To best understand that we now face a situation more like 1877 than we do that of 1929, one must read Michael Bellesiles new book 1877… America’s Year Of Living Violently. We learn how the same factors were in play then as they are now. Wall Street speculative and scandal ridden bubbles left businesses bankrupt, towns boarded up and housing foreclosures rampant. Everyone, except the very very wealthy, was broke financially and spiritually.
The 1870s was a decade when the Southern white bigots and racists reclaimed their states… Through intimidation, violence and fraudulent elections. At that time the Republicans could best be compared to today’s Democrats, and visa versa. The Democratic South wanted ante-bellum days to return, with those same elite families directing an economic minstrel show that featured poor whites and all blacks dancing to Yessah ‘ and ‘ Massah ‘ . In his book, Bellesiles reports how assassinations of ( white and black ) Republican officeholders, lynchings, arson and outright terrorism was all too prevalent. President Grant and the northern based Republican leadership had our army stretched and exhausted fighting the Indians out west ( another disgrace ). They decided to just ‘ Pull the plug ‘ on Reconstruction and let the beast devour its prey. The South returned to the good ole days of Dixie… And it lasted for over 100 years, if not longer. President Hayes, a Republican centrist ( shades of who else we know? ) , continued the policies of President Grant as to the Southern strategy of appeasement.
The most important economic issue of the 1870s was how to deal with what they phrased ‘ Capital vs. Labor ‘ . Karl Marx could not have said it better. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of the working class the government decided to stand with the corporations whenever push came to shove. The mood of most of the mainstream media and of both political parties ( sound again familiar? ) was that workers should not organize into unions or to strike. Yet, the outright greed of the railroads and most other corporations caused many local elected officials to support the newly formed unions in their struggle. The book goes into great detail describing the violence, mostly perpetrated by the use of strike breaking scabs and police repression, that was common during that decade. Let me preface the ideas to be covered in this essay with what transpired concerning President Hayes. Bellesiles writes:
“While most of the Republican party moved right in response to the events of 1877, President Hayes eventually headed left. He had not meant to be a tool of the oligarchs, but by 1879 he understood that he had been used by America’s corporations ( Barack, are you reading this? ) After he left the presidency, Hayes…. Discovered a stark alternative between ‘ railroads governing the country or the people governing the railroads’ . Extreme wealth undermined democracy and threatened to lead the country into class warfare … Hayes became nearly obsessed with the unfair redistribution of America’s wealth…. Out of office Hayes became a social radical, favoring taxation to prevent incomes above $ 15,000 a year and estates worth more than $ 500,000. He called for government regulation of the railroads, a minimum wage and old age pensions, universal education and a progressive income tax.”‘
So, what can be done to save our economy and our very soul as a nation? I cannot cover every issue that needs to be addressed, so I will offer solutions on the ones many consider key to our survival:
* Redistribution of Income- I would leave the tax rates as they now are, for those earning less than $1,000,000 a year. All we need do is create a flat surtax of 50% on each dollar earned above $1,000,000. No accountants, no hiding income offshore or from bonuses or inheritance. Imagine how much more our treasury would accumulate with this system?
* Payroll Tax Forgiveness Plan – Robert Reich, former Sec. Of Labor under Clinton, had a novel idea. He said that if we want real economic stimulus, and a way to help small businesses, cease charging the approximate 7.5 % payroll tax on all earnings up to $ 20,000 per year, per employee and employer’s contribution of same. With this plan, savings of up to $ 1500 per year per employee and business owner, tax free. I would make a ceiling at 100 employees per company that the business could be forgiven its share of the FICA contribution. This would not affect the worker, only the larger corporations.
* Reduce Military Budget by 50% and close most of the 750+ bases worldwide- We now pay almost 50 cents of every federal tax dollar towards the military budget. Imagine if we used half of that for domestic spending? Imagine if we gave back to our states ( which then gave to their cities and towns ) non repayable Federal Block Grants ? Before those phony ‘ Wars ‘ in Iraq and Afghanistan the Feds did just that. The approximate 25 cents of every dollar saved from going to the Military Industrial Complex ( read Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Speech… Google it ) would translate into hundreds of billions each year . This could help pay for more ( not less ) police, fire, teachers, hospital workers, municipal workers, libraries, schools….. So much! Plus, by ending these disgraceful occupations of those aforementioned countries, and leaving the peoples of over 100 other countries to be free from our iron fist, we would lessen the immense anger the world’s populace now has towards the Stars and Stripes. A ‘ Win- Win ‘ solution… Except for the super rich and their Pentagon flunkies who control the Military Industrial Complex.
* Public Funding Of All Elections- Now, this one is going to be tough to implement. The Supreme Court’s 1976 Ruling of Buckley vs. Valeo stating that ‘ Money is free speech ‘ . Yet, states like Maine have implemented Clean Election Laws ( 1996 ) where candidates could choose to run for ( within state) office and not accept private donations or use their own money Rather than get into the Maine plan now and how it can be implemented in other states and for federal elections, let us choose another path. Why not begin a movement whereupon voters declare that they will not vote for any candidate who accepts donations of over 100 dollars per person? Of course, this includes a refusal to vote for anyone who spends his or her own money as well. Think of how this would begin to erode and ostracize the Two Party System… Allowing for more and more independents to gain office.
* Community Owned Non Profit Mortgage Banks- With the savings from reduced military spending and from taxing the super wealthy, the Feds could subsidize this plan. Towns could open and operate mortgage banks that would charge only overhead costs. Thus, a mortgage that now gets 5 % would most likely, after overhead, be about 2 % . Plus, the mortgage paper would stay in the community and not be sold as bundled securities. Think of how many folks could afford to buy and stay in their homes with these rates. Those currently now under water on mortgages could refinance at these lower rates and perhaps get through tough times. Bottom line: Why should there be profit in a mortgage on one’s abode? The caveat again would be that such a plan should only be for one’s own residence and not used for investment property.
* Medicare For All Who Want In- No need to pass legislation to reform the private insurance system. Easiest way around this ( and that is why the 2 parties refused to do it… Too controlled by the health care industry ) is to offer a Pay In to Medicare for anyone under 65 who wants in. How simple is that? You just leave the private insurance industry to fend for themselves and pass a bill that allows those who wish to get into Medicare to ‘ Pay in ‘ . The rates would be less than what private insurance charges, without all the crap that they currently get away with ( high deductions, restrictions of coverage, high CO pays etc. ) . If we all can pay into a non profit insurance system, then it must be considerably lower than with private coverage. The rates would be set up as they currently are now for FICA…. The more you earn the higher your contribution… With the same ceiling as FICA uses. So, everyone would not just get the ‘ Free ride ‘ that the right wing shouts when you mention universal health coverage. As far as the other right wing complaint about ‘ Too expensive…. The government doesn’t have the money to afford this ‘ : Well, if Uncle Sam can keep bailing out the phony banks and subsidize the Military Industrial Complex, then it can afford to jump start this plan.
Well, those are a few of the major key issues that can and should be solved with just a little rearranging of spending priorities and national focus. It is a ‘ Road Less Traveled ‘. Care to join me on it?
Philip A. Farruggio is son and grandson of Brooklyn NYC longshoremen. He is an activist leader and free lance columnist. Since the 2000 elections, he has written over 200 columns, many posted on various sites worldwide. Recently, he is finding a home at www.dandelionsalad.wordpress.com, or at his own blog at www.opensalon.com. Philip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.