Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Those Damn Surrender Monkeys! Or More Silver-Hoof-in-the-Mouth Talk From Mitt

I bet it doesn't sound so far-fetched to those who have never been to any European country.  But Mitt's attempt to tar that continent with the brush he already used on about half of Americans is still great fun to analyze!

Mitt goes:

“There’s a tape that just came out today with the president saying he likes redistribution,” Romney said during the eight-minute interview. “I disagree.”
The former Massachusetts governor was referring to an audio clip posted on YouTube and disseminated by the Drudge Report. The 96-second clip, identified only as coming from an Oct. 19, 1998, conference at Loyola University, features the distinctive voice of Obama, who was an Illinois state senator in 1998. The context is unclear, but it appears to be his concluding remarks after a talk about government policy and the “working poor.”
In the brief clip, Obama says at one point, “We’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind.” Then he says, “My suggestion would be the trick … is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pull resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”
Romney seized on the clip to deflect attention from his headline-grabbing statements about Obama voters and victimization, and to demonstrate his deep philosophical differences with the president.
“I think a society based upon a government-centered nation, where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that’s the wrong course for America,” he said. “I believe the right course for America is one where government steps up to help those that are in need; we are a compassionate people, but then we let people build their own lives, create enterprises….The right course for America is to create growth, create wealth, not to redistribute wealth.”

Smells of desperation to me, Mitt does.  But this is the bit I want to write about:

Later, he pressed the argument that the country is on the wrong track with Obama, but that a significant portion of the electorate is on the same page with the president.
“The president is borrowing about a trillion more than we’re taking in every year. It’s a pathway that looks more European than American, in my view, and it’s one that I know some Americans are drawn to,” Romney said. “I think they’re wrong.”

So income redistribution is wrong.  That certainly would include American tax-payers bailing out banksters with large investment accounts?  American tax-payers bailing out large corporations?   Farm subsidies?   Publicly funded education?

The concept of "income redistribution" can be a tricky one.  What Romney means, ultimately, is that Medicaid (the health care fund for certain limited groups of the poor)  is wrong because it redistributes income from those who are not poor to those who are poor, without the latter paying for it, at least at time they need to use it.  What Romney means, ultimately, is that almost all  social spending is suspect because all of it does redistribute income.  So does taxation which is either progressive or regressive, and so do countless other government programs, whether they intend to redistribute income or not.

Even something like the mortgage deduction which is popular among middle class Americans redistributes income because those who rent usually don't get a similar housing deduction, and those who own houses are, on average, wealthier, than those who rent but get a bigger deduction from  their taxes. 

I get that Romney doesn't speak of the many kinds of income redistribution which might benefit his base and I also get the fact that I'm playing very loose on the definitions here.   But income redistribution happens with governments.  Romney wants the income redistributed upwards, not downwards.

What about those Europeans then?  Well, Europe is a continent, not a country, and different countries in it have different policies.  Most (if not all) European countries offer health care in the bundle one gets from paying one's taxes.  Most (if not all) European countries offer at least partial funding of higher education (for those who qualify) in those taxes.  Essentially all other industrialized countries require that workers get an annual leave of some length.  The United States does not.  In many European countries the vacation is from four weeks up to six weeks and it is paid in some form.

Most European countries offer  paid parental leave.  Many offer subsidized public daycare to those who qualify by income.  Sounds like a surrender-monkey paradise to me.  You might call all this (and the child benefits which many countries also offer parents with small children)  income redistribution, but that misses the point.  It's not a system of leeches sucking on the big governments.  Most everyone gets something from the government, in exchange for those taxes and over one's lifetime.

Incidentally, the United States has a more unequal income distribution than all those surrender monkey countries!  But all this is because Mitt and others like him believe that Americans prefer not to have annual vacations or subsidies for college education or parental leave or publicly funded health care for all.

There.  I didn't intend to rant like that and I do not argue that European countries are wonderful paradises.  One pays for those services.  But one pays for them through the markets, too, and the poorer one is, the less markets will help.

It's also true that Spain and Greece have their hands full of severe economic crises.  But those were not created by the welfare systems of the respective countries.  They came about because of the deranged financial markets and supra-national political games and, yes, income redistribution between countries based on very shady rules and gambles.  Besides, globalization has created a market where pensioners' funds in Norway now suffer because of the bundling of bad mortgages with some good ones here in the land of the free, and globalization has created a situation where those countries who pay their workers in chicken food and damage the environment can "win" the international games.

Closer to home, remember all those charts about the US states which give more to the government than they get back?  Remember how it is the red states who benefit from net income transfers and the blue states who are net payers to the system?  I don't think Mitt wants that system changed!

Which means that "income redistribution" is in the eye of the beholder.