This is a country that has created some of the greatest industries and the greatest fortunes in the history of the world.
In 1883 Thomas Edison and many others began the age of electricity, lighting homes and powering the enormous scope of machines, appliances and useful devices. By the turn of the 21st Century we had progressed from electricity and combustion motor vehicles to hand held computers and literal space ships that took us to the moon.
Every step along that journey led to riches for someone. We became the richest country in the world…not by hoarding, cheating on taxes and selling worthless little bits of paper to unsuspecting investors. We had names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, DuPont, Sloan, Farnsworth, DuMont, Sarnoff, Curtis, Gruman, Packard, Watson, Wozniak, Jobs and Gates and so many others who built industries on the needs of consumers and business and the advancements of technology and science.
All these large corporations and leaders had one thing in common. They created businesses that offered the principal benefit of advancing society’s needs while creating large-scale employment for Americans. This benefited individuals but also benefited society as a whole.
The profit motive clearly worked. The incentive of individual opportunity for profit over and above costs, enabled these companies to grow larger and faster than had ever been experienced in history. America built a society on the capitalist system. And in its best iteration, it became benevolent capitalism. It created social networks that gradually enabled all its citizens to participate in the benefits of their individual hard work, even if they personally did not keep the profits.
We created the public school system and a system of state universities, public health and incentives for private organization to build non-profit institutions such as hospitals and cultural centers. But when this was taking place, the country was small by today’s standards. We had only about 150 million people by 1960, not enough to fill out our entire continent, though the dynamics of the economy on the coasts and some major metropolitan areas made it seem larger.
Today, we have over 300 million citizens and the opportunities for consumers are almost limitless. Consider franchising. Millions of people are employed feeding other people. And the owners of most of those establishments are local entrepreneurs. Forget whether the food is good or healthy or the jobs are good. The point is that only the fact of a very large population makes it possible to have so many different types and varieties of small businesses. We have a large and active consumer society, even in a major downturn.
On the other hand, 2010 was totally different from 1910. In those days the Edisons and the Bells looked to this country for both customers and workers. Today, many of our major corporations look outside the United States, while accepting so many of the benefits of a society that was built on the backs of these industrial pioneers. We are so accustomed to the daily use of these basic inventions that we almost forget that at one time each was only a concept in one man’s mind.
Today, we create fewer products and make a smaller number of innovations in America that generate large-scale industries. We create fewer jobs. That began to change in the 1980s and it was a serious mistake. It is a mistake that no other advanced country in the world has made. Europeans and Asian look at our folly. They smile in disbelief as they quietly watch us grant them more favorable competitive positions in return for selling out our middle class.
Life is not complicated. Things are often exactly what they appear. Corporations who ask for huge tax breaks and send jobs to China instead of Youngstown are often doing exactly what it appears….making huge profits by using cheap labor. Those profits are not channeled back into society any more than jobs are. It appears to be about enriching the corporate class. And it is not more complicated than it appears. That is what’s happening.
We have channeled that money, which is simply too much for the average rich family to spend, even after every luxury and every last wish has been granted—into Wall Street. We do not make things here any longer, because those profits are not as high as those that can be made by hiring serfs and peons in other parts of the world. Yet we do not regularly scale our prices back to what they should be. We simply tack on more profit which goes to the owners, the top one percent of society.
Then we have the oil industry, the greatest robber barons in the history of our country and perhaps in the history of the world. Certainly they are, without question, the worst citizens ever to live in the United States. The entire world of science…real scientists…have told us that a.) we are running out of oil, and b.) the burning of oil and coal is sending large amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere. This is changing our climate.
But not only do the oil companies fight this. They don’t disagree. You can’t disagree with the fact that the sun comes up every morning. You may like the darkness and rail against the light, but when the light comes, you cannot deny its being there. Not only do they fight this, but they do everything possible to retard the progress of solutions to what is rapidly becoming a disaster, and doing so only…the only reason…is to make literally hundreds of billions of dollars of profit each year.
