When disaster strikes, people say and do rash things, especially when they are professors in Ivy League universities more than a thousand miles away from the wreckage.
“The cold fact that the fruits of recent economic growth had gone overwhelmingly to our richest citizens meant that millions of people continued to live in substandard housing, attend dysfunctional schools, travel slowly on broken down public transportation systems, and die in overcrowded hospitals,” Professor Alexander Keyssar wrote of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “While taxes were cut, public infrastructure—like the levees—was eroding, and an already frayed safety net was disintegrating.”
“The poverty of many of Katrina’s victims was an ugly and intolerable sight and it seemed clear that we needed to do something about it.” A professor of history and social policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Dr. Keyssar penned an article entitled “Reminders of Poverty, Soon Forgotten,” for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Ironically, the man whose name is on the school Dr. Keyssar toils at understood full well who benefited from tax cuts. As president, JFK signed rate reductions into law.
And what of the Bush Administration’s more recent trimming of federal levies? “A new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report produced at the request of Congressional Democrats confirms that tax cuts since 2001 increased the share of federal income taxes paid by the highest earners while decreasing the tax share of lower- and middle-income groups,” the Joint Economic Committee of the U. S. Congress reported last year. “The CBO analysis, Effective Tax Rates Under Current Law, 2001 to 2014, shows that the income tax remains highly progressive, with the top 5 percent of earners paying more than half of all federal income taxes.”
On the face of it, Dr. Keyssar’s claim of “substandard housing” seems to strike a nerve, particularly in the wake of the tragic devastation wrought by Katrina. But here, too, outside of New Orleans and perhaps, Cambridge, the housing news is surprisingly upbeat.
If you notice more homeowners than you ever have before, you are probably not imagining things. “The homeownership rate in the U. S. is at a record-high of 69.3 percent,” the Joint Economic Committee reported late last year, “and the minority homeownership rate is also the highest it’s ever been.” Indeed, the problems that Dr. Keyssar ticks off are all occurring in public housing, public schools, and public hospitals and on public transportation.
Federal, state and local government agencies have spent billions of dollars on all of the above to no avail. So what does the professor suggest? He wants more of the same.
“Billions of dollars will be spent in the Gulf States and New Orleans and Biloxi will be rebuilt,” Dr. Keyssar admits. “But there will be no new national programs to aid the poor, and precious little in the way of targeted antipoverty programs in the Gulf.”
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.