Just as Ted Cruz’s understanding of Green Eggs and Ham was flawed, conservative pundits now have missed the message of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The headline of one Breitbart article screams “‘Hunger Games’ Sequel: Cautionary Tales Abound in Age of Obama’.” It then goes on to compare the story’s violent crackdown on dissention to the Senate’s parliamentary move to limit the use of the filibuster and the fictional government’s total control of the media to the preferential access that is given to the official White House photographer. In a Forbes article, the forced poverty depicted in the movie is equated with the requirement to pay any kind of taxes. Since God is not mentioned in the books, another author sees the story as “one direction our nation may go, where God, our Creator, has been eliminated.”
Contrary to these interpretations, the fomenting rebellion depicted in the movie is not fed by their government’s attempt to bring better healthcare access to its citizens. If the miners of District 12 are willing to finally stand up to their government, it is not because they think that OSHA is over-regulating their workplace. Acts of rebellion, with the risk of death, are undertaken by those who understand real inequity, not by people who confuse the real horrors of war with different opinions and beliefs. They “want revolutionary change,” not just to “make an adjustment.”
The totalitarianism portrayed in the fictional country of Panem, where the Hunger Games takes place, is not the root of its citizens problems. Instead, this is just one of the tools that is used to keep them from rebelling against the inequality between the haves and the havenots. As one blogger put it, “While those in the outer districts starve, life is luxurious in the Capitol…(and not because of their hard work, but because of the unfair distribution of wealth that takes from the working class and gives to the ruling class). This contrasts sharply with the fundamental American principle that all men are created equal, that no man has more rights than another.” Ironically, this author was writing in support of the story being used to advance Conservative principles.
Those who work the hardest, have the most talent or take the most risk deserve to be rewarded. Unfortunately, this does not seem to explain the inequities in the current system. In 1973, the top 1% of wage earners in the United States took in 7.7% of the country’s household income. Last year, it was more than 19%. The bottom 90% shared just 51.8% of the country’s income. 40% of our country’s net worth is held by just 1% of the population. While the average worker earned $34,645 last year, CEOs at the country’s largest companies made that same amount every day from January 1 through December 20. In 1978, getting paid their employee’s yearly salary on a daily basis would have only paid them through January 27. I am not sure what these executives did to earn a 725% raise between 1978 and 2011, but workers increased their productivity by 93% during this period and only saw their wages increase by 5.7%.
While the income of the top earners was increasing, their tax burden was decreasing. The top federal tax rate for regular income in 1978 was 50% on income of $203,200 or more. Capital gains were taxed at a rate of 39%. By 2011 the highest income tax tier had increased to $379,300 and the tax rates had decreased to 37.9% for regular income tax and 35% for capital gains. Joe the Plumber is partially correct when he states that the Democrats have “been legislating redistribution (wealth) at a head-spinning pace.” In reality, both parties have been complicit as wealth has been steadily redistributed upwards.
There also seems to be a growing lack of empathy towards those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. After running the 2012 Presidential campaign based in part on Obama’s inability to sufficiently reduce the stubbornly high unemployment rate, the Republicans have now shifted blame to the unemployed and their perceived lack of personal responsibility. In opposing an extension of emergency unemployment benefits beyond 27 weeks, Rand Paul states:
“There was a study that came out a few months ago, and it said, if you have a worker that’s been unemployed for four weeks and on unemployment insurance and one that’s on 99 weeks, which would you hire? Every employer, nearly 100 percent, said they will always hire the person who’s been out of work four weeks.
When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really -- while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you’re trying to help.”
Unfortunately, cutting off benefits is not going to magically employ these displaced workers. The vast majority of the unemployed are not avoiding work so that they can collect their $300 per week in benefits; they are not working because jobs are not available for everyone who wants one.
Pope Francis recently stated that “as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.” In response, Rush Limbaugh referred to him as a Marxist. If Rush is really concerned about encroachment by a totalitarian form of Socialism, perhaps he should champion ways of reducing the negative effects of unrestrained Capitalism. Alternatively, our economic system could find itself facing the call of the Mockingjay and the real revolution that would bring.
_____________________________________________________________A complete archive of Carl’s weekly blogs can be found here.