Democratic Underground  

The Rising Tide of Unfairness
August 13, 2002
By Bob Volpitto

A half century ago I was a college student, studying for a degree in Economics and Business Administration. That was a long time ago, but even today I find the subjects required for that degree as dry and boring as an Allan Greenspan prognostication and a hypocritical George Bush rah, rah, rah for the corporate executives who bought him the tainted distinction of the privilege of living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (at least part of the time).

My professor, who was over age for service in World War II, dryly lectured on and on while constantly spinning two paperclips chained together. Most of his hour long discourses consisted of his experiences working in a machine gun factory during the recently concluded hostilities.

Only in later years did I become engrossed in the workings of the U.S. and world economies; how they functioned and why. I must confess, much of this subject remains an unsolved puzzle to me as much as Bush's dilemma about how he sold his Harken Energy Company stock at a profit without filing proper papers with the SEC that would have indicated an insider trading deal without being an insider trading deal. Are you confused? That makes three of us, if you include Mr. Bush.

Of one matter I am certain. That is: why is the Bush administration backing a "$30 billion lifeline for Brazil from the International Monetary Fund" (New York Times, August 11) while "The stagnation in the nation's total wages and salaries, adjusted for inflation, affects 110 million workers" (New York Times, August 11)?

I'll tell you why. It's Herbert Hoover Economics 101 - save the banks and to hell with the 8-9 million workers regarded statistically as unemployed. In the Thirties, actress Joan Blondell rendered a "torchy" version of "My Forgotten Man". The song tells about an unemployed victim of the Great Depression. Passionately she sang with tears, "How he used to love me, how he used to take care of me, my f-o-r-g-o-t-t-e-n man", and it rang true among the skilled and unskilled workers of that era.

It was reported that job growth in July of this year was projected to be as high as 75,000 but rose to a mere 6,000. We hear how, in that same month, the average work week regressed by 24 minutes and how the Bush statisticians cover up the loss of factory jobs paying $20 to $35 an hour with increases of service sector employment whose workers' gross hourly wages range from $5.50 to perhaps $6.50. We've heard from Rush Limbaugh how those collecting $300 weekly unemployment checks are content with that meager amount and how it covers the family needs to the point where the beneficiary is satisfied not to look for another job until the payments cease. Hogwash!

I've researched the rising problem of personal indebtedness and how perhaps millions of wage earners are on the brink of seeking relief from them in the form of bankruptcy. So what do Bush and his "save the institutions" Republicans do to help? They want to tighten the bankruptcy laws to make it more difficult for those in dire need, through no direct fault of their own to restructure their debts and remain solvent. Recently widowed women with small children and overwhelming medical bills would be treated as common deadbeats if Bush & Co. have their way. Displaced textile workers and unemployed middle managers face the same fate. Its unfair to bail out foreign countries and let our own suffer.

Various mainstream journalists have noted that desperate families are kiting one credit card with another, ignoring the inevitable. They explain that many in this nation have a "negative net worth", that is they owe more than their assets, if reduced to cash, would bring if sold to cover their debts.

I recommend you read T. H. Watkins' The Hungry Years - how he describes the Great Depression and its effects on city and rural citizens alike. He tells how young boys would wait outside row houses in the city and watch law officers set a family's furniture and other possessions out on the sidewalk in front of their rented apartments. After the officers departed, the youths would cart the items back into the family's quarters until another month rolled around and repeat the process all over again.

Watkins tells of "penny auctions" in rural areas where a farm family's land, house and out buildings, equipment, animals and private possessions were to be sold to the highest bidder. Neighboring farmers would attend the auction to bid, say, five cents for a pig, seven cents for a cow, $1.00 for the home, etc. Of course no one outbid those crafty farmers and, with some not too gentle persuasion, the sheriff's deputies representing the mortgage holding bank and the auctioneer agreed to let the sale come to an end on those terms. It was more than chicanery; it was neighbor helping neighbor. It was scenes like those that prompted Will Rogers to quip, "If a farmer robs a bank, its a crime. Now if a banker robs a farmer, it's business."

Are we to come to that again?

Obviously there is no Franklin D. Roosevelt on the horizon who will call for "bold, persistent experimentation" with the nation's economy. There are no New Dealers waiting to try almost anything to get the country back on its feet with an unfettered distribution of goods and services rolling in motion again. We don't need them.

What we do need is a progressive-minded Congress and a leader in the White House who recognizes the American people's need for economic security and confidence in people who head our business and political institutions. We need an open government that is not part of the corporate malfeasance that taints the Bush-Cheney regime. We must not have a corporate controlled media that fears the wrath of Big Brother and his henchmen who threaten with near Nazi intimidations telling them to "be careful what they say".

We need an enlightened electorate who let the free unregulated economy rats jump off the ship or be made to walk the plank. Some like Dick Armey and Phil Gramm have already jumped rather than be pushed. It's up to the voters to rid the Congress and the White House of the rest of those who harken back to the Mark Hanna/William McKinley days.

We need to harness the strength of America and set it on the right course. A majority of those polled recently have indicated overwhelmingly that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Come the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, 2002, the electorate has a chance to begin the process of turning the nation around and set it on the right path.

Will you do it?

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