Let’s call this a fairy tale, or a modern tale, and let’s imagine a country that stretches from “sea to shining sea”. And it is a prosperous country with plenty of jobs that pay pretty well. These jobs are at factories, and at stores that sell the goods from factories, and warehouses that store the goods from factories, and transportation companies that move goods from the factories.
The people who live in this productive country are doing well. They’re not rich but they feel prosperous and they feel confident enough to buy things like vacation homes and second or third cars. They can take trips and support museums and the ballet and symphony orchestras. They are hopeful that the trajectory will move ever upward. Even people who had been left out of prosperity for decades were starting to feel it.
But foul currents are afoot – the factories are making the air unbreatheable and the waters undrinkable. There is smog and pollution and acid rain. All right, these are problems and the people in this country are problem solvers. They decide, we’ll pass laws that require factories to create and use procedures that cut down on pollution. But the factory owners aren’t happy. It’s expensive and cuts into their profits.
The workers need to ask for higher pay to meet rising costs of goods and services. The factory owners get pinched again. A few factories go broke and default on the pensions of the workers. Workers get nervous and ask for higher wages once again. Factories start to leave, wooed by governments with armies of workers who will not need large pay checks or fancy benefit plans. More and more factories leave until the once prosperous country finds that it is no longer an industrial nation. Industry has moved on and left empty buildings everywhere.
It takes a while for things to turn grim but they do start to grim-up a bit. There is no money for beauty; life becomes more practical, even ugly for some. Roads, railroad tracks, runways, trucks, planes, bridges, and all of the country’s infrastructure starts to look a little shoddy and neglected. People lose their homes through foreclosure. At first, people think that the factory owners will miss the workers. They were, after all excellent workers. They were their neighbors. So for a while the people wait and find any little thing to do that they can find. But of course the corporations do not move their factories back. And life must move on; a new prosperity must be found.
Obviously this nation is America and while we have been going through all of these changes we have not been getting a lot of help from government. It almost seems that Republicans are working for those same corporations who left us all high and dry. They have been able to have things pretty much their way in spite of the fact that they do not control the Presidency, because they have used their numbers in Congress to block any attempt the elected President has made to stimulate and grow the economy. In fact the word stimulus could hardly be uttered without inspiring lectures and contempt. Conservatives championed a Supreme Court decision called Citizen’s United which turns corporations into people, although most of us know that corporations are not people.
Republicans know the American people are not overwhelmingly in favor of what they have touted as “small government” and yet they have insisted that debts and deficits must be cut and have made the government smaller by steering an agenda that has led to cuts and sequesters and more cuts, all of which are working to make the government smaller. They insist that we cut our social insurance programs even though economists tell us that this is not absolutely necessary right now. Once again, as they have their way, government will get smaller. They have done an excellent job of bullying their agenda into place. It is interesting to note how much small government would benefit our banks, our financial sector and those corporations who moved out of America. If they can make Americans poor enough, if they can get Americans to let their benefits go, then the ground will be prepared for bringing factories back to America where all those pesky federal, state, and local regulations can go away with all that big government, and unbridled profit will rule the day. Since the labor unions will have also been disemboweled, the cycle of ever-rising wages and benefits will have been broken and workers will have learned their lesson and learned their place and happy oligarchy will ensue.
Do we want our factories back? Perhaps we are done with the Industrial Age. We are already well on our way to finding our way back to a prosperous America that does not have to buy at the company store. Perhaps what we won was our freedom; freedom from big business which likes to use money as muscle to remake America to serve corporate and financial interests. If we don’t panic; if we just keep doing what we do, which is to try to live valuable lives that contribute something to our community or to our society or even to the world we live in, then all that creativity and energy will help remake an America that is not just an oligarchy ruled by the wealthy power-brokers. We will become an America that is not a burden on the planet but is, instead, a caretaker of the planet. We will set ourselves up to be the first country to enter whatever age follows the Industrial Age, perhaps that is the Information Age, or the Robotic Age, or maybe it’s the Space Age, or all three. We need to stop these “small government” people from pursuing their reactionary agenda which would take us back where we came from, not to the 1950’s everyone supposedly longs for, but to the 1890’s which no one except the Republicans even remembers. We need to elect Democrats to Congress in 2014 or we will end up with Grover Norquist’s America.
This is the view from the cheap seats.