The wealth of a nation continues to drain from middle America into the vaults of Wall Street. It is time for Americans to set aside their 1970s moral values, and stop paying debts on underwater homes and overpriced credit cards, because America needs your money to build a new economy.
The misuse of wealth is not a new subject, and few described it better than President Dwight Eisenhower in a speech on April 16, 1953: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
In the same very final sense, every dollar that is sent to big banks to pay off underwater homes and 29% interest rates is a theft from your family, your community, and the future of America.
It is also a theft from yourself. It means a lot to America if you slide into poverty, because America doesn't need you depressed and dispirited and living in your car. The nation needs human beings confident they can handle the future, and ready to step forward with new ideas and energy, to create new business models that can make profits in a national and global economy -- profits that flow to the 99 Percent, not Wall Street.
The current net "wealth" of we 99 Percenters is generally estimated to be about 62% of the nation's assets. Online there are estimates for the total wealth of the nation ranging from about $54 trillion to $150+ trillion. (I question all the dollar amounts, because there are a lot of ways to add up the assets of a nation. The $54 trillion in particular seems absurdly low.)
Regardless, the approximate 38% owned by the one-percenters is a lot more powerful right now, because most of it is concentrated in the hands of a very small number of decision-makers -- too many of whom are power-mad, well-connected -- and most of whom have a lot of experience taking other people's money away from them.
But the 99 Percenters also have power. We have the power to dictate masses of smaller individual deals, on underwater homes and usurious interest. We can simply reduce the interest to 0% and the principal to $0.00 -- by not sending the big bank any more money.
That money can be put to good and great use. In the hands of the 99 Percent, it can rebuild the human dignity and bind up the financial wounds of a nation.
Despite our current "age of amateurism," in which a lot of Americans sit in front of a computer being not very good at too many things, there is tremendous unleashed creativity wasting away in Brooklyn basements and Kansas City garages. These are the people who invent the ingenious tools and machines which the big companies buy up, and then bury under patents because they can make more money selling feature-bloated products.
Each nationality has its unique talents, unique natural resources, and traditional skills, skills often running back centuries. Let's ignore food and other commodities for a moment. Asia is currently doing to the U.S. what we did to Europe in the Long Recession of 1873 -- Asia is gutting many of our commodity industries. Some will not recover.
That leaves a huge range of products and services that other countries can make better than China or most emerging economies. Those who do a lot of business internationally can instantly point to the nations that are best at gold-smithing, fluidics, printing presses, different types of electronic and machine parts, cutting tools, specialized clothing, swimming pool cleaners, electric appliances, and pianos.
(But I forgot! Asia has taken over the world piano market. Or has it? Steinway's lower-priced Boston and Essex brands are indeed made in Japan and China. On the floor of Carnegie Hall, however, the Steinway model of choice is the Steinway D-274 grand piano -- which are made exclusively in the U.S. and Germany.)
Emerging economies are not taking the lead in these industries anytime soon -- they might not be fully competitive for 50-100 years. In fact, just to build the machines to make competing products, the first stop for an emerging nation is often Haas Automation in California -- because to build quality manufacturing tools, you need the best machining tools available. And Haas is not a Fortune 500 company -- in fact it was only founded in 1983.
And Americans' talent? I'd say they are masters of simple machines that do more with less. I say that despite watching some 30 years of shoddy car manufacture and junky plastic appliances. The quality in many American industries is on a fast rise again. I believe Americans still have the talent to create simple, ingenious, effective tools and machines. It's the will to do so that is in question.
With English now the international business language, and the Internet the international connection, the 99 Percenters can compete globally as well as the Fortune 500. So as the Fortune 500 abandons Americans as their customers and employees -- in favor of emerging markets -- the 99 Percent can begin to abandon the Fortune 500 as their customers and employers -- in favor of emerging markets.
For the last four years the mainstream media, the financial manipulators, the foot-dragging Federal agencies and the moralist next door have been delaying debt walkaway, as they trumpeted 1970s values that no longer mean anything. Now there is not much time left for delay. The remaining wealth of the middle-class is shrinking too fast to be squabbling over individual morality.
The money being sent to big banks needs to be invested in new businesses owned and operated by creators and inventors, the same way Haas began (as did Hewlett-Packard, in a garage in 1939). These new companies need to be doing business beyond Main Street, because we can't build a new economy trading sandwiches for dry cleaning. The 99 Percent economy needs to be both national and global.
This, in 2012, is the overriding civic duty of Americans who want to participate in saving the economy: think locally, nationally, and globally. And then build businesses and organizations that operate on any or all of the three levels. Call it New Street, USA.
Fri Jan 27, 2012 at 8:20 PM PT: Comment from an economic historian who writes about the parallels between the Great Recession and the Long Recession of 1873:
"This is great. Machine tools were the US's most significant industry from the 1870s forward - partly a result of the import of highly-skilled German, Austro-Hungarian, and English machinists who had previously been banned from emigrating to the US by their home countries. Small-scale batch manufactories (not the Carnegie/Rockefeller big firms) were arguably the most dynamic." – Scott Reynolds Nelson, Professor of History, College of William and Mary, author of “The Real Great Depression,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 Oct. 2008.