What is the idea of the American dream, of working hard and achieving something, and knowing that all, you know, half your wealth is going to someone who didn't do that?
So asked CNBC's Maria Bartiromo Thursday during a stirring discussion with a union advocate who had the nerve to claim the problems in the auto industry were all caused by a lack of a nationalized healthcare system, and that only the top one percent of wage earners in America should pay federal income taxes.
Unlike most media members who would have applauded such sentiments coming from one of their guests, Bartiromo pushed back, with respect and professional courtesy not seen much from journalists these days, and in a fashion that would make many Americans currently concerned about their nation's direction a wee bit nostalgic and tremendously proud.
What follows is a partial transcript of this exchange, as well as an embedded video of the entire segment:
MARIA BARTIROMO, HOST: Welcome back. The Senate is working with compromise legislation to make it easier for workers to join unions, better known as Card Check. Meanwhile, an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal argues that public sector unions are playing unfairly attempting to steer stimulus dollars their way and killing anti-tax movements. Steve Malanga is a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute who wrote that op-ed. Also with us is Jonathan Tasini, executive director of the Labor Research Association. Gentlemen, good to see you, thanks for joining us. [...]
Jonathan, let me ask you this, Jonathan, okay, unions are of course representing workers. But when you look at the number of industries that are dominated by unions, the performance is not so great, right? Airlines, autos, teachers, so, what else? Why is that? Is there a connection?
JONATHAN TASINI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR LABOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATION: If I can first address the main point: thank God for the public sector unions. Because if it wasn't for the public sector unions, and the stimulus money coming to states to save jobs, this economy would not just be in a so-called recession, we'd be at the bottom of the abyss. It's actually the stimulus money that has saved part of the economy and kept that sector going while in fact the private sector has declined because there's no credit as you well know in the private sector, and jobs have been lost like crazy.
BARTIROMO: Right, but that's one of the points, because one of Steve's arguments is that the federal stimulus dollars are distributed to the unions, or to, they're steering the funds, hold on, they're steering the funds to projects that are basically preserving public sector jobs, their own jobs. Not other jobs.
TASINI: Okay, so let's talk about what those jobs are. Well, the reality is that the money coming from the government does come to the state governments to spend. And because the private sector is, was contracting, the only place you could actually have jobs was building roads, rebuilding schools, these are very good things. I'm all for that, and I believe that most of the public is for that. You know, Steve is making an argument that is sort of drifting away from him, from the people, the kind of argument he's supporting. The truth is that the majority of the public is really with this kind of spending, supports this kind of spending. I think that's shown in both the support for President Obama's stimulus package and the spending at the state level. Now, I want to address your point about these industries. Let's take the auto industry for example. You cannot blame the unionized workers for the state of the auto industry. That's pure mismanagement, not the least of which is continued to refuse to have a single-payer medicare for all healthcare system which would have relieved tens of billions of dollars of healthcare costs from the -- let me finish -- from the auto industry and the steel industry. The problem of much of the industry in America, the industries you're talking about, has nothing to do with wages, nothing to do with union workers. You...
BARTIROMO: What are you talking about? The autos had all those legacy costs in place. They're paying people who are putting their feet up and just relaxing at home on the sofa, and they're not on the assembly line.
TASINI: UAW members could work for free and you would not save the auto industry...
BARTIROMO: Because they're paying the people that are not on the assembly line. They're at home.
TASINI: The way you solve the problem of the auto industry and the steel industy, many other industries, is you have a national healthcare system. You take the burden of the tens of billions of healthcare costs off the companies, and have a normal healthcare system like the rest of the industrialized world.
Stop the tape. So, if America's taxpayers would foot the bill for the healthcare of the auto industry, these companies would suddenly be profitable? Great. But who foots THAT bill?
BARTIROMO: Steve, do you agree with that?
STEVEN MALANGA, SENIOR FELLOW MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: Well, of course, one of the things that this doesn't contemplate is that if the employers aren't paying healthcare costs, somebody else is. The irony here is that in the public sector, we do have the public sector paying healthcare costs. Healthcare benefits for public employees are paid by government, and they are part of what's driving governments like New York state, New York City, and California broke. The idea that there's sort of money out there somewhere that doesn't come from the private sector and that that money if government just spends it will cure things, you know, it just doesn't recognize the fact that this money has to come from somewhere. So, in a national healthcare system, where's that money going to come from?
BARTIROMO: Taxes. Higher taxes.
TASINI: Well, actually you would save money, you would save money at the end of the day...
BARTIROMO: How are you saving money because you're going to be spending more money on healthcare? Healthcare is 17 percent of the GDP. You're telling me that it's going to go lower? No, I don't think so. It'll be a higher percentage of GDP.
