Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What We Take For Granted - We can Lose

A Libertarian Paradise

Since this is an election year, I thought that I would write up a political piece stating my opinions on the state of the nation. I believe that our middle class existence is threatened not by outside forces, or minorities, or immigrants, or religious zealots, but by the greedy and ruthless plutocrats who seek to be the sole power and determinant force in this country. Only We, the People, can overturn this terrible crisis put upon us by regressive political forces, and democratically push the political establishment to once again represent all of the people. We are all tied together in an invisible bond of nationalism - we are all Americans. But what many might not understand is that whatever happens to some of us affects all of us. Being divided by race, economic station, ethnic origin, religion, region, gender, or sexual preference will only make us easier to control and manipulate by those who care nothing about our collective fate. Politics does impact Pagans, Witches and magical practitioners. We should never be victimized by our choices, or lack of choices. Therefore, please consider your options and vote in the primaries and the in general election this fall.  

Perhaps one of the biggest issues facing Americans in the early 21st century is the fact that we are living in a time of great inequality and an accelerating contraction of the middle class. Our country is becoming an oligarchy of wealthy patrons who appear to have a greater influence on what passes for governance and legislation than what we have seen since the 1920's. This country was supposedly one that established its government by the people and for the people, but it seems that it is now by the wealthy and for the wealthy. Libertarian altitudes seem to be nothing more than a selfish antisocial desire to freeze the status-quo and eliminate the government sponsored leveled-playing field between businesses and the rest of the 98%. This attitude can be summed up by the simple phrase, “I’ve got mine, and the hell with the rest of you!”

White people who were once part of the privileged middle class are now finding themselves at the whims of powerful forces that they neither comprehend nor control. We are experiencing a kind of underlying unifying integration between races, creeds, and ethnic cultures, but the forces of fear and prejudice have returned to divide us into warring factions. It is a time of economic contraction and decline, where the younger generations are saddled with massive education debt and the forces of automation, labor force reductions and increased productivity have eliminated the prospect of good paying career jobs for all. It has, in effect, produced a situation where the connected and otherwise fortunate are the only ones who are benefiting, the rest are put into a precarious social and economic condition. It is a time when the younger generations will not be able to exceed the ambitions and expectations of their parents or grandparents. It is also a time that I never thought I would live to see - but it is now becoming a reality.

Not all is doom and gloom - there is hope for change and the possibility of a peaceful populist political uprising that will change the status-quo so that the economic inequalities and lack of justice for all can be overturned and replaced with a more sensible and just system. We have the power to make changes and to fashion a better world for everyone, but we also have obstacles to overcome. People’s fears and prejudices are probably the biggest obstacle because they obscure the real problems impacting our lives today.

The reason why all of this is happening now is because over the many years since WWII we became complacent and forgot how the middle class was built in the first place. We have forgotten that our forebears fought terrible social battles so that they could force the corporations and the wealthy elite to give them a livable wage. They fought for a 40 hour workweek, overtime compensation, unemployment benefits, health benefits, workplace safety, paid vacation, paid sick leave and retirement benefits. At the time these seemed like egregious and impossible demands that would destroy our economy, and they were fought tooth and nail by the corporate owners and the financial elites.

Now, after many years of enjoying these benefits, we have grown accustomed to having them, not realizing that they were given to us grudgingly. That if a way could be found to acquire cheaper labor, corporations were bound to discard their contract with the American Middle Class and force them to accept less and less over time. It is not an accident that this has happened, in fact it is the long term plan of a powerful and wealthy cartel who have pushed a regressive counter social revolution.

What built the middle class did not come from the generosity or humanistic tendencies of the corporations and businesses that employ people. It came from many years of social strife and actual bloody battles between labor unions and corporations. Still, the middle class didn’t really find its true foundation until after the end of the most terrible economic calamity that ever befell the world - the Great Depression. It took an economic collapse to force these changes, where the common people found themselves without any means of either sustaining themselves let alone elevating themselves. It was a time when a large percentage of the population either experienced complete abject poverty and unemployment or the contraction of their wages.

