Friday, June 18, 2021

Biden vs. Trump in the Age of Resentment; trying to overcome MAGA with “Build Back Better”


Gordon L. Weil

It’s not about Trump.

Joe Biden knows that. So do Joe Manchin and Josh Hawley. 

It’s about people. Donald Trump exploited the discontentment of many Americans for his own political gain.  Even as he fades, the president and the two senators understand those Americans remain the critical center of national politics.

In an essay “The Bitter Heartland,” William Galston wrote about the resentment of people who believe they were gradually ignored by the Democratic Party, which had taken their support for granted. 

They saw the Democratic Party as turning from them and their bread-and-butter issues to focus on other groups who demanded the same rights and social treatment as they had enjoyed.  At first, they became Reagan Democrats, and they would later be Trump’s loyal supporters.

Galston explored the reasons for their resentment. Socially conservative and often religious, they saw the growth of progressive liberalism that could upset the traditional role of the group that had historically dominated – White men.

“Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life,” he wrote. They believe liberals want to dictate how they should behave and “hold them in contempt” for their traditions.  They see Democratic liberals upholding a double standard, by only selectively supporting free speech and opposing violence.

Beyond the traditional American way of life being ignored and challenged, they were losing ground in the economy.  The need for labor from assembly line manufacturing to coal mining decreased.  College-educated technocrats deployed automation and artificial intelligence.  New forms of investment created a new wealthy class.

The traditional core voters of the Democratic Party saw their values ignored and the income gap grow between them and those who came to dominate the country, Galston wrote.

Trump sensed the opportunity to take advantage of what might be called “the age of resentment.”  He promised to halt or reverse the trends of recent decades by reviving manufacturing, reducing environmental protection and increasing trade protection.

On the social and legal level, he would stem the movements for greater equality for African-Americans, women, and those seeking sexual freedom.

Even without fully understanding the implications of his promises and actions, those resenting their lost status understood the message. “Make America Great Again” meant a return to the kind of country they had known in the decades before Barack Obama’s presidency.

The 2020 election was a defeat for Donald Trump, but not for the concerns of this core group.  Yet he had become so integral to their resentment, they had difficultly separating the two, even though Republican congressional candidates had run well, despite his loss. 

There have been three reactions to the resulting situation.  The first is the drive to re-install Trump in the White House either by forcefully reversing the election outcome or by the 2024 election.  The election deniers cannot separate their hopes for MAGA from the flawed man who had led their cause.

The second is Trumpism without Trump, perhaps best embodied by Sen. Hawley (R-MO).  Drop Trump and his personal defects but exploit his appeal. At first, that means aligning with the former president and his false election claims.  Then, if he continues to fade, loyalist Hawley or another Republican can pick up the MAGA banner.

President Biden actively pursues the third approach.  He believes the resentful core must be given the skills and opportunity to catch up with change instead of hopelessly resisting it. At the same time, he acts to protect the environment and enhance the rights of those who have been denied.

MAGA means a return to the past.  Biden’s “Build Back Better” means keeping what’s good from the past and improving it.  These are both ways to appeal to those resentful of change.

Biden’s policies require more government action.  It must improve incomes almost immediately, expand education and protect civil and social rights.  At a time when people have been schooled that taxes are bad and government is too big, he must tax more and grow government’s role.

He faces Republicans who have pledged to block him. Some swing Democrats, like Sen. Manchin (D-WV), worry more about MAGA voters than the need for social and economic changes that could parallel those of the New Deal of the 1930s.

Biden seeks results fast.  The key election ahead is not the 2024 presidential contest but next year’s congressional races.  If the Democrats lose their slim majority in Congress, he loses almost any hope for his policies.

To succeed, the Democrats must make gains now among their historic working-class voters while maintaining the momentum of equal rights.  Or, if blocked this year, Biden needs voters next year to reward him for his efforts by giving him a stronger majority.

An historic struggle – between MAGA and Biden’s BBB – is happening now.


