The GOP, its propaganda network, and the corporate-owned media are fond of accusing progressive Democrats of trying to buy votes by offering “free stuff” to voters. Disregarding the fact that nothing the government does is, in fact, free, this has been a popular accusation for longer than I can remember. The GOP used the same talking point when Social Security and Medicare were first proposed, claiming that the programs were unaffordable and that they would bankrupt the nation. Then, like now, the GOP also accused the Democrats who backed those programs of being socialists.
But it’s important to note that GOP candidates also regularly offer free stuff as a way of buying votes. And they also engage in a form of socialism. The difference is in the beneficiaries.
Social Security and Medicare are, in reality, retirement and medical insurance that directly benefit those who pay the premiums through payroll deductions – ordinary working Americans. And the current Democratic proposals, like universal health care and debt-free college education, would also directly benefit ordinary American workers.
The GOP proposals, on the other hand, pander to a different audience: Large multinational corporations, the military-industrial complex and the very, very wealthy.
Take the GOP-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Most working Americans saw little to no cuts in their income taxes while corporations and the wealthy realized dramatic cuts to their tax burden. The law also allowed multinationals to “repatriate” corporate profits held offshore to avoid paying US income taxes. The GOP promised that the bill would boost the economy and create jobs. It didn’t. Instead, most of the money was used to pay executive bonuses and to buy back stock. That had the effect of starving the companies of capital resulting in layoffs. The same thing happened in 2004 when the US last “repatriated” corporate dollars at reduced tax rates. That year, 58 giant corporations realized 70 percent of the benefit, saving an estimated $64 billion in taxes while, at the same time, slashing an estimated 600,000 jobs.
The real cost of the 2017 tax cut has yet to be tallied. But it has already resulted in record deficits and a record national debt. It was nothing less than a giant gift to corporations paid for by average working Americans!
And that’s but one example. There are many, many others.
The GOP has pushed cuts to inheritance taxes and cuts to capital gains taxes that benefit the wealthy. And, under the guise of its repeatedly debunked trickle-down economic theory, the GOP offers much more free stuff to corporations. Those gifts take the form of corporate incentives to expand or to relocate, long-term tax relief to corporations for expanding in their current locations and promising, but seldom delivering, new jobs, and Tax Increment Financing which exempts corporate facilities from property taxes whenever their owners build or purchase a building and promise to create jobs – a practice so pervasive that many cities have never collected property taxes on their most iconic buildings. Sadly, some “moderate” Democrats have voted for these things, too.
In addition, there are many less obvious free gifts to corporations. Governments pay the cost of building utilities and other infrastructure to reach corporate building sites. And governments are often forced to pick up the cost of food stamps and housing assistance for the employees of Walmart and other companies that fail to pay a living wage. (The cost of subsidizing Walmart’s underpaid workers was estimated at $6.2 billion in 2014.) Governments also pick up the cost of cleaning up mines and other sites despoiled by extraction industries after the corporations have walked away with the resources and profits.
Even more subtle are the allocations to defense contractors who have little oversight and few, if any, real penalties for cost over-runs and delays. In fact, a 2016 study found that the Pentagon can’t account for trillions of dollars in spending. Similarly, private prison corporations have been given sweetheart deals by their GOP sponsors. During the current border crisis, it has been reported that private prison corporations are being paid more than $700 per day to house the refugees and economic immigrants in horrific conditions. For that price, the detainees should be living in luxury hotels. Not suffering in conditions where they are denied access to sufficient food and water, denied basic hygiene, and forced to sleep on concrete with only a foil blanket.
The estimated cost of universal healthcare and free education is dwarfed by the gifts currently being passed along to corporations and the uber-wealthy. Moreover, the progressive Democratic candidates have done something the GOP hasn’t. They’ve explained how they will pay for their “gifts.”
So, the next time you hear someone deride progressive Democratic candidates by calling them socialists and attacking them for their offers of “free stuff,” keep in mind that what’s being “given away” is simply a matter of priorities. The question is: What’s more important to you? American workers? Or greedy corporations and the very wealthy?