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  • In Season One of The Story of Stuff, we looked at a system that creates way

  • too much stuff, and way too little of what we really want. Now we're going to start looking at

  • the stories behind the Story of Stuff.

  • That's where we'll find ways to turn this situation around.

  • Welcome to Season Two!

  • These last few years, I've had to get a lot more careful about how I spend

  • my paycheck. Everyone has.

  • Like I'm eating out less often,

  • holding back on expenses I don't really need, saving for my kid's college.

  • I'm getting more responsible, taking control of how I spend.

  • But one thing I can't control is that every month a big chunk of my paycheck

  • goes off to the government.

  • It's not the most fun part of my budget, but I believe in paying taxes.

  • Not just because it's the law

  • but because that's how I invest in a better future that I can't afford

  • to build on my own.

  • You know that future we all want and nearly every candidate promises us

  • great schools,

  • a healthy environment,

  • clean energy, good jobs. But a funny thing happens to our money on its way

  • to that better future.

  • It seems to disappear.

  • And by the time we get around to investing in it, all we hear is,

  • "sorry, not this year, we're broke."

  • In fact, we're so broke, they say,

  • that we have no choice but to slide backwards,

  • cutting things that made this country greatlike schools and the EPA,

  • maybe even Social Security and Medicare.

  • Wait a minute. Broke?

  • I'm sending in my share of hard-earned cash every month and so are you!

  • If everyone did, we'd have plenty of money.

  • Now, what we've got to work with shrinks a lot thanks to corporate tax loopholes

  • and unprecedented tax breaks for the richest 1%.

  • But even after those, we've

  • still got over a trillion dollars.

  • So if we're broke,

  • what's happening to all that money?

  • I decided to look into it and it turns out this whole "broke" story hides

  • a much bigger story

  • — a story of some really dumb choices being made for us

  • truth is actually work against us.

  • The good news is that these are choices,

  • and we can make different ones.

  • So, where is all that money going? Well first the military takes a biggest chunk --

  • $726 billion in 2011. Wow!

  • We could build a lot of better future with that kind of money.

  • Spending billions on fighter planes we don't need or wars with no end, and

  • then saying we're broke, just isn't honest.

  • It's like calling your kid from your billion-dollar yacht to say you can't

  • afford her lunch money.

  • Then hundreds of billions more go to propping up the dinosaur economy.

  • You know, the obsolete system we talked about in The Story of Stuff

  • the one that produces more pollution, greenhouse gasses and garbage than any

  • other on Earthand doesn't even make us happy.

  • In so many ways, it's just not working,

  • but we're keeping it in on life support instead of building something better.

  • A lot of that life support comes in the form of subsidies.

  • A subsidy is a giveaway that gives some companies a lift over others.

  • That's not necessarily a bad thingwe should help companies that are

  • building a better future.

  • The problem is the government keeps lifting up companies that are actually

  • dragging us down.

  • Everywhere you look along the dinosaur economy, you'll find these subsidies.

  • There's spending subsidies: where the government just gives our money away

  • like payments that benefit big agribusiness, while helping drive family

  • farms off a cliff.

  • Or the less obvious version where the government foots the bill for things

  • corporations should pay for themselves

  • like cleaning up toxic chemical spills or giant livestock manure ponds.

  • Or building roads that go to only one placelike a new Walmart.

  • Or paying for polluting and wasteful garbage incinerators that would never

  • make financial sense to build on their own.

  • Then there's tax subsidies:

  • which excuse big corporations from contributing their fair share

  • like the enormous tax breaks granted to oil and gas companies

  • even in times of record profits.

  • These subsidies amount to billions of dollars we should be collecting

  • and putting to good use.

  • And there's risk transfer subsidies: where the government acts as an

  • investment bank and even an insurance company for corporations doing risky

  • things, like building nuclear reactors.

  • If anything goes wrong, we have to cover for them.

  • There's freebie subsidies:

  • where our government gives stuff that belongs to all of us to corporations

  • for cheap or even free.

  • That's billions more we should be collecting but never see!

  • Like permits to mine public lands, granted at prices set in the Mining Law of 1872.

  • Really. 1872.

  • President Grant signed this law to encourage settlement of the West.

  • News flash:

  • it's settled.

  • And all this doesn't even count externalized costs. They

  • don't show up on any spreadsheet and could amount to trillions of dollars

  • include the damage to the environment,

  • public health and the climate that this dinosaur economy causes.

  • Without laws that make the polluters pay, we all pay with the loss of clean air and water,

  • or increased asthma and cancer.

  • By the time we've handed out all these subsidies, there isn't even enough money

  • to pay our bills

  • forget about building the better future.

  • So why is there always enough money for the dinosaur economy, from big oil to

  • bailouts for big banks, but when it

  • comes to building a better future we're supposedly broke? Maybe it's because

  • these guys know how to ask for it.

  • Their lobbyists and giant campaign contributions let the government know

  • what they want,

  • and what they'll do if they don't get it.

  • And it works.

  • US Senators who voted to keep big oil subsidies in 2011 had

  • received 5 times more in Big Oil campaign cash than those who voted to end them.

  • So, while subsidies should be a tool to help

  • companies that are helping us all, they've become a prize for

  • those with the most power to get on the handout list.

  • But you know who has the real power?

  • We do! What if we got as protective of our tax dollars as we are with

  • the rest of our money?

  • What if we told the government what we want and what we'll do if we

  • don't get it -- starting with voting them out!

  • We could re-direct these dinosaur subsidies,

  • freeing up hundreds of billions of dollars. Forget broke, we could

  • build a better future right now!

  • We could start by reinvesting the $10 billion in oil and

  • gas subsidies to renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

  • With just half of that amount, we could put solar systems on over two

  • million households. Then use the rest to retrofit half a million homes,

  • creating jobs and saving energy year after year.

  • The average cost of cleaning up a toxic site on the Superfund list is

  • $140 million.

  • Let's make the polluters pay and instead invest our money in developing safer

  • materials so we don't have to worry about them spilling in the first place.

  • Most chemicals today are made from oilthat's why they are called petro-chemicals.

  • Switching just 20% of them to safer bio-based materials

  • would create over 100,000 new jobs.

  • Instead of subsidizing garbage incinerators, let's subsidize

  • real solutions, like zero waste.

  • Raising the US recycling rate to 75% would result in one and a half million

  • new jobswith less pollution, less waste,

  • less pressure to harvest and mine new stuff. What's not to like?

  • That would still leave billions of dollars for improving education

  • the best investment for a healthy economy.

  • With $100 billion, we could increase the number of elementary school

  • teachers by over 40%

  • and give college scholarships to over 6 million students.

  • See, we can rebuild the American Dream;

  • we can afford to have a healthy environment, good jobs, and top-notch public education.

  • But not if we continue subsidizing the dinosaur economy.

  • So next time you have an idea for a better future and someone tells you,

  • "that's nice, but there's no money for that,"

  • you tell them we're not broke.

  • There is money, it's ours, and it's time to invest it right.

In Season One of The Story of Stuff, we looked at a system that creates way

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B1 broke dinosaur government economy tax oil

The Story of Broke (2011)

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    Chao Chen Lu posted on 2013/08/19
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