Saturday, June 12, 2021

Race theory, religious school funding now major education battlegrounds


Gordon L. Weil

A man tries to wash his hands using an automatic soap dispenser in a public restroom. No soap.

His friend has no trouble getting soap to flow from the same dispenser. It works fine.

What’s going on here?  The first man is Black and the second is White.  The sensor activates the flow of soap by bouncing light off a user’s hands. The Black man’s hands absorb too much light to reflect it back.

Nobody in this story is a racist, yet the Black has a sense of second-rate treatment.  When the faucet was designed and tested, the problem of skin color was overlooked.  Though nobody knows, the designer may have been White.

This story may illustrate the mildest possible expression of critical race theory, which is stirring controversy these days.  Its worst expression may be the George Floyd case, the public murder of a Black man by a White police officer.

Critical race theory has been described as arguing that “racism is rooted in the nation’s founding and that systemic racism continues to affect the way people of color are treated at all levels in society.”

The U.S. Department of Education under the Biden Administration has proposed that some federal aid to education require instruction favorable to this theory.  The proposal has met with strong opposition from some states.

The attorneys general of 20 states have asked the federal government to back off this plan. They claim that the theory “props up an idea based not in fact, but on the idea that the United States is a nation founded on white supremacy, patriarchy, and oppression and that these forces are still at the root of our society.”

Some people, mainly Blacks, feel the harm and danger of racism daily and believe others need a better understanding of their lives.  Other people do not consider themselves racists or implicitly to be White supremacists. Those conflicting sentiments set up the issue.

Legislatures in some of the objecting states have moved to block the teaching of this theory in their schools.  The states opposing the proposed requirement are all under Republican control and the issue risks becoming partisan.

It would be difficult to find a more difficult or serious issue in American life.  The Education Department does not profess to be neutral, but would condition the flow of federal funds on the teaching of a disputed interpretation of the facts. 

That is what has made it a political issue. Republicans may see it giving them the opportunity to defend traditional American beliefs, based on a set of values that may be widely admired if not supported by history.  For example, “all men are created equal” did not even legally apply to women and Blacks until long after the Declaration of Independence.

The federal government seeks to influence classroom instruction by requiring what must be taught and some legislatures want to ban a subject from the same classroom.  Both depart from the concept that parents control their children’s educations, within the law, acting through local school boards.

That’s not the only major case of an historic, political battle over what is taught in school.  Another is about religion.

Historically, many public schools included prayer in daily activities.  Public funds for prayer or celebrating Christmas were ruled illegal, violating the ban on government endorsing religion.  Politicians charged there was a “war on Christmas.”

Schools could still teach about religion, including the religious beliefs of the nation’s founders, without teaching religion itself. The Supreme Court decided that public funds for specific purposes should go to all schools, public or religious, though not for religious instruction.

Going further, a federal appeals court last week ruled that Vermont could not deny tuition payments for students in religious schools, which may provide religious instruction.  The result could aid religious schools, allowing them to draw students away from public education.  Maine may face a similar situation.

Using public funds to favor teaching of critical race theory or to support religious instruction places government in a position of great influence over education.  The focus on race and religion may obscure the impact on education.

What’s more, education is increasingly drawn into the current partisan conflict. By seeking to influence teaching about race or religion, the parties may be as concerned about attracting voter support as the quality of education.

Students are at risk. Education is supposed to give them the tools to make their own judgments.  If public policy leads schools to guide their thinking toward conclusions on which wide differences of opinion and belief exist, they may be influenced by whoever controls the government of the day.

Education, funded by the public, should keep the school’s doors open to all ideas and theories, however disputed, without taking sides.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Democrats’ choice: keep campaign promises or keep the filibuster

Gordon L. Weil

The Democrats are afraid.

They hold the presidency and control both houses of Congress. Yet they are afraid.

They fear passing their bills over the objections of united Republicans and exercising what history calls the “Tyranny of the Majority.”

