13 August 2014: Americans’ views seem contradictory

Americans’ views seem contradictory

A few recent news items, each powerfully pointing a finger at us and to our system, disconcertingly indicate why things are askew.

The first deals with the wealth gap.  According to an AP story, a University of Michigan study shows the Great Recession and consequential slow recovery have widened the chasm between the uber-wealthy and the rest of Americans.

In 2007, the top five percent boasted 16.5 times the wealth as the bottom 95 percent collectively, but by 2013 it soared by nearly 50 percent, to 24 times.

“Substantial gains in the stock market have enabled richer Americans to regain much of their wealth,” says the AP story. “Stock prices had plunged by nearly half during the recession but have recovered all their losses and set new highs.”

With regard to the ownership of stocks, it’s revealing that 10 percent of households own 80 percent of stocks, which means the remaining 90 percent share the remaining morsels.

Home ownership also serves as an indicator for the disparity, says AP citing data from real estate provider Zillow.  In the past decade, not only has ownership fallen from 69.2 to 64.8 percent but also “18.8 percent of homeowners with a mortgage still owe more on their homes than they were worth” and another “18.1 percent have so little equity that it wouldn’t be enough to cover closing costs and make a down payment.”  In other words, over a third of homeowners are in financial danger, collapse.

The two other stories suggest serious internal confusion, or at least inconsistency, in voters’ heads, as revealed in recent polls.

An NBC/Wall St. Journal poll indicates President Obama’s “favorable/unfavorable rating remains upside down at 40 percent positive, 47 percent negative,” a slight drop from its previous low point.

“But if the president’s numbers are bad, Congress’ are even worse,” the story continues.  “Only 14 percent approve of the job Congress is doing – the seventh-straight NBC/WSJ poll dating back to 2011 when this rating has been below 15 percent.”

The news is even grimmer for congressional Republicans in that voters hold Republicans in “lower regard,” or more to blame, than Democrats: Republicans 19 percent favorable, 54 percent unfavorable and Democrats 31 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable.

Well enough, but what’s puzzling is the poll also points, nonetheless, to 2014 as “a good, but perhaps not great, year for Republicans with 44 percent of voters preferring a GOP-controlled Congress, and 43 percent preferring a Democratic-controlled one.”

Okay, America, you lost me there.  You’ve identified the schoolyard troublemakers and bullies and strangely are considering putting them in charge.

The second indicator of Americans having a befuddling personality is in regard to the continued decline of our roads and bridges and the means to pay for their revitalization.

According to an AP/GfK Poll, “Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers.

“Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.”

Having declared that, 58 percent, nevertheless, oppose while only 14 percent favor increasing gasoline taxes to fund road-and-bridge improvements despite the federal and Colorado taxes on gasoline not being raised in over 20 years.  Further, three factors exacerbate the dwindling coffers: Unlike the sales tax, fuel taxes aren’t indexed to inflation, which means they have decreased; today’s more fuel-efficient engines require less fuel; and we’re driving less.

So, what about P3’s, private-public partnerships to fund improvements?

“By a better than 2-to-1 margin,” says the AP story, “Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls.”

In addition, only 20 percent favor implementing a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives while 40 percent oppose it.

So a problem in search of an answer: three realistic solutions and each completely unacceptable.

Imagine Americans collectively lying on Freud’s or Jung’s couch and explaining their dilemma.  The doc offers three reasonable solutions, but the patient rejects each out of hand.

That helps explain why we’re in a fix: Not only are Americans unable to reach agreement with each other, as we well know, we’re inconsistent and contradict ourselves in our own positions.  Curious: I wonder what the psychotherapy term is for that disorder.

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