Inside Job presents an illuminating account of how the financial meltdown of 2008 came to be. My biggest take away is that we are no longer one nation. There are those who have immense wealth and power—who currently control our economy and our government—and then there are ordinary working people.
Politicians often speak as if there is a single “national interest” that applies equally to all of us, no matter if we are rich, or poor or middle class. They imply that the directors of Goldman Sachs, Halliburton or United Health Care have the same interests as the rest of us, as if presidents share the same interests as the young men or women they send to war. Unfortunately, the phrase “protecting American interests” is not about protecting the American people, but about protecting corporate interests.
If I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that the interests of the corporate and financial sectors are fundamentally opposed to the interests of ordinary people. Howard Zinn, who passed away this year, understood that we do not have “one nation” or “one people.” He wrote Peoples History of the United States to make that point. To Zinn, there are the elite who hold positions of power in both government and corporations, and then there are the rest of us. He wrote the story of the rest of us.
The poor and middle classes, and the powerful banks and corporations who dominate the political process, do not make up one united nation. As the gulf widens between the rich and the working and middle classes, our nation is losing its integrity. We no longer belong to the same America. As Elizabeth Warren has warned, we are losing our middle class, which has held this country together.
Our politicians, our representatives in both parties, backed and bankrolled by corporate money, allow lobbyists to write legislation, and the majority of Americans are left without real representation. At best, we get watered down, corporate friendly legislation that fails to deliver for the majority of working people. At worst we get our hard earned tax money transferred upwards to the top 2% who least need it.
Corporate interests are single-mindedly focused on profits for managers or shareholders—at any cost—most often at the cost of working Americans. Corporations reject any regulation of their activities, however questionable or destructive, that would impact their bottom line. They willingly break the law if doing so increases profits, and if caught, consider fines a cost of doing business.
Ordinary Americans have needs and interests than banks and corporations do not support. We require a functioning government rather than one corrupted by money, a healthy environment, safe nutritious food, a productive economy, affordable housing, good, well-paying jobs, single payer health care, inexpensive quality education from pre-school to university, an up-to date infrastructure, good public transportation, renewable energy sources, and a real pension plan for our elderly. These are not utopian ideas. They are well within what is possible in a truly functioning Democratic system. That is, if the corruption of money in politics, and if the undue influence of corporations and banks, is removed.
American corporations and banks, often conduct business on a global scale, and are not loyal to the United States. Many use sophisticated accounting practices to avoid paying taxes that fund the services and government programs ordinary Americans need. Often, they pay no taxes at all while tax paying Americans foot the bill for services they enjoy. To say that ordinary Americans, and corporations and banks, are “one nation” and “one people,” or that our interests are the same, defies credulity.
With few exceptions— for example, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders and Raul Grijalva—our politicians do not give the interests of poor and middle class Americans priority, but, rather, strive first to make their corporate and banking donors happy. Working and middle class anger has been distorted and channeled by corporate owned media which pushes the myth of America as a “middle class country” with a common “national interest.” Working people have been manipulated to view corporate interests are identical to their own. They are taught to love the “free market” that is robbing them of their homes and livelihoods.
During the recent mid term elections, confused Tea Party members repeated the phrase “we need to take back our country.” The corporate-backed Tea Party movement pushed the ludicrous idea—on frustrated and frightened Americans—that socialists control our current government. This, to make sure that no real populist resistance to the continued corporate control of government emerges.
In order to truly “take back our country” we may need to admit our interests, at this time, are fundamentally opposed to the those in power—corporations, Wall Street, and the politicians that do their bidding. And we need to name and express that difference. Only through a true populist movement—one that challenges money driven party politics—will we be able to create a functioning government and an equitable society that serves the interests and needs of ordinary people. We also need a regulated business community, one that considers the American people their “stakeholders” whether they own stock or not.
Meanwhile we need to keep the progressive fires burning, and let progressive voices be heard. The American people want a government and a society that works for them, and with effort and organization, we can make it happen.