Some voters, including supposed independents, say they favor compromise.  It the parties could agree, the threatened tyranny could be avoided. The federal government could produce broadly accepted policies.

But what if the minority party – right now, it’s the Republicans – chooses not to compromise but insists on opposing.  They may believe they could win the next election by steadfast opposition.  Compromise might help the Democrats, jeopardizing their chances.

Wait a minute.  The minority can simply be voted down if necessary and the Democrats can pass their proposals.  That’s the essence of majority rule in a democracy in which the people elect leaders to carry out their proposed agenda.

But that’s not the real system.  The Senate majority needs 60 senators to end debate on a bill and vote on it.  Forty-one senators can block a bill by a filibuster. No supermajority, no final vote.  The filibuster amounts to “Tyranny of the Minority.”

Some Democrats accept the filibuster, recognizing that someday they will be in the minority and they will want the same protection.  They cling to a weak version of majority control.  They accept minority control of major bills, even if the result can be gridlock, a failure of the political process.

A few members of either party may occasionally break ranks. For example, Sen. Susan Collins and a handful of other Republicans voted to end debate on a bill creating an independent commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol insurrection. By then, the GOP had obtained all of its demands on the bill.

But some GOP senators declared that no matter how satisfactory the bill, they would not support it.  The findings might make their former president and party look bad just before the next congressional elections. They filibustered successfully. Party before principle.

On the other side, at least a couple of Democratic senators promised to block a move to end the supermajority requirement.  They fear offending the Republican voters they need to get re-elected. Party before principle.  Maine’s Angus King is on the fence.

Still, the filibuster is fading. The Senate has eliminated it for judicial and other top level administrative appointments and many spending bills. Each party cut back selectively when it was in control.

Both sides seem to believe that the voters won’t care what they do either way. Congress may be held in low esteem as an institution, but its members keep getting re-elected.

Some senators suggest there’s no need to prevent minority rule, because sometimes compromise happens.  Or a “gang” – a small, bipartisan group often including one or both Maine senators – tries to draft a deal that can gain majority support.  Gang-built bills risk ultimate failure, because they may gain a majority but not 60 votes.

Compromise is impossible on issues like the Capital invasion, where it’s a yes-or-no choice.  And some bills, like voting rights, may be dead on arrival, because there’s no hope of getting to a supermajority vote.

Opinion in the U.S. is now deeply and sharply divided.  Both sides say they want to compromise, but that may mean in practice that the other side has to agree to their position.  That makes supposed bipartisanship a sham, not a joint effort to find a creative way of solving problems.

In the past, each house of Congress passed its own version of a bill and sent it to a formal Conference Committee composed of representatives of both parties from each house.  That meant the majority and minority parties might take part in extended negotiations to produce what would be a new bill.

Because there is no hope for a negotiated bill in a situation in which one party’s core policy is to oppose virtually anything proposed by the other party, the Conference Committee is a politically endangered species.

President Biden seems to get all this.  He pledged to seek compromise with the Republicans.  On the infrastructure bill, he has already cut about $500 billion from his original proposal.  The GOP counterproposal was for even less than former President Trump said was needed, not a basis for a bipartisan deal.

Next year’s campaign may focus on Biden saying, “Well, I tried to compromise, but I was blocked” and the Republicans taunting him with, “He didn’t keep his promise to compromise.” 

Biden tries to take advantage of his party’s control to enact a Democratic agenda on the theory that last year’s elections should have consequences. That may not happen on key bills without the Senate ending minority control. 

The question for the Democrats, who could kill the filibuster, is whether passing the Biden agenda is worth overcoming their fear of using their majority power. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

What ‘Black Lives Matter’ means depends on your politics

Gordon L. Weil

Quiz. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” means;

            (1) Blacks matter more than Whites or, alternatively, only Blacks matter.

            (2) Blacks matter as much as Whites.

            (3) Blacks matter at least somewhat.

It means Option (2) for many who believe that Blacks are entitled to as much respect as Whites, which they have not received, most glaringly at the hands of the police.   The phrase would also have worked as “Black Lives Matters, Too.”

