We find ourselves with 9 of the 30 poorest counties, the 10th highest rate of poverty, the 4th lowest median income, and ranking 38th in income inequality. These economic realities, coupled with a low ranking in good government indicators, mandate serious structural changes.
Sadly, amid major policy changes emerging in response to severe budgetary woes, we are not getting much help from many state and federal politicians. Gov. Matt Bevin’s effort to shift more of the financial burden for pensions to the overworked and underpaid state workers and teachers is a cruel tragedy. Our Republican U.S. legislators voted to add to the hardships with their proposal to grant roughly 25 percent of their tax cuts to Kentucky’s one percent.
Those promoting these callous policies want us to ignore history and erase memory.
By the time Reagan was elected, the U.S. had experienced a nearly 60-year decline in income inequality. Since the 1970s income has grown for the one percent by 284 percent, while for the 99 percent it has declined by one percent. Today, after an avalanche of mumbo jumbo about tax cuts for the rich equaling more jobs, the one percent get 22 percent of all income.
The last time inequality reached this depth was prior to the Great Depression. Republicans of that era lacerated taxes and regulations, handing government to the plutocrats.
Sadly, this presents itself as a Kentucky epilogue to Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy In Chains.” Plutocrats, like the Koch brothers and Papa John’s CEO, John Schnatter, are the underwriters. The $10 million bankrolling of the University of Kentucky’s Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise increases their visibility. They, along with their ideological partners, the Bluegrass and Pegasus Institutes, provide a smokescreen masking callous policies.
MacLean’s meticulous research details how their counterparts in other states legitimized the mistaken belief attributing our woes to “government problems alone.”
They are not offering real solutions to genuine problems like health care, state employee pensions, deteriorating education opportunity and growing income inequality. Instead, they trumpet an ideology based upon a largely mythical era when a free market and the wealthy brought jobs, prosperity and freedom to Americans — unfettered by government controls and unburdened by stifling government budgets, suffocating entitlement programs and mounting debt.
Our Republican congressional representatives have heeded the stern messages of those at the top of the wealth totem pole. They have demanded extraordinary tax breaks for the rich that will further shift responsibility for government spending onto the backs of the working and middle classes. It will relieve corporations and the rich of their duty to shoulder their fair share for providing for a decent life for all Americans and a financial regard for those in need, disabled or underprivileged.
In Kentucky, mouthpieces for unbridled greed of the few have gained legitimacy in the mass media. Increasingly, they obscure other voices who have viable plans for more and better jobs, a fair tax system and a positive role for government in helping to bring the above conditions into being.
It is noteworthy that the Pegasus and Schnatter Institutes invited Arthur Laffer to ply his so-called free market/anti-government policy advice that has helped to deep-six the state economies of Kansas, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. Laffer, who in 2016 bundled $164,000 to Republican candidates in Kentucky, has prepared the way for our assembly to make the same grave mistakes.
No less alarming, they have succeeded in rolling a Trojan horse onto our two leading campuses seeking to change the academic cultures of universities in Lexington and Louisville. They propound their market myths and notion of atomistic freedom through funds emanating from the Kochs and their ilk. They have coerced favor from Republican politicians worried that they will be cut off from the $400 million political war treasury amassed by the rich cabal to influence elections.
Big money in politics, voter suppression, worsening inequality, false assumptions and fake statistics are all part of an integrated program to undo the New Deal policies and regulations that saved capitalism from itself. It is likely that our national debt will mushroom by $1 trillion.
If this grand plan succeeds in beggaring the working class and hollowing out the middle class, who will consume the products of American industry? Who will want to live in this violent plutocracy, except those residing behind tall walls and private security in gated communities in the “Disunited States of America” and the “Uncommonwealth of Kentucky”?
Ernie Yanarella, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a University of Kentucky professor of political science, currently on sabbatical. Roy Silver, Roy.Silver@kctcs.edu, is a Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College professor of sociology. Herbert Reid, email@example.com, is UK professor emeritus of political science. They are also community activists.