An early question from NBC's Chuck Todd posed to Barack Obama during his press conference went: “Why, given this new era of responsibility that you're asking for, why haven't you asked for something specific that the public should be sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?”
Todd may or may not have felt that major investment houses and banks and insurance companies had made terrible sacrifices, but he clearly wanted to know why middle-class people weren't making more of a sacrifice.
This came on a day when newspapers were reporting on the “tent cities” springing up across America, the 21st century equivalent of “Hoovertowns” during the Great Depression, shanty towns of planks and boards where the desperate homeless struggled to live. Sacramento opened up the state fair grounds for homeless families to pitch their tents where they might be a bit safer from the inevitable predators who have appeared to prey on such desperate families, and take what little they have left.
The same White House press corps who obsessed over a tax increase that would only have a minor effect on people making over $250,000 while ignoring vast tax relief for the 99% of Americans who are less affluent didn't bat an eye at the shameless question. They're WEALTHY! Aren't they ENTITLED? Of course regular people should sacrifice more! These corporate “journalists” are concerned, because less and less working people seem to be reading or watching them, and that could threaten their bonuses at the end of the year.
During the Great Depression, wealthy Americans complained about how working people had stopped buying food and paying rent because they were ungrateful, or part of a socialist revolution, or just to cause headaches for the wealthy. They were quite put out by it, really. Then FDR started stripping the plutocracy of the power to which it have become accustomed, and resentment turned to panic and anger. Some of America's wealthiest families aligned themselves with the Fascists, including Germany's Adolf Hitler, and the Bushes even had peripheral involvment in an effort to stage a coup against FDR in 1935.
Jared Diamond, the author of “Guns, Germs and Steel” interviewed with PBS and said: “It seems to me that one of the predictors of a happy versus an unhappy outcome, has to do with the role of the elite or the decision makers or the politicians, or the rich people within the society. If the society is structured so that the decision makers themselves suffer from the consequences of their decisions, then they are motivated to make decisions that are good for the whole of society. If the decision makers can make decisions that insulate themselves from the rest of society then they are likely to make decisions that are bad for the rest of society.”
Plutocrats aren't in the same life boat as the rest of us, and indeed, many of them feel they should even have to share the same ocean unless they need someone to do their fishing for them. It isn't even that they are malevolent—many of them aren't. They're just disengaged. Our problems are not their problems, and they see dislocations such as Depressions as being, not a threat to country or society, but an inconvenience to their class.
Historically, they have bought up much of the press in order to propagandize, and the latest rise of plutocracy in America has been no exception. They bought propaganda clowns first, and, as conditions for them improved, both in terms of capital and in terms of what they were legally permitted to do, they bought up much of the formerly independent media.
Rush Limbaugh is the best known of the propaganda clowns. Recently, grousing about how GM paid an average of $70 a worker while Toyota paid $26, Limbaugh, without actually using the word “pension”, said, “[T]he Big Three are going down the tubes in part because of both the insane benefits for current workers, and the crazy compensation for retirees [...] You can't pay people who produce nothing for you. And you can't pay a whole bunch of them over and over again who don't do anything, even if they have in the past."
Limbaugh's listeners aren't the brightest people around, but surely some of them must have realized that Limbaugh was suggesting that GM just scrap the pension fund and leave all those workers who put in a life's work for GM to live off Social Security. Of course, Limbaugh doesn't like Social Security, either. Thinks it's “socialist”. So basically, he's saying, “The retirees serve no useful function. Let 'em forage in the dump or starve.” Pensions are “crazy compensation for retirees”. Something to keep in mind if any Republican is still trying to argue that the private sector should take over Social Security.
It also explain's Chuck Todd's question. Doubtlessly paid well enough to be in the top 2% of income earners in the country, he sees no reason why he should pay an extra three cents on every dollar he makes above a quarter million, and wants to know why people making $12,000 a year aren't getting the same hit to their income.
When the upper class is powerful enough to buy up the media like that, then you have a plutocracy.
They bought up the government, too, making politicians endebted to them through the system of legalized bribes known as the campaign contribution system. Look at the large collection of vapid millionaires, not just in the Senate which has always been infested with such, but the House, which was once thought of as “the people's House” -- what the British call “the House of Commons”. Commoners. Us.
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Supreme Court Justice Louis B. Brandeis
Throughout history, American's have been vigilant to prevent the encroachment against their freedoms. There were three likely sources for such encroachments: the government, the churches, and the aristocracy. The founders recognized that a government that was accountable to the people was “a necessary evil” and that its chief role was to curtail the power of the church and the aristocracy. If government was “a good servant” in the control of the people, it became “a terrible master” in the hands of the priests or the plutocracy. Jefferson proposed limiting the rise of a landed gentry by applying a 100% tax to landed estates upon the death of the land holder, returning the land to the government for resale.
"Abolish plutocracy if you would abolish poverty." - Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes understood that a plutocracy was destructive, not just because of its insularity, arrogance and wretched excess, but because it simply sucked the money out of an economy. It happened in 1837, in 1873, in 1896, in 1929, and it's happening now.
They disavow any role in the collapse, and blame workers, government, unions, anyone they can think of. It was that way in the wild swings of the economy in the 19th century, and again in the Great Depression, and so it is now. That's why Todd snivels that the poor aren't carrying the same burden as the rich, and why Limbaugh inveighs against pensioners as a waste of a company's valuable resources.
They pretend that the loss of consumers in a consumer-based economy came as a total surprise, and they claim that nobody could have seen trouble brewing in 1999 when Glass-Steagell, the law that prevented banks from making wild investments in the market, was repealed. Senator Durban did, predicting that in 10 years time (about, oh, now) we would see massive bailouts have have a great deal of reason to regret letting the banks run wild like that. Nor was he the only one.
In 2004, James K. Galbraith said, “The cozy plutocracy of McKinley and his successors--Taft, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover--could not stand before the needs of the modern world. It can't be brought back now. Bush's effort to do so will bring misery for many, perhaps for many years. But the final outcome is not in doubt. Bush's second term, if it comes, will fail, and America will thereafter change course; democracy and common sense will assert themselves in the end.”
Let's hope he's right.
In the Great Depression, things got bad enough that the power of the Plutocrats was broken, and they were beaten back for two generations. America went on to become the richest and most powerful country in history.
Without those parasites, it can recover a thrive once again.
With any luck at all, we're about to watch history repeat itself.
March 30, 2009