Some are angered that the phrase suggests to them Option (1), that only Blacks matter or they count more than Whites, especially the police who place themselves in danger.  They offer a seemingly fair response that everybody matters equally – “All Lives Matter.”  

That’s what the Declaration of Independence said, though its drafters could not agree on stating, that Blacks matter at all, Option (3).  Later, the Supreme Court decided that Blacks by nature did not matter.

As the result of today’s differing definitions of the phrase, it has become politicized.  At the same time, it has increased sensitivity about how words, even when used without ill intent, may affect listeners or readers.  It’s not so much what you intend as what the listeners think you mean.

The word “woke” has come to mean becoming aware of the need to put an immediate stop to historic discrimination by government and community leaders.  Words from the past, which do not square with this recently expanding awareness, must be rejected.

That a racist or demeaning word was formerly a common expression should not shield its user from criticism. The sin of slavery was understood in 1776, so unrepentant slave owners back then are fair candidates for “woke” attention.

“Woke” has been challenged in the belief that a retroactive judgment is by its nature unfair.  Unless the person should have known they erred at the time, it’s not fair to condemn them now.  The split over the notion of “woke” has become political, if not partisan.

The huge English vocabulary is a further complication.  Increasingly, the absolutely correct choice of words is critical.  Some words may not fade slowly but may quickly disappear, because they cannot be used in any context.

In her excellent book entitled Words Matter, Sally McConnell-Ginet tells the story of an 88-year-old White man who used the word “Negro” in praising a Black baseball star from the past.  He revealed a lack of sensitivity to the audience and had to apologize for using a disappearing word he formerly spoke without hesitation or criticism.

The subtitle of McConnell-Ginet’s book is “Meaning and Power.”  We may pay too little attention to the power politicians give words and language.  Even brutal dictators Hitler and Stalin understood and used that power.

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has power – for both sides. Those three words not only frame a national debate, they stimulate action.  Similarly, “antifa,” a fabricated word defining an organization that does not exist, is used to counterbalance the extreme right wing, composed of several organizations that do exist.

Words can have enormous power.  Take statements by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican right-winger.  She insists that the mandate to wear masks for a few months during the Covid-19 pandemic is just like the Holocaust that killed six million Jews.

Her intent is to agitate opponents of wearing masks by making them feel as though they were subject to an historic atrocity.  Not only did she ignorantly and dangerously appropriate somebody else’s history, but she has attempted to arouse civil conflict. All by the use of one word.

The common use of even a single word to send a political message, though much more benign, is illustrated by Maine’s U.S. senators.

Sen. Susan Collins benefits greatly from being called a “moderate.”  While she is less conservative on some issues than many of her fellow Republicans, does her occasional vote against the Republican Party line make her truly moderate or just slightly less extreme?  It may depend on which issues matter most to a voter.

Sen. Angus King is an “independent” because he belongs to no party.  Is he actively independent of the two major parties in the Senate?  While independent Mainers may like his label, he is in fact a member of the Democratic caucus, a practical necessity for his gaining good committee assignments.

The First Amendment protects Americans from government control over our words and what we do with them. Rep. Greene can say what she wants and, outside the limits of public safety, government can’t stop her.

But language belongs to the people, so words gain meaning from how we use them. Words can be powerful, and political leaders use them to be constructive, misleading or dangerous.

An unstated and obviously correct Option (4) for our quiz might be: “Words Matter.” 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Nationalism grows as world shrinks, undermining democracy and international agencies


Gordon L. Weil

As Covid-19 begins to wane, much speculation is devoted to the “new normal” that will emerge as life without hyper-caution returns.

But, on a grander scale, the world, which had accepted a new normal, is shifting back to the old normal.  Though that may seem beyond the daily lives of average people, it directly affects us.

After the World War II defeat of nationalistic and aggressive dictatorships, the winners began a movement to liberal democracy, in which the people rule, and toward cooperation among nations through international organizations.

