“To secure to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.” – Abraham Lincoln, 1847
“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” – Abraham Lincoln to striking Massachusetts workers, 1860
“Here we have the ‘haves’ and the ‘have mores.’ Some call you the elite; I call you my base.” – George W. Bush to a room of wealthy Republican contributors, 2000
Even as late as 1775, even after the momentous events of Lexington and Concord, colonial leaders were scrambling to find a way to reconcile the prodigal British settlements with Mother England before a full-scale war broke out. All throughout the period that began with the 1765 Stamp Act, one of the worst ideas in the history of taxation, up to the Intolerable Acts of 1774, which widened a reparable schism between London and the Colonies into an unbridgeable gulf, the general inclination of those who would eventually come to lead the patriot movement was to achieve detente with the imperial government.
By then, however, it was too late. The revolutionaries were becoming a dominant force in colonial governments and the bulk of Americans were, in modern parlance, so over the crown’s rule. “Common Sense” was published in January 1776, and by July there was a new, independent government in what had been British America. From there forward, the Patriots were all about kicking ass and chewing bubble gum*, and nobody had invented chewing gum.
This goes to show that no major popular movement has developed independent of dramatic, often extreme externalities. Individuals are dynamic, but groups are severly subject to inertia, and it takes a great catalyst for a significant part of the population to overtly reject the status quo. Only when circumstances no longer allow people to continue operating as they had been do they embrace alternatives, especially when it comes at certain personal expense.
For the Patriots, the reassertion of an oligarchic, unrepresentative rule offened their senses of liberty, but also threatened the politico-economic structure the colonists had established over a relatively unmolested stretch of more than 100 years. The proto-middle class of the Colonies – merchants, tradesman, yeoman farmers, skilled laborers, attorneys and physicians – formed the most stalwart bloc of rebels, as they perceived not only the danger to their livelihood represented by the actions of King George III and the Tory government of Lord North, but an opportunity for full political as well as economic independence if they triumphed in their cause.
The American Revolution example is not intended to directly correlate to the situation at hand, and it is highly unlikely anything of that scale or means is on the horizon. Yet there is a lot of frustration and fear permeating the Republic right now, much of it driven by unemployment or job insecurity, and still more by the faltering retirement system that threatens collapse within a decade of now. Right and left, citizens are staggered by the inaction of Washington and the ever-increasing polarization among the ruling factions, inter- and intra-party. However, even though people can pick out the individual manifestations of the national ailment, they still are not willing to identify the disease.
Corporatism, that American quasi-fascism [note: fascism is now connotatively inseparable from Nazism, but the NDSAP was only one of several fascist parties to hold control over a nation in the 20th century. The Republican Party, to be sure, was not. We have never known the totalitarianism that existed in Italy, Spain, Germany, and South America, or anything close], has so entwined itself with our government that it is sometimes impossible to tell where this uroburos begins and ends. Our tax dollars pay our fee for access to our government – we should not have to employ lobbyists as well.
Our ability to influence our own representatives, and our choices within the marketplace and workforce, are being stifled, not by any one particular monopoly but by the monopolistic network. The interconnectedness of corporate boards through the individuals who sit on them is staggering, and the political influence of these people and corporations through campaign dollars and lobbyist pressure is obscene. Anyone who has studied the flow of money through the political system, starting with PAC contributions and bundling to federal expenditures, will not be surprised at how readily Wall Street was rescued from the mess it made, or how slowly our move toward energy independence and health insurance reform progresses through Congress. Financial services companies continue to rake in profits, while small businesses throughout the country are forced to shut their doors or slash their labor costs.
Then, as serious people are finally having a serious discussion about how to make the national economy work for all Americans, the Teabaggers are unloosed to scare the bejesus out of moderates of both parties. There was a time when the money elite was afraid of folks like these, but in the century since the Progressive movement undid the Gilded Age trust structure, the very rich have found a way to get a chunk of the working class on their side, as we have seen. The reactionary populist horde, ginned up by the right-wing PR machine and organizations funded by the interests in question, does a quite passable hillbilly impression of the xenophobic, homophobic, racist, anti-artisitc, anti-intellectual, nationalistic, militaristic and terrified mobs that led the world into conflict and madness after the last economic collapse in the 1920s and ’30s.
Simply put, the dysfunctionality of government and the dysfunctionality of the economy stem from the same root: the modern American oligarchy.
The Boomers and those of early middle age are, broadly speaking, too entrenched in the current system to take dramatic steps to undo it. Even if they wanted to, their careers and whatever of their savings are dependent on a return to things as they were up until recently.
Not only does the upcoming generation, those in their late teens to early 30s, have an opportunity to alter the structure of our politico-economic framework, it is a necessity.
The New York Post, of all papers, had a report on Sunday stating that 52.2 percent of working young Americans (which excludes students and those in the military) are unemployed. Though the author of the article tried to blame President Obama for the situation, as he is contractually obligated to do, he did state the problem clearly. “The employment rate of 16-to-24 year olds has eroded to 47.83 percent — the lowest ratio of working young Americans in that age group, including all but those in the military, since WWII,” the article read.
There was no sunnier news from the Old Gray Lady. A front page New York Times article revealed that jobseekers outnumber job openings by a 6-to-1 ratio:
“According to the Labor Department’s latest numbers, from July, only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed.”
How, then, is corporate America doing? According to the Labor Department’s second quarter 2009 statistics, productivity in the nonfarm business sector increased 6.6 percent, as per unit labor costs fell 5.9 percent. The workers’ side of that equation is that hours worked fell by over 7 percent, and real hourly compensation fell by 1 percent.
Finally, lest anyone think The National Razor is being paranoid about corporate power or the apathy of the elite for their misdeeds, there is this: another New York Times article about the new flurry of mergers as signs of recovery appear. The first thing corporate America is doing as the crisis abates is exactly what it was doing when the crisis began: corporate consolidation and inflating quarterly profits. They have learned nothing, or they do not care, and either way it is frightening that these people control our lives to the extent they do.
We, however, do care, and we have learned. Unemployment typically lags one or two quarters behind other economic indicators, meaning even if the recovery is officially underway and the recession is in its final throes, the jobless will continue to be jobless for another half a year or more, and more will be added to their ranks. An uptick in mergers and acquisitions, such as the NYT has indicated, is almost certain to guarantee more layoffs.
We cannot continue to live like this, and we must take steps to correct the situation. This economic crisis, which threatens the long-term prosperity of an entire generation, must result in a full break from the practices which have led to it or continue to asphyxiate the young working and professional class until we finally act out in desperation.
Now is the time to build a movement, from a foundation that is formed of both idealism and practicality. In principle, we believe that the current system deprives us of opportunity, retards innovation, undervalues the fruits of our labor and breeds instability. In practice, the status quo is leaving us over- or underworked and unable to build toward a prosperous future. Let us join now and reclaim the American economy, or remain disunited and suffer alone.
*The scene is from “They Live,” which is one of the most political and subversive (and actually very awesome) horror flicks ever. Note the signage around the bank.