Welfare's got a dirty name. All those dangerous people who are sucking the life out of our economy! It's a lie, folks, it's a damnable lie and the people who perpetrate it ought to be in jail. Welfare is a bad system, but not because it encourages women to have children out of wedlock. That's growing among all races, at the same rate, and in many income levels. And welfare isn't breeding lots of larger families. The average family on welfare is smaller than the average family in America.
What they're talking about is repealing the Food Stamp Act of 1977 that provides food to 27 million people. What they're talking about is the child nutrition legislation passed in 1966 under Lyndon Johnson, the National School Lunch Act passed under Harry Truman that feeds 25 million children a day, the Emergency Food Assistance Act of 1983 that was signed into law by Ronald Reagan, and the nutritional supplements for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) serving 6.2 million women.
Mr. Gingrich has proposed orphanages for the children of poor women. Take the kids away from them! Get it? Family values! Strengthen the family by destroying the authority of the mother! Get rid of welfare and put the kid in an orphanage so he doesn't starve. That's the so-called "Restore America," the so-called "Contract." Take a good look at it, folks.
In California, Governor Pete Wilson says that the first withdrawal of health care under Proposition 187 should be against pregnant women. Yep, pre-natal care will be the first health service withdrawn, care for the "unborn" that some of these so-called conservatives are always expressing concern about.
Of course, cut welfare! These people at the bottom only learn if you kick them good! If you're poor, what you need is less money, a lower minimum wage, a lower SSI grant, lower welfare assistance, lower food stamps. Starve them more, and they'll work harder! On the other hand, if you're part of the top 1%, what you need is more money in order to work harder.
Welfare has a bad image. But wait a minute! We give welfare for farmers; we give welfare for social security and many of the pensioners who work for the state and collect far more than they put in. We give $70 billion for research in health, energy, agriculture, and space. Trillions of dollars have been poured down the rat hole of the Pentatgon as the Cold War ran down, and the military is still absorbing $265 billion. The Pentagon's new criterion for budgetary decisions is based on whether it will help maintain jobs in industry. That's a welfare program! Why not call it that?
If you talk about welfare, get real! There are 68 separate tax-and-spending programs for corporations that equal $40 billion a year with no particular benefit to the economy. We give money to the Chinese to buy wheat sold by American farmers; we bail out the loggers, the dairy farmers, and the sugar growers. We pay the oil companies to drill hard-to-reach wells; we subsidize the private electric utilities that serve rural areas long after those areas have electrification. The money still flows into the agricultural subsidies, into McDonald's hamburgers and Gallo to advertise their products abroad, into the pharmaceutical companies, and into the pockets of the powerful through clever and secretive tax credits and depreciation schedules. And now the Republicans are planning to give a tax credit to people who make a quarter of a million dollars a year!
Mr. Newt Gingrich comes out of a county near Atlanta, Georgia, that has the highest per-capita government subsidy, about $7,000 a person, a lot of it through the Pentagon funnel. It goes into that district to military contractors, to bases, and then circulates and creates purchasing and rent and all the rest of it and ends up in people's pockets. But it came out of my pocket! I pay taxes, and it gets siphoned off to Gingrich!
Our friendly representatives voted themselves a gigantic pay raise a couple of years ago, from $89,000 to $135,000 with an automatic cost of living adjustment. The Congress are paid obscene salaries. You won't hear Newt Gingrich saying that they ought to cut that back. There is no "party of change" from the point of view of poor people or working class people.
We're being ripped off and screwed by a bunch of liars, thieves, crooks, and criminals, and they're not the folks below. Don't look in the streets; look in the corporate suites! It's the ones on top, at the commanding heights of the economy, those who run the corporations, who export the jobs, buy the politicians to get the laws and tax breaks they need, keep down wages by the threat of replacements, factory layoffs, restructuring, automation, cheap foreign labor, disseminated labor unions and a minimum wage that hasn't moved in four years. All of that combines to produce a frightened worker, a frightened group of employed Americans who can't bid up their wages, and a very confident corporate managerial class that is keeping wages down as profits rise.
What we have here is a separation by class and often by color. One class of people is treated like dirt; another class is treated like demi-gods. The class that has access to the levers of power, the police baton, the surveillance through wire tapping, search and seizure, the power of government through the legislator's ear, they are reaping the rewards! The lawlessness on the part of the police, the judiciary, is viewed as a managment of the poor, of the homeless, of those who don't fit in this New World Order. That excludes tens of millions of surplus people.
Let's see it the way it really is. In 1968, the income of the 20% at the top was ten times more than the bottom 20%. And now the gap has grown by 50%. The middle class's share of the pie dropped by almost 10 full percentage points. In that same period, welfare dropped in value 40% in real dollars.
Our way of life has been totally, totally changed: 120 years ago, 90% of the American people were engaged in producing the food that all Americans needed to survive; today 2% do that job. When I was in high school, 35% of the people were engaged in producing goods in factories; today about 17% of the workforce are doing it.
Now it's spreading to the service sector. Pacific Gas & Electric is laying off thousands. Bank of America found out it didn't need most of its tellers. IBM just laid off 25,000. GM laid off 75,000. If you happen to work for the telephone company or the gas company or the banks and they decide to restructure or lay off, you're gone!
The same is going to be true of schooling, and perhaps if Gingrich gets his way, it'll be true about government. That's what the welfare and unemployment- insurance safety net is all about.
