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We've Got a Billionaire Bailout Society—And the 99% May Never Recover From It In Our Lifetimes

Our financial system is sucking up the wealth of the nation and using it to cover its losses.

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What will it take to win?

 

There are some positive signs popping up all over the country. Low-wage workers are organizing. The AFL-CIO is finally coming out of its defensive crouch and opening up to non-traditional worker organizations. More and more co-ops are forming. And more than 20 states are seriously considering moves toward public banks.

 

But we'll need much more to dent the billionaire bailout society. We will need nothing less than a broad movement that connects all these efforts and many more into a coherent force aimed at high finance. The money labor squanders on meaningless elections should be funding the attack on Wall Street.

 

It's time we looked more seriously at the last time Americans rose up against Wall Street. That was during the Populist Era of the late 19th century. Then, urban working people and farmers demanded an alternative financial system to the one run by Wall Street. It was a clear-cut struggle pitting private banking against public banking.

 

Then, like now, the American people were disgusted by the domination of high finance. Then, like now, the two parties were corrupted by concentrated wealth. Then, like now, the modest prosperity of the working people was collapsing. It took great courage and resilience for Americans to rise up. It took thousands of dedicated organizers and educators who believed in the justice of their cause.  

 

Even though the movement was ultimately defeated, it left its indelible mark on America. Many of its policies and programs formed the constructive politics of the New Deal that ultimately tamed Wall Street for nearly a half a century. And it gave North Dakota its public bank.

 

We will need that kind of massive upheaval again if we hope to undo the billionaire bailout society.

Les Leopold is the director of the Labor Institute. His most recent book is "How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning of America's Wealth (Wiley, 2013)." His next book project will focus on why the richest country on earth is so poor.

 
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