When we were very young, we were all taught that the United States was the land of the free; the best country in the world, where virtually anyone could become rich and successful if only he or she studied diligently, applied themselves, and worked hard and long. We were told repeatedly that our form of government, and our economic system, were the best the world had ever produced, because they permitted free expression along with equal opportunity and the free pursuit of wealth.
Then we got jobs and grew up in a hurry. We found out very quickly that it was not us, but the owners we worked for who actually determined our income levels and set the prices for the goods and services we purchased. They actually made a LOT of money from our work, but only paid us a fraction of what they made as a result. We saw that this method of doing things made for an orderly system, but it also held us back for the benefit of, or advantage of, the owner. If we wanted to branch out and start our own business, we were free to do so, but doing that meant we had to borrow large sums of money from these owners or their banks, and had to do so by their rules. We had learned about slavery in school; that it was evil and had been abolished by that great liberal, and first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War. But what we weren't told, and had to learn by ourselves, was that this form of slavery was replaced by a less visible, new form: the slavery of exploitation and manipulation. This was a kinder and gentler form of slavery. It never beat us or abused us physically, and we didn't have to wear chains. But it nonetheless kept us in place, by limiting our economic freedom and making us beholden to a new set of masters - our employers who owned or managed the businesses where we worked, and/or the bankers, who lent us and those businesses the money to acquire personal or business property and posessions. We were left with only a little more real economic freedom or flexibility than a migrant worker in a field.
Throughout our school years, we were also taught that we had fought a war of independence to ensure we would not be taxed or regulated without representation, and that the government which had been established for us was therefore supposed to listen to us and actually represent us, so as to best protect us and help provide for our needs. We were never told, though, that its primary function would be to listen to and provide for the needs of the wealthy owners and bankers FIRST rather than the rest of us who didn't belong to that class. As a result, we have slowly but surely been shut out of influencing the government directly almost from the start, and it has largely ignored us many times in this country's history. Especially now and over the past three decades, this process has greatly accelerated. Thus, we have become a PLUTOCRACY, where the wealthy effectively control the government through bribery and manipulation, and are no longer a democracy, in which there is simple majority rule.
To be fair, we have indeed had more truly democratic periods of governance, most notably during the first fifteen years or so of the 20th century, the New Deal era of the 1930s-early 1940s, and the 1960s-early 1970s. During these periods, the government actually acted in varying degrees on behalf of the majority of the population, including the poor, working class, middle class, and even enacting laws deferential to racial and cultural minorities, effectively legislating for their benefit and protecting them from or even reversing exploitation from the far-less-in-number wealthy, big business owners, and bankers. Workers', women's, and minority rights were established and defined in law and upheld in courts. Wages and buying power rose across the income spectrum, and consumer protections were instituted. However, over the past 30 years, conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan, and ultra-conservative ones like Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Bill Frist, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney have muted or effectively eliminated nearly all of the gains made by the aforementioned non-wealthy groups. Today's workers have relatively far less self-determination and upward mobility than they had attained only a generation or two ago. The term "free market" has come to mean the freedom of big business and concentrated capital to eliminate or severely cripple labor unions, not the freedom of workers to negotiate more equitable pay and benefit scales. The result has been frozen or declining worker wages and a simultaneous skyrocketing of executive pay. What was once a progressive tax system which heavily taxed the rich to provide for those beneath them (a system strongly favored by both Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, and subsequent President Lincoln) has given way to a regressive system which funnels money upward rather than down the income scale. But worst of all, our government, which those same conservatives love to proclaim is "of, by, and for the people" has effectively now become one of, by, and for the few. Lobbyists funded by big business interests have effectively bought out a majority of Congress, and many Congresspersons, Joe Lieberman being a prime example. He, like many, now habitually votes against the wishes of his own constituents to please the desires of lobbyists and big businesses, which shovels huge sums of campaign cash to elected officials such as he. In some cases, lobbyists have even authored bills which members of Congress have affixed their names to!
All of this is explained brilliantly in a gem of a book called Democracy For The Few by noted scholar Michael Parenti. It is a book I would highly recommend. It is a MUST for those who wish to understand how and why our government and business community have become so out of touch and unresponsive to our needs. Parenti points out how this country's government was drawn up and put in place mainly by white, wealthy, land-owning aristocrats (which is what the majority of our Founding Fathers werre), the precedents that were set early on, and the effects of which remain in place to this day. He gives numerous examples of how and why the wealthy and powerful elite have shut the rest of us out of power throughout our history, as well as how that is occurring today. He traces the rise of big business and corporate influence over government. It is a fascinatingly comprehensive and accurate analysis of how this country has come to be dominated by special interests, and has undergone class wardare and political and cultural polarization. The book provides much food for thought! It helps us better understand what is really happening in our society and government today, and why. Most importantly, though, it provides a number of proposed solutions for fixing the mess we're in and for restoring some semblance of balance to the current economic and political jumble we are trapped within at present. Though scholarly in scope, Democracy For The Few is a relatively easy read. It is available in paperback form Amazon.com, and it is well worth owning. Due to its classification as a college textbook, its price is spendy, but don't let that scare you off. See if your local public library has a copy (many do), or try to find it used if you don't want to invest the money in it. But DO read it, and I'm certain you will trasure it as I have come to do! It is THE definitive account of why this country is as screwed up today as it is!
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