of the government handouts. It is not the poor and middle-class that enjoy these benefits—they primarily go to corporations and the rich. They are the real welfare queens. Through a seemingly endless array of complex loopholes, tax-breaks, government subsidies, bailouts and other benefits and fraudulent practices, corporations are the real moochers of society.

How does corporate welfare compare to social welfare, you ask? Consider the following statistics:

According to the libertarian Cato Institute, the government spent $93 billion on corporate subsidies in 2002 alone (that number was $205 billion in 2012). This is compared with the roughly $59 billion spent on traditional welfare programs annually. Additionally, 30 multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 corporations—including General Electric and Boeing—did not pay any income taxes at all in the last three years, according to a 2011 report by Citizens for Tax Justice. All the while, these corporations were raking in $160 billion in profits, collectively--and they kept every dime.

Yet Mitt Romney and the “liberal” media would rather we focus our outrage on the alleged 47 percent of citizen tax-evaders he derided when he thought no one was listening. In fact, the only presidential candidate I recall ever mentioning the issue of corporate welfare was Jill Stein—and most Americans do not know who she is.

As Ralph Nader noted in a 1996 article for Earth Island Journal (“It’s Time to End Corporate Welfare as We Know It”):

“…[B]y any yardstick, there is far more crime, and far more violence, and far more welfare disbursement…in the corporate world than in the impoverished street arena. The federal government’s corporate welfare programs number over 120. They are so varied and embedded that we actually grow up thinking that the government interferes with the free enterprise system, rather than subsidizing it.” (From Nader’s The Ralph Nader Reader, Seven Stories Press, 2000, p. 154.)

Indeed, I think it is high time U.S. corporations started taking responsibility for their own lives. You know—pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Unfortunately, Americans are more likely to read blame-the-poor editorials like West Islander, Davies Allan’s from Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald (“After vain pay hike request, strikers now public burden,” 01/08/2013).

Allan erroneously blames the Hostess bakers’strike for the company’s shutdown last winter, when it was in fact, the owners who simply decided it was easier to dismantle the business entirely than pay their workers a living wage. He writes of the striking workers, “What if we all had [their] attitude? There would be no one left to row the boat we want to ride in for free.”

I read Allan’s mercifully short rant the same day AIG announced it would thank the federal government for saving it from collapse with taxpayer money with… a lawsuit. AIG (American International Group) claims the Federal Reserve violated its Fifth Amendment property rights and, more importantly, may have interfered with shareholders’ earnings. As veteran financial reporter William Greider aptly puts it in The Nation, AIG’s brazen, utterly ungrateful behavior “sets a world record for breath-taking arrogance” (“AIG Investors Break the World Record for Arrogance,” 01/08/2013). But, according to corporate apologists like Allan, unskilled, $15-an-hour workers with the nerve to demand better working conditions are the ones looking for a “free ride.”

It is important to keep in mind the banks are chiefly responsible for crashing the economy. Giant banks like Chase, Goldman-Sachs and Merrill Lynch sold “toxic” or junk assets they knew were worthless and then insidiously bet against them on the market. This is no different than setting your own house on fire, and then trying to cash-in on the homeowner’s insurance—a criminal practice commonly known as insurance fraud. The only difference is if convicted of fraud, you or I would go to jail. Wall Street hedge-fund managers do not.

These corporations follow one objective: Maximize profits while socializing losses. Call it “free-market” capitalism if you must, but it seems more like socialism for the rich to me.

So, to all you Davies Allans out there who think the rest of us are not appropriately pulling our economic weight, be sure to include all those wealthy Fortune 500 companies that routinely receive government bailouts, subsidies, tax-breaks and other assorted handouts in your Randian diatribes as well. The working-poor are sick of being the target of your ignorant, misdirected hostility.

1 comment:

  1. I am looking for more information on the money spent on corporate welfare vs general welfare in Maine. I have been writing a blog that investigates Maine's economic development statutes since 2007 but I find that the whole is concealed in its parts- including data on the total amounts invested. Also in terms of the way the system works- each part is presented by the media as if it were a stand alone program but when reading the actual legislation, it is transparent that all parts are intentionally designed as one system for which the whole is intentionally concealed from public view but perfectly transparent from the inside accessed through the statutes.