Class War in America: the Book
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Workers of America, Unite!
Because Conservatives Already Have, and
They Own Congress and the Presidency
In his classic book, Whatever Became of Sin?, Karl Menninger equated mental health with moral health. After referring to Arnold Toynbee’s observation that “all the great historic philosophies and religions have been concerned, first and foremost, with the overcoming of egocentricity,” he went on to conclude:
Egocentricity is one name for it. Selfishness, narcissism, pride, and other terms have been used. But neither the clergy nor the behavioral scientists, including psychiatrists, have made it an issue. The popular leaning is away from notions of guilt and morality…. Disease and treatment have been the watchwords of the day and little is said about selfishness or guilt or the “morality gap.” And certainly no one talks about sin! 1
If the clergy and behavioral scientists are leaning away from notions of morality, what can one expect of those whose professions are primarily concerned with personal power and wealth? Consider Dan Seligman’s previous rationale for “deep-sixing” the word “greed” (see Part 3). Similar justifications for greed and materialism are spoken or published almost daily in the mass media.
The rationale seems to be that “greed is what made our country successful,” “greed is responsible for the greatest economy mankind has ever developed,” and “greed is the essence of capitalism.”
None of which is true. As Toynbee and the world’s mainstream religions have concluded, in one form or another, greed is one of the seven deadly sins—and for good reason. It eventually destroys human organizations and societies. If unchecked, it will destroy our capitalistic system.
Apologists for America’s wealthy and powerful deliberately confuse greed with a normal, healthy, self-interest. Self-interest is the necessary motivation that enables a person to provide for the welfare of himself and his family—adequate housing, food, education, health care, a good sense of values, and so on.
But self-interest becomes greed, as any dictionary defines the term, when it becomes excessive: when it leads to behaviors that are dishonest, fraudulent, devious, deceptive, or manipulative. The people who made the United States the greatest and strongest country in the world were not greedy. They were dedicated to the ethical and moral standards of their professions or work. They succeeded in spite of, not because of, the greed of others. They overcame the negative and costly effects of greed on society:
§ They went into the medical profession because healing the sick was their calling, and patients’ care and welfare was their primary consideration.
§ They became journalists because they wanted to report the truth as objectively as possible, and—in the process of reporting what was actually happening in the world—most became liberals.
§ They went into business in order to provide a quality product or service for the public at the lowest possible price and with a decent return to themselves.
§ They went into politics in order to make our society a better place for everyone—which meant that they had to protect the free market from unscrupulous predators, and to uphold the rights of investors, workers, and the general public.
§ They worked as laborers in order to provide a decent living for themselves, and to do a responsible job of raising their families.
Since the mid-1970s, wealthy conservatives have pursued policies that have changed all that—at least for our most basic industries and businesses, for some of our most important professions, and, especially, for our political environment. Now, greed and materialism have replaced the virtues of fairness and justice. Profit, the bottom line, and personal wealth, in themselves, justify any kind of behavior as being morally acceptable:
§ Most of our basic manufacturing industries have either left the country or they have adopted employment and pay practices that place our country back in the pre-1930 era.
§ Big business has taken over the medical profession. They promote and give bonuses to the doctors and nurses who will give the stingiest care possible at the highest price. Naturally, they ignore patients who can’t pay. Medical professionals who uphold their traditional values may be fired or blackballed.
§ More people become journalists because they want to advance the interests of their conservative sponsors—the ones who financed their education, and can give them promotions, salary increases, power and prestige.
§ More people go into business only to make incredible amounts of money in the shortest possible time, and nothing is unethical if it improves the bottom line—or if a person can’t be convicted in a court of law.
§ More people go into politics in order to advance the interests of those who give them the most money, which automatically means that wealthy investors gain control of the markets, keep workers’ incomes as low as possible, and remove protections of the environment—and to hell with the rights of consumers, communities and the general public.
§ As a result of the above, laborers have to work in two or more jobs in order to provide a marginal living for their families. Too many of them have precious little time to do a responsible job of raising families.
The transfer of wealth and power from those who work to those who manage money, information, ideas, and people is just about complete. Investors, corporate executives, accountants, consultants, investment bankers, and related professionals now have the power to command almost unlimited incomes for themselves.
They do it by inserting themselves between those who produce products and services—workers, engineers, scientists, doctors, true “family farmers,” nurses, truck drivers, and so on—and the consumers of those products and services. At every step, from financing a new business venture to advising corporations about how to prevent unions, they take huge amounts of money for themselves and leave relatively little for those who are the true producers of wealth in our country.
It took conservatives at least 20 years to create this kind of political and economic system, although they’ve been working at it and making slow progress for the entire century. It also will take at least 20 years to reverse. It will be a long and difficult task, but it can be done.
First, a Non-Option
Those who value the kind of democratic capitalism that America had from the mid-1930s to the mid-’70s might be tempted to misplace their anger about what Republicans and conservative Democrats have done to this country.
Joining the right- or left-wing crazies who store weapons and plan to destroy the U.S. government, any of its buildings or any of its officials just shifts the problems from one bad form of government to an even worse form of government. At least the bad government we now have is democratically and peacefully elected.
There isn’t an identifiable militant fringe group in the country whose leaders have benevolent intent. Even if one of the more popular fringe groups ended up in power, most people wouldn’t want to live under its idea of government.
