Letter to Editor: But How Did We Get Here?

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Despite the hardships they may have faced, our nation’s settlers could be compared to lottery winners. Land ownership was a measure of our wealth, and the Land Ordinance of 1785, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 promoted “an empire of liberty” through broad land ownership at bargain prices. The Homestead Act of 1862 offered land at no cost, and the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1865 doubled the acreage.

Opportunity was ours, and we owe our forefathers a large debt of gratitude. Aristocrats claimed title to the land settled in South America. Our founding fathers revolted not only against taxation without representation, they made a revolutionary departure from a tradition of aristocratic oligarchy, and the United States of America would become the greatest nation on earth.

There were bumps in the road. From the ashes of our Civil War, we would transition from a predominantly agrarian society into an industrialized society. Our wealth doubled during the Industrial Revolution, but fewer winners made it into our Gilded Age. Labor unions gained ground following WWI, but market speculation ended in the Crash of 1929. We suffered our Great Depression.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal of 1933 included public works and financial reform. There were objections to government intrusion and an 8 percent increase in government spending, but WWII would increase spending by 52 percent. We also experienced levels of economic growth only dreamed of today, and would elect more Democrats and only a Democratic Congress over the next 3 decades.

Our veterans worked hard and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but were offered a hand up at the starting line. Their education was free. VA mortgages made homes affordable, and wages supported a family. Our middle class became the wealthiest on earth during our nation’s Golden Age.

We were also paying down an enormous war debt, and likely complained about taxes as we piled our families into our new cars and headed out to dinner and a movie. I had wondered at this phenomenon at a family gathering, but those taking these complaints seriously had Frederich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.” The “conservative bible” warned against government intervention.

Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” soon followed, also rejecting “collectivism.” Rand Paul was named for Ms. Ayn, but by 1973 journalist Irving Crystal had become the “godfather of neoconservatism.” Embracing supply side economics and the concept that tax cuts pay for themselves, he would later acknowledge a “cavalier attitude toward budget deficits,” but prioritize “political effectiveness over government accounting deficiencies.”

In other words, trickle down hadn’t worked, but one might claim it does. That message would persist, and the party that had led us into our Great Depression would create 2.5 times more debt as a share of our economy, advise us “deficits don’t matter,” and lead us into our Great Recession.

Since WWII Democratic administrations have, without exception, reduced budget deficits. Yes, even President Obama.

Jobs and wages top our list of concerns, though. Plowing through government data, we also find that since WWII nearly 3 times as many jobs have been created during Democratic administrations, wages and median household incomes increased more and faster, and minimum wages were up 16 cents annually versus 6 cents.

We’re all about business by now, and our bottom line is that our economy has grown more and we have all done better during Democratic administrations. Economists Blinder and Watson made our job easier by presenting undisputed government data, acknowledging economic cycles, and confirming that since WWII our economy has performed better by every positive economic measure during Democratic administrations.

This outcome may have been foretold in 1792. Record keeping was spotty then, but we chose the “tyranny of democracy” over the tyranny of aristocratic oligarchy, and our bill to revive our cod industry required everyone from the cabin boy to the captain to share in the profits.

Examining the eternal struggle between personal freedoms and a civilized society, William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” was published in 1954 and remained on required reading lists in 1980; yet we would be led into the Republican Revolution. We got tax cuts, and while our government is spending less as a share of our economy than other industrialized nations, it is not yet “small enough to drown in a bathtub.” We are being promised our “biggest tax cuts ever.”

As CEO compensation is reaching hundreds and even thousands of times the wages of average employees, and McDonald’s CEO recently tripled his multi-million dollar compensation package in just one year as taxpayers supplement employees’ wages, it’s hardly surprising to find that the 1 percent of us that amassed 40 percent of our nation’s wealth heading into our Great Depression is closing in upon than level once again.

We’re angry, and perhaps understandably have elected a president who is embracing the politics of division, tweeting “alternative facts,” and taking credit for deals made before he took office, magazine covers that don’t exist, phone calls he hasn’t received, and a nation called “Nambia.”

President Trump has advised, “When the president says it, that means it’s true.” We have no idea how frequently his “great friend” Carl Icahn is visiting, though. The White House visitors’ log has been done away with.

President Obama apologized for his misstatement, the one quoted so frequently, and advised, “Democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.” We have his birth certificate, his White House visitors’ log, records of those meetings, his tax returns, and millions more of us are at least seeing a doctor.

Accountability would be timely. William Jennings Bryan observed over a century ago, “There are those who believe that if you legislate to make the well-to-do prosper, their prosperity will leak through onto those below. The Democratic idea, however, is that if you legislate to make the masses prosper, prosperity finds its way up through every class.”

That’s what we have experienced in the United States of America. We all do better when we all do better, and achieving the highest level of income disparity in the industrialized world isn’t serving us well.

Thomas Jefferson feared an “aristocracy of our monied corporations,” and advised us to “leave no authority existing that is not responsible to the people.” He may have sensed that while capitalism is vital to our economy, working together for a strong middle class nets positive results, while moving in the opposite direction results in the dysfunction we’re experiencing today.

Our forefathers did their part to promote the general welfare. Now it is up to us.

Carol Voyles
Treasurer, Talbot County Democratic Central Committee
Board member. Talbot County Democratic Forum

 

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