We used to have legroom in coach. We used to not notice just how rich the rich had become. Radio used to not be programmed by computers. We used to compare our nation to the USSR and say we were the nation that was most free.
Now we’re cramped into our plane seats, we are painfully aware of the separate America for the rich, radio is hardly worth listening to unless you’re lucky enough to find a community station, and our freedoms are deeply eroded. What happened?
It’s simple. It’s a process that had been underway for a lot longer than thirty years. It’s been a process of increasing control and concentration of power at the top. It’s the process of putting a price on everything so that everything – even our freedoms – can be bought and sold. There used to be lines we would not cross, boundaries to define what we should allow ourselves to do. They stemmed from our moral sensibilities, such as they were, and they kept us from extremes.
Now we have the extremes. The language we use is now more coarse, blunt, and terse than in years past. Cheating is no longer for a desperate few: it’s institutionalized and required in order to survive, it would seem. The power held by the rich now deeply permeates our lives in the form of credit cards, mortgage frauds, and student loans that cannot be discharged – and also a growing violence between the classes. It is implied, for now, but the increased purchase of handguns by bankers indicates an expectation for that violence to be come factual in the near future. Class warfare is real and it has been drawing blood… it may be doing so more openly in the future.
This is why the government now seems more distant from the people than ever before, surrounded by increasing circles of security to protect itself from unseen enemies. We’re told that the enemies are terrorists, at home and abroad, but somehow the hassle of security takes in more and more people that are just upset at the way government is owned by our nation’s wealthy.
It’s been owned by the wealthy for a long, long time. They just have not been content to leave well enough alone. Their constant seeking after another penny in profits has led to our current plight. In the name of competitiveness, they moved jobs and entire factories to where they could get cheaper – read “more exploitable” – labor and escape laws written to keep them from destroying the world with pollution. No, the money was more important to them. Nearly every single person that gained traction in opposing their power has been murdered or co-opted.
Don’t believe me? Look at the petroleum industry’s history. When Mexico tried to break free of that industry’s grip, a mysterious explosion destroyed a Mexican research facility working on the process to produce a chemical necessary to refine petroleum into gasoline. This was nothing to the petroleum industry, which had already started a war between Bolivia and Paraguay over a possible oil field in the Gran Chaco. They thought this was all they needed to do to bring Mexico back to heel: a few weeks later, though, all the chief executives of the big oil firms received a small vial of that chemical with “Hecho en Mexico” stamped on the side. Mexico had gotten away.
Iran wasn’t so lucky: in 1953, that nation tried to get a better deal on its petroleum exports and received a CIA-led coup and a dictatorship in return. US arms have supported big oil in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will likely do so elsewhere, as they’ve already been in the employ of large corporations since around 1898, the beginning of the US’ imperialism.
That violence can be directed against the people of America, of that I have no question. Violence of a lesser nature has already been pointed at us. We used to be able to count on a 40-hour-a-week job, a fair shake at getting a good, affordable education at college, a home, and the next generation enjoying a better life than our own.
Incrementally, we are being worked longer and harder when we have full time jobs, or limited to 39 hours so as not to be able to claim the dignity of a real job – and yet not be considered unemployed. Let’s be real: unemployment needs to count people not in a full-time job as being unemployed if those people want a full-time job. The people making us work more for our benefits or denying them entirely are the ones that work zero hours per week because they have brainwashed us into thinking they’re deserving of their lives because they’re somehow taking a risk on their business models. They’re not. They’re insured against failure because of their ownership of the government.
What about business owners that aren’t part of the great elite? They have to adopt the same methods of the elite, or they’ll be crushed in competition. I’ve seen all the small town main streets wiped out by Wal-Marts I need to see, and I’ve seen them develop in my lifetime. I’ve also seen other small towns, wiped out by a Wal-Mart, left devastated if that Wal-Mart closes – the main street economy does not return. We are forced to participate in a system not of our own creation if we want to survive.
College now seems to be a gateway to debtor house arrest, since we no longer fling debtors into prisons. When a college degree could get a job at graduation, it was a good thing to get. They are no longer that guarantee, no matter how many statistics the college lobby, which is connected to the banking lobby, may throw at us. Technical skills, independent of a college degree, are more likely to land a job than a bachelor’s in a liberal arts subject. The export of our nation’s services has also sent our demand for liberal arts degrees abroad. Educators still beat the drum for getting kids into college, but what we’re actually demanding is that they run up a large debt for no good use. Lifelong education can edify all of us, yes, but we don’t need a college degree to have that benefit. Given the cost of college, we cannot send our students there blindly: if that degree is not going to result in a job offer to a person that’s in a group with 53% unemployment – persons aged 18-24 – then it’s a curse on that person, who will be faced with being unable to repay a debt acquired to get that education.
