Fighting Back and Looking Forward


The Organization for a Free Society stands in solidarity with fellow students and workers to protest the New York State budget in Albany. 

 

The proposed budget balances a $10 billion deficit on the backs of students and working families—disproportionately affecting women and people of color—while implementing billions of dollars in tax relief to the wealthy. It is our belief that access to quality education, transportation, health care, and housing are fundamental human rights. New York is the state most unequal state in the US, thus attacks on public services represents a heightened attack on democracy itself. 

 

The New York state legislature should force the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, invest in the public sector to create jobs, demand that Washington stop funding imperialist wars that drain our economy, and push for bold federal stimulus funding!

 

To address economic injustice we need to ask ourselves how we got here. Decades of cuts, the privatization of the public sector, the Wall Street bailouts, and an expanding military budget, all demonstrate a priority of profits over people. This calls into question not only the role of the state, politicians, and Wall Street in furthering this crisis, but also the way resources are distributed and decisions are made. 

 

We must fight back – in our cities and towns, at our schools and workplaces, in our capitol and all across the state – alongside our partners all over the world, from Madison to Cairo. And as we fight back, we must think forward. This struggle is only one in a long list of them ahead. We will continue to fight, not only to defend the gains others before us have already won through decades of bitter struggle, but to win something new – an economy, political system, and society as a whole that is democratic and participatory at its core, egalitarian and solidaristic at the roots, liberating and fulfilling in all aspects of social life – a free society.

 

Yes. We will fight the budget cuts, and we will win;

and as we fight back, we will look forward, prepared to struggle

in a way that strengthens us to win the world we

deserve to live in.We will do it until we are truly free.


In struggle,
 


Organization for a Free Society

 

  1. There is money, and there are alternatives; since the wealthiest New Yorkers have the money, targeting the public sector rather than the rich is a political and moral choice

New York, like the United States more generally, is awash in money and capital, but the wealth is very highly concentrated. The wealthiest 5 percent of New Yorkers receives 49 percent of all income, while the bottom 50 percent receives just 9 percent. New York is the most unequal state in the nation, and New York City the most unequal major city.[1]

 

Taxation in New York is also highly regressive: as the Fiscal Policy Institute observes, “the wealthiest 1% of households pay a much smaller share of their income in taxes than do all other New Yorkers, even with the temporary income tax increase” passed in 2009. Households making between $33,000 and $56,000 pay a larger percentage of their income than anyone else in the state (11.6 percent). The poorest 40 percent of New Yorkers—those who make less than $33,000—pay a higher share of their income in taxes than the richest one percent.[2]
 

The wealthiest New Yorkers, particularly Wall Street bankers and corporate executives, are enjoying record profits at the expense of ordinary people; they can and should bear the costs of economic recovery. A wide range of fiscal policy measures is available at the state level. The two most common-sense policies are 1) the extension of the income-tax surcharge (the “Millionaire’s Tax”) on the richest 5 percent passed in 2009 and due to expire at the end of this year (Cuomo has vowed to let it expire), and 2) the implementation of a stock-transfer tax. The first applies to those individuals with incomes over $200,000 and families that make more than $300,000. Extending it would raise $6 billion in extra revenue over two years—about 60 percent of the state budget deficit, and over three times the amount that Cuomo would cut from public education at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.[3] Even a modest tax on stock transactions and speculation—a solution recommended by Nobel Prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman—would generate $3.2 billion.[4] Additional alternatives are numerous and would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year. See www.fiscalpolicy.org.[5]


 

  1. Cutting social spending in order to cut taxes for the rich is a job-killer; taxing the rich to fund public spending is a much more efficient means of job creation and economic stimulus

Tax cuts for the rich will lead to the creation of some jobs. The key question is whether they will create more jobs than alternative measures like increasing unemployment benefits, increasing funding for public schools, or cutting taxes for the working and middle classes by an equivalent amount. The answer to this question, established and confirmed by dozens of economic studies over the years, is a resounding NO. The main reason is that working people channel a greater proportion of their income back into the economy, thus stimulating demand and further job creation to a greater extent than the wealthy, who tend to save a greater share of their money. Taxing the wealthy in order to fund social investment is the best means of facilitating overall economy recovery (in addition to being the more moral choice).
 