The government failed to do much about this calamity, so the people elected a new government that would actively seek to mitigate the problems that the Great Depression had caused. It was the first time that the government allied itself with labor in order to build a more just economic environment for the common people. The new president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Keynesian economic policies that he employed were called the “New Deal.” Some of the programs that he tried failed, but others were successful. Social Security was one of programs that he signed into law that is still popular and relevant today. Yet when it was first proposed it was rejected and denigrated by the upper classes as a policy that would bankrupt the country. (This also happened when Medicare was signed into law.) Now we couldn’t imagine life without it, but it was hotly contested, as were all other progressive policies.

Perhaps the most enduring social contract was that which was fostered between the federal government and labor unions. Whatever criticism one might make against this relationship, or the supposed problematic corruption of powerful labor unions, that relationship was the one force that helped to build the middle class. After WWII, the power of labor unions continued to grow, and their support and influence was courted by politicians from both parties. That lasted through the sixties.

Ironically, this decade of the 1950's was the supposed golden age that many movement conservatives talk about incessantly. Yet they never seem to mention the fact that the immediate post-war era was marked by the power of labor unions who ensured that the workers under their stewardship were properly represented and received the best labor deals that could be achieved. There was a greater sharing of corporate profits between the corporate owners and the workers because the unions held the power of strikes and labor stoppages if the corporate owners didn’t give their employees a fair deal. This threat often had to be backed up with the drama of strikes, but a close examination of the demands that unions raised were typically reasonable and appropriate. They were a powerful counter weight against the inherent greed and avarice of the wealthy power elite.

All of the rights and privileges that we take for granted today were forged during that period, and it created an overall cooperative environment between the forces of the wealthy elite (the owners and bankers) and the common laborers. Government institutions made certain that corporations cooperated with labor unions, and they established laws that enforced a fair working environment free of exploitation. It wasn’t a perfect system, and sometimes there were dramatic fights between organized labor and corporate owners and managers. However, it was considered such an important element of the overall social contract that the U.S. enforced this kind of contract on the defeated enemies of WWII, most notably Japan and what became West Germany. As long as the government maintained a watchful eye and enforced national and local labor laws, the corporations grudgingly fulfilled their social obligation.

Everyone made a living wage, and the top salaries and compensations given to corporate owners and large stock holders were not considerably greater than the humblest worker. Tax rates for the highest earners were steep, but the government used that money to make the country better, such as building the super highway system, investing in the infrastructure, crafting the next generation of technology during the space race, and building up the most powerful military in the world. This was the source of the American Dream, that the government provided the people a level playing field and that labor unions and businesses worked together to ensure social and economic justice for everyone. As the 1960's passed into the 1970's, social and economic justice became something that nearly every person, including and especially minorities, sought to achieve. Naively, it seemed like this was something that we could all achieve, and that everyone was on-board to achieve it.

It wasn’t a perfect system, and in fact, there were many problems and social issues that seemed to boil over during that time. However, there was a powerful sense of hope despite setbacks and retrenchments. America proceeded, steadily but also at times, stumbling, into the future, all with seemingly endless possibilities near at hand.

However, the dream of equity and cooperation between labor and business owners quietly receded sometime during the late 1970's. I recall the president at the time talking about the national malaise during a televised speech. He seemed to be saying that many of the social levels of the people in our country were infected with this malaise. Yet what was really happening, unbeknown to us (and the president), was the institution of a powerful counter movement based on conservative ideals, but truly fueled by greed and the lust for absolute political power.

These conservative politicians and intellectuals had begun the work of reversing everything that had been put into place by progressive policies. They said that the government was too powerful and too intrusive, and that what we really needed was for business to be unfettered and unrestricted. They promised that a new golden age would dawn if these various Libertarian and social conservative policies were put into place. They also vilified the unions and said that they were too powerful, and that they caused businesses to be hamstrung by excessive demands and arbitrary labor stoppages. They claimed that unions were corrupted and tainted by contacts with organized crime, and in some cases they were correct, but all institutions, including corporations, were susceptible to forms of corruption. 

