Republicans are the rogues and rapscallions who took a hearty, robust economy that was the envy of the entire world and ran it into the ground. I’m not merely talking about the current fiscal catastrophe that is looming before us; no, I’m concerning myself here more with how we got this way, how the cheap-labor conservatives conspired, deliberately and with malice aforethought, to lay us low…for that is precisely what they did.
Follow me down and I’ll show you how…
Need I remind you here about the Great Depression? That worldwide catastrophe was brought to your predecessors courtesy of the Republican Party. After Warren Gamaliel Harding was elected president in 1920…and died two years later, vice president Calvin Coolidge took over the Oval Office. He served out the remainder of Harding’s term and was reelected in 1924, serving until he was replaced by yet another hardline GOoPer, Herbert Hoover, in January of 1929. One of the worst of the outrages perpetrated by “Silent Cal” was the transformation of the Federal Trade Commission, through his appointees, from an agency intended to regulate corporations into one dominated BY Big Business, FOR Big Business. Sound familiar?
Looking back on the so-called “Roaring Twenties,” hindsight quickly reveals the abjectly corrosive nature of Republican ideology. Andrew W. Mellon–at that time one of the three wealthiest men in America!–was Harding’s Secretary of the Treasury and Coolidge kept him on, a voracious fox charged with guarding the henhouse. Mellon’s maniacal dedication to such hair-brained schemes as income tax cuts, inheritance tax cuts and an aggressively pro-business agenda coupled with utter disdain for fiscal caution, resulted in skyrocketing debt…and made the decade appear to “roar.” It also served as camouflage for underlying economic weakness. Farmers were already in an economic depression at the time and it was a widening income disparity which ultimately caused the bottom to drop out of the Stock Market on “Black Tuesday,” October 29, 1929. Bank deposits were withdrawn in a frenzy after that and something on the order of NINE THOUSAND banks failed between 1930 and 1932.
Your GOP at work!
And if you think they’re not trying for a rerun, you just haven’t been paying close enough attention. Did somebody mention Bear Stearns?? The vast gulf between the “have mores” and all the rest of us is at its greatest point since then, excepting only the tech-bubble years of 1999 and 2000. It’s no secret that wages have stagnated…but creative book-cooking has hidden the extent of it. Just over a year ago, it was revealed that in the midst of unparalleled corporate profits, we also have record poverty.
How bad is it really? Well, don’t expect THIS administration to come clean…but the US Mint tells us that it’s now illegal to melt down NICKELS AND PENNIES because they’re worth more in ingots. (This leads me to wonder why the government would even bother to continue minting coins that cost more than their face value. But I digress…)
Haven’t you noticed that there isn’t really much that you want to buy anymore? Oh, I don’t mean that monster 42-inch plasma HDTV that makes you salivate just walking past it in the electronics store or those ridiculous speakers that can blow your hair around if you stand in front of them. I’m talking about the little necessities, the unsexy, everyday things like mops, brooms, shelving, shoes, clothing. Nowadays, everything is a choice between what you can tolerate, what you’ll settle for, what you don’t detest outright. For example, everything–EVERYTHING–that’s sold at Payless Shoe Source comes from China…or some equally disreputable cheap-labor cespool. Can you say that you really LIKE that stuff? You can still purchase real leather shoes that are hand-stiched and heavenly on your feet…if you want to pay an arm and a leg for them.
It’s the same story with clothing. Well-crafted items of apparel are still being made from quality material by workers who care what they’re doing…you just can’t afford them anymore! I refuse to even set foot in a Wal-Mart because they are the major enablers of Third World sweatshops. (They also take advantage of their employees, their customers, their neighborhoods and the general environment, but the litany of their sins is not my focus here; you know it as well or better than I do.) Nor do I buy those designer sneakers…and for the very same reason. Those shoes aren’t made in ANY country where they would have to pay their workers a decent, living wage. (I refer you here to the 1998 Michael Moore movie “The Big One,” where Big Mike confronted Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, on-screen about his business practices. Good stuff…)
Among the things for which I despise Wal-Mart, its very success is perhaps the biggest. These are rapacious people, the embodiment of avarice. The Walton family has more money than Midas…and it’s not enough!! Furthermore, their Republican allies in government have steadily and relentlessly undermined the Middle Class to the extent that they very nearly have no other choice about where to shop. This isn’t the result of globalization that we’re talking about here, it’s the end product of 3+ decades of deliberate GOP class warfare in their pre-meditated attempt to eradicate all those popular benefits of liberal policies that WORKED, policies like the New Deal, the Great Society and the War on Poverty. This is no accident.
