Thom Hartmann's latest book, SCREWED: THE UNDECLARED WAR AGAINST THE MIDDLE CLASS - AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT, tells how the Neo-Conservatives have been systematically attacking and dismantling the Democrats' New Deal/Great Society socio-economic structure in the United States.
To me, the main theme of the book is that Democracy requires a strong and healthy middle class in order to function properly, and that this is impossible without responsible Public regulation of business. This regulation was gradually accomplished by the United States Government during the time between the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890) and the beginning of Ronald Reagan's first term as President (1981), at which time the Neo-Conservative process of "Deregulation" began, and continues up till now, attempting to reverse all the earlier progress.
If they are not regulated, profit-seeking corporations will naturally and inevitably seek to maximize their own profits, above all other considerations. (That is their main purpose, to make profits. What else would they do?) But the so-called "Free Market," where unregulated profit-seeking corporations are responsible only to their owners and not to a higher Public authority, leads inevitably to social and economic disaster.
When Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" - as described in WEALTH OF NATIONS (1776) - and David Ricardo's "Iron Law Of Wages" (1817), are applied to unregulated industrial Capitalism, the disastrous results are accurately described by Karl Marx in DAS KAPITAL (1867): poverty and exploitation of the masses; cartels, monopolies, and extreme concentration of wealth among the corporate owners; violent social upheavals; perpetual wars. This is what we were beginning to have here in the USA in the late 1800's, but the process was stopped by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890) and subsequent Progressive and Democratic legislation to regulate business in the Public Interest.
In this book, Hartmann identifies many of the various ideas and policies which the Neo-Conservatives have been using to enrich and empower the economic elite, while weakening and diminishing America's Middle Class and endangering the entire country. Among these Neo-Conservative ideas and policies are . . .
* "Trickle-Down Economics" - the idea that if the rich grew suddenly richer, they would use that money to build factories and hire more people. Yes, that's what they frequently do. And when they do that, they perpetuate and increase their economic advantage over those less wealthy, who could have started their own businesses if they had any money left over after buying the necessities of life.
* The policy of maintaining abnormally low interest rates, to artificially pump up the economy by increasing borrowing and debt.
* The policy of huge deficit spending and increasing our balance-of-payments debt to other countries, because of trade deficits.
* The policy of trying to privatize everything that has been Public. Thus Public property becomes Private Property, and the Private owner owns it, controls it, and profits by it. The Public loses all rights to it. Roads, bridges, schools, prisons, airports, hospitals, and other Public facilities become Private Property, owned and run for the profit of their Corporate owners.
* The policy of deregulating everything that has been regulated. This allows businesses to ignore safety and environmental regulations, enacted for the Public benefit. And it allows the largest and most powerful corporations to swallow up their smaller and weaker competitors. The result is that a few large corporations wind up owning almost all of every important industry; and then they run it however they choose, with no oversight by the Public. In the case of Media Conglomerates, it allows them to publish and broadcast whatever the owners choose; and the owners always choose to broadcast and publish whatever seems to best protect their political interests and yield the greatest profits. Public be damned!
* The policy of attacking and weakening Public Education, so as to justify privatization of the Public Schools and to eliminate teachers unions.
* The policy of opposing estate taxes, so as to perpetuate and increase the power of inherited wealth vs. "earning it yourself." Suppose one person begins life with a ten-million-dollar nestegg which he inherits. Another person has no such inherited wealth. They are both equally talented, equally capable. Which one do you think will be the owner and which one will be the employee? (A traditional football cheer of the Harvard fans when their opponents score a touchdown: "That's all right; that's okay; you're gonna work for us some day.")
* The policy of opposing or reducing progressive income taxes, while pushing for flat-rate taxation. This allows the rich to get richer, because as their income rises, they get to keep most of the ever-increasing excess of their income over the amounts needed for normal life. So they then buy profit-making assets and begin to make a profit from the labor of others, thus further perpetuating and increasing their economic advantage over the less wealthy.
* The idea that, "I earned this money myself. It all belongs to me. I don't owe anything to anybody. Taxation is robbery." This is a basic Neo-Conservative idea. It ignores the reality that profit-making businesses can only exit within a pre-existing framework of laws, courts, infrastructure, and national defense. Nobody earns anything "all by himself." Taxation is the means by which profit-making businesses pay their way in our society.
* Seeking and promoting perpetual war. This keeps the Public in fear, and keeps the Defense contractors humming profitably, at Public expense.
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