I immediately began to wonder if this was the same Robert Reich who I came to admire during his tenure as secretary of labor, which coincided with my tenure in the US Congress.
I remember when Reich, as labor secretary, put forward the suggestion that it was high time the US budget be pared of its corporate subsidies, which totaled around $100 billion, depending on how and what you counted as a subsidy, and how far down the rabbit hole you were prepared to go. At any rate, that’s a lot of money! And interestingly, many of these subsidy recipients, don’t even pay taxes. Talk about “free-riding” and “gaming the system!” Lady Rothschild knew what she was talking about!
Yet, the Republican Party and its more conservative complement inside the Democratic Party painted a vastly different picture of the typical welfare cheat, “free-riding” on hard-working taxpayers: demonizing her as a black woman, descendant of the trafficked Africans brought to the United States to work or give birth until death with no compensation. That is the ad hominem diversion used to deflect attention from the real big corporate culprits that continue to turn a pretty penny for their CEOs at US taxpayer expense. So, with all of these fond memories of Robert Reich in mind, and an admiration for his courageous suggestion to end corporate welfare—a suggestion that, in my opinion, ended up getting him fired, I was taken aback to see the title of his recent op ed posted on his website.
When, pray tell, did American Capitalism have a “moral center?”
In his article, Reich points out that American capitalism has today lost its moral center. He laments that even the most minimum standards of “public morality” have been breached by the common business practices of today. Reich complains that the people with the leading Wall Street or corporate positions now can be counted on to enrich themselves with the most compensation “regardless of the social consequences.”
Reich correctly points out that the wage gap between CEO and average workers can reach as much as 300 times. He notes that after World War II, when corporate CEOs felt more responsibility and “accountability to the nation,” their pay failed even to reach 40 times average worker earnings. And he notes that back then, the highest income earners also paid their fair share of taxes. But, by the 1980s Administration of President Ronald Reagan, deregulation became the word of the day and so regulations meant to protect the public from rapacious capitalism were repealed, straight up through and including the Clinton Administration in which he served.
Reich concludes by calling for re-enactment of regulations that will curb the excesses that the taxpayers of the US and the world have been subjected to by Wall Street. He calls for “limits on executive pay, a progressive income tax,” and changes in campaign finance laws to eliminate the undue influence of money on election outcomes. All of Reich’s prescriptions leave the bad guys and their progeny in place to haunt us again in multiple ways. Reich’s prescriptions seek to encourage a “moral center” that honestly, just doesn’t exist and that has never existed in the economic life of the United States.
For example, before the mortgage meltdown of 2008, to close the home ownership gap between blacks and whites in the United States, United for a Fair Economy found that it would take 1,664 years, provided business as usual by black voters and business as usual by Republican and Democratic elected officials. Now, for me, I don’t have one thousand years to wait for justice. Business as usual in the United States IS the perpetuation of injustice. Business-as-usual in the United States must undergo deep, transformational, humanistic change. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that the United States needed a revolution in its values. It still needs such a revolution.
Unfortunately, Reich’s prescriptions merely take us back to business as usual in a US riddled with racism, discrimination, class division, and now saddled with a futile chauvinistic hubris that leads to all kinds of policy folly that is not only painful for its victims, but that also wreaks of a desperate arrogance on the part of its purveyors. I agree when Reich concludes that “massive inequality is incompatible with robust democracy.” And therein lies my point. By his own definition, the United States has never been a “robust” democracy. The democratic rights (political and economic) of Native Americans and trafficked Africans have never been included in the US equation of democracy. Women were excluded at the time of the founding of this exceptional “democracy.” Thus, I wonder, how with a straight face, Robert Reich can write of the “moral center” of American Capitalism—that same capitalism that produced genocide, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Jim Crow, Convict Labor (Slavery By Another Name), gender discrimination before World War II and today’s racial and ethnic disparities that exist on every index of social well-being that remain unaddressed by policymakers until this very minute of this very day in the post-World War II period.
And let me not even begin to discuss colonialism, neocolonialism, neoliberalism, all imposed on other parts of the world with record violence. To what extent is the refugee/immigration crisis of today caused by neoliberal policies that have been ruthlessly inflicted on others around the world by “American Capital?”
Some might be tempted to say, after careful scrutiny of the historical evidence, that there is no such thing as a moral center in “American” capitalism and that it is high time to reject the usual policy prescriptions that keep capitalism in place (Remember President George Herbert Walker Bush’s “Kinder, Gentler America?”); and search for other less Eurocentric and more egalitarian forms of political and economic social organization. Some countries, like the members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, ALBA, have already embarked upon this journey. They are to be commended and supported while we all must beware the shibboleths advanced as our common salvation by the very creators of so much global human misery.
By Cynthia McKinney, for RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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