There was a time at the end of Reconstruction and at the turn of the 20th century when a few men controlled all the wealth of America. Sounds like today right.
These guys robbed everyone because slavery had ended but it didn’t mean greed was removed from their hearts. You see, in a capitalistic society greed is a necessary component of the system. What most fail to realize is that “the system is designed to protect the system”, which means there MUST be a permanent underclass for it to work.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Little attention is being paid to the unraveling of a public policy in the United States for more than a century, which emerged in stages between the 1890s and 1930s. During this period they called it an institutional framework to balance the needs of the American people with the vast inequalities of wealth and power fashioned by the triumph of industrial capitalism. What I am talking about is the efforts to design policy for the benefit of the wealthy.
Their scheme then was originated in the widespread apprehension that the rapidly growing power of the railroads robber barons, national corporations (the Rockefellers) and banks (like J.P. Morgan’s) was undermining fundamental American values that threatened democracy. What the MIGHTY did was strangling the MEEK or crucified mankind upon a cross of gold much like Wall Street is doing today. A hundred years ago a commented a programmatic and radical group took a stance for labor. They were the American Federation of Labor and their convention delegates who in 1894 advocated nationalizing all major industries and financial corporations. If you missed that “they were called Unions”.
I am one who would argue that, like a century ago many, this form of capitalism needs to be replaced with some form of “cooperative commonwealth”, meaning that large corporate enterprises should be broken up or strictly regulated to ensure fair competition, limit the concentration of power and prevent these interests from overwhelming the public good. Now, before you go all Tea Party on me this is simply a “progressive” view of the system today.
I am well aware that such views, in most instances, will be vehemently and sometimes violently opposed by the more conservative political forces. And you know who they are! Therefore, we need to remember that it was political pressure from anti-capitalists, anti-monopolists, populists, progressives, working-class activists and socialists led, over time, who accomplished a lot for the working class people. Moreover, the state, meaning a government for the people should service and promote private enterprise. Thereby, fostering growth and this illusive ideal called the American Dream.
In exchange, the federal government should adopt a series of far-reaching reforms to shield and empower citizens from these powerful entities safeguarding society’s democratic character. Such as real regulations for business and banking to protect consumers, limit the power of individual corporations and prevent anti-competitive practices.
It was my understanding that these principles were the underlying measures and the reasons for the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) and the Glass-Steagall Act (1933) — which insured bank deposits and separated investment from commercial banking — was that government was responsible for protecting society against the shortcomings of a market economy. As we can clearly see the profit motive cannot always be counted on to serve the public’s welfare.
I believe the government should guarantee workers’ the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. The core premise of the 1914 Clayton Act and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was that individual workers lacked the power to protect their interests when dealing with large employers. For the most poorly paid, the federal government mandated a minimum wage and maximum hours.
With these guarantee’s every American citizen should be entitled to social insurance: Unemployment insurance (1935), Social Security (1935), and, later, Medicaid and Medicare (1965) were grounded in the recognition that citizens could not always be self-sufficient and that it was the role of government to aid those unable to fend for themselves. The unemployment-insurance program left unrestrained employers’ ability to lay off workers but recognized that those who were jobless through no fault of their own ought to receive public support.
These measures shaped the contours of U.S. political and economic life between 1940 and 2000: They amounted to a social contract that, however imperfect, it does preserve the dynamism of capitalism while guarding citizens against the power imbalances and uncertainties that a competitive economy produces. These gains in the area of humanity have been and are under attack by conservatives and the attacks have been escalating today. We need to take a stand because the rich and wealthy are not going to give you anything. All of these gains like Civil Rights were fought for and many died so we can have a reasonable work day or a vacation.
The conservatives decried regulation for business now, just as they did in 1880, as unwarranted interference in the workings of the market: Regulatory laws (including antitrust laws) are weakly enforced or vitiated through administrative rule-making; regulatory agencies are starved through budget cuts; Glass-Steagall was repealed, with consequences that are all too well known; and the financial institutions that spawned today’s economic crisis. This thinking creates the reckless behavior predicted by early-20th-century reformers and fight against further regulation tooth and nail.
Private-sector employers’ fierce attacks on unions since the 1970s contributed significantly to the sharp decline in the number of unionized workers, and many state governments are seeking to delegitimize and weaken public-sector unions. Meanwhile, the social safety net has frayed: Unemployment benefits are meager in many states and are not being extended to match the length of the downturn. When in fact the real value of the minimum wage is lower than it was in the 1970s.Today the Republicans are taking aim at Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and Obamacare.
To a person who knows history, the agenda of today’s conservative’s looks like a bizarre effort to return to the Gilded Age, an era with little regulation of business, no social insurance and no legal protections for workers. This draconian agenda calls for the destruction or weakening of institutions without acknowledging why they came into being.
In a democracy, of course, the ultimate check on such campaigns is the electoral system. Therefore, I say all we have is the vote – we must use it because the Titans of industry may wield far more power in the economic arena than average citizens, but if all votes count equally, the citizenry can protect themselves through the political arena. Just look at what Republicans across the nation are doing. They have sponsored ID requirements for voting that are far more likely to disenfranchise legitimate and unprivileged voters than they are to prevent fraud.
Last year, the Supreme Court, reversed a century of precedent, ruled that corporate funds can be used in support of political campaigns. Some Tea Partyers even want to do away with the direct election of senators, adopted in 1913. These ideas are rooted in the Gilded Age when Jim Crow was the law and society was unjust. It is time to stand up! Take a stand and fight for our rights! VOTE…
Parts of this blog were captured as a result of reading Alexander Keyssar the Stirling professor of history and social policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. And this is my THOUGHT PROVOKING PERSPECTIVE thanks to the professor.