Take grocery stores, for example. I recall when there was no alternative to the big chain grocery store like A & P, Kroger’s, Food Lion and Giant Eagle. Now, with people pressed to feed their families on wages which have not kept up with inflation, there are limited assortment grocery outlets making inroads into what used to be exclusive territory for the big guys. German-based Aldi Foods has met with huge success here in America utilizing its concepts of central distribution, limited assortment, private brands and stores without any frills whatsoever. (You even buy the bags in which to pack your groceries!) Close on their heels is Sav-A-Lot, a subsidiary of food distributor SuperValu, who has taken the very same strategy pioneered by Aldi and made it work for them as well. Imitation is the sincerest form or something. Sharp Shopper and PriceRite are newcomers…but it’s a good bet that you’ll be hearing from them soon.
To get the full impact of what these unclean Republicans have wrought in our once proud country, you have to turn off the computer, get up and go outside. I live in the Great Lakes area of the Midwest, not long ago the most heavily-industrialized area in the entire world. It has subsequently come to be known as the Rust Belt…and those of you who do not live here cannot possibly grasp the spot-on accuracy of that epithet. Our economic situation here is probably worse than some places…and undoubtedly better than some others. We have no shortage of water, for example. But it ain’t no Swiss picnic…
Departure of the steel industry has turned Youngstown, Ohio into a hopelessly low-income ghost town just as the passing of the rubber industry did to Akron, Ohio. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that a total of 235,900 manufacturing jobs were lost in just that one state between 2000 and 2007. These dark days I can drive past a super-abundance of half-empty–or even entirely abandoned!–strip shopping centers. The ones that still have a few remaining commercial tenants seem to be top-heavy with dollar stores selling bright, shiny trash imported from Third World ratholes; cellphone outlets with giant signs for FREE! PHONES! and discount closeout stores filled with damaged, expired merchandise. There might be a fast food chain restaurant or two, dealing in high cholesterol, factory farm burgers or grotesque sub sandwiches stuffed with don’t-wanna-know-what’s-in-it lunchmeat. (Ah, but the bread is baked fresh on-site!)
And let us not forget the ubiquitous and sleazy little payday loan joints that seem to sprout up like weeds in those places. You know the ones: They’ve got names such as Cashland, LoanSmart, Advance America and Money Mart. They’re all decked out with signs in eye-catching primary colors, fresh new facades and attractive clerks…but they’re pushing the same old usury that was disreputable in the ancient days of Plato. I came across my first article touching on the evils of this new wrinkle in loan-sharking a year and a half ago at dollarsandsense.org. It’s a dandy; go read. It tackles multiple aspects of the burgeoning Fringe Economy of which payday loans provide just one; also included are pawnshops, check-cashers, tax refund lenders, rent-to-own stores and “buy here/pay here” used car lots. These ravening greedweasels have targeted those most vulnerable in our society…surprise, surprise, surprise.
You see, desperate people are wont to do incredibly stupid things when their backs are up against the wall and they believe the wolf is at their door. Borrowing against the receipt of one’s next check certainly qualifies as payday lenders typically charge an annual interest rate in the 300-400% range…and that’s EXCLUDING fees and penalties. If you’ve taken out a loan for $300, for example, with a due date two weeks in the future, paying back that loan may well eat up most or all of your forthcoming paycheck…and your payday then becomes THEIR payday! And what exactly do you live on in the meantime? A recent study quoted here found that the average payday loan sucker takes out EIGHT loans in a given year and ultimately pays $800 for that $300 loan! And back in impoverished Ohio, an umbrella group representing some 600 nonprofit agencies found that the state is home to over 1650 payday extortionists, more than all of Ohio’s McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s franchises PUT TOGETHER. That’s just wrong.
Fortunately, the runaway proliferation of these parasites has attracted the attention of Ohio lawmakers and they are all but certain to be reined in. Similar changes are occurring in South Carolina, Arkansas and New Hampshire among others. One small victory…
Of course, there’s more to this sordid story. Please stay tuned.