Trickle Down Has Finally Trickled Up
by Donna Smith
So, for those of us old enough to remember thinking that Ronald Reagan's "trickle down" economics seemed like a polite way to tell the middle class we were about to be pissed on in a big way, the current economic crisis comes as no surprise. What once trickled down has finally trickled back up, and now it seems working Americans will pay for the folly with our life savings, our homes and our hopes of leaving this a better nation than we found it.
For our family and millions of others, the first crushing blows of this collapse began decades ago when the GOP successfully convinced middle class voters that they had our best interests at heart. It was to be a new day dawning in America. We had survived much together in coming out of the Watergate years, but the economy was faltering, and we were told much of that was due to over regulation and big government. Remember?
Even though within our own households we were beginning to feel the crushing effects of higher living expenses - including higher costs for health insurance and health costs not covered by the higher-priced health insurance - we were being led by those who had little appreciation for our situations. I know in my neighborhood, many families began to have not just both parents working full time but often one or both parents working two or more jobs just to meet expenses.
Republicans stood firmly by their stance: little regulation and less government involvement in what they painted as "social programs" and entitlements. And Democrats danced around a lot. It seemed to me that the party that once stood tall and fought with the working class now so feared the conservative backlash and the voting block wedded to the GOP through dogma and blind belief that the Democrats would only carry any argument on any topic just so far... And social programs suffered. But so too did economic programs suffer. People suffered. People died as the result of this political posturing by both parties.
A lack of meaningful oversight or appropriate regulation in our banking and financial markets led to the creation of junk mortgages, junk credit cards, junk car loans, and even junk health, disability and property insurance that offered some credit and some limited protection to those suffering masses but also built the system of incredible greed and ultimately the collapse we are seeing in recent days.
Many of us who have lost everything in recent years due to a lack of action on healthcare reform have no options for participation in the economy except for the junk products allowed to flourish without restriction. Talk about a Catch-22 for individuals - and for the nation.
So, in march the big boys and girls to say they'll go under without a significant hit of cash from this government - our government - my government. And within three days, we seem to have found the ability to come up with three-quarters of a trillion dollars to bail-out the financial interests of the nation lest they fall deeper into disarray.
The House defeats one bill then the Senate passes one - but now with what we are led to believe are better protections for Main Street interests. Gotta love it. The raising of deposit insurance to $250,000 from $100,000 surely helps those with that much money to save and invest. But what really is the average net worth of a middle class, working family in this nation today?
The broken underpinnings that caused the development of all this "funny money" lending are untouched, unaddressed by this bill or by this Congress. Americans find themselves paying even more for healthcare, transportation, energy, housing, food, college for their children, and insurance than ever before. Yet those same Americans will now also foot the bill for the bail-out, because we have no choice lest the collapse come tomorrow - as Warren Buffett said, "It's a financial Pearl Harbor."
So, it trickled down. Then the failed strategy trickled up and threatened to steal away the billions they earned like thieves in the night from a sleeping political system that looked the other way while millions of people lost everything. And finally, it will trickle back down again, as the middle class and working families bear the ultimate insult and loss of wealth. Funny how that worked against those who trusted the brighter dawn was just around the corner if we but believed...
Unless this nation's citizens demand real reform of the systems driving this collapse - like the out-of-control healthcare system's transformation into a finance company's dream rather than the public and human rights good that it should be -- we are dooming Americans in the decades to come to keep shoring up the flood walls as the trickle down blasts through.
And worse yet, we will cause the loss of confidence in our own democracy to act for the common good rather than the uncommon wealth of a few. The long-term fixes will not be easy ones. But it must now be incumbent on all of us to demand an end to the failed policies of a generation of poor political, financial and moral stewardship. We must care more. The bail-out is but a finger in the dike. Our work is before us.
Donna Smith is co-chair of Progressive Democrats of America's Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign and community organizer with California Nurses Association.