Like the tobacco companies, they have hired public relations firms and lobbyists and spent hundreds of millions of their billions of profit…not like the Carnegies and the Rockefellers or Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, to create better things for society…but to try to impoverish and eliminate the Middle Class.
So they channel their vast wealth not even into domestic jobs but into mathematical formulas in Wall Street investment firms to predict and to calculate how to make a dime seem worth a dollar. When they succeed, their new industry is merely sell that dime to you for a dollar, make a profit, and squirrel that profit away while you lose ninety cents.
In other words, their mentality has become one of trading securities that already have some value but not creating new securities by building new companies. Their entire lives are now spent in circular profit, like musical chairs. The last one holding the security loses and everyone else moves to a new place and starts over again. Nothing of value is ever created.
Under this system, sooner or later, everything collapses. You sell a house worth $100,000 for $150,000. If there is no real value added, then the $50,000 is meaningless. When that house is sold again for another $50,000, the now $200,000 house is worth relatively even less. Sooner or later, when it must sell, and someone says that they cannot pay that amount, the price begins to fall, and when it does…when they all do…the whole system of commissions and bonuses and salaries and equities built on false value collapses.
This is what happened in 2008, by which time every vestige of common sense and regulatory control had been removed by Bush, Cheney, Greenspan, Cox and the entire Neoconservative movement. The ability to act freely, let markets decide, let people make their own decisions, unhampered by regulations, proved only one thing.
People are imperfect. Some have criminal minds, some have innocent minds, and some have no minds at all. The criminal minds, in this case the Neoconservatives, prey on the innocent…the poor who think that corporations are there to help them…and the middle class who want to gain a leg up. And particularly when the Republicans were squeezing out more profits and tax breaks for the rich, they needed to find some little nest egg for retirement. The Wall Street predators knew this and attacked the appropriate weakness.
Today, instead of those large corporations who rose to prominence as the largest structures in the communities where they grew, we have huge corporations who only want to control society. They do not want to be the largest dog in the pound. They want to own the pound and decide where the small dogs will stay…maybe out on the street…and what they will eat and whether they can survive at all.
The large corporations today have no consciences. There are few corporations truly motivated to create a better America. There is no evidence of it whatsoever. Oh, yes, there is charity. In business, there is a line on the accounting sheet for that. It is called “charitable contributions” and it is listed under tax deductions.
The answer you will get from corporations if you challenge their motives…and there is no question about this…is “would you rather we not do it?” If you don’t let us have tax breaks, we will shut down. Then you will lose all the jobs. If you do not let us hire most of the people abroad we will lay off more people here.
If you do not let us bring products free into this country then we will raise prices so high that you will lose corporations and jobs. It is all about control. There is never, not once, not ever…the discussion of any sacrifice to be shared by the top 1% of Americans with the other 99% of Americans, the ones who actually do the work. That is the kind of arrogant conceit you will find among major corporations once you scratch the shiny surface.
It is like the challenge to medical doctors. If you don’t like our system, “why don’t you move to France, or Switzerland or Spain?” In other words, if we normal citizens don’t like the system that does very well for them, then why don’t we move away? And what if we all dislike the system? Who would be left for doctors to treat? The doctors like the current system because it does very well for them.
And why wouldn’t one like a system that makes them wealthy by controlling the number of doctors graduated every year, so that the same number of doctors probably graduated from medical school at your university from 1950 to 1980, despite the fact that the medical school’s community, like all others in the U.S., grew by about 50% over that time. Of the 14,000 resident openings in the U.S., 7,000 used to be filled by foreign doctors, doctors from foreign universities. It is probably the same proportion today.
We need to change the attitude of the medical community. They are bright, but not so bright as they see themselves. They do special work, but often not so special as it seems to, say, nurses who have much less respect and about 70% of the same skills and education. There is no justifiable reason for the arrogance that says, we must continue to monopolize decisions in medicine.
Having said that, even with the arrogance of some, even those physicians work very hard, often stressfully, and they must stay as up to date as possible…with far more need to do so and far more responsibility than most people in even the most complex professions. We are dealing with lives and that is a sacred trust that, on the whole, doctors handle with exceptional integrity.
There is another kind of arrogance, not borne of education, intelligence or skill. It is the arrogance of the simply rich. It is the arrogance of the top 1% of which now earn half of all income. In particular we mean the CEOs and the top executives and corporate attorneys and owners of inherited corporations.
It is the arrogance of those who run the large segments of the oil, chemical, pharmaceutical, insurance, mining, timber companies and the media corporations who support them. These are the guys, making 400 times what the average worker earns. They insure that their high salaries will continue by increasing profits they made from sending your job overseas.
We have 310 million people. The top one percent is 3.1 million people. They make half of all earned income. The other 50% or 160 million people share the other half. The average American income is something like $40,000. The average top one percent income is over a million a year, every year.
In itself there is actually nothing wrong with that. Maybe only a few people actually need a million bucks a year to live on, but what’s wrong with someone’s earning that much? Nothing. It’s very American. The problem is not the money; it is what happens after the money is made.
If you make 100 dollars and I make 10 dollars, that’s fine. But if you can only make 101 dollars by taking a dollar from me, so that I make only 9 dollars, and you don’t need or can’t spend that extra dollar, but you do it just because you can….that is bad for society.
And that is where a large number of our corporations are today. A man like Rupert Murdoch, for example, started his business by publishing sleazy tabloid newspapers that were filled with lies and sexual innuendo and trashed society. But they were appealing to a certain kind of person…and there were a lot of those kinds of people, as it turned out.
But Rupert Murdoch was not satisfied with mind-bendingly stupid, sleazy tabloid papers. He was not, it turned out, just trying to make a buck, or a billion bucks. He is by nature that kind of ugly, sleazy scummy kind of person himself. Consequently, he turns everything he touches into a sickening tabloid-like venture. It is all he knows.
At some point, people say, wait a minute. This is going a little too far. But here’s where our current society has collapsed. What Rupert Murdoch discovered was what Dean Baker worried about, although he discussed it in economic terms.
Murdoch discovered that when society pushed back at him, he could find enough accomplices in society…rich men, bigots, religious fanatics, disgruntled Southern segregationists, White Supremacists, bigoted gun owners, perverse oil and mining executives, gun manutacturers and many in the military, especially the cadre from the South who say that they hate big government but have lived off the government for several generations. And who now spend $700 billion of taxpayer money every year.
Similarly, when big oil and chemical companies polluted air or water or when mining companies ignored safety rules or blew off the tops of mountains and deposited all that toxic stuff into streams in Kentucky and Pennsylvania and West Virginia…they found allies. They corralled and paid off gun owners, disgruntled workers, some poor whites, some religious nuts. They paid them off or persuaded them, using their friend Murdoch’s media, that it was, in fact, big government somehow doing the damage, despite the name of the corporation on the side of the trucks.
When health insurance companies and hospitals, which now charge about $20,000 for a one-day stay, raised prices four to five times as fast as inflation, for the last ten years…what did that mean? It meant that your real income was going down while your health care costs were going up.
If your salary was $40,000 and inflation was costing you 2% then your real income was only $39,200. If your health care costs were $4,800, then the next 3 years they were 10% more per year, you were still making only $39,200, but your health care cost you $7,600. Pretty soon, as health care costs go up every year, and as you are asked to pick up more of the costs rather than get a raise, you are losing money faster than you can make it.
So you try to pick up more equity in your home for some security there. You borrow more on credit cards. If you lose a job or if you have a major illness for which you are not covered….and right now, 50 million Americans have no coverage…you could easily go bankrupt. As someone in the middle income level, you might never recover.
And that was the good news. That’s what was happening before the crash. That was going on before 14.9 million people went on unemployment. Now life is completely different. We have about one of ten people unemployed and, as we can see from the events in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey (of all places), Indiana, Florida, Rhode Island and Texas…the middle class government worker is under heavy attack.
