The lightning had struck. In my mind's eye, I can see actor Colin Clive frenetically yelling "It's alive, it's alive," as the Monster's fingers began to move.
Over the course of the next twenty years, various states fell all over themselves, trying to become the most "corporation friendly." The idea of a corporation existing for the "public good," a test that had stood since the founding of our Republic, disappeared like honor among thieves. It was not until the Federal Government, under Teddy Roosevelt, began attacking the monopolies and syndicates--such as Standard Oil and the railroads--for unfair business practices under the Sherman Antitrust Act that corporations had their power checked in the slightest.
The marked inequality of wealth in the United States has threatened our Republic since its founding, and represents the single greatest internal threat to our nation at this time.
Let me quote here from my January 18, 2009 OpEdNews article "The Forty Percent Solution:"
"At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, it has been estimated that fifty-six percent of Americans "could not make ends meet," i.e., lived in poverty (Stanley Lebergott, The American Economy: Income, Wealth and Want, 1976; p. 508). In 1928, that number had fallen to an estimated fifty percent (from the late Steve Kangas' web site Liberalism Resurgent: Myths About Welfare; Welfare increases poverty; derived from Internal Revenue Service data cited in Donald Barlett and James Steele, America: Who Really Pays the Taxes; Simon & Schuster, 1994; pp. 66-7). By 1959--the first year the Bureau of the Census kept official statistics--the poverty rate had dropped to 22.2% in the United States. "
"When President Johnson declared the War on Poverty in 1965, it had dropped to 17.3%. In 1973--that pivotal year when America's middle class saw their wages (after inflation) start their current slide--poverty in the United States reached its lowest historical point, 11.1%. The last official figures I saw put poverty at 12.6% (2005 Census Bureau Table 689) of the population, although some sources place it as high a 17.7% (Creating a Consistent Poverty Measure over Time Using NAS Procedures 1996-2005; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Working Paper 417). "
I believe the 17.7 percent number was probably closer to correct in 2005, due to two simple facts. First, this is roughly the number which is given for the total unemployed and underemployed in the United States at the time of the survey. Second, there is a $27,500.00 discrepancy between median and average income, ($43,200 versus $70,700, a difference of almost 64%). This tells me that the money earned in our country is weighted heavily to the right of the median line of our population's income, which means that the number of people living in poverty--at the far left of that median line--is much higher than the official numbers. (I found these numbers originally in Barbara Ehrenreich's book, This Land is Their Land, "That Sinking Feeling," p. 92. She got the numbers from U.S. Census Bureau data for 2004.)
This percentage means that more than one out of six Americans are living in poverty. According to United Nation's statistics, it was not until the recession of 2001-2, and its jobless recovery, that any of the Western Democracies other than our next door neighbor, Canada, had double digit poverty. (Report of the United Nations Development Program, 2004; Where We Stand; Michael Wolff, et al., 1992.)
It appears to me as if the wealthiest people in this country would prefer to see the rest of us hanging on by the skin of our teeth, so we can't oppose them or their predations. They see no disadvantage (and numerous advantages) in having fifty percent of the American people living in poverty, the way that we did eighty years ago.
"You say you want a revolution, well you know, we'd all love to change the world." The Beatles, "Revolution," 1968.
Jefferson made it clear of what he thought of such an arrangement in a letter to Madison in 1785, "[The] unequal division of property... occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which... is to be observed all over Europe"I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1785; The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 19: page 17; 1904.
In 1785, property equaled wealth, as it had for more than two thousand years in the West. Today, that thing which we call capital--in all of its forms--is added to property to determine an individual's wealth.
The problem is that too often our capital has no personal connection to ourselves or our daily lives. Too often times our individual capital is invested not in the stock of single corporations, or the bonds of one government entity or another, but in various types of mutual and hedge funds which give us no real control over the securities we hold. As Barry C. Lynn points out in his book Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (2010), these mutual funds are a form of socialism where one has no pride of ownership, or interest in the present or future well being of the company outside of the dividends it pays you (See Chapter 8, "Wreckonomics 101," in particular the section "The Wall Street Commune," p.p. 227-31.) General Electric is a perfect example of this, where funding for research and development, at one time the pride of the company, was reduced from number one among American corporations to number seventeen under the chairmanship of Jack Welch, because R&D did nothing to improve the short term bottom line.
The last thirty years has seen the replacement of the pride of ownership in, and contribution to, the companies that we have built up--as owners, managers, and workers--here in the United States with blind, unthinking avarice. Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics have destroyed the American manufacturing base with their contention that the sole social responsibility of a corporation is to maximize its shareholder's dividends. This has given tacit permission to the business world to steal from and defraud those individuals who are not as cognizant of the rules under which banks, investment firms, mortgage brokers, stock brokers and the rest of the financial world play. These rules are so occult, so arcane, that even initiates sometimes are taken for a ride, as happened both with Bernie Madoff and the derivatives scandal.
It has also seen a constriction in competition until large portions of our economy are dominated by institutions that are "too big to fail." This not just in the financial arena: military contractors, petroleum companies, and commercial retailers, are just a few of the categories where fewer than ten corporations control more than 50% of the business. With so little competition, it is impossible for companies not to collude, or buy overwhelming influence in our political apparatus.
As Americans we are left with two choices: emulate Teddy Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin and bring these corporations to heel, or submit to the new feudalism of the corporatist state. We need to enforce a strengthened Sherman Antitrust Act (as amended through 1980); reinstitute the Glass-Steagall Act with additional provisions to take into account a computer age; revoke the portions of the Taft-Hartley Act that allow open shops, while passing the Employee Free Choice Act; raise corporate taxes so corporations no longer have the money for a hostile takeover of a competitor; and finally, give tax breaks to those who bring manufacturing back to this country, while enforcing an excise tax on those corporations who take their manufacturing, or other operations that are possible within our borders, out of the country.