by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
President Obama and his Republican friends agree that low-tax, low-wage, deregulated zones are the anti-poverty program for the 21st century. Both parties are engaged in a race to the bottom. Rand Paul, “the free market barbarian from Kentucky, dispenses his poison unadulterated, while the banker’s man in the White House mixes arsenic with Kool-Aid.”
The Obama-Paul Scam Zones
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Of the two capitalist politicians, Rand Paul is the more honest actor.”
The defining characteristic of 21st century American life is that neither of the pro-business parties is willing or able to offer the slightest concessions to the people. In such an environment, questions of “reform versus revolution” have little relevance, for the simple reason that neither corporate party deigns to entertain anything in the way of reform. Although Republicans and Democrats now acknowledge that income inequality is, as President Obama puts it, “the defining challenge of our time,” both parties propose to remedy the situation through more concentrated doses of corporate tax cuts and business deregulation. Both agree that the poor will find salvation in a capitalists’ paradise. So let it be written, so shall it be zoned.
President Obama, the corporate Democrat, wants to “cut taxes on hiring and investment in areas designated as Promise Zones – based upon the proven model of Empowerment Zones tax credits – to attract businesses and create jobs.” Obama’s plan would target five cities and regions, with the prospect of 15 more to follow. He would “cut red tape” to concentrate existing federal resources on the targeted zones, while spending no new money.
Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian Republican, proposes to energize the economies of high poverty areas by drastically cutting taxes in “Economic Freedom Zones” – starting with Detroit. “Reducing taxes in economically depressed areas is a stimulus that will work,” says Paul, “because the money is returned to businesses and individuals who have already proven that they can succeed.” New government expenditures are against his religion.
Of the two capitalist politicians, Rand Paul is the more honest actor. The free market barbarian from Kentucky dispenses his poison unadulterated, while the banker’s man in the White House mixes arsenic with Kool-Aid, in the form of easier access to existing federal programs and grants (which, of course, will be drawn from other needy “un-zoned” localities). But Kool-Aid is not reform; it only makes death go down more sweetly, and the final agony is the same.
“Obama now describes pervasive and acute Black poverty as a ‘stereotype.’”
Obama, as is his habit, cannot resist spicing the lethal potion with insults to African Americans. His initial five-zone scam is apportioned based on symbolic constituencies – largely Black Philadelphia on the East coast, heavily Hispanic Los Angeles and San Antonio in the West and the middle, southeastern Kentucky (Rand Paul country) for white southern Appalachia, plus the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma – to emphasize the supposedly post-racial nature of the income inequality crisis. As he explained:
“I’m not just talking about pockets of poverty in our inner cities. That’s the stereotype. I’m talking about suburban neighborhoods that have been hammered by the housing crisis. I’m talking about manufacturing towns that still haven’t recovered after the local plant shut down and jobs dried up. There are islands of rural America where jobs are scarce—they were scarce even before the recession hit.”
Having at the beginning of his presidency categorically rejected targeted aid to Blacks, who suffered more than any other group from the Great Recession, Obama now describes pervasive and acute Black poverty as a “stereotype.” The president structures his anti-poverty showcase around his color-blind rhetoric, rather than demographic facts: fraud layered with larceny, marinated in contempt.
Paul, on the other hand, travels straight to Detroit to hawk his low-tax snake oil, claiming, in effect, if laissez-fair capitalism can save this Black metropolis, it can cure anything.
“Various ‘enterprise’-type enclosures have spurred runaway gentrification.”
Zones come and go, with questionable effect. There has been an alphabet soup of them since Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, all designed to lure capital into places it will only enter if promised higher profits and government subsidies – the real meaning of “Promise Zones.” In more recent decades, various “enterprise”-type enclosures, such as Harlem’s Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, have spurred runaway gentrification under the rubric of “development” – localized “success” stories achieved at the expense of the poor, who then disappear into the un-zoned world beyond.
Obama’s plans are much more ambitious. His model for putting the country back to work is to bring outsourced jobs back to American shores by creating a more attractive domestic labor and tax environment. It is the same rationale that markets the “advantages” of investment in Haiti, where a desperately poor population is advertised as a national “resource.” At its core, Obama’s philosophy differs from Rand Paul’s only in that the Democrat would provide more government “in-puts” to sweeten the deal for capital, in the form of publicly-financed charter schools, beefed up policing, and improved public infrastructure, in addition to deregulation, low taxes and subsidies. Rand Paul would abolish unions in a wholly rezoned America, while Obama would simply let them die of attrition. Black people would, for all official purposes, disappear under both regimes, because “there is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there's the United States of America” – where the only race that matters is the race to the bottom.