MUCH higher, Maria. Of course, the union advocate was having nothing of that:
TASINI: Medicare is one of the most successful programs we've had in the history of this country. It operates at two or three percent administrative costs. The reason our healthcare costs are so high is because you've got a profit mongering industry that pays its executives too high, and spends 20 percent or 30 percent on adminstrative costs for what reason? To spend billions of dollars every day to prevent people from having healthcare. Now that's a moral obscenity. But I do want to address the other point about the state costs. There are two reasons states are in trouble in terms of their budget. One is the overall collapse of the economy thanks to Bernie Madoff, Wall Street, AIG, and all your other friends. The second point is this: we do not have a progressive taxation system anymore. In New York state, which Steve and I both live in, if we went back to a more progressive taxation system, and taxed just the top one percent, we would have about eight or nine billion dollars more which would solve the crisis.
Stop the tape. States are in trouble because of the economy? Really? Their problems have NOTHING to do with runaway spending?
Beyond this, we should ONLY tax the top one percent in the nation, meaning that 99 percent DON'T contribute at all?
Be afraid, America:
BARTIROMO: Look, I can't allow you to fan the flames of class warfare on this program. You said, you said "Wall Street and all your other friends." Who's they?
TASINI: Class warfare is, does exist in this country. The problem is, the class that's being affected are 95 percent of the population. Are you telling me there isn't class warfare in this country?
Interesting, don't you think? We're currently close to less than half the population paying federal income taxes, and this union advocate thinks the class warfare is affecting 95 percent of the population. Moreover, his solution is that the top one percent should shoulder ALL the burden.
Fortunately for those lucky to see this segment, Maria wasn't putting up with this nonsense:
BARTIROMO: Well, workers are being affected, however, I'm trying to get at the point of why we have these troubled...
TASINI: We have the biggest gap between rich and poor that we've ever had in probably a hundred years. Productivity in the last 30 years has skyrocketed, and workers have gotten not benefited, that is the definition of class warfare.
BARTIROMO: Steve, what do you say to that?
MALANGA: Well, the first thing I say to that is all you have to do is look around us. We live in a country now where the average number of families has two cars, three televisions, air conditioning is standard in most houses. The idea that you just look at income and say, "Oh my God, income hasn't increased, therefore people are falling behind," the standard of living of the average American today is far, far ahead of the standard of living of the average American living in the 1960s, and the 1930s.
BARTIROMO: Meanwhile, the unions have their benefits. That's the point that I just made about people, you know, we're paying for benefits, we're paying salaries for people who are no longer on the assembly line. I mean, look, it's just not, you know, having a job for life is not a concept that I understand, because, you know, at some point, you're not getting paid for life. It's just, maybe you do in Europe, that's a socialist concept.
TASINI: Well, you just, I mean you're just throwing around the word socialist concept, I mean Europe bashing...
BARTIROMO: Who's throwing it around?
TASINI: Well, I actually think we could learn a lot from the way Europe treats its...
BARTIROMO: So, you want us to go the European way?
TASINI: For example, there was just a great piece in the New York Times about Norway, and explaining how it has actually expanded its coverage and protection of people. I would argue that people in Norway probably live a better standard of living than most people in this, than many people in this country.
BARTIROMO: Well, the economies of Europe have been in the dumps for, for years, even before this economic slowdown even started. You think that, you think the socialist measures have anything to do with that?
TASINI: Well, what I found interesting is both Steven and both you have ignored the two points that I've made which is that we have the greatest inequality that we've had in the last hundred years, and the most important point I tried to make was productivity. Productivity in the last 30 year is soaring. That means...
BARTIROMO: But what is redistribution of wealth going to do for productivity? What is, what is the idea of the American dream, of working hard and achieving something, and knowing that all, you know, half your wealth is going to someone who didn't do that? What is that going to do to productivity is my question.
Beautifully stated. And, much like when Joe the Plumber asked a similar question of candidate Obama last year, the truth came out:
TASINI: Well, when I talked about my proposal for a different taxation system here, I talked about affecting the top one percent. We're talking about redistributing the wealth a little bit, five percent in this state...
Redistributing the wealth "a little bit!" Ain't that grand?
TASINI: ...to, from the top one percent. 95 percent of the people would have a tax cut...
Nice. 95 percent get a tax cut, and the people that likely employ them get a HUGE tax increase:
TASINI: ...if you went back to the taxation system we had in the 1970s which was far more progressive.
Yes, the lovely '70s, that decade most economists view as one of the worst in American history. That's what we should strive for:
TASINI: We just, you guys want to ignore the reality of the math.
No. We're not ignoring the reality of one of the highest inflation rates ever in our nation's history.
Quite the contrary, we're fearing that you and the administration you support are going to bring back those bad old days.
That said, bravo, Maria.
CNBC has been taking a lot of heat lately, but the reality is this network continues to be one of the nation's strongest advocates for capitalism, and employs many folks willing to ask the tough economic questions most in the media today refuse to.