The dichotomy of the two lead stories on the Jan. 21 News-Leader front page could not be more stark, particularly when combined with the prominent stories on the Jan. 19 News-Leader front page.
On the day that the Every Child Promise unveiled its 10-year plan to “significantly improve” children’s lives (“Every Child Promise leaders detail plan to help children enter school ready to learn”), it was reported that 1 percent of the world’s population controls almost half the world’s wealth (“Study: 1% control half of all wealth”).
Granted, the Every Child Promise is specific to Springfield, and the richest families are not local, but every unbiased report shows a growing inequality in our country, including Missouri and Greene County.
As admirable as the Every Child Promise is, the goals of child care, education, safety, food and health care are unattainable until inequality is addressed and fixed. Inequality has become institutionalized through conservative rhetoric and legislation. An examination of conservative national and state legislative proposals shows a determination to maintain the inequality status quo.
This is readily evident in the so-called Right to Work (RTW) laws, minimum wage laws and tax proposals.
To claim that RTW is about “freedom” is nothing but hollow rhetoric. If local Missouri Reps. Eric Burlison, Elijah Haahr and Lyndall Fraker believe in “choice” and “freedom” regarding union dues, they should also introduce and pass legislation that makes it easier to form a union at all workplaces. That’s a “freedom” they don’t want employees to exercise.
Objective studies, ignored by conservative politicians because they don’t fit predetermined opinions, show that union membership increases income equality and that RTW laws lower income.
Similarly, minimum wage increases are a small step toward closing the inequality gap. To claim that raising the minimum wage would close businesses and be detrimental to the economy and to minimum-wage workers is a canard used to keep a low minimum wage and is not supported by empirical evidence.
However, nothing is more important to closing income inequality than recognizing that our current tax system has created and maintains that inequality. For decades conservative politicians have fought for and passed tax policies that favor the wealthy, and the result has been a steady decline in the middle class.
Tax proposals from the misleadingly named Grow Missouri argue that reducing taxes will increase tax revenue. This is recycled “trickle-down economics,” aptly referred to as “voodoo economics” in 1980 by former President George H.W. Bush. Trickle down economics has never worked and is a significant factor in income inequality.
Well aware that reducing taxes will result in eliminating services, including education, infrastructure and especially social services — the real aim of conservative tax policy — they promote revenue neutrality by shifting from a progressive income tax to higher sales taxes, as admitted by a Grow Missouri spokesman. Sales taxes are regressive and have a much greater negative impact on lower-income people.
If we want the Every Child Promise to succeed, if we want to reduce poverty and homelessness and food insecurity, we have to reduce income inequality. That can only be done by changing the policies that have brought us our current broken system and leveling the playing field.