BY VERN TURNER
Vice President Joe Biden recently was interviewed by Chris Matthews. In that interview, a great question came to Biden about how the Democrats have lost working-class white males over the last couple of decades. The answer was complex, but simple, too. He said that Democrats stopped engaging these people and took them for granted. He also said that Democrats indeed presented an elitist point of view regarding social status. They cited Ohio as the place where this phenomenon is most evident.
Ohio is my home state. I grew up just outside Cleveland, the industrial capital of the state up until NAFTA sent the automotive jobs to Asia and Mexico. In 1968, when I left for the California sun, there were over 900,000 residents of “the best location in the nation.” Today, the population is down to around 360,000. Yes, you read that correctly. That’s the size of the impact sending good, high-paying, union jobs to Asia and Mexico, where wages and benefits are pennies on the dollar by comparison. Cleveland has also become one of the most segregated cities in the country. White flight worked well for them.
The same is true in most of the rust belt cities – made rusty by the abdication of our patriotic capitalists who keep lusting for more profits at an increasing rate. Sour grapes? You bet. The grapes of greed mixed with rust, departing jobs and opportunities creates a bad taste indeed. In short, the manufacturing hub of the Midwest has been gutted, the factories abandoned and the people left to shift for themselves with service industry employment – employment that pays half of what they were earning in the factories. Meanwhile, those abandoned factories are being stripped of all metal that can be sold for scrap and sent to China. It is ironic that China is building its manufacturing infrastructure on ours that was allowed to crumble.
I worked in those factories before leaving. I worked with the friends of my father’s and of my own, making things that served our armed forces and the auto industry. We were very, very good at it. I got to go to college, because we could afford it – barely. If it weren’t for my jobs working summers in those factories or my parents’ jobs working in those factories, I wouldn’t have gone to college because I wasn’t a good enough student in high school to earn scholarships. I get it that these factory workers and their families feel abandoned by the party they loyally supported since Roosevelt’s New Deal. I get it, because it is true.
Part and parcel with the jobs going away was the shift in revenue to the upper classes. Add to that the egregious SCOTUS decisions to give corporate/banking America carte blanche in buying our electoral system and process and you have a formula for overwhelming the working classes – aka the middle class – in this country. They are overwhelmed by the reality of having little money to enjoy the American dream. They are overwhelmed with skyrocketing medical costs and down-spiraling employer-paid benefits. They have seen their homes taken back by the bank due to health care catastrophes. Yes, the Affordable Care Act helped alleviate those disasters, but the Republicans have been pounding away at the ACA since before the ink dried.
So, the working/middle class feels left out of the game, just as their children are ready to become productive citizens. While their roads and bridges crumble into disrepair, their schools tumble into an intellectual and physical abyss of mediocrity brought forth by some very bad people who think making schools profit centers is the answer to social success. For those paying attention, perhaps you noticed that the vast majority of economic growth since the “recovery” from the Great Recession has gone to the very top of the socioeconomic ladder, yet another reason why the middle/working classes are so angry. They were paying attention. They were listening to the platitudes and the reported successes of the Obama Administration. Was it a success they could share? No, it wasn’t.
The book I am re-reading these days is Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. In it I am relearning how the blindness of a theoretical economist with a massive ego can destroy nations by way of what Ronald and Donald [Reagan and Regan] called “trickle-down” economics. That theory, presented to the world by Milton Friedman and his mentor, Friedrich Hayak, was also known as Supply-Side Economics. This book is the chronicling of how the supply-side theory was applied to various countries during the communist paranoia period from the 1950s to the 1980s.
The results, both in our country and in South America, were pretty much the same except that we didn’t have a military coup in order to purge opposing views from our society. The Latin American disaster partnered human misery and government-sponsored slaughter of non-believers, the worst the world had seen since … well, the purges of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.
The reason? The purity of economic thought brought to the fore by the dictators who were favored and sponsored by our own CIA [Pinochet in Chile, for example] was necessary to install Friedman’s economic plan – a kind of grand lab experiment without a control group. There was the great fear of communism/socialism in the CIA and our own “conservative” government at the time, so those “leftist” elements of a working society required purging in order to provide a “clean slate” requested by the Friedman-ites, aka Los Chicago Boys.
Los Chicago Boys were economists from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay who were sponsored to study at the University of Chicago under the Friedman curriculum of purist, unfettered, free-market capitalism. Their inculcation allowed them to become part of the overthrows conducted by the junta governments and to institute this philosophy of purity in economics.
