Every man is wanted, and no man is wanted much.
Every hero becomes a bore at last.Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Make America Great Again” begs the question as to when we were great. I’ll take the mystery out of where that time might have been right now–1955 – 1965. What might we need to do to make now as good and better than we were between 1955 and 1965?
In our early years we were more about potential and hope than we were about being great. I don’t think we want to go back to the slavery years or the Civil War era. The 1910’s included World War I. The 20’s had gangsters and prohibition; and 30’s included the Great Depression, the 40’s included World War II and the early 50’s included the Korean War.
I will give reasons why we might exclude the years after 1965 as our greatest as we go along. Whatever past decade we pick, remember, nostalgia for the good old days plays out best for old white men.
Prior to the 50’s, Social Security didn’t exist and prior to the 60’s Medicare and Medicaid didn’t exist. Those three safety net programs made huge differences in the lives of millions of people. The early 60’s saw employees receive more generous health insurance plans and pensions. In 1939 barely 5% of Americans were covered by insurance for hospitalization, but by mid-1950’s it was 60%. Over the same brief period, the fraction of American workers set to get fixed pensions from their companies went from just 7% to 25%, on its way to a majority by the 1970’s. Employers now mostly offer 401K programs instead of pensions.
Many people yearn for the late 70’s and the 80’s. Low taxes on the rich, unregulated businesses, weak unions, and a weak federal government championed by President Reagan but it didn’t create the utopia “Make America Great Again” hat wearers might remember. Those decades resulted in big business calling the shots and controlling the economy at the expense of the middle class.
In 1965 the CEO’s of the largest U.S. corporations were paid 20 times as much as their average employees. Today, they are paid 204 times as much as their average employees. In 1965, Americans would have thought anything greater than 20 times would have been unacceptably unfair. The wealth gap between Americans has grown exponentially since the 50’s and 60’s.
Our national debt has grown since 1965 and the conservative element of the Republican Party wants to reduce entitlements to balance the budget and the national debt meaning reduce Social Security and other safety net programs. They still want to spend on the military though.
Republicans dominated our government between our Civil War and the Great Depression. Outside of Teddy Roosevelt, they have fully supported business over workers. A word of caution to conservatives if they continue to reject programs that support the middle and lower middle class—Republicans enjoyed large majorities in both the House and Senate in 1929 before the crash. Six years later, after Republicans fought against Roosevelt’s New Deal that would raise America’s spirits and address unemployment and long bread lines, Democrats took control of the Senate by 75 to 17 and the House by 333 to 89.
America, between 1955 and 1965, was progressive and led by Republican President Eisenhower and Democratic Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Our interstate highways were being built and more citizens were getting access to the some of the privileges stated in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and our Declaration of Independence. Was Lincoln wrong? Was Thomas Jefferson wrong?
Biden’s infrastructure plan and its funding sources would seem to get us back to the 50’s and 60’s in regard to everybody sharing the fruits of America more equally. The No. 1 reason taxes on the very wealthy have declined is due to the fall in corporate taxes. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, (when America was great?) many corporations paid about half of their profits to the federal government. The money helped pay for the U.S. military and for investments in roads, bridges, schools, scientific research and more.
Fifty-five big companies paid zero federal income taxes last year according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the U.S. raises less corporate tax revenue as a share of economic output than almost all other advanced economies.
The justification for the tax cuts has often been that the economy as a whole will benefit and that lower corporate taxes would lead to expansion, jobs, and higher incomes. Instead, economic growth has been mediocre since the 1970s. And incomes have grown more slowly than the economy for every group except the wealthy. The long-term decline in corporate taxes doesn’t seem to have provided much of a benefit for most American families.
If all of Biden’s proposed tax increases passed — on the corporate tax, as well as on investment taxes and income taxes for top earners — the total federal tax rate on the wealthy would remain significantly lower than it was in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. It would also remain somewhat lower than during the mid-1990s.
In the decades just after World War II, many corporations paid about half of their profits in federal taxes. (Shareholders, who are disproportionately affluent, effectively pay those taxes). Today, corporate taxes are only about one-fourth as large, as a share of G.D.P., as they were in the 1950s and ’60s.
In the 1990s, the last time tax rates were as high as the ones Biden has proposed, the economy boomed. It also grew rapidly after World War II, when tax rates were higher yet.
Let’s take a look at the Republican and the Democratic Party proposals for infrastructure and think about which one better reflects the America of the 50’s and 60’s–a time when America was great.
The Republicans want to use fees to pay for their infrastructure proposal. Again, they want the middle and lower middle class to pay for it and not the wealthy or corporate America–as I have said, they are pro-business, just like they were during the depression. Their plan would mostly benefit corporate America’s ability to deliver their products. It is heavy on highway funding, allocating $299 billion for roads and bridges, or more than half of the overall figure. On the transportation side, it also includes $61 billion for transit, $20 billion for rail, $44 billion for airports, $17 billion for water ports and $13 billion for safety agencies including the DOT bodies that oversee highways, trucking and pipelines. Non-transportation line items include $65 billion for broadband, $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and $14 billion for water storage.
