How much of a hypocrite does one have to be to stand up in front of a group of voters and claim that Obama has ignored the interests of the middle class and deliberately enriched the 1%? I do fault the Democrats for not doing a better job with their economic message before the election last November, and I suppose that left them open to this cynical posing by Republicans, who have suddenly discovered the middle class. The Republicans real sympathies seem to have been on display when four potential Republican candidates for President attended the soiree put on by the Koch brothers. The billionaires set a target of $889 million to finance the 2016 campaign. It looks like the Kochs are setting out to buy a President who will look after the interests of the 0.1%, and the candidates seem to be all for it. If the Kochs succeed, I don’t see much coming out of this other than John Boehner and Mitch McConnell saying over and over again: “Jobs, jobs, Jobs, echoed by whoever is over at the White House. And as nothing happens, the rich will get richer.
On January 22 erudite sports writer, George Will, strayed off the diamond and read something by Nicholas Eberstadt in “National Affairs quarterly.” (sic) It seems that “America’s welfare state transfers more than 14 percent of gross domestic product to recipients, with more than a third of Americans taking ‘need-based’ payments.” (sic again) He gives readers a lot of figures, and with each one it becomes clearer that there is something seriously wrong with the American economy. If a third of us are in need, and those needs have to be met by government programs, I think we can say that the free market system has failed us. How did this happen?
Apparently there are only two periods in history when the middle class fared well, the second half of the 14th C and the post WW II period up to about 1980, or if one wants to be snotty, up to Reagan. In the former case, the Black Death had wiped out a third or more of the population of Europe and those who were left were able to bargain for higher wages. After WW II, if I recall correctly, over a third of workers in the US were unionized, and all workers, even those who professed to hate unions, benefitted from the unions ability to bargain with management for better wages and benefits. Businesses didn't go broke when they had to share some of their earnings with their workers. They prospered and grew. After 1980 that all changed. The economic pie kept growing but at a slower rate. The rich got richer by keeping virtually all of the growth for themselves, but they might have done even better by taking a smaller piece of a bigger pie.
Where do we go from here? The talking heads on MSNBC seem to think it will be 2022 before the Democrats can produce a majority in the House of Representatives. In the meantime there’s no telling how much damage our Republican politicians can do as they pay off the billionaires who bought them their seats and try to solve the nation’s economic problems by promoting a Chicago School market economy with perfect competition, small government and low taxes. Grover Norquist will be happy and may feel he can retire. The rest of had better be thinking ahead to how work can be organized in this new information age so that everyone can be gainfully employed. The workforce has adjusted to innovations in production methods many times over the last two centuries, but this time it may be different. I’m not sure there is a role for many of us, unless we revise our ideas about how the working world should be organized and how its participants should be compensated.