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Dr. Michael Forster

Trump’s budget abandons the poor and working class supporters who helped put him in office

Mississippi social workers, if you had any doubt, lay it aside – Donald Trump doesn’t give a damn about struggling working class people in this state or any other who elected him in hopes of economic relief, let alone millions of truly poor, disabled, sick, and chronically unemployed citizens.  His budget proposal is by the rich, for the rich, and all about making the rich still richer (this includes the president’s proposed military expansion, which fattens further the already obscenely bloated profits of defense contractors and their investors).

While introducing tax reductions for the already under-taxed 1%, Trump’s budget slashes spending on Medicaid, Social Security disability benefits, food stamps, Community Development Block Grants, and just about every other federal program that aids the needy.  This is class war, plain and simple, justified by the same old tired and oft-refuted arguments: (1) Federal assistance (in any form other than tax cuts, apparently) “makes” people dependent and prevents them from joining the labor force, where they belong, earning their own way; (2) tax cuts for the rich will fire up business expansion and job creation, spreading the benefits of economic growth far, wide, and deep.

Promises of prosperity by aiding the rich and denying the poor are pure poppycock, and it’s hard to believe that anyone – even someone as policy history ignorant as our president – can make them with a straight face.  Even economists generally unfriendly to welfare state spending think the projected economic growth is so much wishful thinking.  The real results of a Trump budget?  A lot more extreme inequality, pain, suffering, and needless death, for sure.  Also, hopefully, a non-violent Trumpism resistance movement growing rapidly in both strength and size.  Mississippi social workers need to be part of that movement.

 

Dr. Michael Forster

We have our own swamp to drain in Jackson

By now just about every English-literate person inside and outside Mississippi has heard of state representative Karl Oliver’s Facebook pronouncement that Louisiana leaders removing Confederate monuments from public places should be “lynched.”

It’s hard to imagine a statement more idiotic yet simultaneously more revealing of the base, race-addled mentality underlying so much of what’s wrong with our state.  It’s the same ideologically insensitive mentality responsible for refusing to expand Medicaid to thousands of Mississippi citizens desperate for health care when the opportunity was there, and for repeatedly slashing public health, mental health, and education budgets without apology to those who will suffer the worst consequences.

Social workers, this is what we are up against.  In the current political context, hoping and praying for gradual evolutionary change for the better is delusional.  Petitioning, “lobbying” elected officials in the traditional manner is a dead end.  Forget the Washington nightmare for the moment.  Time to break out the hip boots and ready ourselves to “drain the swamp” in Jackson.

Dr. Michael Forster

Good news, leaders? Mental health cuts, state’s credit rating drops

Good news today for those who want state government to just wither up and die.  Actually, two really encouraging items:

  1. The Mississippi Dept. of Mental Health announced how it will handle a nearly $20 million budget cut: 650 workforce cuts, program and service reductions, more outsourcing of services, admissions shutdowns, tightened eligibility requirements and longer waiting lists for services that remain.

Good luck, social workers trying to make referrals for desperately needed mental health services.  Good luck, police and other law enforcement personnel who will inevitably have to deal with the mentally ill who have no place to go. Good luck, communities with larger numbers of unemployed as well as untreated mentally ill individuals to deal with. But hey, be happy everyone – government is getting smaller.  Woo-hoo!

  1. The credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s Financial Services downgraded Mississippi’s credit rating, noting that lagging tax collections – expected to continue as a result of new tax cuts for business about to kick in – make it tougher for the state to meet its current debt obligations.  Another looming problem is the long-term unfunded liability of the state employee retirement system (PERS).  The agency stopped short of raising the rate Mississippi must pay to borrow new money, though that may come soon.

Again, this is more good news for government haters, who know that the public beast will not stop extending its tentacles until you effectively cut off its essential fuel supply – money.  Less money = less government – which apparently in the minds of our leading public officials means greater happiness all around.

I don’t know about you, fellow Mississippi social workers, but I’m positively giddy at all the good news that keeps pouring in.

Dr. Michael Forster

Economics 101 for social workers

Social workers are notoriously bad about numbers, which unfortunately carries over to the field of economics, or better named, “political economy,” the critical interface of political and economic considerations, the place where policies (a “macro” arena that social workers find at least a little more friendly) are formulated.

But here’s a bit of economics every Mississippi social worker needs to know: So-called “supply side” economics – basically, the idea that by cutting taxes for corporations and the rich, the economy is stimulated and everyone benefits by new job and business growth – don’t work.  It’s on the basis of supply side economics that tax cut-happy politicians often argue that “the cuts will pay for themselves” in the form of economic growth.  But supply side thinking is just plain wrong in virtually all circumstances, and has proven itself so in virtually all instances in which it’s been applied.  Instead of prompting growth, experience suggests that it’s much more likely to provoke a fiscal crisis.

Want evidence?  Look at Kansas, where under Gov. Brownback’s leadership, taxes were repeatedly slashed, resulting in a shortfall of revenue and a protracted fiscal crisis, to the extent that Brownback is having to deal with a backlash within his own anti-tax Republican party.  The flip side is California, where despite dire predictions of economic calamity, Gov. Brown led the charge for selectively raising taxes to address critical state needs (education, health care, infrastructure maintenance), and which is enjoying substantial jobs and business growth.

Mississippi gives every appearance of going down the same dismal road as Kansas (heaven forbid that we might ever follow “liberal” California!), with the added burlesque of a series of poor revenue projections, auditing errors, emergency budget cuts, and most recently, political leaders actually bragging about “shrinking government” through cuts.

Dr. Michael Forster

Do Mississippi Leaders Really Want to Wreck the State?

No more crocodile tears or feigned hand-wringing over having to cut agency budgets because a lousy state economy simply leaves them no choice.  State leaders have let the cat out of the bag – They WANT to cut budgets because that’s how you shrink government, and shrinking government is what they’re all about.

A Monday article in the Clarion-Ledger by Emily Wagster Pettus included these gems from the mouths of prominent legislative leaders:

“We Republicans have campaigned for many, many years that we are for living within our means, we are for controlling spending, we are for reducing the size of government,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. We are for reducing the tax burden.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who heads the Senate, agrees with Gunn wholeheartedly: “That’s what voters elected us to do. They elected us to live within our means,” Reeves said near the session’s end. “They believe they ought to send less money to the government. They believe that they are already overtaxed and overburdened.”

So there you have it.  Our top leaders are PROUD to be doing the people’s will in taking a wrecking ball to our evidently overblown state apparatus.   Apparently, Mississippi just has too much health care, too much education, too many mental health services, too much attention to public safety and to maintaining our transportation infrastructure.

Disagree, social workers?  Then you’d better get busy convincing your fellow citizens that they need to elect leaders with a different mindset.  The current crop has made it clear – Tax cuts take precedence over health, human services, education, and all the rest.  They mean to keep the wrecking ball swinging.