Instead, those who don’t like what is happening in this country must work for peaceful, political change. With all its faults, democratic capitalism is the best system mankind has come up with. Our country just has to regain the values and policies that made it great.
The #1 Priority
There are all kinds of valid ways to improve a society. Some emphasize personal action: organizing workers, teaching values to children, volunteer work, conserving energy, donating to charity, writing letters to the editor and so on. These are important, but they pale in comparison to getting the right persons into political office, especially at the federal level—because the federal level affects what happens at the state and local levels.
If national labor laws are biased against unions, it’s almost impossible to organize workers, as the “right-to-work” states have amply demonstrated. When an individual buys and drives a compact car, he pollutes the air less, but his impact is overwhelmed by the fleets of SUVs that our national and state laws allow and even encourage. Private donations to charity certainly help the poor and are necessary, but as the great depression proved, in a real economic crunch private charity will last for a few months at best.
The basis for meaningful change—the change that allows further positive changes to occur—is an informed, politically active public that votes the right people into office in the first place. So,
1. As a general rule, and barring unusual circumstances, never, ever, vote for a Republican, anywhere, for anything—even for the proverbial dog catcher. All the Republicans voted against the 1993 Deficit Reduction legislation. Misguided voters who thought they were voting for moderate Republicans in 1994 and ’96 actually, in effect, gave more power to their anti-worker right-wing Congressional leaders.
Qualification: I know an exceptional Republican—who once was an Illinois politician—who I would vote for every time. But, again, barring similar unusual considerations, the general rule applies.
2. Vote for a conservative Democrat only if there are no other realistic choices, and if a non-vote would result in a win for a Republican.
3. In the primaries, pick a traditional, liberal Roosevelt/Truman-style Democrat who has a realistic chance of winning over a conservative Democrat.
4. Always vote for a progressive populist if one is available. A few Democrats fit the bill, but not many. Maybe the next economic downturn and its accompanying problems will encourage more Democrats to remember what their party used to stand for, and why.
It’s easy to identify the progressive populists who believe in the kind of liberal Roosevelt/Truman-style democratic capitalism that we had from the 1930s to the ’80s. Progressive populists:
§ Support a progressive income tax (higher taxes for those who have benefited most from the sacrifices forced upon working Americans)—versus those who want to reduce inheritance, capital gains, and real estate taxes for the wealthy.
§ Support a reduction in regressive taxes, such as sales and social security taxes—versus those who support flat taxes and increases in sales taxes, which hit low- and middle-income citizens the hardest.
§ Support laws that protect the rights of workers to collectively negotiate for wages and humane working conditions through their organized unions—versus those who use their power to destroy unions and decent working conditions.
§ Believe that world trade can be truly free only when it is managed. That is, businesses with high moral standards—those who respect workers, the environment and the public—must be protected from unprincipled competitors, and be able to compete on a level playing field.
§ Work to improve relations between cultural subgroups—versus those who use code words and divisive rhetoric to drive wedges between them. Progressive populists are interested in justice and in improving conditions for all Americans. This is what separates them from some of the so-called populists who want to demagogue their way into political power.
§ Work to improve the environment—rather than corporate bottom-lines—so our descendants will be able to survive beyond the next 20 years.
§ Recognize that it is always cheaper and more efficient to prevent our nation’s problems from growing than to ignore them until it is too late to take effective action. Progressive populists believe that proactive problem solving is preferable, and ultimately more cost effective for the taxpayer, than cutting taxes for the wealthy.
In other words, progressive populists actually believe in government. They recognize that no private organization has as its charter the obligation to solve social problems—only our democratically elected government does.
Now Is the Time
The revered guru of modern corporate philosophy, Milton Friedman, posed and answered his famous question: “So the question is, do corporate executives, provided they stay within the law, have responsibilities in their business activities other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible? And my answer is, no they do not.” This is one of the most frequently quoted justifications for greed that today’s corporate executives cite.
Face it. Unless there is a profit in it, corporate executives not only feel no responsibility for how their actions and decisions affect average Americans or their local communities—they sanctimoniously claim a moral superiority for holding such selfish values.
An effective government—with honest, not-paid-for politicians—is our only defense against corporate executives who have no moral standards for the treatment of workers or the general public.
So, prepare to participate in political discussions and to influence the ways other people vote by reading the news pages of The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Barron’s and Business Week. Their news reports are fairly accurate and can’t help revealing what corporate America and our right-wing politicians are doing to workers at all levels. Read their editorial pages and opinion pieces for entertainment only; they are so violently anti-worker, anti-government, anti-tax-on-the-rich, and pro-corporation, it’s hard to see how anyone can take them seriously. (Don’t support these conservative publications by actually buying them; they’re in most libraries and the Journal can be found lying around almost anywhere.)
The recommendations about voting may seem a bit dogmatic and extreme. Not at all. Conservative politicians have made such inroads into the American psyche that they’ve become outrageously overconfident. They don’t even try to disguise their pro-business, anti-worker biases anymore.
As the materials throughout this book demonstrate, their behaviors have become blatant to the point of recklessness, and they’ve done almost irreparable harm, not only to working-class Americans, but also to one of the greatest economies ever developed in history.
The voting public needs to send a message. Now.
Now go to: