Friday, January 25, 2013

Back In My Day...

          How many of us wish that we could go back to the most prosperous years in our history...history being 1949-1973?  I think if you talk to a Baby Boomer, they'll tell you stories of their dad workin' a nice union job with great wages, making a great living, buying a house for $10,000 in the burbs of Chicago or New York or Cincinnati.  Well, it's always interesting to hear about what times were like back then.  I mean, I won't marginalize the struggles of the 50s because there were definitely a significant share of problems too.  The 50s had severe discrimination problems against African Americans, Gays and Lesbians, women's roles were restricted to domestic life or low-wage labor and Native Americans were still dealing with the various anti-tribalism acts that were moving through Congress at the time.

          Let's talk about the good things from the 50s that many people seem to have forgotten.  When you go ask your Republican 60-something friends about how things were when they were in their 20s, I'm sure you'll hear about things will make you cringe or wince...but won't you hear about these facts:

          Between 1949 and 1980, the average top marginal rate was 80.29% for the top income earners, and highly progressive as you went down.  Some points in our history, there are 17 tax rates.  Later after 1980, the tax code was revised with the top marginal rate reduced to 28% under President Ronald Reagan.  (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

          Union membership was high, about 4 out of 10 households in the US, and so was the wage share of the work performed.Wage growth was significant during the post-war era.  According to a study titled Unions and the Wage-Productivity Gap from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Economic Review, Second Quarter 1999, as union membership has fallen in all sectors of the economy, so has wage growth.  In 1980, wages ground to a halt.  Wage growth since 1980 in poor and middle class income levels have failed to keep up with inflation.  With most jobs the poor take paying minimum wage, those wages are declining in purchasing power.  The middle class are also seeing their purchasing power chipped away at by declining growth in wages and downward pressure on wages because of the weak labor market and lack of jobs.

          Society was critical of business owners, CEOs, and shareholders taking unfair levels of profits out of the company and pocketing them.  There used to be a severe public outcry for individuals who were taking or given excessive pay packages.

          Wealth inequality was generally low.  So was partisanship in politics.  There's a reason why your older parents and grandparents say "There's no difference between Republicans and Democrats."  Because in their day in their prime, there wasn't.  Both parties were center-left and center-right parties in American politics.  The divide began when income distribution started to widen from it's traditional levels during the post-war era.  Further, partisanship sharply accelerated as income distribution and became more and more pronounced between the wealthiest and poorest members of society.  Princeton University did research into seeing if income distribution affected partisanship, and found that it increased party partisanship, but less so with electorate partisanship.  (See Political Polarization and Income Inequality, N. McCarty, K.T. Poole, and H. Rosenthal)

          Aside from the racial inequality that existed in the day, social problems on a large scale were mostly unheard of.  When people are able to get what they need from the system of society they are born into and meet their basic needs...there is no need to engage in behaviors that are outside that system (I.E. Crime).  But when one feels he or she cannot obtain the basics in life from the system in which they are born into, that person will engage in anti-social behavior or begin obtaining those needs in a manner that is outside the law and order of society.  The crime rates between 1949 and 1980 were quite low and society was generally serene.  There was no worrying about the basics, because everyone could get the basics with relative ease.  

          Going back to the 50s and 60s means going back to a time in history when we were prosperous, successful as a society, and very progressive by comparison.  So, in that, I would agree, we should readopt those policies that made the post-war era great.  Those policies created the middle class.  The progressive programs of Lyndon Johnson's high society programs created the Pell Grant and Perkins' Loan programs which Republicans have attempted to squelch by under-funding.  Richard Nixon's administration gave birth to the EPA, higher taxes on the wealthy, and a higher minimum wage which millions of impoverished Americans earn a substandard living on now a days.  Republicans have actively been trying to cheat our Baby Boomers out of the benefits they've earned such as Social Security and the promise of Medicare.  It's important, now, more than ever, that we protect and preserve the programs that gave the middle class security and stability in a quickly changing world.  This means protecting Social Security from cuts and Medicare from privatization.  It's time that pragmatists and progressives tell Republicans that enough is enough...that we're not going to tolerate any more cuts to social programs that lift people out of poverty, give them access to education, and equip people with the resources to become contributing members of society.  Progressives and other Democrats are not going to budge on paying the bills we've committed to paying.  Democrats are not going to tolerate Republicans choking the government of revenue by giving corporate entities and rich people government hand outs.  Further, Democrats are tired of the crony capitalism that steals wages from workers for the work they do and the productivity they provide.  We, as a nation, should adopt stronger anti-slave labor laws for big business in 3rd world countries which make our soccer balls, Olympic Jerseys, and electronics.  Finally, the working class should no longer tolerate conceding to the top 1% with their false promises of economic security through trickle-down economics.  We build our nation from the middle out, not the top down, and it's time for the middle assert it's steer the course of this nation in a different direction.

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