Unions were an integral part of the ability for labor to collectively bargain with corporations, and as they were weakened, it allowed for cheaper non-union labor to take their place. Perhaps a dramatic representation of this process can be found in the construction trades, once the bedrock of the labor union movement. As the power of unions was dissolved and overturned, non-union employees became the norm. Ultimately, construction worker roles, especially unskilled, were filled by migrants and perhaps, even illegal ones. The need for ever cheaper labor drove out the higher paid union workers and replaced them with migrant workers. However, to blame the migrants for this situation is patently ridiculous since it was the desire for cheap labor that allowed it to occur.

Businesses moved their factories to southern states that were more friendly to corporations and hostile to union organizations. As time went on, manufacturing was even off-shored and outsourced completely outside of our nation to other countries. This became a continuous process aided and abetted by the corporately influenced government, which ultimately pulled money out of the country and dissolved much of the manufacturing infrastructure. What fueled it was the ever rapacious need for greater profits, which meant that the labor costs had to be reduced considerably. America became a country of financial and service industries, while the manufacturing sector dwindled to a fraction of what it had once been. There were still jobs, but they had become either poorly paying unskilled service jobs or highly paying professional careers. The only bright spot was the IT industry, but some elements of that industry had to compete worldwide for labor costs, so it, too, was subject to off-shoring.

Then, due to an unprecedented orgy of greed and shady dealings, the Wall Street banks caused a catastrophic economic downturn that nearly collapsed the economy. The government bailed out Wall Street, but was kept from doing much to help the millions of people who lost their investments and savings, as stocks and bonds took a terrible beating. Changes were put into place to try and keep such a perilous misadventure from happening again, but the legislation was flawed, purposely weakened by special interests and it wasn’t able to really address what actually caused the problem. While the economy improved and things seemed to get back on track, millions of people either remained unemployed or took service jobs that didn’t pay as much as the jobs they had previously. Inequality grew even greater, but there were forces already in play that made certain that the government wouldn’t be able to help those who really needed help. The government bailed out Wall Street, but failed to help out Main Street, because the conservative forces were selfishly arrayed against such an effort. Perhaps the most astonishing thing that occurred was the level of contempt, disregard and disrespect given to the president by his political foes. This was fueled more by the inherent racial prejudice that they secretly espoused than because of his moderate policies.  

So, here we are, in the present times. We face many daunting challenges, but there are also many possible opportunities for us as well. There are remarkable inventions and new technologies available to those who can afford them, but our social contract between government, labor and corporations is broken. We face an uncertain future without any government institution or social action organization to fight for our rights as citizens and as laborers. We have mostly lost the unions that would have advocated for us, and the profound and unchecked greed of the 1% seems to have achieved a powerful stranglehold on all aspects of life. The greatest obstacle facing our country is the corrupting influence of the elite wealthy donors who have taken our political system hostage, and who have changed the laws to benefit them at our expense.

What we need to remember is how our grandparents achieved the wonderful benefits of the middle class life. We need to once again focus our attention on political processes and to fight so that the seemingly indelible bond between the wealthy elite and the government is broken before it becomes a permanent feature of our lives. There is much more work that needs to be done. We need to evolve our perceptions so that universal healthcare becomes a right, and that higher education becomes either free or very affordable again. We need to ensure that social and economic justice is equally available to all, and that the playing field for economic opportunity is fair and accessible. We have lost the American Dream for the moment, but we must understand that only progressive policies can build on the dwindling middle class - to enlarge it, preserve it and make it a basic economic right for all citizens of this nation.

What we don’t need now is another oligarch running for president or some movement conservative foisting their bad policies and social conservative ideals upon us. We also don’t need the mendacious Neocons pushing us to start yet another war in the Middle East. The policies, social prejudices and military misadventures of the Republican party is exactly what has gotten us into the political and economic difficulty that we currently face. What we need is a more progressive political approach to reverse the damage that has been inflicted on us, not more Libertarian self-centeredness.

If this sounds like I am in the tank for Bernie Sanders, then so be it. 

Frater Barrabbas

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU so much Frater for this wonderful post. It is important that Witches and magicians focus on the political realities that affect our lives and that of countries and the world.

    Some good and accurate analysis here. THANKS :)