Well, it didn’t work very well at first, because there was too much resistance from the citizens who were doing fine under the old system. The junta saw this as a threat to their power and escalated the purges of anything even sniffing of socialism or public sector government assistance to the people.
Ultimately, the economies crashed, but the elite and richest of these countries did very well as they sold off their companies to foreign investors, cut all social services and raked off the tax money, outlawed unions, eliminated price controls [which cause basic commodity costs to soar] and reduced wages among those who still had a job. They achieved a 47% percent poverty rate before it was over. Those countries are still recovering from the induced squalor.
These anecdotes described a “shock therapy” on a nation’s economics in order to install a system that disregards anything and everything but profit. If it creates more profits, it is deemed good and acceptable. If it limits profits, it is deemed bad and must be eliminated. These tenets of supply-side economics apply to people as well as to impersonal devices and philosophies.
My reasons for introducing this part of Klein’s book is to illustrate how the Republican Party of the United States has been implementing the draconian methods of supply-side economics in a sort of slow-motion coup. This coup is directed at eliminating any fragment of socialistic practices – you know, the things that keep us all clothed, fed, educated, protected and free to speak our minds.
In sum, the takeover of economies in countries similar to ours in the 1950s-1980s by fascists who bought into the package being sold them by our CIA and the international banking communities attacked left-wing politics and purged government support for its people. The government served business and only business. The people were on their own.
Elections? Well, those were just formalities and woe unto those who voted against the junta.
Clearly, the intended outcome of unfettered, free-market capitalism is to allow markets to balance everything including wages and prices. Nice idea on its face, but absolute fantasy in practice. Greed is normal to the human condition and that greed has proven to serve only the elites while impoverishing everyone else. Everywhere, everywhere supply-side economic has been attempted – even only partially – a great impoverishment has occurred.
It’s a latter-day Lords v. Serfs of medieval times.
In the United States, since the 1971 Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calling for corporate/banking America to start using its financial clout to control our government, we have been sliding, bit by bit, into this abyss of fascism and “trickle-down” economics.
This slide has been greased almost exclusively by Republicans as the system for elections has become increasingly corrupted by them. Every Republican platform since 1981 has included cuts for public schools, attacks on labor and its unions, cuts in Social Security benefits, cuts in welfare benefits and cuts to Medicare/Medicaid. Fortunately, the Democratic Party has been there to prevent unmitigated destruction of our social safety nets and investments in our children. But they haven’t prevented all of them.
The battle for universal health care – easily solved by expanding Medicare to cover everyone – is typical of the neo-liberal/neo-fascist attacks on our social programs. Republicans want everything to be a profit center. They see no purpose in anything that doesn’t create profit – in the short-term, of course. They don’t see value in the long-term for educating everyone. Instead, they want to privatize schools using taxpayer money to fund for-profit schools. These schools would, therefore, lie outside the purview of curriculum controls, standards and goals, thus allowing them to teach any philosophy they wanted.
It’s what the Germans did in the 1930s, so there is a model for the outcome of that program.
There is nothing conservative about trickle-down/free-market/supply-side economics. It is a radical, reactionary lurch to extreme rightwing, fascist economics that benefits the very few who are in on the game and leaves the vast majority of the population suffering without regard to anything about their well-being.
Sadly, this to-and-fro of economics has been with us ever since we invented economics. There have always been the rich v. poor in societies. But the poor always rise up to grab what they think they should be party to. The rich then just do it all over again, as soon as they consolidate enough political power. I fear that this is just part of the social side of human nature. We may never overcome it.
But while I’m alive and kicking, I’d like to see some fairness, egalitarian equity distribution and a shift away from war-making toward making life fairer and better for as many people around the world as possible. I’m not naive enough to think utopia by any means, just using the best parts of our modified capitalistic system that doesn’t cheat people out of their livelihoods, their hope, their aspirations and their achievements. Because, those achievements add up to a high-quality society.
As we observe this slow-motion decline of our great nation into the vagaries of fascist economics, constant war and backward social philosophies like racism, xenophobia, bigotry and outright hate of other religions, it may be our total responsibility to prevent it from getting to the point where we have to fight in the streets again. We must get the money out of our politics, we must hold our politicians to account for their shenanigans and we must elect those who truly represent us, not the corporations or the banks.
When we finally decide to do that, we may have a shot at making it into the next century without another civil war or a bloody revolution. All the tools for our continued success are in front of us. All we have to do is stop fighting each other over pitifully small things, stop gossiping as a lifestyle and get to work re-building what our ancestors gave us and that we’ve so cravenly abused.
– Vern Turner lives in Marble Falls, TX and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism, is available through Amazon.com.