We (could?) overcome

It’s pretty easy to see that in the past 40-plus years, the American middle class has become mostly nonexistent. And the rise of what I’d call the “American Oligarchs” (think Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk) has risen to astounding heights.

America’s citizens are slowly losing what made a middle class possible, such as accessible, high-quality education, affordable health care, good wages and pensions.

Over the past four decades, the movement of corporations from entities with CEOs responsible to community, stakeholders and employees to being solely concerned with shareholder profits, is evidenced by CEO compensation – which has gone from approximately 20 times the average company worker’s salary in the 1960s and 1970s to over 300 times that today.

So how has this disparity come to pass? Well, a now long line of corporate raiders like billionaire Carl Ichan, who backed former President Donald Trump in 2015 and was appointed to “special advisor” on regulatory issues in the White House, helped roll back regulations and push for corporate tax cuts. So much so that his net worth prior to Trump’s election was $16.8 billion and, three years later, it was $18.4 billion.

Corporate benefits (sick and pregnancy leave, paid time off, salaries) have been cut back, along with pensions (13% of U.S. workers have pensions).

Organizations that helped workers maintain these benefits, namely unions, are all but nonexistent now (only 6.4% of private-sector workers are unionized in the U.S.). Corporate lobbyists in Congress on both sides of the aisle helped assure that unions lost power.

The Supreme Court also helped assure corporations retain power by giving them “personhood” and First Amendment rights to spend money on ballot initiatives and on all federal, state and local candidate elections (i.e. Citizens United).

So it’s no wonder the average citizen has little wealth and hence near-zero political influence on policy decisions in Washington, D.C. And, as one would expect, the American Oligarchy does not want to pay for mistakes, such as the Wall Street bailout or the Savings and Loan Crisis. Nor do they want to pay for good infrastructure, schools or health care – all the things that a middle class needs to thrive.

Instead, jobs are shipped overseas (Apple employs some 44,000 U.S. employees, but more than 700,000 overseas employees), and benefits are cut as well as salaries and hourly wages. And the corporate profits go to the shareholders and top executives.

This is not stable, and it will not it cannot persist. We overcame the robber-barons of old and the English monarchy, didn’t we?

The American Oligarchs benefit from our distraction and disunity. Just think how wealthy they became over the pandemic or how our current dysfunctional, divided Congress helps them.

We need to fight together by working together, because more than anything, just getting by on earnings and lacking access to health care or education is no more the American dream than is becoming a One Percenter.

We’ve done it before, and we can do it again. Overturn Citizens United, unionize, demand equal rights and pay, and don’t let America become like Russia, where democracy “almost” succeeded.

– Tim Thomas, Durango