President Biden’s infrastructure plan also includes a social infrastructure element that includes among other things free preschool and community college, more Pell Grants, scholarships for future teachers, caps on childcare expenses, training and pay for childcare workers, guaranteed family and medical leave, enhanced unemployment benefits, and tax breaks for lower- and middle-income families.
Does that remind you of the mid-50’s 60’s when America was the envy of the world with its safety net programs, health insurance expansion, and corporate paying/leading the way?
To pay for Biden’s $1.8 trillion package, Biden wants to raise taxes on upper-income Americans. His proposal to increase the top income tax rate from 37% to 39.6% reportedly would only apply to single filers with taxable income over $452,700 and married couples with taxable income over $509,300. If the highest capital gains tax rate goes from 20% to 39.6%, it would only impact people earning $1 million or more. The plan to eliminate the step up in basis for inherited property would only apply to gains of at least $1 million.
Republicans like to label Democrats as tax and spenders but they are also spenders. The Iraq war, Desert Storm, Medicare Part D are examples of Republican spending that was not paid for with taxes and instead it was paid for with debt.
The Department of Defense otherwise known as The Military is a government agency funded with taxes. Republicans shouldn’t be labeled small government when they are eager to support a military budget where the United States spends more on national defense than the next ten countries (China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil) combined. Eight of those ten are allies.
Rethinking infrastructure might be akin to rethinking the military. In 2016, the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, a group of former senior government officials led by Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a call to action on the national debt. The coalition wrote: “Today, to be pro-defense must mean being pro-reform. America’s national security budget requires updating and re-balancing in order to sustain our strong military posture and global leadership role.”
I have written about group think and explored the question “Can People Really Change” here https://hellofred.com/?p=1659. In study after study, social psychologists have shown that it is the group with which we identify, not individual personality that often determines behavior. We begin to see what the group sees and stop seeing some of the things that we were seeing.
If we hate Conservatives or we hate Liberals it is because of group think. Stop being a groupie and start being an independent thinker.
And I have written about ethical leadership here https://hellofred.com/?p=1656 where among other things I explored value statements from two major businesses. One was an ego driven company focused on advancing profits and the second was a value driven company that stayed true to advancing technology. In the 1970’s, according to Jim Collins in his bestselling book Good To Great, Texas Instruments decided to make cheap pocket calculators and throwaway watches because their vision had to do with increasing gross revenue. Hewlett Packard in comparison didn’t include increasing gross revenue as their vision and chose not to go after low-end technology because it offered no chance to make a technical contribution to the world. Hewlett Packard’s value statement made their profits roar while the business chasing gross revenue was not nearly as successful. Moral of story–don’t be a bull in a china closet.
And I have written about our mental gatekeeper here https://hellofred.com/?p=1622. A part of our mind protects the status quo of our beliefs. Let’s call it the gatekeeper. Our gatekeeper checks to see if a concept is in agreement with our existing beliefs. If it is, the gate is opened, if it isn’t, the gate stays closed and information is rejected. Some of my readers might remember from that Post the lesson about a ring–If we were to grasp a ring as a symbol of possession and squeeze it in our hand, the ring is captured and so is the use of our hand. Imagine holding this ring out in front of you with your palm either up or down…
Are you holding on to grudges stemming from 2020 election with a clinched fist?
And I have written about the history of political parties here https://hellofred.com/?cat=29. Party’s have evolved and Party platforms have switched from Party to Party during the last 200 years and people have moved from Party to Party. Parties are eventually changed by their membership / adherents. Sometimes it is addition by subtraction and sometimes it is subtraction by addition.
The split of the Democratic Party that created two Parties from one during the first election of Abraham Lincoln resulted in a Northern Democratic Party candidate and a separate Southern Democratic Party candidate. More recently there was a major shift of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party after President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
I was talking with a history teacher who was saying why he was not a Democrat. Funny thing is that what he disliked was no longer part of their platform and is now part of the Republican platform. Things change, we need to keep up.
And I have written about America’s favorability rating trend here https://hellofred.com/?cat=29. In 2020, after four years of the Trump administration, the favorable impression of the United States was as follows:
- 26 percent of Germans,
- 30 percent of the Dutch,
- 31 percent of the French,
- 33 percent of Australians and Swedes,
- 35 percent of Canadians, and
- 41 percent of the Japanese and British
Here are other stats of interest from that Post.
- 60% of Republicans now support NATO.
- 85% of Democrats now support NATO
- 21% of Republicans now view climate change as a threat.
- 75% of Democrats now view climate change as a threat.
- 40% of Republicans are now concerned about Russian power.
- 57% of Democrats are now concerned about Russian power.
- 61% of Republicans now are concerned by large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the U.S.
- 13% of Democrats now are concerned by large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the U.S.
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