Let me start by saying that I do think this country is great. There are few places on Earth where a person has the potential and quality of life we enjoy here. That is not to say that I think our country is perfect. Far from it. But it's still a great place to live, for now.
Being a student of history I know that our country has a long and colorful history with contentious political debate. That political debate while usually peaceful has too often gotten violent. Nasty debates born from entrenched ideology, religion and in certain cases bigotry often have negative effects on society. Economic class warfare and how our economy should operate have been fought since the founding of our nation. The fights often take decades or longer to resolve themselves due to a constitutionally limited government that makes such changes slow. This is sometimes a good thing and at other times frustrating and slow.
Disclaimer: What follows is not cited. I may decide at some point to cite references and clarify the few numbers I've used. The numbers I use are from statistics I've read in that past but didn't feel like looking up. They are not meant to be taken literally, but to be used to make a point. That's the nice thing about this blog, it's not an academic paper.
At two periods in our history the debate moved too slow to prevent catastrophe. The debates over slavery started during the founding of the nation, continued through the writing of the constitution and were not settled until the Civil War took over 600,000 lives. Our civil debate was so polarized that we could not come to the right solution to end slavery without war. This was and remains the worst stain on our nations history.
The second period is less apparent today. The Gilded Age was an era of massive economic expansion in America that saw the United States rise to near super power status and had nearly all the wealth concentrated in the hands of a very few. Where corporations enjoyed nearly unlimited power and the wealthy prospered the poor languished in destitution. Tenements abounded as the poor struggled to feed their families and keep their children clothed and out of factories. The middle class was a small minority of white collar workers and managers enjoying neither immense wealth or poverty. It took the Great Depression and The New Deal to solve these systemic problems.
What I can't understand for the life of me is how we cannot seem to remember the lesson of the Gilded Age and the Great Depression. The country was rescued by liberal policies and government spending. Security was put in place for the masses. Monopoly was outlawed. A graduated income tax ensured that if you were lucky enough that you could afford it you paid more.
I know that the wrecked economies of Europe and Asia Post World War II gave us an amazing advantage. But the fact of the matter is that in the 1950's, a period of amazing prosperity, a family could afford a house on a single income and union membership was well over 25% and at it's highest level ever. The rich still prospered but a CEO made 20-40 times what a worker made, not nearly 500 times like they do today.
Let's get one thing straight, I'm no communist. I don't begrudge a smart risk taking businessman his or her payday. But is there no limit to greed and wealth hoarding?
Since then business motivated by greed has constantly attacked working people. Lobbyists work non-stop to gain more tax loop holes and lucrative trade deals for their already obscenely wealthy clients. That this happens is almost not debatable. Why educated and patriotic Americans do the bidding of people and corporations actively trying to outsource their jobs and steal their pensions is absolutely beyond me.
Our trade barriers are gone. We are shipping our national wealth to Middle Eastern dictators and Chinese communists. We are shipping the jobs out of Americans to South America and Asia so we can buy cheaper T-shirts and so the corporations can keep more profits. How do people not see this? Of course union represented workers can not compete with poor laborers in China and Viet-Nam.
As I see it we can have it one of two ways. Either we have free trade where the American worker has to compete head to head with the third world worker. Guess who business will hire, Bob Smith for $25 per hour or Bao Xian in Vietnam for $2 per day? Or we have fair trade where we pay more for imports but they pay tariffs and the American worker gets his or her job with union benefits and a living wage. Oh this scenario also means American CEO's don't have to sell their declining businesses to overseas conglomerates.
Union membership is well below 10% today and the largest remaining groups of union members, civil servants, are under attack. The top 5% and especially the top 1% of wealthiest Americans control increasing more wealth (48.4% in fact) leaving less and less for the rest of us. People on the right like to talk about wealth redistribution to scare the uninformed but it is happening only in the opposite direction, middle to the top. We are living in a trickle up economy and to quote Ted Kennedy "When does the greed stop?"
This is in my opinion the biggest threat to America today. I just hope we solve it before it leads to bloodshed or a Second Great Depression. We got close the last two years. Remember there were smaller depressions and recessions before the last Great Depression.