The Forty Percent SolutionBy Richard Girard
“You take my life
When you do take the means whereby I live.”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616), English dramatist, poet. Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice, act 4, scene 1.
“The miserable have no other medicine
But only hope.”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616), English dramatist, poet. Claudio, in Measure for Measure, act 3, scene 1.
The fight in the United States Senate to provide General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford Motors with a bridge loan has brought into sharp focus the potential for the disintegration of our nation's middle class to many Americans.
The cavalier attitude of Senators Corker, Shelby, and McConnell and other Republicans to this crisis—when our nation teeters on the edge of its first economic depression in eighty years—shows that whatever patriotism they may have once had, has been replaced by greed and hidebound ideology.
Is the American automotive industry in need of a revamping of its methods of operation as well as its basic philosophy? Absolutely! Planned obsolescence, multiplicity of lines and models, and flavor of the year car design is not only ecologically unsound, but ultimately economically unsustainable for the vast majority of the American public. Henry Ford was right: let us pay our workers a decent wage while building cars that everyone can afford.
But most Republicans have believed since the 1880's in the concept of cheap labor for the big corporations. In order to ensure their corporate masters a supply of cheap labor, the Republican politicians have done everything in their power to oppose and destroy organized labor since that time, including murder. The Republican senators' current opposition to the loans to the Big Three is motivated not by fiscal conservatism and concern for the taxpayer, but by the desire to destroy the United Auto Workers.
Unions are as essential to establishing and maintaining an industrial nation's middle class as the yeoman farmer, with his small freehold, was to maintaining that of an agricultural nation. Without the middle class, any constitutional republic whose citizens enjoy traditional rights and liberties will quickly degenerate into an oligarchy or some other form of tyranny. This was true in the agricultural republics of ancient Athens and Rome; the Dutch Republic of the 17th Century, as well as Latin America. Similarly, one must note that among the first actions of any dictator (or conqueror) of an industrialized nation, upon seizing control, is to suppress or subvert the nation's unions. This was true of Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain, Brezhnev in Czechoslovakia, or Pinochet in Chile. Further, no union, or group of unions, has ever successfully overthrown a government by themselves.
It is the middle class which ensures the existence and extension of rights to every citizen. Women's suffrage, civil rights for minorities, rights of employees in the workplace, protection of children from abuse: all of these became law when the American middle class began to see the justice in the protests by and for these disenfranchised and oppressed groups, and said to themselves, “This is wrong, and it must change.”
The power elites which the Republicans represent have no interest in extending rights to other citizens. These crypto-fascists prefer to use the rights enjoyed by one segment of society to pit that segment against another segment. The power elites invariably argue that if these rights are granted to these “others,” it will somehow diminish the rights the first segment already enjoys. The reality is that extending de facto rights to others will make it harder for the power elites to take those rights away from those who already enjoy them, should the negation of those rights become advantageous to the power elites.
One of the most horrendous current examples of this playing of one segment of society against another, is the conservatives arguing that they have made this nation's income tax system more fair for the poor and lower middle class, because forty percent of the population does not pay income taxes.
I do not consider this fact—if fact it is—to reflect a positive improvement in our nation's economic history. It is rather a warning alarm, a clarion call telling us how far the average American has slipped in terms of income and status over the last forty years.
In 1969 (according to the IRS) only 16.0% of the working population had zero income tax liability, the lowest level since statistics began to be kept in 1950. It should also be noted that the year before (1968) the minimum wage reached its zenith, approximately $8.00 per hour in 2000 dollars, and unemployment its nadir, at 3.5%.
Beginning in 1973, Americans have seen a fairly steady decline in their real wages, that is to say wages adjusted for inflation, especially for the lowest two quintiles (forty percent) of the population.