By Steven Haiti
With all the recent discussions about the crisis of homelessness, I have not seen any acknowledgement of the elephant in the room. By elephant, I specifically mean the Republican Elephant.
While acknowledging that mental illness and drug use are to blame for much of the homeless situation, recent “state of” Eugene, Lane County and Oregon addresses stated that one thing that will help would be to address the lack of affordable housing, but they didn’t mention one of the main reasons for this lack.
Any graph depicting the number of unhoused people over time will show a steady rise starting in the mid 1980s. It’s not a coincidence that this corresponds to the time when Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party were able to con the voting public into believing that lowering the rate of taxation in the highest tax brackets would stimulate the economy and bring in enough revenue to balance the budget.
Then a hopeful for the Republican Party presidential nomination, George H.W. Bush referred to this scheme (scam) as “voodoo economics” because he knew it wouldn’t work, and it doesn’t. Not only do we have the crisis of homelessness, we also now have massive government debt.
During the 1950s through the early 1980s, my father worked for Morrison-Knudsen, a civil engineering and construction company based in Boise, Idaho. He told me that the company wouldn’t raise executive salaries above a certain point, because once they reached the highest tax bracket, most of the extra pay would have to be paid in taxes.
This salary structure allowed them to turn a profit, even when they paid their workers enough for them to buy houses and cars for their families.
The executives didn’t suffer, either. H.W. Morrison, one of the founders of MK, had enough to pay for the construction of Ann Morrison Memorial Park and the Ann Morrison Center for the Performing Arts in Boise.
I am sure that he was able to write off the park and arts center to reduce his taxes, but I wonder if he would have had the same incentive to give these lasting gifts to the city of Boise under America’s current tax policy.
Contrast that scenario with our current era. With such a large portion of the wealth being concentrated in the hands of executives and corporate shareholders, there is less money to circulate among the rest of us. Instead of raising wages to make their products affordable, corporations outsource the production of clothing, electronics and other consumer goods to overseas factories that pay little more than starvation wages. If it were possible to build houses overseas to import to the U.S, we might not have such a dire need for affordable housing.
But the housing crisis is only an example of the worst thing about the current situation. Our democratic system of government is threatened because once the Republicans realized the extent of gullibility of the voting public, they have used a constant barrage of propaganda consisting of half truths and lies to convince a significant number of voters to vote contrary to their own self interests. Some have gone so far as to commit insurrection in support of the most proficient and prolific liar in the history of American politics.
There will be no solution to our current crisis unless we attack the real cause. In this era of alternate facts and election denial, it might be hard to get the public to realize that a system of truly progressive taxation would be good for everyone. Without that we are doomed to suffer in a system where most people must live with whatever the elephant allows to trickle down.
Steven Hiatt is a retired software engineer currently occupied as the caregiver for his invalid wife. He has lived in Oregon for 52 years, with the last 40 years in Eugene.