The result was the growth of democratic governments, most notably in Western Europe, where two world wars had begun, and in parts of Asia.  The new normal worked as both Germany and Japan could achieve prosperity without military domination of other countries.

The United Nations began to function as a peacekeeping organization and Europe worked toward an economically interconnected community that would make impossible future wars among neighbors. The U.S. backed these efforts. 

American policy was based on the premise that prosperous democracies would be good partners and good customers, both helping to maintain a stable world order.  With strong allies, the U.S. could contain the Soviet Union, which otherwise would try to extend its authoritarian rule.

The new normal saw democracy rising, cooperation functioning and a group of nations, led by the U.S., able to reduce, though not eliminate, local wars. The high point of this international system came with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  One philosopher concluded that the world had reached “the end of history.”

If there was ever an incorrect observation, that was it. There were countries and people the new normal simply did not suit.

China, with the world’s largest population in the fourth largest territory, rejected a militarily weak and economically poor position.  Increasingly, its authoritarian government became more assertive, financing its efforts at expansion using American dollars it had earned in trade.  It pursued more territory and more power.

Russia, the chief remnant of the Soviet Union, was offered the chance to join the community of democratic states.  Instead, its leaders lamented the loss of their power in world affairs. The government increasingly took outlaw steps to undermine the U.S.

The European Union made great progress toward integrating national economies, but its increased powers created some unhappy participants.  Cooperation slowed and national forces resisted regional decision-making. Trump scorned it, and the community weakened when the U.K. unwisely chose to withdraw, even at great cost to its economy.

That withdrawal, commonly known as Brexit, is symbolic of the rise of nationalism in many countries.  It grew partly from dislike of major domestic decisions made by foreign leaders and international organizations. Nationalism had not disappeared even while cooperation had grown.

Finally, in many countries, the prosperity that resulted from the new order left many people out.  The rich got richer, but many people became populists, believing themselves denied the benefits of the booming economy.

The U.S. remained the model of democracy. It was recognized as the only superpower, able to project its influence anywhere and at will.  Then, to its surprise, when Americans thought stability had been achieved, the U.S. suddenly found itself again at war as the result of the terrorists of 9/11.

Faced with the threat of terrorism and the aggressiveness of China and Russia, the U.S. joined in the trend toward nationalism.  Its revival became obvious under the Trump presidency, as international accords were abandoned. “America First” almost went as far as “America Alone.”  Healthy patriotism was being overwhelmed by unhealthy nationalism.

Support for Trump’s approach was sometimes written off as racist.  While it was clear his policies gave racists comfort, he capitalized on populism that readily blended with nationalism. People believed their country was exploited by other nations at America’s expense, failing to understand that world leadership imposes a cost.

President Biden is now seeking to revive the post-war new normal by rejoining the international community and trying to address the economic disadvantages of the middle class and poor.  Future elections will reveal if he can succeed.

Why does all this matter?

Thanks to the Internet and the airplane, the world has become a smaller place.  As much as globalism is under attack, it is inevitable.  Dictators, even in North Korea or Syria, can cause events that affect Americans.  What happens anywhere may have effects everywhere.

What people pay for clothing or electronics or taxes to support a huge defense effort are determined by global conditions.  When major nationalist powers rub against one another, the friction creates the risk of war.  Wars leave temporary winners and volatile losers, preventing stability.

The world is too small to allow for American withdrawal.  Nationalism is not the solution.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Politicians misuse statistics, make ‘snapshot’ analyses: Employment numbers, Trump election


Gordon L. Weil

If you think you can’t do numbers, beware. This column is about numbers.

But it reveals that you are not alone; many people, including some we rely on, can’t do numbers either.

We attach great importance to conclusions supported by numbers. Whether it’s about elections or employment, if there’s a number involved, we may often accept it as reliable and authoritative and not merely a matter of opinion.  That can be a mistake.

