Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Remember when?

Remember when America was a hotbed for entrepreneurs? A place where taxes were low and the government just got out of the way and let business blossom? A place where a good idea and a hammer was all you needed to rise out of poverty and into the land of riches?

No? Well, that makes sense, considering that America never existed. Despite what Glenn Beck and others may have told you.

The right used to romanticize the good old days from a cultural standpoint. "Leave it to Beaver" was the model for their Utopian vision of a more perfect America. Of course, all it took was a few history books and a decent memory to debunk that myth. The 50s were hardly as 'keen' as the republicans like to think—filled with racism, sexism and a whole bunch of other 'isms'.

Now, republicans like to hearken back to that by-gone era of unbridled capitalism, when every new subdivision was an incubator for small businesses, filled with would-be Edisons developing the next big idea.

Except that era never happened either.

You see, if you look back at our country's most prosperous time, post WWII, what you'll find is a breed of capitalism so foreign to today's republicans (and most democrats) they might actually call it, heaven forbid, socialism! AHHHHHHH!

Now I know, most of you probably here the word socialism and think of the Stalin or the devil, but that's just because the right has done such a good job of painting government as the enemy, lying in wait to steal your unborn babies and kill your aging grandparents (or is it kill the babies and steal the grandparents? I never remember).

But if you really want to get a good sense of how socialism can actually work well, take a look at America in the late 40s and throughout the 50s.

Fresh off our victory on two fronts, our federal government created a program called the GI Bill. This provided returning soldiers with free college and a number of other benefits.

Our tax rates were also off the charts, pulling in up to 90% of income at the highest brackets.

And their was a grand bargain struck between businesses and labor to create a middle class of Americans that had never existed before. Companies (relying on heavy government subsidies) provided steady employment with good pay and benefits in return for the hard work and consistent buying power of their employees. It was a genius idea that led to an unprecedented period of prosperity. But the whole thing kinda reeks of socialism, no?

Today, we see politicians claiming they want to bring back the middle class. But they seem to have forgotten how it came about in the first place. Now, we can argue about the details, but slashing taxes for the rich and shipping jobs overseas seems a bit misguided to say the least.

But here's the real problem. Business doesn't care anymore. As Robert Kuttner points out in this excellent piece on HuffPost, today's businesses don't need the American worker. They don't need their labor and they don't need their purchasing power. They can get all of that overseas. All they want is lower taxes so they can fatten their paychecks and share the wealth with their rich investors.

So who is left to make sure Americans can earn an honest living? That's right folks, it's your good old friend, the government again.

The natural evolution of the economy is drawing more and more resources away from the U.S. It's a simple fact. But that doesn't mean we have to accept a continued decline in our standard of living. There is plenty of work to be done right here on our own soil. Our roads, bridges and mass transit systems are crumbling. Our airports are outdated and ill-equipped for the 21st century. Our buildings are highly energy inefficient. The list goes on.

But without government support, that list will remain unfinished forever. And without more jobs, our country will continue its devolution into a land of a few haves and a whole bunch of have-nots. It's bound to make people pretty cranky over time. Mix in our love of guns and our penchant for violence and things could get ugly.

Now if only the democrats could grow a pair and make their case to the American people that their way is the best way out of this mess. If not, they're likely to be the ones caught in the crossfire.

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