I just learned that America is no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy, wherein the country is controlled by a few. Well, you could have blown me over with a feather. In fact, Paul Krugman warns us of this very thing. What is amazing is that he warned us of this in 2011. So why are we surprised?
Not only that, we've become a plutocracy, which is government by the wealthy. I know, this is another shocker.
Day after day, as the rich get richer and even more of a controlling interest in the United States of America, we continued to be astonished that this could happen -- in a democracy!
I'm looking at this as a kind of a snowball in hell: the more wealth and power, the greater the wealthy and powerful become. And the greater they become the faster they become more wealthy and powerful.
Unlike the rest of us, the wealthy and powerful know how to form a union and then they know how to strategize to get what they want (more wealth and power). They don't really care whether or not you get an abortion just as long as the folks they elect to office keep us distracted by fighting about it while also, that's right, legislating greater wealth and power for the wealthy and powerful. And as long as they can keep us fighting amongst each other over whether to feed the hungry they figure we aren't going to much notice that they are growing the national debt by: giving more to the wealthy and powerful.
I'm not much into history; after all, I am an American. But of late I am learning an awful lot about the Gilded Age, wherein the cruelty and excesses of the wealthy and powerful actually led to the great reforms of the Progressive Era.
And I am being told that we are in the midst of a new gilded age. One of the things that concerns me though is that we seem to be unable to move ourselves into the new progressive era that, according to history, should follow. Are we that much better off? Are perhaps not enough poor children dying? Will Obamacare and food stamps cause us to survive just enough to keep those billionaires going while not giving us the strength to fight for more? Are we like the frog who is put in a pot of water at room temperature and then the heat is turned up so we die so gradually we don't even notice?
I'm not suggesting that things should get worse so that we can decide we need to fight to make it better. But it seems that that is the way it's going. The gains are too small, too few, too far apart. By the time we get an increase in the minimum wage, it will already have been shrunk by the increases in the cost of living. Hail Obamacare, but the insurance industry has made sure that it's the middle class and the government that are getting gouged with rate increases, and the poor will still have to struggle with co-pays, deductibles, and all those other economic creations that have made health care in the U.S. unattainable by so many. The insurance industry will continue to be, that's right, wealthy and powerful.
My father was a tool-and-die maker. I never really knew what that was, but he earned a living. He had job security. And the rise of the unions was recent enough that he understood their importance. That generation would have gone on strike, picketed, and risked imprisonment or worse if there was a threat to their livelihoods, because they were close enough to know what it would be like if they did not.
But my generation lacked that knowledge. We had always known job security, a living wage, benefits, overtime, health care coverage, sick pay, retirement benefits. We grumbled about having to pay dues. And I believe this is why, when the economy hit that big rough patch in the 70's and the big businesses began to ask unions for concessions, they began to concede. And it hasn't stopped yet. We first caved because we thought if we were reasonable, our employers would as they promised, make the concessions temporary. Blue skies ahead. Then we caved because we could lose our jobs. Then we caved because some of us had already lost their jobs. Then our employers screwed us anyway.
And like a bully who is angry that nobody likes him, capitalists continue to have tantrums because their great profits are not great enough, that they are expected to contribute to the society without which they would not have that wealth. And they are angry because anger works. We are intimidated. Afraid of losing what little we have. And those of us who are still making it are terrified of the time when they might join those long-term unemployed, the uninsured, the homeless. And terror has made us powerless to fight the bullies, so we fight those with even less than us.
Unions? We gave ours up while corporate America was growing theirs. They have PhRMA making sure drug prices stay high while government regulation shrinks. Then there is the agricultural lobby, that this year assured that big farms would continue to receive subsidies (although they are apparently calling it crop insurance now) while cutting food stamps for the poor. The oil industry has been strangling us with increased gas prices, and the environment with its careless drilling practices. And then there are the "pan-unions," like American Legislative Exchange Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Enterprise Institute, and Americans for Prosperity. The latter is owned and operated by those uber-plutocrats, Charles and David Koch, whose father was one of the original members of the John Birch Society, and whose oily hands are into every aspect of our lives.
And all the while all these big fat capitalists who rise in fury at the thought of a mandated living wage are spending fortunes in advertising and in political campaign funding to convince us that all those things that are good for the country will take food out of our own mouths. That the price hikes since Obamacare are not just more of the same profit game but are caused by those deadbeats who don't pay for insurance.
I don't know what it will take for us to look out and see who the real bad guys are. I don't know if I will see a new Progressive Era in my lifetime. I do know that things change, they have before and they can change again. Against all odds. Because we have done it before.