Take last week’s unemployment report.  The media stressed that the number of new jobs created in April was well below the economic forecast.  One outlet even congratulated itself for having foreseen that “April was not going to be a jobs boom, but instead, a jobs bust.”   An estimated 266,000 new jobs is “a bust?”

Conventional wisdom began to question if the economic recovery was slipping or the stimulus was a flop.  Optimism could swing to pessimism based on a solitary number that supposedly reported that fewer new jobs were created than had been forecast.

The media reported that the employment numbers fell below the expectations of “most economists.”  Obviously, that was not true, given the hundreds of thousands of economists, most of whom weren’t asked.  Who chose the economists whose opinions were used?  Are they qualified? Biased? 

Even if they were objective, does averaging the opinions of a relative handful of economists produce a gold standard jobs forecast?

Then, there’s the monthly report on new jobs and the unemployment rate.  It is produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal government agency that enjoys a good reputation for being competent and staying out of politics.

The BLS does not count each individual.  It uses surveys that, nine times out of ten, will be accurate within a range of possible results. Could this be the tenth time? And the width of the range in the BLS surveys could be larger than either the change in the number of jobs or the monthly variation in the unemployment rate.

Political leaders and the public don’t know exactly just how many jobs were created or how good the base forecast was. Because the same process is used every month, perhaps the best we do is make an educated guess that some jobs were created, but fewer than in the previous month. 

The employment results could raise questions about any new jobs legislation. National policy may change as a result of one month’s rough statistical finding, which flies in the face of all those “help wanted” signs we are seeing.  We are reading too much into the numbers.

If he really believes that he won the presidential election, Donald Trump is a victim of reading too little into the numbers he gets.  The numbers here are individually counted votes, not the result of a survey.  But they don’t seem logical to him, so he assumes they must result from massive cheating.

Trump received more popular votes than any other candidate for president ever, except for Joe Biden, who now sits in the White House.  Trump must find it hard to accept that the huge voter turnout helped Republican congressional candidates, but not him.

Mainly because of the coronavirus, states allowed for increased absentee voting. Trump believes that Biden’s huge vote is out of line and cannot be believed, and that absentee voting created the conditions for cheating on his behalf.  He also supports a few more fanciful causes to dispute the result.

That’s Trump’s logic, despite the fact that all the independent reviews show that there was no cheating that could have changed the result.  Republican election officials certified Biden’s votes.

The increased number of voters can readily be explained. The total population and the number of people of voting age increases with each election.  This time, with opinions sharply divided, it looks like more young people and women chose to participate. 

Believing only the numbers that support your expectation and ignoring those that don’t is called “confirmation bias.”  Most charitably, that’s what has happened to Trump.  He believed in the inevitability of his reelection and accepts only results favorable to him.

If only Trump’s results make sense, Biden must have cheated. That reasoning is enough and no evidence is needed.  None was produced.

Even if Trump is sincere, though misguided, his selective use of numbers endangers the democratic system of popular control by his prolonged attempt to undermine confidence in it.

The problems with excessive focus on numbers occurs almost continuously. Polls appear daily and are subject to instant interpretation. We can then jump to conclusions based on questionable “snapshot” data.

One daily national survey recently headlined that more Whites, Hispanics and suburbanites disapprove of Biden than when he took office.  It did not highlight that the same survey showed those groups also increased their approval of him.  The real news was that undecided people were making up their minds and that his overall national backing grew.

It’s not only polls. The New York Times revealed that the CDC had just found that there was less than a 10 percent chance of getting Covid-19 outdoors, when the data showed it to be far less likely.  The government agency used an excessively conservative number to protect itself from criticism that might later arise from any possible error.

Even though roughly true, the numbers were presented in a way that protected a government agency at the expense of giving useful information to the public.

Numbers can help in understanding what’s happening and when.  They can identify trends, though not on a daily basis as some polls do.  But, if accepted uncritically, they can provide a false sense of certainty.

Public attitudes and activities are influenced by actions, events and biases.  Numbers can be helpful in getting at the truth, but they are not the only thing that counts.





