It's the Care Economy, Stupid

01/03/2018 07:35 pm ET Updated Jan 03, 2018

The real “makers” and “takers” in 2018 America

To great acclaim and chagrin, the Republican Congress and President have ushered in a tax bill dubbed “reform.” However, rather than real reform the bill is best described as a massive giveaway to the wealthiest of Americans and major corporations. The putative rationale for this trillion-dollar gift to the top 1 % is that they are America’s “makers,” and the more money they have in their pockets the more they will spend opening businesses and creating jobs. All those hundreds of millions of dollars the rich are allowed to avoid in taxes will slowly make it down to the hoi polloi and voila!: the “trickle down” effect. This mantra, through oft repeated, has proven again and again to have no basis in history or fact.

Fact-free, “faith based” economics comports with the MO of the Trump Administration. The churlish president and his club of Cabinet billionaires are constantly extolling and exalting business, entrepreneurship, and conspicuous consumption as America’s economic engine. As reflected in the current bill, they apparently see America’s common purpose as a ruthless race to riches, our common reality a non-stop competition, exemplified in equal parts by “The Apprentice” and “Shark Tank”. Each day is merely a hectic 24-hour gallop of greed revved up by over-caffeinated prognosticators on CNBC, and a general media OCD surveilling the ups and downs of the stock market.

This is exacerbated by Speaker Paul Ryan and his ilk, who have never been able to shake their high school crush on Ayn Rand and remain devotees of laissez faire capitalism and the Randian creed of self-interest uber alles. As we have seen in the recent tax debate, many top Republicans who are fueled by Koch Brother largesse and solemnly sworn to the Norquist anti-tax “pledge,” cannot stop reflexively genuflecting to the super wealthy. As their policies catapult us backward to a level of inequality not seen since the first Gilded Age over a century ago, we also see a revived Social Darwinism that was popular at that time.

This is the belief that vastly unequal social outcomes among the American population are the result of “natural selection.” Those most “fit” become the few, hyper-wealthy “winners” as opposed to the majority of “losers,” aka the “takers,” living mostly paycheck to paycheck and often relying on government for their jobs and at times for financial support. According to the new Social Darwinists the “fit” should not coddle these takers as that would only lead to more of them in future generations and a weaker and eventually bankrupt America. Their nostrum: keep giving more to the rich and cut the safety net for society’s “losers.” It is obvious that the current version of this view--which first gained traction in the Reagan Era --is strongly tinged with racism as is seen in the current immigration debate and the open expression of white supremacist ideology.

THE CARE COMMUNITY

While this dangerous Darwinistic fantasy has captured more and more of America’s imagination and policies, there is a very different way of actually discerning the “makers vs. the takers” in our society. For example, what do a fire fighter, a stay-at-home mom or dad, a public hospital nurse, a civil rights lawyer, a sanitation worker, a police officer, a city bus driver, a local judge, a forest ranger, a social worker, a state representative, a kindergarten teacher, a crisis hotline operator, a member of the armed services, a public defender, a pastor, a road repairman, an environmental advocate, and a Meals on Wheels volunteer have in common?

These are our nation’s caretakers, the tens of millions of Americans who work in governmental public service, for non-profits, or at home in child or elder care. “Care” is defined as “providing for the health, welfare, maintenance and protection of someone or something.” That is what these citizens do. They take care of their families, their communities, our natural environment, and our nation. They do not get up every morning to pursue ever more profit and wealth and they do often struggle financially and have to cope with the difficulties of finding affordable housing and healthcare. But are they “losers” and “takers”?

In the debate over the tax bill many Democrats and progressives spoke about the importance of the “middle class” but I heard no mention of this significant caretaker segment of our adult population -- about one out of every four American workers. In fact, we do not even have a name for this sector. Those involved government service are given the lackluster moniker “the public sector.” But both this segment and the entire population doing this care work should be given a name that truly describes who they are: America’s Care Community.

For decades, our nation’s Care Community has not only been nameless but also undervalued, underpaid, taken for granted and in both implicit and overt ways made to feel inferior to the “profit sector.” The disregard for the Care Community and the attacks they receive have been so successful that the people who are part of this community do not necessarily identify with one another as being fellow caretakers of the country. Even the most historically respected parts of this community are demeaned. This includes Roveian attacks on our nation’s public-school teachers and their unions, attempting to brand these most dedicated public servants as pariahs. And while lip service is always paid to “those who serve” in our military, we have seen veterans grievously ignored once they return home, including disgraceful failures in providing sufficient funds for their medical and psychological needs or for provision of jobs and housing. As a result, 1.4 million veterans are now considered at risk for homelessness due to poverty, overcrowded housing, and mental illness. This national scandal exemplifies our neglect of our country’s caretakers.

