We Had It Right
Seriously, we were kickin' ass
Welcome to America during the middle of the 20th century – roughly the period between 1950 and 1970. Americans had spent the last 200 years pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. They toiled through our colonial period, labored through two industrial revolutions, fought their way out of slavery, evolved from child labor, and crawled back from the Great Depression. By the early 1970s, the average American had some serious mojo, with the working class growing in size, wealth, and influence. In fact, our wealth was growing at about the same rate, if not slightly better, as that of the wealthiest of our fellow citizens.
Education at all levels was improving and becoming more available. People were using their education to innovate, get better jobs, start businesses, and make more money – money that they pumped right back into the economy. All of this created more job opportunities and more economic mobility for everyone – not just the educated.
Money trickled up to the wealthy who were also enjoying the benefits of a financially stronger population of consumers – folks were steadily buying up houses, cars, appliances, as well as plenty of things they really didn’t need. Businessmen in turn created jobs to meet that glorious demand.
Meanwhile, our government was responding to the needs of the people and was taking action to empower them to be more successful and to contribute to the advancement of our society. The government also became more “hands-on” and took action to improve our culture and environment, providing a world in which we could thrive. Here are some highlights…
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Elementary and Secondary Education Act 1965
- The Endangered Species Act of 1966 (along with 2 expansions within 7 years)
- Environmental Protection Agency established in 1970
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standards of 1970
- The Clean Air Act of 1970
- The Consumer Safety Act (CPSA) 1972
- Clean Water Act 1972
- Approval of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (Think Superfund Sites)
There was, of course, the typical political back-and-forth but much of the above passed through Congress with substantial bipartisan support (you might be surprised to know that President Nixon supported much of the environmental movement at that time). Keep in mind that all of the above was going on while we were dealing with the Korean War, “Duck and Cover” and nuclear annihilation, segregation, race riots, the Vietnam War and its protests, multiple assassinations, and even hippies. It was hardly perfect, but America plowed through all of this because of a strong working-class and a government that was becoming more engaged (sometimes begrudgingly, but that’s how governments can be).
We were working hard, playing hard, increasing our trust of each other, and looking at a better future for our kids.
When considering the strengthening working class and their effective government in those days, it’s hard not to notice how things have somehow completely flipped around over the past 50 years. Back then, it seemed as if Democracy was just getting its stride and evolving into what our founding fathers had envisioned. We were working hard, playing hard, increasing our trust of each other, and looking at a better future for our kids. We had the feeling that America was “figured out” and on autopilot. More importantly, we had the sense that we were all in it together. The growing economic ability and mobility of more and more people, enabled by an engaged government, was nirvana for both capitalism and Democracy.
Now, many of us are at, or below, the poverty level, the middle class is shrinking fast, and “somehow” most of our wealth has been shifted into the hands of only a few of us.
What flipped things around over the past 50 years? What happened to our momentum? What happened to all the forward progress? How did the natural evolution of Democracy, speeding forward like a freight train conducted by its citizens, slow to a stop and then reverse direction? Did the vast majority of us suddenly become lazy and decide to stop working and to stop improving our society? Probably not. Did a tiny handful of us suddenly get super smart and start working really hard? Doubt it.
It was as if someone started to slowly and gently apply the brakes in a way that we wouldn’t notice… until it was too late. Let’s take a look at some graphs that show the results of whatever the hell it was that happened. The first is a youtube video that shows how bad it was way back in 2013. It is animated, well presented, and very much worth a look.
Take a moment right now and watch it…
Below is a comparison between 1963 and 2016 – both graphs are in 2016 dollars. One quick look at the two graphs and you can tell how badly we were screwed. Not only did the super-wealthy acquire 7 times more wealth (upper right side of the graphs), but the poorest of us now have 50 times more debt (lower left of the graphs). Are we to believe that the spike on the right side is the result of a small number of us all of sudden working harder and becoming smarter while the rest of us become stupid and lazy?
It’s probably worse now since we’ve had four more years of a tilted playing field including Trump’s 1 Trillion dollar tax dodge, most of which went to the wealthy. How’s that “trickle-down” bullshit working for ya?
