Tonight on Brazen She, we have a special guest poster: My husband. He has written an informative essay on why the Middle Class exists at the whims of the Powers That Be.
So let’s take a well-earned break from Feminism and settle in for some economic criticism.
Winston Churchill said “The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” From the Prime Minister’s point of view nothing could have been more true. England had seen an economic boom from the end of the Great War and another at the end of the Second World War. From the early 1940’s through the 1960’s Capitalism in Europe and the United States gave their citizens a lifestyle only dreamt about in “Socialist” USSR and China. However, the very seeds sown for our prosperity would slowly be cultivated against the American working class. McCarthy, the loudest mouthpiece for the Red Scare, demonized and vilified anything Socialist including unions, progressive educators, and liberal artists. Though the United States, Great Britain and much of Europe started with similar forms of Capitalism, over the intervening decades the United States has adopted a conservative and predatory form of Capitalism that even Churchill would view as abhorrent. In short, the growing debt and declining middle class of America isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
At first, America needed the Middle Class to win the ideological battles of the Cold War. America and her allies had to show the world that business-centric capitalism provided a superior lifestyle to the united workers model of socialist communism. Yet even as commercials peddled new gadgets guaranteed to improve their lives, the prosperity of the rising middle class was subsidized at the expense of minorities. While the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set a national minimum wage, it did not protect potential employees from racial discrimination. (It is important to note that the EEO, or Equal Employment Opportunity Act, did not take effect till 1964. While it does give protection based on color and sex it does not protect based on sexual orientation. The Affirmative Action Act which encourages business to hire employees reflective of the local population was an executive order from Kennedy in 1961. They continue to be lightning rods for conservative pundits and have been fiercely fought in political arenas.)
At the same time minorities, mainly African-Americans, were struggling to find work. The ones who did find prosperous employment were denied home ownership by the Fair Housing Act (FHA) through a process called Redlining. By denying minorities the ability to purchase property through denial of loans or adequate insurance, the government effectively prevented minorities from accruing family wealth. It forced those same families into government-controlled housing projects and lifelong renting. In addition to government-mandated racism, minority communities also dealt (and continue to deal) with government-endorsed violence such as lynchings, police brutality, investigation apathy, the criminalization of marijuana, mandatory minimum prison sentencing and other policies that broke apart minority nuclear families. This limited incomes and opportunities.
Yet as minorities struggled against government-mandated oppression, Capitalism claimed premature victory. As the social status of white Americans met unchecked prosperity through easier home ownership (thanks to the FHA – that’s codified racism) a guaranteed minimum wage, and a structured work week with overtime pay past 40 hours, the Baby Boomer generation saw their social standing continue to grow. People could put themselves through college with the income from summer jobs or buy cars with the salaries from entry-level positions. The dollar stood strong against foreign currency, gas was cheap, and anyone who wanted a job was virtually guaranteed one (provided they were a non-minority.)
Though the economy started to stall in the 1970s with the end of the Vietnam War, it was seen as little more than a blip on the screen as the United States struggled more with its political and racial differences than with its fiscal concerns. Yet the end of the Vietnam War was seen not only as a defeat of the United States, but as a defeat of Capitalism itself. On the scandal-laden altar of politics, Capitalism called for a new champion to carry its cause and America answered. In 1980 we elected Ronald fucking Reagan, the father of modern American predatory capitalism.
President Reagan popularized the concept of Trickle Down Economics. In short, the concept of Trickle Down Economics states that as wealthy people acquire more wealth, they spend more of the wealth in their communities, thereby uplifting the entire community. To encourage the rich to spend their money the American government started deregulating businesses and cutting taxes. Credit became easier to obtain as credit cards flooded the market, and then Capitalism got its largest victory. In 1989 on November 9 the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended. Capitalism had officially defeated Communist Socialism.
Yet this victory sowed a new seed: Globalism. Globalism, or Global Trade, allows products to be made in one area and sold in another. While foreign trade always existed, American products were most commonly made in America. Globalism allowed American products to be made overseas, where prices of labor are often far cheaper and industrial regulations are more lax. These products are then sold in the original, wealthier market at an increased profit for the company. These companies no longer need their expensive production-based labor force and lay off the unnecessary workforce. While there have been proposed solutions to this problem, they have all been attacked and defeated as interference with the Free Market.
In her book “Squeezed: Why Families Can’t Afford America” Alissa Quart describes debt as “a shadow of a monster.” She and countless others blame themselves for their debts. People blame their career choice or family size for their economic woes. John F Kennedy said, “The greatest enemy to truth is not a lie. The greatest enemy to truth is the myth. The persistent, persuasive and unrealistic myth.” Our myth is one of personal fiscal determination.
Modern working Americans are made to feel guilty for small luxury purchases while the Supreme Court rules against unions. Americans are told that Capitalism determines who is rich and who is stupid while our elected representatives argue about Universal Healthcare. Americans are told to vote while politicians redistrict and gerrymander, effectively silencing opposition to unpopular officials. Time and time again the Supreme Court rules in favor of corporations, that businesses are people and allowed to give money to politicians, while failing to enforce monopoly laws. There is a shadow of a monster in our nation and it is the shadow of our collective elected government hiding meetings with corporate lobbyists. John F Kennedy also said that “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” God bless America. Land of Capitalism, home of the enslaved.