When we consider the importance of the Care Community, the warped view of Trump and his Ryan-led cadre that the wealthy are “makers” and the unwealthy are “takers”’ stands out as the reverse of reality. Without the Care Community all these for-profit enterprises would cease to function and even the greatest fortunes crumble. There would be no public healthcare or facilities; no police protection; no firefighters or other first responders to deal with local and national emergencies; no system of laws or justice; no public education for the population; roads would be impassable; public transportation at a standstill; no protections for food safety; no air traffic control; garbage clogging our streets; no one defending our privacy rights or the environment; no one to defend the country from outside threats; in other words a chaotic, cruel and lawless dystopia.

THE REAL “TAKERS”

So our nation’s most wealthy and its mega corporations are dependent on the Care Community to create a functioning physical and social infrastructure and to maintain and protect a democratic, tolerant, lawful and educated population for current and future generations.

What do corporations actually pay for this beneficence? Taking just the federal government sector, it gets only about 10% of its revenue from corporate income tax. This is far less than half the percentage they were paying during the Eisenhower Administration. The new corporate welfare law slashes the current rate by more than a third. So, the corporate “takers” will only be providing about 7% of our federal government revenue through their taxes, while continuing to utilize the entire infrastructure the government provides to increase their profits.

What about the wealthy one percenters? Since the “recovery” started in 2009, 95% of economic gains went to the net worth of the top 1%. Yet, again just taking the federal government part of the Care Community, they are paying less than 40% of federal income tax, and income tax is less than half the tax revenues collected federally (the rest comes from payroll and other taxes). Now with the new tax law even that rate will be cut. So, the 1% “takers” are allowed to reap more than nine-tenths of the incoming wealth while paying income tax that comprises less than quarter of all federal revenue.

Put simply, our nation could survive without the multi-national corporations and the billionaires, but all of their profits and fortunes are based in “taking” the social foundations “made” by the Care Community as a given. Put another way, and a way that is rarely if ever expressed, our entire economy is based on the care economy.

THE CARE ECONOMY

The Care Community is not only the fundament of the entire economy, it also is a sizable part of that economy. There are 14.5 million Americans working in the fast-growing non-profit field. Non-profits contribute more than a trillion dollars to the economy and employ more than 10% of the American workforce. Non-profits are involved in every community: educating our children, caring for and feeding the elderly, nursing the sick, rebuilding our cities, defending consumers, protecting our natural resources, elevating the arts, mentoring our youth, seeing to our spiritual needs and so much more.

Additionally, every year about one quarter of all American adults, 70 million people, volunteer to work with non-profits. Outside of the inestimable human and altruistic value of this work, the estimated annual monetary value of volunteer time is $1.5 trillion, a large and usually ignored contribution of this segment of the Care Community to the nation.

Then there are the 3.2 million public school teachers who educate over 50 million of our children each year. The Care Community also includes more than 2 million police officers and firefighters who risk their lives every day for our safety and welfare. These are just part of the 22 million Americans devoted to public service in local, state and federal government, maintaining our infrastructure, guaranteeing a functioning legal system, overseeing our public hospitals and health centers, distributing our community investments such as school lunches and unemployment insurance and earned investments such as Social Security and Medicare. There are then the 1.4 million Americans who serve in the military, again many of them risking their lives on a daily basis.

This sector of the Care Community also contributes enormously to the economy. Government is responsible for 38 percent of the nation’s GDP, that vast majority for involving wages and production. Overall, this Care economy sector has a major “multiplier” effect on the national economy as these workers and those receiving benefits buy their food, housing, transportation, and other needs.

Finally, we need to remember the enormous contribution of the many millions of stay at home mothers and fathers who have chosen to stay at home to take care of their children, almost always sacrificing career opportunities and financial gains to do so.

Of course, as one might expect from a group comprising more than 40 million Americans, not all in the Care Community live up to the name. We see shocking abuses involving police brutality, malfeasance in government, unresponsive bureaucrats, legislators whose votes are often governed by the wishes of their corporate donors and not the good of their constituents, non-profits who are simply masks for the profit sector, and many other abuses. These violations of the care ethic seem like even deeper betrayals than similar malfeasance in the profit sector because we simply expect more from those who are caregivers. But fortunately, these are the exceptions not the rule.

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So, I have a novel vision for 2018: a massive March on Washington with all of the elements of the Care Community side by side. I see them coming by the millions with buttons saying, “We Care” and “We are the Makers.” I see them in the halls of congress buttonholing the Randians and the corporate coddlers and fiscal cowards demanding adequate financial support for the work of caring for this country, demanding that the wealthy “takers” pay their fair share. I see speakers proclaiming that there is a common purpose and a governing morality for the United States--not Darwinian competition for conspicuous wealth but cooperation in taking care of one another and the country as a whole. Perhaps the nation would then get the message that has not really been spoken yet: Unless we take care of the Care Community they won’t be there to take care of us.

Andrew Kimbrell is public interest attorney, directs several non-profits, and has a graduate degree in psychology. He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post.

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