By Ron Manfredi
I am impressed with Editor/Publisher Chuck Doud’s May 10 editorial “three unforgettable initiatives.” Mr. Doud briefly addressed three landmark legislative measures of the 1960s, a time when, I believe, the businesses and legislators of the “Greatest Generation” better fulfilled their roles and obligations as leaders of our great country than do today’s leaders.
These “unforgettable initiatives”, as Doud labeled them, are: Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, and the War on Poverty. Mr. Doud wrote of these monumental social/political measures in a clear and succinct manner, initially addressing the success of Medicare and somewhat comparing it to Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act is similar to Medicare in that it seeks to provide an effective method of medical coverage and care to millions of citizens who could not afford medical insurance and/or whose employers could either not afford or would not provide this insurance coverage.
While the editorial did not address the shortcomings of medical care in the U. S., it has been clearly documented that we fall well below the norm for providing such care in an efficient and cost effective manner when compared to the other rich democracies of the world. When it comes to providing health care for our citizens, we are definitely a second tier nation.
Our Tribune Editor clearly recognizes that the problem with Obamcare, when viewed in relationship to Medicare, is NOT what most critics claim. Obamcare is not some devious, socialist plot to undermind the medical care of Americans. The editorial illustrates that the administrative cost for Medicare, a single-payer system, is 7 percent, whereas the cost of administration for private insurance is 30 percent. He further stated that “Obamacare should have been like Medicare — Medicare for all, and eventually it will be”. And, of course, he is right. What Mr. Doud did not address is why the Obamcare/Affordable Healthcare Act did not proceed under a more cost effective and logical approach as a single payer system such as Medicare.
Two formidable roadblocks to this more reasonable and straightforward approach standout: healthcare insurance companies and the inability of the House of Representatives to address this issue.
Insurance companies and their medical coverage plans actually could have had an acceptable and integral role in a Medicare-type of approach to Obamcare and universal health care if the members of Congress had acted rather than simply being obstructive. Our elected officials need the commonsense, vision, and patriotism demonstrated by their predecessors of the 1960s when Medicare was created. In contrast to the “Greatest Generation” they can be more appropriately labeled the “Greediest Generation”. They allowed the special interests to trump the interest of the common good for all citizens.
Mr. Doud then commented on the Civil Rights Act and stated: “the Civil Rights Act in some respects finished what the Civil War started”. He goes on to reflect that our society, on its own, did not follow-up on the promise for equality for all and that national legislation was necessary to accomplish the long standing promises upon which this nation was built. While certainly correct in his statements, Mr. Doud could have drawn an interesting parallel between the obstructive tactics of the southern Democrats who continually thwarted Civil Rights legislation in the 60s and the current Republican Congress that utilizes the filibuster to prevent important legislation from even being publicly debated today.
Mr. Doud concludes by commenting on the “War on Poverty” which created an onslaught of programs to address widespread poverty in what was then the richest country in the world. Mr. Doud correctly states that the indicators are somewhat unclear regarding its outcomes and successes. However, unlike his observations regarding the two other monumental legislative measures of the 1960s, Mr. Doud misses the mark on this issue. His error, rather than a lack of compassion or concern, is more of a failure to explore the basic economic principals of wealth and poverty. While a lack of time and space prevents a complete explanation of these forces at play, a few, brief comments can begin to explain some of the major economic problems we face today.
The “War on Poverty”, while not always administered in the most efficient manner, did reduce poverty and established many programs and services, which greatly assisted a significant number of poor and discriminated against citizens. Furthermore, the legislation, policies, tax structure and progressive programs (like the GI Bill, affordable student loan programs and housing subsidies) of the post World War II period from 1946 to 1980 not only reduced poverty but were instrumental in developing the greatest and largest middle class society in the history of mankind.
Good old American ingenuity played a significant role, as did progressive legislation, fair taxation and a balanced social agenda. American began to approach a pinnacle of participatory democracy, increased wealth for all, and economic prosperity and in the 1960s this was partly attributable to the War on Poverty and increased accessibility, educational opportunities and purchasing power gained by the poorer members of our society.
Unfortunately for Americans, especially for the working poor and middle class, the policies, tax structure and social conscious of the Greatest Generation gave way to the “me first” and short termism of the “Greediest Generation’s” economic agenda. It is not a mere coincidence that the taxing and economic policies of Reaganomics, propagated in the 1980s and lingering on today, ushered in a tax and spending ethos that has resulted in record deficits, lower wages, exportation of jobs and tax havens for the super rich. These measures have dismantled America’s middle class and created a widening gap between rich and poor that even surpasses the wealth and power disparities of the Robber Baron Era of the late 19th century.
This brings us to what editor Doud should have continued to explore. The poor do not create poverty. The rich and powerful influence and create social and economic policy. They always have and most often will continue to control the purse strings. The leaders of the Greatest Generation understood this and promoted policies where, wisely, more could share in the prosperity of the nation.
FACT: the wage difference between the head of major corporations of the 1960s was about 30 times that of their average wage earner, today that figure is 300 times!
Realizing and addressing the economic absurdity of this is NOT redistribution of wealth nor is it socialistic. Rather it is good economic policy that demands “Profit Sharing” for those who have a significant hand in creating the products of wealth, the workers. Subsequently, when more money is in the hands of more people, goods are demanded and needs met. Therefore, more production and wealth is created. In this sense the prime driver of economic growth is a well-compensated, consumer supplying demand and stimulating the economy.
For this and many other reasons a dramatic increase in the minimum wage is not only just but makes for good economic policy. The current national minimum wage of $7.25 is worth about $4.86 in real dollars today compared to the minimum wage in 1968 (which would be $10.87 in today’s dollars). Even the California minimum wage ($9 in July 2014) is inadequate to elevate a family above the poverty line. Paying a full-time worker the current minimum wage is analogous to an employer telling his employee: “I would pay you less, if I could get away with it”. Yet Congress has used filibusters, similar to the tactics used against Civil Rights legislation, to thwart meaningful debate on this important issue.
An increase in the minimum wage certainly will not solve poverty in America. However, it is one small but important step along with a more fair, equable tax system, curtailment of the exporting of jobs overseas and the resulting tax havens that are necessary for our nation to get back on track and achieve greatest once again.
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Ron Manfredi, of Madera, is a former city manager of Kerman.