Now that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have been removed from Zuccotti park in Manhattan, I hope the issues they raised don’t get thrown under the bus and forgotten.
Throughout my life, and at all levels of my education, I’d been taught that Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive ideas helped save America from the excesses of capitalism, i.e., sweat shops, company stores, child labor, and oppressive labor practices and wages. Now, for the first time, I’m seeing TR’s policies portrayed as an obstruction to supply and demand, free trade, and letting the free markets decide – as if these hallmarks of capitalism were indisputably right and American.
TR fought against capitalism’s Darwinian survival of the fittest where the goal was to maximize profits and return value to the stockholder by crushing competition and grinding the faces of employees. If you think I’m exaggerating, read about the life of a factory worker in America during the 1800’s, before Roosevelt.
TR once said, “To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day." He believed that only the federal government was strong enough to battle the unleashed capitalists. Howard Taft, Roosevelt's successor, agreed. When President, he called the influence of big business on government ‘the most monstrous monopoly of power in the history of the world.”
Later Teddy Roosevelt’s ideas were to find their way into the platforms of Woodrow Wilson and FDR and remained a firm pillar in our government until they started to be dismantled during the ‘80s. If you doubt that the ‘80’s signaled a shift, you should check the figures on the growing disproportion of wealth between the American middle class and the immensely rich in this country.
· The middle class generation after WWII grew income 100%. However, from 1979 to 2005 (latest Budget Office numbers), middle class income grew a mere inflation adjusted 21%. During that same time, the average wealth of the top 100th of 1% of Americans grew 480%, from an inflation adjusted $4.2 million to $24.3 million.
· In 1950, the ratio of an executive’s salary to a worker’s salary in the same company was 30 to 1. Today it is 400 to 1.
· The bottom 50% of American income earners now collectively own less than 1% of the country’s wealth.
· Today, 40% of American workers are in typically low-paying service jobs – because manufacturing jobs in America are going the way of the dodo bird. With favorable tax loopholes negotiated by lobbyists and with complete freedom to take the money they earned in America and invest in foreign countries, capitalists – in their constant search for greater profits – are now asking American textile workers to compete with workers in China and Cambodia making 86 cents and 22 cents per hour respectively. Obviously, the textile manufacturing industry in America is dead. This is just one example.
But the strangest thing of all is that many in the rapidly shrinking middle class are defending the very policies that caused all this to happen. They have forgotten history. TR is now considered un-American because he fought against unbridled capitalism. The rhetoric of the super-rich and their apologists has done an amazingly good job of equating capitalism with the founding fathers, God, and the American way, and have warned that correcting capitalism’s flaws is engendering ‘class warfare’ – which nobody wants – preferring that the middle class put their hands in the air while the super rich punch them in the face and pick their pockets.
Next week, some new writing tips I just picked up. Unless I decide to continue this discussion. :).