Government work was always the last resort or the resort of two specific kinds of people. People who happen to want to do that specific kind of job. And people who care more about security and a long-term view of life, particularly a simple family life, than about getting rich. One of the hallmarks that made that possible was a guaranteed job, as long as it was performed as required, and a guaranteed minimal, but livable pension.
The American government under the current wave of Repubolican governors has broken that bond between those loyal government workers and the state governments. Under Bush, with the Republican emphasis on tax cuts and outsourcing and corporate headquarters moving abroad, state government funds began to dwindle. State governments, in recessionary times, did not have the money to balance the books.
So they borrowed from the state employees. That was when times were supposedly good. Now, when times are bad, they want to cut out the entire package of employee benefits so that they don’t have to pay them back. Furthermore, they want to eliminate union bargaining on this point or anything else.
Having ruined the private domestic economy, the Neoconservatives now want to ruin the public domestic economy. Having ruined the lives of workers in private industry, they are now attacking public workers of all kinds. Having removed 4 million jobs to Asia, they now want to cut back on public services for the middle class…even education…which is almost beyond imagination in this country.
We were the leaders in public education in the world, the country on which so many other countries, emerging nations, modeled their educational systems. Now most of those countries have passed us in education. And that is before all these ridiculous cuts.
We don’t need more tax cuts, especially for those in the top half of the income spectrum. Instead we need more taxpayers. We need to stop importing cheap crap from Asia and make things for our own domestic market. In 1955, 32% of the working force was unionized and we made almost everything for our domestic economy right here in the United States.
In 1960, three out of ten people worked in manufacturing in the U.S. Today, that number is one in twelve. In 1980, 80% of products in the U.S. were made here. Today it is estimated at 55%. Some of this is because of advances in technology and manufacturing. Some is because of outsourcing. In fact 3.2 million manufacturing jobs, one in six of those employed in manufacturing have disappeared since 2000.
In attacking the 9% of Americans who work in government, the Neocons think that they can use government pensions, which are the reasons that many took these jobs in the first place, as a wedge issue against workers in the private sector. It won’t fly. The fact is that unionized government workers have been giving back wages and benefits for years, even before the Bush Financial Crash of 2008-2009.
Moreover, according to economic experts, if pension funds had earned normal interest rates in the years since the crash, they would be worth over $850 billion more than they are now. Pension shortfalls are not the fault of the pensioners. They have been doing what they were supposed to do and not gathering huge windfalls. In fact, much of the losses in pension funds were the result of cutbacks in employer (government) contributions.
The idea that we can balance state governments on the backs of teachers, nurses, firemen and cops while billionaires and multi-millionaires get tax cuts is preposterous. It will not stand. The marches and demonstrations must continue.
The organization and action groups must continue. Donations must increase and participation increase, in greater and greater numbers up to the 2012 elections. We must recall people like Governor Walker, Governor Kasich and Governor Scott. These people are Corporatist Neocons who only seek the ruin of the middle class.
Remember this: Americans for Prosperity is a front group for the billionaire oil and chemical polluters, the Koch family, Charles and David Koch. They see this merely as a political battle to win more anti-regulation House members, governors and state legislators to do away with taxes, regulations, investigators and national government officials.
Koch Industries is one of the most heavily penalized and largest polluters in the world. They believe, just as with this government union negotiation issue, that they can do whatever they want by buying off a man like Scott Walker and any number of members of his state legislature.
They have their Americans for Prosperity (Tea Party) members all over Wisconsin, with funds, $40 million nationwide, ready to be used to start protests, organize polls and do whatever possible to bring down those, like the unions, who can successfully oppose them.
They have gone pretty far towards their ultimate goal. If they had not, Scott Walker would not be Governor of Wisconsin and Russ Feingold would still be Senator from Wisconsin. If they can break the unions they, not the American middle class, will be in control of the media and the majority of unthinking Americans, who will vote any way they are led. That would be…for certain…the end of the American Dream.