Priorities (OR Putting things in perspective)

December 7, 2008

As is becoming my habit, I’m a bit behind on this. Still, I think it’s worth highlighting a couple related posts.

First, from Robert Reich:

Our preoccupation with the immediate crisis of financial capital is causing us to overlook the bigger crisis in America’s human capital. While we commit hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street, we’re slashing our outlays for public education.

Education is largely funded by state and local governments whose revenues are plummeting. As consumers cut back, state sales and income taxes are shrinking; three quarters of the states are already facing budget crises. On average, state revenues account for half of public school budgets, and most of the funding of public colleges and universities. On top of this, home values are dropping, which means local property taxes are also taking a hit. Local property taxes account for 40 percent of local school budgets.

The result: Schools are being closed, teachers laid off, after-school programs cut, so-called “noncritical” subjects like history eliminated, and tuitions hiked at state colleges.

It’s absurd.

And then, to underscore his point, comes this graph from Wonk Room:

That’s a precipitous fall-off in the last 6 years. We’re really not setting ourselves up to be successful in the future.

This is the sort of thing that that makes me dread what the next 10-15 years are going to be like. President Bush has done some significant short term damage to our nation and society…  I’m really afraid that he’s done some long term damage as well.

A President Obama is going to have his hands full, and there’s no doubt that the Republicans will do their damndest to keep his administration, and the Democratic congress from cleaning up the mess.

It’s a really depressing time.

Where’s the $$ (OR Massively unprepared)

May 21, 2008

Sean-Paul Kelley, at The Agonist, is depressed about the financial burden of supporting the baby boomers in their retirement. At the same time, Matt and Ezra debate the impact of education level on income, touching, once again, on income inequality.

While the debate itself is interesting, in the context of Sean-Paul’s worries, it just serves to remind me about how ill-prepared we are to face the significant challenges ahead of us. In the last 30 years or so:

the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. […]But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent.

and the trend is still visible for the last 20. And, somehow, it seems connected to Republican presidencies. And so, we’ve arrived at a point in time when energy, food, and commodity prices are rising (and don’t seem likely to ever fall) and when health care costs are sky-rocketing; essentially, when everything is getting more expensive.

And what are we facing? Retiring baby boomers, the need to get serious about combating global warming, millions of people without health insurance, and a trillion dollar debt from a pointless war.

All of this costs money, and the assumption is that overcoming each of these challenges will cost the middle class more in the way of taxes. And that may be true, but, with income inequality as large as it is, there must be some way to shift the burden to those who have been doing so well for the last 3 decades. And then there’s that military budget I mentioned yesterday.

Regardless of how we pay for it, though, I think it’s painfully clear how incredibly Republican policies have failed this country (28 of the last 39 years have seen a Republican President). We coasted while things were good, never thinking about preparing for what might come next, and now we get to pay the price.

UPDATE: The CBO provides a nifty little picture today, after I spent an hour last night trying to find something like it:

 Income Inequality