 

  1. US militarism impedes economic recovery, and is thus both inefficient and immoral

The most obvious negative connection of US militarism to human welfare is the fact that US weapons kill innocent foreign peoples on a daily basis—in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Colombia, Mexico, Egypt, and the dozens of other countries that hold major military aid and arms deals with the United States. But US militarism also impedes economic recovery and social welfare here at home. Nearly half (currently 48 percent) of US discretionary spending, or $1.37 trillion a year, goes toward war and the military.[6] By reallocating that spending to other areas that serve human needs, the government could easily provide for the basic needs of every person in the United States (and have much left over for foreign aid). The amount of money that the US government spends on the military each second would cover SUNY tuition for seven students. A mere 19 hours of military spending could provide all 465,000 SUNY students with free tuition.

 

Like tax cuts for the rich, military spending is also a relatively inefficient means of stimulating job creation and economic growth when compared to public investment in infrastructure, public education, and health care. Militarism is thus both immoral and inefficient.
 

 

  1. State action alone is not enough; bold federal stimulus spending—yes, deficit spending—is imperative to facilitate economic recovery

State action alone is insufficient. The federal government has fiscal resources at its disposal that state and local governments do not. Most importantly, it can borrow large amounts of money and is not required to pass a balanced budget each year. In times of recession, it is imperative that the federal government engage in bold stimulus spending, including providing financial relief to state governments. The current emphasis of politicians and pundits on the need to “cut the deficit”—and the implication that doing so will somehow lead to economic recovery—is sheer illusion at best, and deliberate dishonesty more likely. The 2009 Obama stimulus bill definitely mitigated the effects of the current recession, but as Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, it was far too small to bring economic recovery.[7]
 

 

  1. The assault on the public sector is an assault on the principle of equal opportunity and on democracy itself

Government slashing of public services like education and health care not only channels more wealth to the richest sector of society, but further undercuts the promise of equal opportunity that is central to a functioning democracy. The current assault on unions, social spending, and workers’ rights is an assault on democracy itself.[8] If “democracy” means that people have the opportunity to fulfill their basic needs and to have a say in the decisions that affect their daily lives and work, then the battle for the public sector is most certainly a battle for democracy. People all over the world seem to understand this connection, evident from the expressions of solidarity for Wisconsin workers coming from Egypt, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in recent weeks.[9]

 



[1] James Parrott and Frank Mauro, “FPI Responds to the Partnership for New York City: Can New York Depend on a ‘Millionaire’s Tax’ to Solve the Budget Crisis?” (Fiscal Policy Institute, document updated February 14, 2011), 3 (see www.fiscalpolicy.org). Current income figures are from 2007; tax figures below are from 2009, and reflect the impact of the temporary income-tax surcharge (the “Millionaire’s Tax”) passed in 2009. For 1980 figure and the comparison of New York to the rest of the nation see James Parrott, “As Incomes Gap Widens, New York Grows Apart,” Gotham Gazette (January 2011).

[2] Parrott and Mauro, “FPI Responds,” 4. In Wisconsin, just before Governor Scott Walker issued his anti-union proposal, he pushed through $117 million in corporate tax cuts—illustrating just how sincere Walker and his ilk are about fiscal solvency. See Tom Juravich, “U.S. Recovery Might Need Public-Sector Unions,” Business Week, February 27, 2011.

[3] Parrott and Mauro, “FPI Responds,” 2.

[4] Krugman, “Taxing the Speculators,” New York Times, November 26, 2009. The stock-transfer tax has been on the books since the early 1900s, but since 1981 has been nullified by a 100-percent direct rebate to its payers. The figure of $3.2 billion is based on a (very modest) reduction of the rebate to 80 percent (FPI, “Revenue-Raising and Cost-Saving Options,” 2).

[5] For a long list of alternatives compiled last year by the Fiscal Policy Institute, see their “Revenue-Raising and Cost-Saving Options,” at www.fiscalpolicy.org.

[6] See the “Federal Pie Chart” produced annually by the War Resisters League, available at www.warresisters.org/sites/default/files/FY2012piechart-bw.pdf.

[7] Stiglitz interviewed in “Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz on Obama’s Stimulus Plan, Debt, Climate Change, and ‘Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy,’” Democracy Now! February 18, 2010.

[8] Noam Chomsky, “The Cairo-Madison Connection,” Truth-Out, March 9, 2011.

[9]‘We Stand With You as You Stood With Us’: Statement to Workers of Wisconsin by Kamal Abbas of Egypt’s Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services,” February 20, 2011 (www.michaelmoore.com/words/must-read/statement-kamal-abbas); Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, “We Afghans Are All Bouazizi,” February 24, 2011 (www.warisacrime.org).

Prepared by K. Young (kyoung1984@gmail.com), March 2011

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