The rift between master and slave is as old as human history. The rift has been continuous, just the names have changed. For centuries it was between the landed gentry and the peasants. Since the industrial revolution it has been between capital and labor. Always, between the two there was a small mercantile group as well as the traders and craftsmen that supplied that group. Previously this group fared better than labor but not so much better than labor today.
The history of labor vs.
capital in the United States, of workers vs. owners, is well documented. The rich have almost always grown richer. But the worker gained in income as well. Professor Richard D. Wolff, Capitalism
Hits the Fan, documents that workers gained in income each decade from
the 1800s through 1970s. When adjusted
for inflation, wages peaked in 1973.
Since 1973, essentially none of the gains in worker productivity have
been shared with the workers; business has retained literally all of it. Since, according to the Economic Policy
Institute, through 2007 the richest 10 percent of Americans received 98 percent
of all growth in income leaving 2 percent for the remaining 90 percent of
us. From 1988 through 2008, income for
the bottom 90 percent of us actually declined.
The portion gained by the top 1 percent in general and the top 0.1
percent in particular is obscene.
The improved standards of
living gained by labor unions, through higher wages and benefits for its
members through 1973, were believed to be a burdensome cost to profits. Chicago's School of Economics' Milton
Friedman had declared profits to be the only legitimate purpose of business. Something dramatic, something of epoch
proportions, must have occurred in the 1970's that supported Friedman's
contention. What could have happened?
We know what happened. Business, corporate interests, simply went to war against anything and everything that appeared to interfere with profits. Glen Greenwald, speaking on Link TV, has discussed the impact of radical corruption of our political and legal institutions. In his speech, Freedom and Liberty for Some, Greenberg suggests the seeds of that corruption were planted by the founding fathers. This article discusses the modern basis for that corruption from the 1970s through today.
By mid-1971, American
consumers became increasingly aware of deleterious business practices. Rachael
Carson's Silent Spring had spawned an environmental movement. Ralph Nader had taken on General Motors with
his book Unsafe at Any Speed and strongly advocated for consumer safety
and consumer protection. Richard Nixon
had created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act had been
Soon to be appointed Supreme
Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. would write "there
is an attack on the American free enterprise system". His confidential memo to the Chamber of
Commerce would become known as the Powell Manifesto, a strategy for development
of business dominance over government and the acquiescence of the public to its
aims. In it he wrote, "Business must
learn the lesson that political power is necessary...(and)...the scale of
financing only through joint effort over an indefinite number of years...(and)...united
action...(through)...national organizations" will be required.