is because increasingly Americans are slipping down the economic scale, headed in that direction.
There were several segments on Morning Joe that addressed this - remarks by Mike Barnicle, the segment with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley.
As Smiley put it, "the former middle class who are now the new educated poor."
Yesterday I went to a book event at the AFL-CIO headquarters here in DC. The author was Hedrick Smith, who was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and who approached his latest book, the just-released Who Stole the American Dream?, as a reporter.
Joe Scarborough pointed out that, not including his show this morning, a study released yesterday said that 0.2% of the stories on the current campaign dealt in any way with the poor.
I have just begun the Smith book. He has pulled together a lot of important material, and had the assistance of the likes of people at the AFL-CIO and Larry Mishel and those at the Economic Policy Institute.
I am going to ask you to continue below the fold where I will share a bit from the beginning of the book and from my notes from yesterday's author sesssion.
I opened the book to read the quotation at the beginning, and became tempted to immediately change my sig to those words, which I offer here:
We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.The man who offered those words later became a Supreme Court Justice, but offered them when he was an adviser to President Woodrow Wilson. His name was Louis Brandeis.
To a degree Smith is accepting framing made familiar by John Edwards when he offers
Over the past three decades, we have become Two Americas.Smith writes pointedly
Today, the gravest challenge and the most corrosive fault line in our society is the gross inequality of income and wealth in America.If you do not fully grasp how severe this is becoming, consider this:
Wealth has flowed so massively to the top that during the nation's growth spurt from 2000 to 2007, America's super-rich, te top 1 percent (3 million people), reaped two-thirds of the nation's entire economic gains. The other 99 percent were left with only one-third of the gains to divide among 310 million people. In 2010, the first full year of the economic recovery, the top 1 percent captured 93 percent of the nation's gains.
And then there is this, which perhaps you have encountered before:
...according to the Census Bureau, the pay of a typical male worker was lower in 2010 than in 1978, adjusted for inflation. Three decades of getting nowhere or slipping backwards.In his remarks yesterday, Smith noted that in the early 80s, when Reagan came into office, homeowner owned about 70% of the value of their homes. By the beginning of 2009, before the total collapse of the housing market, that had dropped to 40% as people had been forced to use the equity in their homes in order to sustain the standard of living.
That's if you had equity in your home, since after all, there are now more than 20 million mortgages under water in the US.
Hedrick Smith offers key data points - the infamous 1971 Powell Memorandum and the adoption of the 401K in 1978 are two key ones.
Consider a few notes I will paste in without editing from my notes from yesterday:
He is now getting to 1971 Powell MemorandumSmith also offered an addendum to the famous maxim of Lord Acton that Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. It was coined by legendary organizer Ernie Cortes, and reads like this:
Smith notes that most of the regulation about which Powell complained were enacted in Presidency of Richard Nixon
Business Roundtable formed 3 months after the Powell Memorandum
NFIB grows from 3K to 600K - similar growth in other business organizations
50,000 working for trade associaions
9000 corporate lobbyists
1978 is watershed -
401K went thru as a favor to Barber Conable on behalf of Kodak, etc.
Why is dream stolen
First thing that happens is the power shift
He is so upset that people in media treat business and labor as if equal
Business outspends labor 65-1 in lobbying
16-1 in political spending
Powerlessness also corrupts.
The poor not only lack financial resources, they lack access to power. One reason for the attacks on ACORN was a deliberate attempt to destroy one of the few mechanisms that gave the poor access to the levers of power by working collectively. Similarly, there have been severe restrictions placed upon the services that can be offered by Legal Services, as the legal system, in civil law as well as criminal law, gets further tilted in favor of those already wealthy or powerful.
There is the famous statement from Nazi Germany by Pastor Martin Niemoller, of which there are many versions, the one best known in the United States reading as follows:
First they came for the socialists,There are few organizations that have the power to speak for ordinary folks. Labor unions, whose power has been severely diminished over the past few decades, remain in the cross-hairs.
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Even with the recent increase, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation, meaning the working poor fall ever further behind.
The loss of defined benefit pensions increasingly puts our older citizens at risk of slipping into poverty.
Our standards for teaching history - if we teach it - excludes the history of the powerless, including omitting labor history, but also all except some whitewashed history of minorities. People do not learn that August 28 1963 was official a March for Jobs and Freedom, and that Helen Keller was a Socialist.
The narratives that frame our discussions of policy seem to be shaped by the institutions formed after the Powell Memorandum, by the thrust of that document and what has flowed from that.
Some try to undermine expansion of medical coverage that does not even include all Americans by pitting one group of Americans against another rather than a narrative that enables us to see we are all in this together.
Smith notes that it does not have to be like this. Germany has managed to maintain a manufacturing capacity while we have been losing ours, they maintain a trade surplus while we have a trade deficit, and they do not have the kinds of poverty or of loss of middle class status that is now so endemic in America. Oh, and they have universal health care.
It is insufficient to win elections as Democrats merely because we can get more money from Wall Street than did the Republicans, as happened in 2008. That makes the incoming administration too beholden to Wall Street interests. It may be in part why we did not get cramdowns on mortgages, why the bailed out financial institutions continued to pay bonuses rather than alleviate suffering and freeing up credit, why those whose actions were not only immoral but also illegal have suffered no criminal penalties and few if any financial penalties, while millions upon millions of Americans have suffered, have seen the loss of the American Dream.
That one party can nominate for President a man who has benefited from the tilted system should be an abomination. Merely because one comes from wealth is far from a disqualifier: both Roosevelts and Kennedy came from family wealth, and the likes of Lyndon Johnson had seen "severe" increases in the financial well-being experienced in adulthood compared to his younger years. But all of these, and even conservatives like Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, understood something about the nature of the implication of our social contract. It is why we struggled to expand that social contract to be more inclusive - by race, by gender, by religion, even by age when the voting age was lowered to 18.
Now we see those willing to abandon that approach, and thereby to abandon many people.
If you do not care what happens to the poor, then you will have no right to complain when you find yourself slipping ever closer to their economic despair.
We often complain that if only the poor would vote, we could have a strong Democratic majority and be able to accomplish progressive goals. But why should the poor bother when neither party addresses their needs, when so often they are not considered, not even mentioned?
Who lobbies for the poor in Washington, in the 50 state capitals?
There can be no real social justice without economic justice, and there will be neither if we exclude the poor when we consider how to make policy.
Just a few thoughts on a Friday morning.
Do with them what you will.