And if we deem education to be a necessity of a free, vibrant nation, then we need to put more money into it. It needs to be a public good. It needs to be available, even to the poor. It used to be. We used to have 75% of our education funded through grants, and that was as recently as 30 years ago. Remember those morals we used to have as a society? As those were frittered away in the pursuit of profit, our airplane seats shrunk and our Pell grants shrank right along with them.
Our homes somehow got involved with the rush for profits through second mortgages and property bubbles. That part of the American Dream has also been extinguished in the exchange of morals for monies. We used to say that a home was something more than a possession, that it was where a family would live, no matter what. We had legal protections for homesteads that are now eroded so some board of directors of a faraway bank can enjoy a few more dollars in profits.
Will the next generation enjoy a better life? No. My generation’s not making out so well, and the next one seems to be heading into an even worse situation. Everyone is being offered a snare of debt. I used to believe that microcredit was a good thing, until I learned of the microbankruptcies it could cause and the microdepressions it could produce. Our world needs more microgrants, not microlending. It is the same on a larger scale here at home. In a world where one’s credit rating is a vital number – something not true 30 years ago – we are sending this upcoming generation into a minefield of debt slavery from which they shall not recover. We are not giving them a better future: we are demanding that they pay us for it, with interest. They have fewer job prospects, less of a chance of getting their own home, and are tightening their belts with the rest of us that don’t control senators or congressmen.
This is the violence of our system. It’s the love of money that is the root of all our evils. We could be peaceful and generous, but instead we have chosen warfare and penalties for late payments. We are told that unemployment is decreasing by a government that revises the previous unemployment numbers upward in order to make the current ones look good by comparison. We are told that the housing market is getting better by a property industry that is sitting on massive inventories and which is desperate to re-create the magical upswing of another property bubble. We are told about the great value of an education by banks, to whom education has the greatest value of all – debts that cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy.
Thirty years ago, I could say stuff like this and people that disagreed with me would still say, “Hey, it’s a free country, he can say what he wants.” Now, people that agree with me increasingly wonder if it’s healthy to say things like this in the open. To inject a bit of uncomfortable humor, I can now make the following quip, with apologies to Yakov Smirnoff in advance:
In communist countries, the government owns businesses. In America, businesses own the government!
That ownership means the nation is no longer best described as a representative democracy, but as an authoritarian, plutocratic oligarchy. I could have said this 30 years ago and been crying in the wilderness. Today, I’m not alone.
What is the solution? Both major political parties serve the interests of the rich. They can be destroyed from within, but not changed. Look at how quickly the Tea Party movement became a vehicle for the Koch brother’s massive fortune: change will not come from within the parties.
A violent movement will simply install a different authoritarianism. No answer there.
A peaceful movement will either be diverted, as was the Tea Party, or see its leadership slaughtered if the movement is successful, as happened in the Civil Rights movement. Otherwise, it’ll simply be ignored.
The only solution I see is a personal one: to insist upon being a moral person in my own life. Others may be profiting from wickedness around me, but that is no excuse or reason to join with them. Granted, I have an eye for the afterlife guiding my thoughts here, but I know I’m right in doing so. If you part company with me at this point, know this: there are no solutions in this world. Look for them, but you will not find them. The wickedness of our rulers, of our rich, and of our powerful men, is a given. It is a constant throughout all time. The only thing that has kept a ruler from being a tyrant is his own moral code. And that, frankly, has no binding on our souls unless it comes from a power greater than our own.
If we had moral leaders, they would not suffer for an instant to allow someone to live in poverty while they had the means to alleviate it. If we had moral leaders, they would not permit rich men to subvert free markets to create fortunes. If we had moral leaders, there would be things money could not buy that would be held in high esteem. If we had moral leaders, money would not buy them.
Morality has been in decline in the USA for longer than 30 years. The difference is that, in the last 30 years, the decline in morality has had increasingly direct impacts on our rights and freedoms. Without those rules, we are less free.