Source: Urban Institute calculations from Survey of Financial Characteristics of Consumers 1962 (December 31), Survey of Changes in Family Finances 1963, and Survey of Consumer Finances 1983–2016. Both graphs show wealth in terms of 2016 dollars
Somehow, a country that appeared to be finally living up to being “a more perfect union” that was “of, by, and for the people”, began to leave the people behind. Was this slowing down and eventual reversing of the working class freight train the result of the natural evolution of Democracy and capitalism? Or was it something more sinister? If the latter, then who wrestled the money and the power back out of the hands of the working class without us even noticing. Who repurposed our government to serve only a few and how did they do it?
It’s not just about our money – we were heading in the right direction on many fronts. Similar questions can be asked about healthcare, jobs moving overseas, gun safety, food safety, massive corporations paying zero taxes, a purposefully incompetent government, and of course climate change and the environment in general. These days it seems that everywhere we look we see either the planet or the people being exploited for profit. This exploitation is not being perpetrated by failing industries that are barely scraping by, it is being perpetrated by industries that have never seen greater profits than they are now. It is being led by individuals who have more money than they could ever possibly spend.
We are bombarded with continual messaging that persuades us to believe that all this is perfectly fine and in fact good for you, America, and the world. Reframing things in favor of the few has evolved far beyond glorifying child labor in the decades around the Second Industrial Revolution to hiding the dangers of smoking in the 1970s. Now we have cable news, the internet, social media, supercomputers, pundits, think tanks, and dark money to perfect and finance the messaging.
As our government was transformed into a money maker for the powerful, it lost its purpose, direction, integrity, and its world standing.
We can use climate change to see the results of this reframing in action. Back in the early 1970s, protecting the environment was a priority of the people and eventually the government – and that was 50 years ago when we had weaker scientific data. Today we have mounds of data, consensus from scientists around the globe, and the reality of in-your-face evidence that what was projected by science decades ago – yet we let the situation worsen. Governments everywhere are trying to take some action, but because corruption is always one step ahead, we are still headed to the point of no return. For decades, forces here in the United States have been doing everything possible to push back against protecting the environment and undoing protections that were already in place.
It worked – over time more and more of us somehow became skeptical of either climate change or the fact that humans caused it – all while the pile of evidence grew, old predictions were being realized, and new predictions were becoming more ominous. Who turned the protection of the environment from a no-brainer in the 1970s into us now being clueless sheep being led to slaughter? “Luckily”, people are starting to come around because more and more of us are being directly and dramatically impacted by climate change. But those few decades of deceit and doubt caused much damage that we may ultimately not have time to fix. We often hear the talking heads refer to the elitists on the west coast and in the northeast – but there is nothing more elitist than oil industry apologists looking us straight in the eyes while they deny climate change so that they can continue to make massive profits using antiquated technology.
Our Democracy has become a sandbox for the wealthiest among us to play in and they have weakened it, turning it into an excuse to abuse the environment and its citizens all in the name of profit and power. As our government was transformed into a moneymaker for the powerful, it lost its purpose, direction, integrity, and world standing. America has become so fragile that now it, and we, have become playthings even for powerful individuals outside of our country.
This didn’t happen overnight – we would not have allowed it. This was steady and painless destruction that has taken decades. The participants were few at first, but they were cunning enough to both organize and hide and then ultimately to inspire and formally indoctrinate future generations. Now they and their minions are everywhere, manipulating and attacking for personal gain. They continue to invest massive amounts of money into their cause because the payoff has been well worth it. They do their nasty deeds both in the shadows and out in the open, preying on an unsuspecting and trusting populace. They are so good at what they do that many of us now embrace their handiwork. Like wolves in sheep’s clothing, this growing band of wealthy psychopaths along with their remorseless lackeys are truly the predator elite.
The predator elite study us like we are lab rats, learning how to tug on our heartstrings and use our patriotism against us. They look at us like we are disposable tools that they befriend and manipulate to help them get their way – tossing us out of their limos when they are done with us. They have infiltrated all levels and branches of our government, the media, our colleges and universities, and Think Tanks – they have infiltrated our minds. Their devotion to America is only about squeezing all they can out of it – regardless of the trainwreck they leave behind. We had it right. America had it right. The predator elite broke it.
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