There once was a time when people in the United States were losing their mind over the economy. Banks were going out of business, folks were struggling to make ends meet, violence was up, political polarization was deep, and hope, much like the taxes on the rich, was way down. Sounds a lot like today, but what followed this less than magical time I’m talking about was Franklin Delano Roosevelt dropped the new deal on us, officially ended slavery as a practice outside of the prison system and kicked off World War II. The wealthy went from paying 25% income tax to paying 79%, which led to about 35 years of a growing economy, stable middle class and upward mobility for many people born without the trappings of wealth. Higher education was widely available regardless of social status. For a while, it looked like America was truly the place where dreams came true for a lot of people. Then Ronald Reagan graced us with trickle down economics and well, the last 40 years have resembled the time right before the Great Depression.
Stating the obvious
FDR was operating in a different era than Reagan. Herbert Hoover had ruined the economy with his great ideas and it was pretty much only one direction to go from there. The great depression was a horrible time, not entirely Herbert’s fault of course. Even with FDR, one could argue that the New Deal only partly improved circumstances. They’d likely say WW2 was the main driver for the booming years of old. No debate here, WW2 was a huge factor in making America the superpower it is today…but there were also more common-sense ideas on the table that Reagan undid. Outside of the obvious social injustices, which still exist, the economic ideas made a great deal of sense. Greater access to education and competitive wages led to growth in general, but mainly of the financial sort.
Reagan on the other hand was focused on lowering taxes and getting cocaine into historically Black neighborhoods to fund his Central American exploits. Mission accomplished there Gipper. What followed was income inequality not seen since the years leading up to the Great Depression. There’s always a focus on how much money we make as individuals, but the bigger blow to society are the requirements to make money. Since 1978 the cost of attending college has skyrocketed, because of course with less money coming in, the Federal Government can’t subsidize education like they used to. Without access to quality higher education, it is exponentially harder to change your circumstances if you were born poor. Those that do it in one generation are exceptions to the rule, not normal.
|Year||Average Wage||4 year Tuition||Cost of a Home||Cost of a Car|
Over the years, wages have gone up 355% which sounds cool until you factor the cost to access those wages. Tuition has gone up 726% while the cost of a vehicle has gone up 411% just to get a used car…the cost to get a new car went up 676%. The cost to get a home went up 672%. As a result, the average person is far more dependent on credit than before, meaning most people will live a very significant portion of their adult lives in financial debt, even doctors and lawyers. Sure, there are ways around this, but if we’re being honest the average person won’t capitalize on them without access to the information.
Captain Obvious Returns
Building an economy from the top down is about as smart as building a skyscraper from the top down. Unfortunately, the issues have only been compounded since we are now operating in a truly global economy. There are whole classes of jobs that were available in 1978 that you won’t be able to find in the U.S. anymore. Not because we don’t need the work, but because it is way cheaper to move the jobs offshore. The money saved in moving those jobs away get funneled up to the C Suite members and shareholders. The people that lost their jobs are now competing for lower wages in a crowded field. The pro to this is that it has created some upward mobility in developing nations. The money is still hoarded at the top of their respective income chains too, but given the greater context of developing economies, minimum wage in the U.S. could pay 2 or 3 workers in a developing nation. Not enough to make them rich, but enough to improve their circumstances.
America has a values problem. We value money over life, we value quantity over quality, we idolize the richest among us and ignore the plight of the masses. We have almost no sense of community unless we’re under attack or watching the Olympics. One could say it’s due to racism, classism, politics, stupidity, greed, probably a combination of all these things. No matter what the root cause, the result is less power in the hands of the people. Businesses are buying politicians so, the policies of the nation are no longer geared towards helping people. Rather, the focus is on ensuring the corporations that invest in politicians are financially viable. War is profitable for some, typically not the soldiers fighting, nor the politicians authorizing them, nor the families at home hoping their loved ones return. They’re profitable for the defense contractors. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, there are certain people that believe military action is the best way to bolster our economy. We’ve seen this play out before where business was prioritized over people and it was catastrophic for society until we found ourselves in a major world war.
Those that don’t know history are destined to repeat it.Edmund Burke
In Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address as President, he cautioned against the Congressional, Military Industrial Complex. The false belief that a booming economy is achieved with military spending or military action. It is evident based on the time following his term that his words of caution were taken with a grain of salt. That was 61 years ago, since then, the U.S. has been involved with some form of military action the entire time. Some actions larger than others, but we’ve been doing the deed of killing or aiding killing the entire time. I guess the bright side of that is, it proved Dwight Eisenhower right. The war isn’t what helped the economy, it was the stuff we did as a response that helped. Producing goods domestically and investing in the common folks, not bailing out rich people and corporations.
The Bad News
There’s not much we can do on an individual level. The power brokers are consolidating across the map, meaning most of us get our necessities from the same limited sources, regardless of the name of the store and regardless of zip code. This means there is very little power with the masses, but a great deal of power with the privileged and that’s before we discuss the differences between men and women, or racial minorities. Every aspect of U.S. life that was geared towards helping people has taken a hit since the Gipper and it’s partly because his ideas are romanticized instead of being explained honestly. Our government has allowed large companies the ability to manipulate government policy, solely for the benefit of the richest people and truly at the detriment of the common American…again.
The Good News
This is gonna sound dark for good news, to which I’d say, the polio vaccine doesn’t come in candy form, progress is always going to be slightly painful. Back to the good news, there is a lot of entertainment available to take your mind off what’s going on. Luckily, in that entertainment there are a few nuggets of valuable information available. So, for those that prefer their information observed, and not read, there are plenty of options available whether you prefer YouTube, Hulu or Netflix. It’ll take dismantling your confirmation bias, but the more we collectively know, the better equipped we are to make incremental, positive changes to the nation we live in. Until then, our history classes will be filled with half truths and whole lies because the masses will always be stronger together, and that is a nightmare to the wealthiest among us, who seek to keep us divided.