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Cal Thomas, in a recent column, recounted the fable about the grasshoppers and the ants. The grasshopper, in this case, is the government, which takes from the rich to give to the poor, which keeps the poor addicted to government aid. As with much propaganda, there’s an element of truth to this, but what Thomas doesn’t mention, and probably would prefer no one notice, is that government doesn’t just take from the rich, and doesn’t only benefit the poor. Wall Street bailouts are the obvious example, but he studiously avoids mentioning those.

Nor is government the only entity to take advantage of that dynamic. Capitalism has made an artform of selling convincing people they need things they actually don’t, and making them pay outrageous prices for them. Does anyone really NEED Smart Phones, for instance? My phone isn’t that advanced, but I don’t use all its functions, and can’t imagine I’ll ever need to. Nor do many people need to buy a new car every year, though car companies would like us to believe we do. Thomas says that human nature guarantees that anyone who can take other people’s money without working for it will become addicted to government. Is that all they might become addicted to? If you define earning as making a useful product, then we might debate whether what Wall Street does is earning. It hardly seems the business of government to bail out businesses that have been poorly run. And if those bailouts are justifiable, why not bail out the people who unwisely bought the mortgages that were issued? From what I read, they often weren’t told the truth about what they were buying.

Thomas also differentiates between “spreading the wealth around” and teaching people to create wealth themselves. Just how people without money to begin with are supposed to do that can be problematic. The so-called job-creators have been busy creating jobs in other countries, where they don’t have to pay workers as much, or worry about laws against pollution. The logic of this strategy has been seized on by various companies in this country as a mandate to pay their workers less too. How is such a worker supposed to create wealth?

Conservatives often like to look back to the 1950’s as a good time in American life. They were a good time, in some respects, but it’s also an interesting example of how government can work. The economy was very strong in those days, but taxes on the wealthy and on corporations were also much higher. That seems to disprove the contention that low taxes stimulate the economy, if the experience of the last four years wasn’t enough.

That was also the time that the interstate highway system was begun, a plan initiated by government, which improvved the country’s infrastructure, as well as creating jobs. Of course there were rich and poor then, as there presumably always will be, but the gap wasn’t nearly as wide. Ordinary Americans had enough money to spend on things besides necessities, and that’s one of the things that makes an economy work. If a large percentage of people are excluded, then a large percentage of people will struggle to survive, while a small percentage have way more wealth than they need. Greed may be an enduring basis of our economic system, but greed can also cause it to collapse, and no longer serve the majority of people. That seems obvious, but Republicans have been trying to convince us otherwise for quite a long time.

Whenever people criticize the wealthy, or large corporations, Republicans cry, Class Warfare. While I haven’t read Karl Marx, my understanding of that part of his thesis is that class warfare goes on all the time, and that the wealthy usually have the advantage, which seems to be the case now. Does that mean I approve of the Communist approach of taking over a country and expropriating the wealth of rich individuals? Of course not. A society is, in a sense, an organism. I think one of the best things about this country has been the American Dream, which enables anyone willing to work hard and smart enough to become  successful, regardless of their origin. It’s rarely been as inclusive as it should be, in my opinion, but the 1950’s was one of the more inclusive times in American history.

Not inclusive enough, obviously, as that was when the Civil Rights movement started to really get traction, but more inclusive than what we see today. When I began working for a living, in the 1960’s, I could go almost anywhere and get a job almost any time. Obviously, that time has passed, especially for young people just entering the work force, and especially for those without higher education. In the 1960’s and before, there were plenty of jobs that you didn’t need a lot of skills to perform. Among other things, they gave young people a taste of working life, and may have motivated them to become educated, so they could support families, etc. That training ground is much less available now.

 

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