Some thoughts on the apparently cyclical nature of human endeavor. A hundred years ago some of our really brave grandmothers stood and fought for their rights. Their efforts were not appreciated by the powerful men who controlled the economy and the nation.
These women were successful and the right to vote was extended to women. Breath-taking in it’s success, this movement did not dislodge or change the power structure of the US significantly. The first two decades of the last century was an era of robber barons and wild speculation. Anarchists, wobblies and other ne’er-do-wells were less successful with their campaigns against the ruling class.
The era of rampant speculation, deregulated economies (glass-steagall anyone?) ended with the crash of Wall Street in 1929 and a long period of economic stagnation followed. Sound familiar? Maybe it should sound familiar.
The country started to come out of the Great Depression with the Keynsian government policy embraced by FDR, but the push-back of the moneyed interests against the deficit spending slowed the recovery. Luckily (!?) Germany came out of its economic depression post-Versailles World War I treaty and provided an opportunity to really ramp up the world economy by roaring through neighboring countries and launching World War II.
Those with an interest in history will remember the era of American superpower dominance in the 50s and 60s. An era when steeply progressive tax rates and a regulated economy model produced prosperity, Medicare, LBJ’s War on Poverty and more. The country was so far left back in those days that it was a Republican – Richard Nixon – who established the Environmental Protection Agency, signed the Clean Air Act. Of course he did that good work a little later and in the shadow of carpet bombing countries who posed no danger to the US, but by that time a permanent war economy had established itself and needed Korea, Vietnam, Russia, China, and an endless chain of scary others that have included such lackluster characters as Manuel Noriega, Sandinista Daniel Ortega, Arbenz and whoever the threat was when we invaded Grenada in 1983. A lovely little war, that one.
We might have thought harder about how we were blowing through trust funds for Social Security and cooking the books to support war and the permanent war economy, but Ronald Reagan brought a new morning to the country with a plan to unleash the US economy by flattening tax rates and regulatory agencies. Reagan certainly had an amiable persona, he eclipsed earlier american icons like FDR, Walter Cronkite and others who inspired trust and led us to a return of the era of robber barons.
We have burned through all of the speculative economic power that could be managed by flattening blue collar wages, by exporting industry to countries with cheaper labor and non-existent or unenforced environmental rules, by revolutionizing the Ozzie and Harriet model american family by forcing families to have Harriet find a job outside the home paying 59 cents of the dollar for that job done by a human with a pair of testicles.
The speculative economy has run its course. We have blown through the illusion of wealth of the dot com economy, we have eroded the infrastructure of the country to pay for war and at the end of the day, it turns out that there are some limits to what can be gained by stimulating the economy with a tax cut approach. That approach worked to a certain extent when JFK proposed it against the backdrop of a really steeply progressive tax rate, but now that we have flattened the tax rates so dramatically, it just produced deficits, cuts in services, and a return to the feudal model of America.
Some say, “We have to fix Social Security!” I say, Hey, fix the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, then get back to me.
I hear we have we have to fix Medicare! It is going to blow up the entire federal budget. Give me a break. You want to fix Medicare? Start with a single payer system that rewards health care systems that produce healthy outcomes for human beings instead of treating illness as a profit opportunity.
We have entered an era of frank and open class war. Which side are you on?
Hope and Glory – The Politics of Survival on a Small Blue Planet