Why Are We So Darn Hard Up?
by Bob Henderson
Do you wonder why our national, state and city governments are so hard up, why, despite heavy borrowing, there’s never enough money to pay for better schools, healthcare for our poorest families, repairs our infrastructure so badly needs? Do you wonder why too many children, in this richest nation in history, must go to bed hungry?
If you want answers to these questions, I suggest you read “Opposing the System” by Charles A. Reich. You may remember an earlier book by Reich that attracted national attention, “The Greening of America.” Reich has remarkable power to analyze and explain forces in our society that we can only suspect.
Today, America is much less “the land of the free” than our founders ever intended. But government is not the villain.
Reich correctly points out we live under two governments, the governments we elect, which guarantee us such rights as freedom of speech, and the economic government, the “system” that controls much more about our lives and denies us such freedoms as speech. Think about it. If you work for a business, large or small, are you always free to speak your mind?
Conservatives accuse Democrats and progressives of being philosophically committed to a large, cradle to grave government. But Reich says our government grew only in response to the unhealthy power great wealth possesses over our lives.
You know from history that the progressive movement was born when Teddy Roosevelt was president and huge monopolies were so completely indifferent to the physical safety and financial security of the laboring class.
TR, then later his distant cousin, Franklin, attempted to respond to this unfairness in our society by passing laws and regulations to protect working Americans and help see to it they received a fairer share of the great wealth America was creating. The progressive movement reached its apex, Reich says, during the New Deal.
During those years, labor unions gained the power of collective bargaining. This countered the power of corporations to regard individuals simply as units of labor they could fire at will, and then replace, when needed, from the always present pool of the unemployed.
However, except for the civil rights advances following World War 2 and continuing to the present, this “system” of great corporations and concentrations of wealth has been chipping away at the temporary economic gains achieved by working Americans. Today, the “system” has attained its greatest power over our lives in a century, and this has created a malady that affects our nation and all our lives.
How did this happen? What do the owners of giant corporations want? At its core, the answer is not complicated. They want control.
In the past three decades, we have seen mergers that formerly would have been illegal. These mergers have created huge financial enterprises that control every aspect of their business objectives, vertically and horizontally. Unions have been so weakened that today they represent only a small fraction of the total American workforce.
Further, these mammoth enterprises have developed an elaborate system of lobbyists and political contributions that influence every governmental body and agency across our land. This power has produced laws that favor ever-greater concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few at the top. Once again, America’s workers are being reduced to the status of units of labor, with little or no say over the economic course of their lives.
In the name of free enterprise, America has created a “system” that is anything but free. It is controlled by and for the benefit of the wealthy corporations and Americans that our government seems powerless, or is it only unwilling, to compel to pay their fair share.
That’s where the money has gone, and that’s why we’re broke.
I will write more about the “system” next.