Letter to Poliquin and Collins: the economy we need
Dear Senator Collins and Representative Poliquin-
We, the undersigned, are writing because we are concerned about votes you have taken over the preceding year which are exacerbating harmful trends in America’s and Maine’s economy. As Maine business owners, we witness every day the costs of rising income and wealth inequality and the disproportionate growth of economic power in the hands of the largest, multinational corporations. We hope you will hear our concerns and join us in opposing newly proposed policies that will exacerbate these problems.
Our economy and society function best when everyone has equal access and ability to participate. In order to be our best selves and to contribute most to our communities and economies, everyone must have their most basic needs met. These include enough healthy food to eat, a safe place to live, and access to quality health care. These are basic human rights and necessary prerequisites to participating in society and the economy. We cannot be effective entrepreneurs, workers, or consumers – much less effective citizens or family members – unless we have these basic needs met. Every American, regardless of their income, race, gender, sexual identity, nationality, or immigration status, deserves these basic rights. This may sound like a moral issue; it is, and it is also an economic one.
For decades, political leaders of both parties have claimed that if government would “just get out of the way” of private business and the wealthy, money and quality of life would trickle down and all Americans would benefit, primarily through increased corporate investment in the U.S. and increased domestic employment and wages. To achieve these ends, political leaders repeatedly slashed corporate taxes, made the individual tax system more regressive, rolled back health and safety regulations, and made significant reductions in programs that benefit the least advantaged among us.
In short, this has been a failure. After decades of steady growth, real median wages have remained flat since the 1970s. Life expectancy in the U.S. is declining and lags well behind countries with less “free market” economies like South Korea, Ireland, and Chile. Perhaps most strikingly, income inequality is at a level not seen since the Gilded Age of the late 1920s. As Standard & Poor’s concluded in a 2014 report,
Higher levels of income inequality increase political pressures, discouraging trade, investment, and hiring. Keynes first showed that income inequality can lead affluent households (Americans included) to increase savings and decrease consumption, while those with less means increase consumer borrowing to sustain consumption…until those options run out. When these imbalances can no longer be sustained, we see a boom/bust cycle such as the one that culminated in the Great Recession.
In order to create an economy that works for everyone and stave off another economic crisis like that of 2008, we need to invest public resources in areas that improve the economic health of those whose income and wealth have lagged for too long. That means access to affordable health care for all people; strong regulatory bodies to prevent market abuse and to protect our health and safety; and a progressive tax system that makes the wealthiest pay their fair share. When struggling Americans have more money in their pockets, they spend it in their communities at businesses like ours. When they have their most basic needs – food, shelter, health care – met, they live fuller lives and are more productive economic actors. We all do better when the least advantaged among us do better.
Unfortunately, you have taken votes in 2017 that move us in the opposite direction, towards greater inequality, fewer opportunities, and a weaker economy, and closer to economic disaster.
The Republican tax bill, which you both supported, was a massive giveaway to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, making our tax system less fair and further concentrating wealth in the hands of the few. Maine business owners saw little, if any, benefit compared to the large corporations (often based overseas) against whom we compete. We are mostly partnerships, DBAs, or S corporations, all of which saw limited benefit under the law compared to the corporate forms built for bigger businesses. Further, few small business owners have the level of individual income that saw the greatest benefits from the tax bill. Worse still, by repealing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you will leave 13 million Americans – 50,000 of them in Maine – without access to affordable health care, leaving them sicker and less able to contribute to strong local communities and economies. The repeal of the individual mandate undermines a central principle of the ACA: ensuring that the young and healthy pay into the system before they become the old and sick.
Even worse, Representative Poliquin, you have voted repeatedly to repeal the entire ACA, the most powerful federal tool to improve the quality of Americans’ lives to come out of Washington since at least the 1970s. Small business owners and workers alike depend on the ACA to access life-saving health care. Many of us could not afford health care coverage without it. That meant we were one accident or illness away from financial ruin and potentially closing our businesses. Simply put, our economy does not work unless we all can afford quality health care. Your votes to repeal the ACA were votes to make our economy weaker.
To pay for the massive tax breaks you approved, Republican leaders in Congress are proposing new, crippling cuts to vital programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and food security. We are asking you to oppose these efforts because they would make even more Americans sick, hungry, and unable to help grow our economy from the ground up.