Saturday, May 8, 2021

Biden’s tax increase on wealthy, corporations won’t depress economy, will create jobs

Gordon L. Weil

If President Biden raises taxes on the wealthiest people, will you lose your job?  Or pay more taxes even if you are not wealthy?

Opponents of tax increases on the top one percent sometimes make it sound like the rich don’t mind paying taxes, but worry that if the federal government raises their taxes, they will have less to invest in creating new jobs.  Using that hammer, they bang the loudest political gong: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

This claim may sound reasonable.  If my taxes increase, no matter how low they might have been, I will have less money to invest.  With less capital flowing into the economy, there will be less need for labor to do the work.

The problem with this seemingly logical assertion is that it has no basis in fact.  Beware of economic models that forecast negative effects from taxation; their assumptions are set to produce the results their sponsors want. They may forecast an economic cost, but they fail to explain how public needs would be met without tax revenues.

Besides, how can Americans be sure that untaxed income will be invested in job-creating activities?  In passing the Covid-19 stimulus bills, Congress had to ban corporations from using the money they received to buy their own stock, thus raising its price.  Corporations had done that with previous stimulus laws without creating new jobs.

Another use of non-taxed gains has been to raise the pay of top executives. The result is the widening income gap between the wealthiest and the average working person.

The claim about harming jobs is false because tax dollars mainly fund purchases in the private economy, which creates jobs. If the government takes in less, as it did in the last administration, it should spend less.  Deficits grew and the federal workforce increased under President Trump.

As for spending, payments for Social Security mostly go to people who then spend almost all of what they receive on consumer purchases. Retail sales are by far the largest driver of American economic health.

Defense spending is a large part of the budget.  Members of Congress fight for military bases and construction in their states and districts as much for the jobs they support, putting spending money in people’s pockets, as for the weapons and bases needed.

In fact, the major role of the federal government as a customer in the national marketplace is one reason why presidents try to take the credit for a strong economy.

The wealthiest people and the largest corporations may also claim that they are already subject to tax rates among the highest in the world.  They argue that it simply would not be fair to undercut them in direct competition with others.

This claim is false. The U.S. corporate rate is less than in all other leading free-market countries, except the U.K.  If Biden gets what he seeks, the combined rate of state and local taxes would still be less than it was under President Obama.

The supposed impacts of higher rates may not matter.  Biden proposes raising the rate on capital gains, though not to the level under Obama. The New York Times reported: “Investors care more about economic data and corporate profits than an increase in the capital gains tax. It has usually been this way.”

Biden moves the country closer to asking if there is any good reason to tax workers’ incomes at a higher rate than investors’ gains. In Maine and other states, the capital gains rate is the same as the same top regular income tax rate. The federal capital gains rate is much lower.

Complaints about tax increases gloss over the difference between the formal rates and what the wealthy and big corporations really pay.  Welcome to the rich and fertile land of loopholes.

While the rates enacted by Congress get much media attention, the little-known exceptions in the law or those authorized to be developed by the IRS result in those rates being much lower in practice.

In his first speech to Congress, Biden said, "A recent study shows that 55 of the nation's biggest corporations paid zero in federal income tax last year.”  

Wealthy individuals may do the same.  In 2020, ABC News reported, “The tax-avoidance strategies that President Donald Trump capitalized on to shrink his tax bill to essentially zero is surprisingly common among major real estate developers and other uber-wealthy Americans.”

Biden speaks of the non-payers coming up with their “fair share.”  How much is that?  Whatever it means, a “fair share” is likely to be something more than zero.  However, their political contributions and lobbying can get the non-payers loopholes that nullify any tax rate.

Add to all of this the almost total elimination of the inheritance tax.  One of its purposes was to collect some taxes from the wealthy that had benefitted from loopholes.

In the end, somebody has to pay for necessary government spending. If some get tax breaks, others have to pick up the cost. Tax policy is not really about jobs; it’s really about who pays.