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'If a state wishes either to become or remain stable and productive, (it) must invest in its people.'

FILE - U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan flies a drone on a tour of Intel's Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro last August.The "compassionate conservatism" espoused by Republicans in the early 1990s has given way to a cruel conservatism of the contemporary political right.

Republicans have long approached statecraft with a thinly veiled realpolitik that says "by any means necessary." What we are currently witnessing under a Republican-dominated state is a brazen disregard for any shred of compassion for the less fortunate and an obscene giveaway to the wealthy.

Our new tax law is the single largest transference of wealth to those who least need it in modern American history. The law belies the long-held conservative fantasy of a shrunken state that provides little more than military protection for its people. In this fantasy, which is likely our future, individuals, regardless of capacity, are solely responsible for every aspect of their well-being. The conservative utopia, which is now law of the land, holds that under such a system, ingenuity, hard work and thrift take the place of idleness, aimlessness, and indifference as state subjects must now take full responsibility for their livelihoods.

There is a certain elegance to the simplicity of this philosophy. But like all simplistic theories, it suffers from a glaring problem — it ignores reality's true complexity. As such, it ignores a fact every other developed nation has figured out long ago.

If a state wishes either to become or remain stable and productive, that state must invest in its people. A state that fails to invest in its people — in the form of quality education, health care and social services for the needy — is a state doomed to failure.

We needn't look long and hard for confirmation. Look through the list of developed nations and pay attention to how they achieved their high standards of living. In every case, without exception, those states invested not only in business, which is also essential, but in its people.

Oregon will be hit hard by the new tax law, where we already struggle to provide quality education for our students. We rank 39th in educational achievement and own one of the worst high school drop-out rates in the country (third from the bottom, incidentally).

In an economy rapidly moving toward complex expertise, education is critical for maintaining a solid middle class. We need to do better at educating our kids, but with an ever-dwindling federal budget to work with, things may get worse before they get better.

The dystopia Republicans have set up for us with their tax law is a state that invests as minimally as possible in its people so the few can amass more wealth than any individual really needs. Adding insult to injury, the tax law was written to make the tax cuts for the middle class temporary, while the cuts for the wealthy and corporations are permanent. When our taxes go up in a few years, they will remain historically low for the people who should be paying the most. Now ask yourself, who does this fantasy really serve?

Aaron Andrew Greer is a professor of anthropology at Pacific University who conducts research on work and the state in the West Indies.


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