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SPOTLIGHT
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How Warren Buffet and I are alike

Published on -11/30/2012, 9:31 AM

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Warren Buffet and I have things in common. Both old white men. Both Midwesterners. Both delivered newspapers as boys. Both the middle child in our families. On the other hand, Buffet's worth $42 billion. Me? Nothing to brag about.

Buffet exemplifies what it means to be a capitalist. From his youth, largely by his own initiative and intelligence, he amassed wealth through free enterprise. Me, I chose public service -- hoping to contribute that way. Judge as you will.

Both Mr. Buffet and I agree on something else -- something so obvious and so critical today that I marvel so many average working-class people look right past it. They've been coached to fasten on gays, guns, god and a woman's right to choose. Or else to debate whether government is the problem, or whether so-and-so is a dirty socialist. Nowhere does all that seem truer than in this state. It's "What's the Matter with Kansas."

So what is that "something else"?

That "something" is the steadily growing income and wealth gap, the growing concentration of not just wealth at the top, but the undeniable growth of political and social power that wealth confers. The gap has grown steadily wider each year since 1970 and is now wider than any time since 1928. Today, the top 1 percent hold approximately 40 percent of all the country's wealth. (I wish I could insert a graph or two here, since for too many Kansans, reading is too hard. Fox Snooze is more entertaining.)

"Conservatives" such as Walter E. Williams argue for abolishing the minimum wage. In 1970, the federal minimum wage was $1.60 per hour. In most states, the minimum wage is now $7.25. Today, to stay even with inflation, you'd need $9.54. What cost you twenty bucks in 1970 sets you back $119.24 today.

"Conservatives" routinely badmouth unions (and have convinced too many average working people to become dutiful parrots). While human institutions and most humans are not morally flawless, labor unions have played a critical role in setting standards for fair wages, safe working conditions and benefits such as sick leave and paid vacations.

While there are certainly other factors contributing to wealth and income disparity, the steady decline in union membership since 1970 follows a downward graph almost identical with the decline in middle class income. All the while, the 1 percent kept getting richer and bashing unions.

"Conservatives" routinely promote trickle-down economics, arguing that if we just cut their taxes and give them more money, they'll make it all better by creating good jobs. That's baloney. Absolutely nothing factual supports that conclusion. It is more accurately called "tinkle on 'em" economics.

Since a full 70 percent of the U.S. economy depends on consumer spending -- the smart effort should be to provide good jobs to allow ordinary people to buy goods and services without going into debt to do it. That would include things like repairing and rebuilding vital infrastructure, developing renewable energy sources, and subsidizing research and education. Cuts justified by fiscal cliff paranoia that cost jobs or disposable income for average Americans will worsen our problem.

"Conservatives" argue for such cuts almost exclusively in social spending. You may be interested in a Sen. Pat Roberts' column (February 2008) in which he celebrated his role in passing Medicare Part D. While it did help seniors with prescription costs, Part D was a giveaway of taxpayer dollars to pharmaceutical companies. How? Because it bans Medicare from bargaining for competitive pricing (as the Veteran's Administration can). Ask Sen. Roberts to explain.

"Conservatives" stood squarely in the way of a public option in the Affordable Care Act. "Conservatives" neglected to inform voters that administrative costs for Medicare are approximately 3 percent. The best private insurance companies have 11 percent administrative costs, almost four times higher. The worst companies have as much as 30 percent. Yet, the same "conservatives' say market competition is always more efficient. Ask Sen. Jerry Moran to explain.

"Conservative" Rep. Tim Huelskamp wants to convert Medicaid into a block grant to states. The nonpartisan Kansas Health Institute looked at that. KHI observed, "Opponents and supporters alike say capping the federal dollars that now pay the majority of the costs to provide health coverage for the nation's poor, disabled and frail elderly could help cut federal spending. But that would be at the expense of states and Medicaid beneficiaries or providers who would assume risks now borne by the federal government." Ask Rep. Huelskamp to explain.

"The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world's total military spending -- more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies," George Will observed recently. How many corporate pockets are getting stuffed, and how often do "conservatives" investigate?

The rich want tax breaks and more respect. Again, I find common ground with the honest capitalist Warren Buffet who said, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

The working class should wise up to that fact.

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

celtic@ruraltel.net

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