Robert Reich explains in “Clintonomics 101” in the view Republic that “every factor of production other than people and infrastructure is moving with ever greater ease across national boundaries.” True, our airports and sewers don’t usually pick up and leave the country, and not many Americans are heading for Ethiopia or Chile to strike it rich. More importantly, says Reich, and lucky for us, it’s those very things that are stuck here—people and infrastructure—that are the keys to our prosperity: “Upon these two assets, the future standard of living of a nation’s people uniquely depends.”
The problem, according to Clintonomics, is that the greed and tax cuts of the Republicans have left us knee-deep in potholes and urban guerrillas. “Starved of tax revenues and confronted with a growing budget deficit,” Reich argues, “the federal government has reduced support for child health, education, training and infrastructure by a third.” Reich is getting so good at cooking the numbers that he should wear a chef’s hat. A federal government that eats up one-fourth of the total income of the world’s largest economy is hardly in danger of starving, and federal spending is up, not down, on children’s programs and infrastructure.
Childhood immunization and infant mortality funding jumped 45 percent in real dollars between 1989 and 1993, from $6.7 billion to $9.7 billion. Head Start spending doubled from $1.4 to $2.8 billion in 1990 dollars in the same period, and expenditures at the Department of Education increased by $7 billion to $31.4 billion. At the same time, child nutrition programs expanded by 49 percent in real dollars to $9.7 billion, and food stamp funding grew from $14.9 billion to $27.1 billion, an 82 percent increase.
Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund says it’s “a scandal” that every American child isn’t fully immunized, and President Clinton calls for the government to buy all the childhood vaccines and supply them free to all children. It’s a good idea—it’s how we virtually eliminated polio three decades ago—and here in Pittsburgh we already do that. All immunizations are completely free to all families in the city and surrounding Allegheny County, regardless of income. Still, one-fourth of two-year-olds in the county are not fully immunized. Here, it’s the parents, not the taxpayers, who too often drop the ball, and that’s the real “scandal.” In a country that still has a degree of individual responsibility left, every human problem doesn’t mean that capitalism is evil or that America has failed or that a new government program is needed or that taxes are too low.
As with child health programs, Reich spins a tale of Republican underfunding when it comes to the infrastructure. He has become a true believer in the litany that the “12 years of neglect” caused everything from the L.A. riots to the hunger in Somalia to the collapse of the Chicago tunnels. President Reagan got instant blame from the Democrats when the Chicago River spewed 250 million gallons of water into the basements beneath the Loop. Reverend Jesse Jackson said, “This country is literally falling apart. Without vision, the Bible says, the people perish.” Jerry Brown dropped in and saw a jobs program in the waters of Marshall Field’s basement: “Don’t tell me we can’t put people to work, the pipes under Chicago are bursting.” The real story, as David Johnson of the Chicago Tribune later reported, had nothing to do with Republican budget cuts and everything to do with goofing off by the Democrat’s patronage-bloated city work force:
As a chronology of the events that led to the disaster revealed, at every step where they could have saved the day, city workers were loafing, dallying, or goofing off. The saga goes back to last spring, when a maritime construction company was awarded a $335,000 city contract to pound clusters of 50-foot-long wooden pilings into the river bottom around an old drawbridge. . . . The city engineer in charge of monitoring the job never made a final inspection of the site because he couldn’t find a parking spot near the bridge. When an inspector eventually discovered the damage five months later, he took dramatic photos of the cracked tunnel wall, exposed pilings, and the leaking river silt, but didn’t pick up his film for a week. It took another week and half a dozen meetings before someone decided to write a memo recommending that the tunnel breach be repaired. Then city officials balked at paying the repair costs—$50,000 more than the $10,000 originally estimated—and instead scheduled another round of meetings. . . . And the wall came tumbling down.
It wasn’t country-club greed or low taxes that turned that small leak into a multibillion- dollar flood. It was just one more case of us not getting our money’s worth from the government. Our “contributions” to the public sector weren’t too small—they were too large and too squandered.
Reich tells us that infrastructure spending is low and declining when it’s actually bloated and expanding. Federal spending on highways and airports increased by 19 percent and 38 percent respectively in the last four years in real dollars. The same is true for transit and HUD spending, up 23 percent and 52 percent from 1989 through 1992. Still, even with the need to cut spending and reduce the deficit, infrastructure has become the mantra of the Clintonites, with a steady drumbeat for fiber-optics and more roads. This time, we’re asked to have faith that higher taxes will go for more than eight guys standing around a pothole.
What we have here is a con job—a fake infrastructure crisis based on fudged numbers, like JFK’s missile gap. The bottom line in Clinton’s program is a $16 billion increase in infrastructure spending for next year that cats up the entire proposed $ 10 billion annual tax increase on top income earners and all of the proposed $6 billion in new corporate taxes. Does anyone outside of Harvard or North Korea think it will “grow the economy” to transfer economic decisionmaking and all these assets from the most successful people in the private sector to the amateur central planners in the White House?
With Head Start, Clinton proposes to double its spending to $6 billion by 1996, in spite of the fact that its own founder. Dr. Edward Zigler of Yale, says it’s now so mismanaged and unproductive that we should just shutter one-third of its centers. Winston Churchill said, “Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon.” Reich can’t see the horse. He can’t see why we need private entrepreneurs to innovate and risk and invest when those in the faculty lounge can do everything better.
Reich says, “The investments of wealthier Americans no longer trickle down to the rest of the American people.” If that’s true, if nothing trickles down, then why does he support the tax credits that attract new business to the inner city? Isn’t the goal that a new pizza shop owner and auto body shop hire a dozen jobless kids and that what trickles down is less poverty, less crime, less drug dealing, and more self-reliance? In the 1980’s, did Reich notice the 76 percent jump in new business investment in real dollars and the 20 million new jobs? Didn’t the jobs trickle down from those investments? In the Reich paradigm, a politically correct trickle is any spending by the government, while an incorrect trickle is any claim that anything positive can flow from the private sector.
“The success of American capitalism no longer depends on the private investments of highly motivated American capitalists,” says Reich. So, for the first time, it no longer matters if we demoralize the ambitious and destroy the profits in the private sector. The government can get wealth from taxes and direct investments from the Oval Office and the Labor Department. Bullet trains and Federal Infant Stimulation Centers can trickle down, and the President can tell us that we are no longer alone.