by Jeremy Leaming
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick helped kick off the ACS 2012 Convention with a sharp critique of economic policies that are fueling the nation’s growing wealth gap.
At the opening night gala dinner Thursday, Patrick detailed his family’s rise from much tougher times in the south side of Chicago where he lived with his mother, sister and grandparents, most of the time on welfare. He said he did not remember “ever owning a book until 1970, when I got my break through a scholarship to Milton Academy, a boarding school outside of Boston. For me that was like landing on a different planet.”
One generation later and Patrick’s circumstances and life were completely changed, and his young daughter had a very different experience.
But today the middle class is shrinking, the number of poor growing and the wealthiest amassing even more. It is becoming increasingly difficult for many Americans mired in poverty to escape their situations.
“Thanks to the global economic collapse, thousands and thousands of people have lost their jobs, their savings, their homes,” Patrick said. “Many, maybe some of you, have lost confidence.”
Patrick then hit upon “options” for turning economic fortunes around.
“One option says, everyone is on their own and good luck,” Patrick said. “That view says that if we just shrink the government, crush unions, cut regulation, and wait, all will be well. That view says that cutting taxes for the most fortunate and letting student costs increase not only stimulates the economy, but is fair.”
He later said that option also paints taxes as “bad because government is bad, that people ought to be left on their own to figure it out on their own.”
Patrick said that many of the supporters of those arguments – right-wing politicians – did not grumble much, and indeed supported the administration of George W. Bush that oversaw “the biggest run-up in the size of government in our history and an historic public spending spree.”
Another option is centered on “helping people help themselves,” Patrick continued. That option includes investing “in education, in innovation and in infrastructure – because no business or private individual takes responsibility for this on his or her own, because we have a common stake in these outcomes,” and because history tells us this strategy works.
Economist and former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich recently wrote about the massive expansion of the middle class during the generations that followed World War II, when economic policies strengthened and helped grow a middle class.
Today, there is no expansion of the middle class; instead he wrote it is shrinking, largely because of attacks on the social safety net, deregulation and tax cuts that advance interests of the super wealthy.
Like so many other economists, Reich said that any economic growth this country has seen has gone to the “richest 1 percent – who, because they’re so rich, spend no more than half what they take in.”
The Convention’s opening plenary panel on June 15 will center on finding solutions to counter inequalities. Check the ACS website soon for video of the Convention’s panel discussion and featured remarks, including Patrick’s.