Bill and Melinda Gates: Changing the world” the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life

Bill and Melinda Gates: Changing the worldThe founders of the world’s largest transparently operated private foundation talk about their visions and at

“the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

This Labor Day and in the days leading up to the election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, will pay lip service to America’s workers and talk about their plans to strengthen the middle class. But instead of offering any serious solutions for creating jobs with benefits and wages that can support a family, Romney and Ryan have made it clear that they are planning to balance the budget on the backs of America’s workers and the poor.

There is no denying that the Romney/Ryan budget plan would critically wound and significantly impact services for the middle class and those who are in the dawn, twilight and shadows of life — including making significant cuts to K-12 education, job training and grants which help kids go to college, replacing Medicare with a voucher system that would increase health care costs for seniors and gutting Medicaid for the working poor. The only groups benefiting from the Romney/Ryan plan are the wealthiest Americans — whose tax cuts would be permanent if Romney and Ryan have their way — and corporations, which would receive tax breaks even as they continue to ship good middle class jobs overseas.

The Romney/Ryan plan to cut programs that help the poor and middle class will lead to fewer jobs and slow down our country’s recovery from the economic downturn that President Obama inherited from the previous administration. These cuts will also cause unnecessary suffering and weaken Americans’ confidence in their government at a time when many believe they will never achieve the American dream of owning a home, sending their children to college or retiring.

As the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow, it is clear that we need to stand together and demand that workers are paid what they need and deserve. Upholding the freedom of hard-working men and women to stick together to bargain for dignity and respect on the job and decent wages and benefits would strengthen America’s middle class and level the playing field. Romney and Ryan and their corporate backers know this, and both candidates have challenged the very idea of a worker’s right to stick together and bargain for basic rights — including fair pay, health care and retirement benefits.

This election year, America’s workers face a stark choice — and a moral choice — that boils down to a simple question: Do we want a leader who favors the wealthy one percent at the expense of the young, the elderly, the sick and the poor, or a leader who has given a voice to those who are too often overlooked and is fighting to create jobs and prosperity for all Americans?

The United States needs to be reimagined. A recent study from the Pew Research Center tells us that in economic terms the middle class “has suffered its worst decade in modern history.” It’s shrinking.

With jobs scarce, wages declining and the nation’s wealth concentrating ever more intensely at the top, the middle class has shrunk in size for the first time since World War II.

This is not a problem that began with the Great Recession, although the recession and its dismal aftermath have caused it to snowball. We’ve known for many years that despite hard work ordinary Americans have had trouble making ends meet, paying their monthly bills for food, shelter and clothing. It has become ever more difficult for families to find the funds necessary for decent childcare, and to send their children to college, and to prepare for a comfortable retirement. According to Pew, a mere 11 percent of Americans now describe themselves as very optimistic about the country’s long-term economic future.

What we’re experiencing is nothing less than an historic generational decline in living standards. We’ve obviously been doing something very wrong.

My colleagues at Demos, a nonpartisan think tank, have been researching and analyzing the economic plight of the middle class and poorer Americans for many years and have come up with a compelling blueprint for turning this disastrous situation around. It is a program that would require a tremendously heavy lift politically, a great deal of shared sacrifice among America’s citizens, and a substantial financial investment in our human capital and other resources.

Try to imagine a nation in which there are good jobs for all who want and need to work; a nation in which all students who want a college education would be able to afford it; a nation in which predatory lending is prohibited and banks and other financial institutions are not permitted to charge usurious interest rates; a nation in which the middle class is once again expanding at a rapid rate and the ranks of the poor are vanishing.

Demos’s comprehensive report, “Millions to the Middle: 14 Big Ideas to Build a Strong and Diverse Middle Class,” not only imagines such a sanguine state of affairs, but offers us a viable route to get there.

One of the most important ideas is a guarantee of at least 16 years of schooling for boys and girls growing up at a time when some form of post-secondary credential is a virtual prerequisite for a middle-class standard of living. Demos’s proposed Contract for Collegewould transform the federal financial aid system from one that is predominantly loan-based to one that relies primarily on grants. Millions of young college graduates are now caught in a cruel vise. Not only are decent jobs very difficult to find, but the graduates are shouldering enormous student debt loads that must be repaid. As the importance of a college education has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, public support for colleges has dropped sharply. This doesn’t make sense. In response, colleges and universities have jacked up tuition and fees. Tuition at public colleges have tripled since 1980. Demos’s proposal, fully implemented, would double the percentage of students from low and moderate-income families who successfully complete college.

As all Americans know, the job market in general is horrendous. What is not so widely recognized is that the nation’s employment challenges go much deeper than the normal vagaries of the business cycle. Millions are without work, and many are without hope of finding employment. Millions more are underemployed, working part-time or in temporary jobs, or doing work that is substantially beneath their capabilities.

This is not a temporary cyclical downturn destined to be followed by a robust recovery. Globalization, labor-saving technological advancements and the decline of labor unions has fundamentally changed the nature of work in the United States. Without bold new initiatives the American economy will be unable to come anywhere close to creating enough decent jobs to sustain a healthy middle class and substantially reduce the number of people living in poverty.

Sixty percent of the jobs destroyed since the start of the Great Recession were middle-income positions. Most of the job growth since then has been in low-wage occupations. As the Demos report notes, “The Department of Labor projects that over the coming decade the largest job growth will be in currently low-paying occupations such as home health aides, food service workers, and retail salespeople.” That is not the stuff of which the American Dream is made.

