Infrastructure - A Rant

I hate winter, but this winter was particularly loathsome, and commuting issues were a large part of that unpleasantness.  There is one morning in particular that stands out.

There had been nearly two days of continuous snowstorms. My morning commute was a mess.  The trains to Manhattan were running on a Saturday schedule with the MTA assuming that people weren't going to work that day (even as the sun was making an effort to peak through the clouds at 7AM).  Commuters were squashed into the trains like the proverbial sardines.  All seats were taken long before I boarded.  Riders stood in the doorways and up and down the aisles.  After we passed the Fordham stop, the train came to a dead standstill, eventually losing power.  After 10 minutes the train began feeling too hot and the air was feeling harder and harder to breathe.  My back was killing me from standing still.

This was the state of Metro North trains all winter long.  For weeks I was dealing with delays due to everything from snow on the tracks (not their fault of course) to signal problems to electrical issues.  It seems that for weeks on end there wasn't a morning train that wasn't delayed.

The Metro North railroad is a microcosm of the state of the infrastructure in this country.  Our railroad technology and service is decades behind that of other countries.  Our roads are buckling and bridges are crumbling.  It's amazing how much we all take our transportation systems for granted.  We probably don't realize how much our lives will grind to a halt if something fails.  Then when something does fail, we rant and rave and scream and blame the cities, and the systems, and the workers and anyone else we can blame.  We refuse to blame ourselves.

Why are we to blame?  It's because everyone wants perfect service, but no one wants to pay for it. The systems are paid for with tax dollars and no one wants to pay taxes, nor do we want anyone else to pay taxes.

It's funny how Americans like to look at the mid 20th century as an ideal time in history.  After all it was a time of relative peace and prosperity across the board.  During this time infrastructure grew by leaps and bounds.  For example, the interstate highway system was a major project of the Eisenhower administration.

No one wants to remember that at this point in history, the wealthiest members of our society were paying the top tax rates.  Despite their high taxes, they somehow stayed wealthy.  They were investing in the United States.  They made money and they were able to give it back to their country to grow the system that everyone would use and everyone would benefit from.

In the past thirty years this system has been turned on its head.  Too many people at the top decided they wanted a bigger piece of the pie no matter what it cost the rest of the country.  They fixed the government and the laws to makes sure the only beneficiaries of their investments were themselves.  The rest of the country didn't matter.  If the roads and bridges crumbled, they would just fly everywhere in private jets.  They are not paying taxes, and the middle class and those below can't afford to give anymore.  Our infrastructure and education are suffering because so much is being taken from us already.

Unfortunately, too many of the rest of us are focusing our anger on the wrong groups.  Americans can't stomach hearing that taxes are the only way to fix this country.  It doesn't matter who is paying them.  If someone in the government merely utters the word "taxes", he or she will lose a million votes.  The problem is if no one is paying taxes, nothing will ever be fixed.

The underlying issue here is that Americans are being sold a false story by organizations like Fox News and The Tea Party.  These organizations are run by multi-billionaires who truly have no interest in having us pay lower taxes.  They just want to keep the biggest piece of the pie for themselves.

There are the lies we are being sold by the Tea Party and Fox News (along with Newsmax, World Net Daily, The Blaze, etc.).

1.  If we don't tax the people at the very top, they will have more money to invest in employing more people and pay them higher salaries.

2.  The taxes we pay are all being funneled to poor people who refuse to work and are abusing their SNAP, Medicaid, TANF, and disability benefits at your expense.

Point number one has never proven to be true.  Any economist worth his salary will tell you that lowering taxes doesn't create jobs. Demand creates jobs.  Unfettered greed has never historically been proven to create prosperity (or at least a decent living) across the board.  The Gilded Age only created wealth for a few.

As for Point number two, it makes three incorrect assumptions.  The first is that the government is spending huge amounts of revenue on social safety nets.  That is only about 12% of the federal budgets.  The second is that everyone receiving government assistance is unwilling to work.  Putting aside the massive cuts in jobs as those undertaxed billionaires are moving jobs overseas every day leaving large chunks of Americans jobless, many recipients of government benefits are employed - often at multiple jobs.  Their employers are denying them healthcare or a living wage, so they need to rely on the government to feed themselves and their children (who can't work for a living).  They need to rely on government for healthcare.  The idea that if you work hard you will never want for anything is pretty dead in today's world. 

There is also a third point and that is the belief that recipients of benefits are engaged in widespread fraud and abuse of the system.  Certainly there are some cases of this.  People who do this are criminals, not your typical struggling family.  Most people living on SNAP and TANF benefits will assure you that they are not living high on the hog. Stories abound about what poverty really looks like. 

But I digress.  This post is about infrastrucutre, not about safety nets, however, it's impossible to talk about taxes without some groups screaming that they don't want their taxes going to the undeserving.

What about you?  Are you deserving?  Do you think you deserve safe roads and reliable public transportation?  I know plenty of people disagree with me on every point I make here.  I am not here to convert anyone about social safety nets.  I am here to ask what the solution should be.  If the rich, who use the infrastructure as much as anyone else shouldn't pay more taxes and invest in the country they claim to love, if the middle class who also uses the infrastructure shouldn't pay taxes, how exactly should we pay for it? 

Raising taxes won't create jobs?  If we invested money into the infrastructure, wouldn't that create jobs? Wouldn't we need men and women to be on the work crews?  Wouldn't we need to hire skilled engineers to design the projects?  If those workers had good-paying jobs and benefits, wouldn't they be pumping those tax dollars back into the economy (eventually create more jobs)?  Raising taxes will only benefit the "takers"?  Again, everyone across all sectors of the economy relies on our infrastructure.  It seems to me that everyone will benefit.

What would it take for the rich to begin investing in America again?  Maybe David Koch's limo needs to fall off a collapsed bridge. Maybe a train full of News Corp employees on the way to cover a Tea Party rally has to derail.  I really hate to think it would take a massive tragedy before we decide that something needs to be done. 

So you love America?  Put your money where your mouth is and start investing in its future.


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