I know some of you say it's just the-good-for-nothings who are not availing themselves of opportunity, but jobs are not available to millions of Americans. Why? Because economists like Milton Friedman say that if unemployment goes below 6% there will be more people working and spending money; more people spending money will send prices up; more people will have to be hired; then wages will rise. That's called "inflation." The people who invest in bonds don't like that. When the rate of unemployment falls below 6%, the Federal Reserve Board increases the interest rate to put people out of work. Six percent of 120 million Americans, by the time you count the discouraged who are not counted in the official number, are 10 million Americans kept out of work. That is the policy of the land in the name of productivity, corporate efficiency. It's rotten to the core. It's killing the moral fabric of America. It's the death of justice.
This reserve army of the unemployed are conscripts to fight inflation, to make capitalism work. That's what Alan Greenspan says; that's what the economists tell us. Then why aren't they compensated instead of vilified, stigmatized, and held up as the enemy of the nation? Without them capitalism would collapse, inflation would run out of control, and you'd have to have a regulatory economy more akin to a socialism.
Anybody who says, "Go get a job," should understand if you get that job, somewhere another person will lose a job; or the Federal Reserve Board will jack up the interest rates. That is the dirty little secret of modern capitalism: creating unemployment through the central bank and maintaining it at extremely high, unconscionable levels. This is nothing less than class warfare: the unjust distribution of income, the abandonment of cities, and the trashing of almost one fourth of the American children. Little by little, democracy is reduced, diminished, minimized, while the autocracy of the profit-making, giant transnational company is given more and more authority over us in a private system of power that's unaccountable, uncaring, and inhuman.
Because millions of people are unneeded by the profit system, they can't get income to survive legally. That's a big source of the crime. Look at the whole criminal correction game, which is a big piece of our economy. It's just an invention. Crime is being invented to put people to work. First you push people to the wall. They commit a crime, you lock them up. Then you get a guard; you get a manager of the guards; you get a lobbyist for the guards to hustle more criminal laws in the state capitol; then you get somebody who builds the prison; he gets somebody who does the food service, somebody that does the laundry, some psychiatrists, then a doctor, a psychologist, even a prison chaplain, a racket that won't quit!
The conventional viewpoint says we need a jobs program and we need to cut welfare. Just the opposite! We need more welfare and fewer jobs. Jobs for every American is doomed to failure because of modern automation and production. We ought to recognize it and create an income-maintenance system so every single American has the dignity and the wherewithal for shelter, basic food, and medical care. I'm talking about welfare for all. Without it, you're going to have warfare for all. Without a universal health care like every other civilized country, without a minimum level of income, this country will explode. You can't blame the guy at the bottom forever. At some point there's a reaction and we'll see that the real criminals are those calling the tune, making the rules, and walking to the bank.
We have the money, we have the brain power. The United States now has the highest measured wealth of any nation ever in the history of the world. We could rebuild our cities, we could create the kind of buying power and community well-being that will provide for peace. The guaranteed income is one way.
Another way is to have always the availability of work in a nonprofit, in community service. A third is to start giving people training to develop skills where they can be self-supporting.
You could come up with a cash supplement. Even conservatives have suggested a negative income tax to cut out the bureaucracy. If we were smart, we'd get rid of welfare and give people a family assistance like they do in Europe.
We had a president once, who put millions of people into the WPA, the Works Project Administration. They built sidewalks, they built buildings, and they had poets, muralists. This was a real, wide-ranging public works effort. You want to do something right? Provide a job of last resort. It was new in 1935. Retool it, redesign it for the computer age.
President Lyndon Johnson set up the Income Maintenance Commission, whose unanimous report in 1969 recommended a floor under which no person would suffer deprivation, income-maintainance for every single American. Richard Nixon took the recommendation and proposed to Congress a Family Assistance Act. It didn't make it. But the idea was there and it's now time to revive it.
President Clinton inaugurated the Americorps for 20,000 young American men and women to serve their communities in lots of things, environmental work, helping the elderly, working on crime prevention in cities. A terrific idea.
But so small! We've got 10 million people out of work!
The problem isn't even a problem. Automation and technology would be a great boon if it were creative, if there were more leisure, more opportunity to engage in raising a family, providing guidance to the young, all the stuff we say we need. America will work if we're all in it together. It'll work when there's a shared sense of destiny. It can be done! It's all there! What isn't there is the leadership to create the kind of social network, the safety net, the distribution that would truly create a just and equal society. If it were, you wouldn't have the homeless sleeping in the park across from the White House in a neighborhood with one of the highest incarceration and crime rates in the world.
The moral equivalent of war is rebuilding our cities, ending the toxic assault on each of us, educating, healing, comforting the sick and the dying and helping with respect our elderly. But environmental justice and economic justice are not part of the Contract with America. Gingrich and Dole and the rest of them think if you just get government out of the way and let General Motors or the telephone company take over, everything will be okay. That's not true.
We have to restore power to the family, to the neighborhood, and the community with a non-market principle, a principle of equality, of charity, of let's-take-care-of-one-another. That's the creative challenge. First, expose relentlessly the big lie that comes over the tube every night, that if you just go out and find that job, and work harder, it'll all be fine. It won't!
There's not enough work to go around and a lot of the pay is not fair. Unless you totally yank up that system and create a better one, unless the spirit changes, unless the heart opens, unless we confront power with the truth of our own unarmed but absolute fearless truth, we're not going to overcome it. Evil is too embedded to be overcome by anything other than a spiritual challenge.
Material for this article was excerpted, with permission, from Jerry Brown's "We the People" radio broadcasts, heard locally on KSRO, 6-8 p.m. weekdays.
Edited by Doret Kollerer for North Coast XPress, February/March 1995, Vol 3, No. 2, P.O. Box 1226, Occidental, CA 95465.