116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I asked Sen. Hubert Humphrey what he told newly elected senators. He said, “I tell ‘em they have to work four years for the Lord and then two years to get reelected.”
There may never be another Hubert Humphrey, but there are officials who agree. Some may be responding to Jesus’ admonition we provide “the least of these” with food, water, shelter, clothing, health care — and prison visits (Matthew 25). Some acquire similar values from a different path.
Of course, others focus only on re-election — pleasing major donors and party leadership.
Economics is not an exact science.
President Harry Truman’s assistant, Dr. John Steelman, described the president’s reaction to an economist providing “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” advice. When the economist left the Oval Office, Truman asked Steelman, “John, do you think you could find me a one-armed economist?”
That there are no “one-armed economists” is not because they are lacking in courage or knowledge. It is, as Harvard’s Alan Wang put it, “due to the inherently unpredictable sphere of study in which economics operates.”
“Greed — for lack of a better word — is good,” said Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie “Wall Street.” Milton Friedman established the precedent with his assertion that “businesses serve society best when they abandon talk of ‘social responsibilities’ and solely maximize returns for shareholders.”
It’s hard to make social progress without support from the “greed is good” crowd.
Fortunately, there’s a small group who see the selfish interests for all, including billionaires, from a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” They prosper “doing well by doing good,” aware that shortsighted greed can lead to shooting oneself in the pocketbook.
To boost an economy, 70 percent of which is driven by consumer spending, consumers need money. Cutting taxes for the wealthy may increase sales of private planes and yachts but doesn’t do much for our gross domestic product.
The futility of the “trickle down” theory was best explained by Harvard economist Ken Galbraith: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”
- Iowa has a skilled workforce shortage. Community colleges create skilled workers. Many high school grads can’t afford tuition. Iowa’s businesses don’t want to train them. If greed is good, why don’t businesses force the legislature to provide free community college for all? They’d get their skilled workers — and shift the cost to taxpayers.
- Employee health care creates both hassle and huge costs for business. A universal single payer system would eliminate both — and give taxpayers the bill.
- Self-described plutocrat Nick Hanauer makes a similarly persuasive case for a $15 minimum wage, citing Seattle’s experience. That way those who work in restaurants can afford to eat in them. Everyone benefits, including the plutocrats — according to the 135 economists who agree.
Iowa legislators, how about putting in at least one year for the Lord? If greed is good, suppressing the poor makes neither dollars nor sense.
Nicholas Johnson is the author of “What Do You Mean and How Do You Know?” Contact: email@example.com