The suffering from the employment crisis in the U.S. has been immense and must be brought to an end. The Demos proposal calls for a number of new or expanded initiatives, including:


  • The establishment of a temporary 21st century version of the WPA public jobs program. That would ease the plight of those hardest hit by the employment crisis.
  • A much larger commitment to public investment in infrastructure, such as roads, rail lines, seaports and electrical transmission; and increased investments in the newest clean energy technologies, and in scientific research and development. Such investments would lead to substantial job creation and help make the U.S. far more competitive in the years and decades to come.
  • A concerted national effort to reconstitute the labor movement so that working Americans are again able to band together to halt exploitation and effectively negotiate pay raises and benefits.


This is not pie in the sky. America’s proudest creation in the early post-World War II decades was its vast middle class. It did not spring spontaneously into being, like magic. The process was helped enormously by a wide range of public policy decisions that, among other things, established a highly progressive tax code, guaranteed the right of workers to join a union and bargain collectively, made massive infrastructure investments, and offered extensive public support for education, including higher education.

The decline of the middle class was also the result of public policy choices, only this time they were geared to overwhelmingly benefit the very wealthy. Today’s downward mobility can only be reversed by a range of new choices consciously aimed at helping working Americans regain their financial footing. Demos’s report can be an important guide to that process. The goal is a fairer, more economically just and equitable America.

The electronic media has been hyper this morning. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is conducting raids on private parties and even some bureaucrats, for the irregularities in allotment of coal blocks, as has been alleged by the country’s official auditors, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). The government is “losing the communication battle” because its skills do not match up to the proliferation of media where many people are “screaming and shouting that something has gone wrong” without explaining the basis, Law minister Salman Khurshid said here today. “The media has transformed itself faster….social media, electronic media, print media there has been a proliferation of media. And the communication skills that we need for modern media, we don’t have, unfortunately. Therefore we are losing the communication battle,” Khurshid said.

He was speaking at the Global summit organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Khurshid’s remarks come at a time when the government is under fire from the opposition on the issue CAG reports on coal blocks allocation.

“Much of our work we are doing now is trying to improve our communication skills. Communication skills come naturally to some people and some people have to be taught it,” he said.

“You cannot explain something in simple terms unless you know that thing yourself. What a lot of people are doing is that they are just screaming and shouting that something has gone wrong. Nobody is telling that what has gone wrong,” he added.

Khurshid said many people were making allegations over coal allocations but they had failed to appreciate that if a higher amount is charged for the coal, the prices of several products would also rise.
I can sense a snigger among several, perhaps justifiably so, due to the absolute lack of confidence in the investigative agency’s ability to be fair. Not many would believe that the agency could be doing anything without the explicit instructions from the powers that be about who to target and who to leave out and that it genuinely intends to nail the real culprits. However, as I would explain later, the common man, normally used to clutching at straws, should feel relieved.

As a precursor to today’s raids, the media has also been arguing whether the CAG and indeed the opposition are right in raising such a hue and cry over what they term as ‘presumptive loss’ theory. While that has been debated ad nauseam, I am amazed at why we should split hair over an issue that is a given – corruption. Does anybody in his right frame of mind ever deny that there would be hanky-panky in all these deals or that any contract is doled out for anything other than a consideration?

It is as clear as daylight to all that only those who have followed the ‘norm’ get what they want while others get the crumbs, if at all. Anything that is scarce or in limited quantities but for which the demand is huge, and it is true for spectrum in telecom or coal mines or land for commercial or housing development or anything else that is doled out selectively, the sole consideration is how much the person desirous of contract can pay or what his political affiliations are. Let me share an example of what one of the largest real estate developers had to ‘dole’ out to get permission for developing a commercial/residential complex not too far from Delhi. And this came to me from a very senior government functionary.

The company’s directors visited a top politician (I am not saying a minister) with the proposal. This person marked a few crosses on the proposed plan and said that word would now be sent to the state CM to move ahead. The directors’ next stop was the state CM, who then marked a few crosses of his own and said he would instruct the concerned babu. At the directors’ next stop, the babu also marked his own cross. It was after this that the developer released his development plans for the general public.

Mind you, by then, the cream of the project, which could mean location and all else that is considered important had already been cornered by the first three layers the directors had met. It was only the skimmed milk that was thrown open to the common man. (Skimmed milk is good for health.)

And the hapless common man did not have to pay for the skimmed milk alone, but also for the cream that had been extracted by the big and powerful mentioned earlier, most of which had been taken for free, as a right. Please don’t think, oh, poor developer. For him, it was par for the course for he is part of the cozy club that includes the corporates, the politicians and babus that ‘help each other’ all the time.

It is with this background that the CBI raids should be looked at with some optimism. Despite all doubts one may have over CBI’s intentions, it is good that some of these ‘cozy’ clubs are now being exposed. These clubs are responsible for creating an illusion that all is well, when in reality, all that is well is only with their own bank balances, but is still being passed off as something that is good for the nation.

Although the CBI will still target only those that it must to pretend it is honest about its job, it is a beginning that has been forced by the relentless pressure exerted by the anti-corruption movement/s, the boldness of some of the constitutional bodies such as the CAG and the Supreme Court and indeed the media. The social media, that has its share of influencers among the educated, has had a role to play as well.

It is necessary, therefore that the pressure continues. It is important to further expose these cozy clubs. The more they are exposed, the more our investigative agencies would be forced to take action, and with the elections closing in, there would be little option for them but continue with at least a pretence that they are at it. It is a long haul, sure, but every long journey begins with the first step.