Jim Hightower: A Regime of Austerity Versus the Common Good

Sometimes, it's useful to state the obvious. Here's a fact, for example, that we all know to be true: America's economy is enormous. It's worth saying that out loud and repeating it to ourselves and others, because today's Powers That Be (economic, political and media) are wrongly forcing a regime of austerity on our nation. They're insisting that we hoi polloi must downsize our middle class dreams, claiming that America no longer has the wherewithal to do big things.


Their narrow and pessimistic prescription for our future is not only at odds with the American spirit, but also at odds with the facts. The wealth of this nation is naturally huge and expansive -- thanks to such fundamentals as the sheer size and diversity of our land, the breadth and depth of our natural resources and especially the can-do attitude of our enterprising and hardworking people. Far from shrinking down, we have the economic strength today to be spreading the middle class and advancing the historic, egalitarian ideals that were planted at America's founding.

In natural terms, our economy is a giant sequoia. Unfortunately, our present corporate and governmental leadership can't seem to grasp one of the basic laws of nature: You can't keep a mighty tree alive (much less have it thrive) by only spritzing the fine leaves at the tippy-top. The fate of the whole tree depends on nurturing the grassroots.

Sadly, in this time of such potential for greatness, we're led by a myopic crew of leaf spritzers. In Washington, on Wall Street, and in the corporate suites, the elites have taken exquisite care of themselves, with the top one percent tripling their share of the nation's wealth since 1980. How did they obtain this phenomenal boost? By siphoning up shares of America's wealth that had been going to the rest of us. Blithely oblivious to the dangerous shriveling of the grassroots, they've increased their take by offshoring our middle-class jobs, slashing American wages and benefits in practically every sector, busting the ability of unions to fight back, deregulating their nefarious corporate and financial operations, dodging their tax obligations, privatizing and gutting public services (from schools to food stamps) and turning our elections into auctions run by and for billionaires.

This massive redistribution of wealth is not an issue of economics, but of basic morality. In plain words, it's robbery -- not only robbing workaday Americans of both their share and their dreams, but also mugging America itself of its unifying ethos. Fair and just behavior -- especially by the powerful -- are requisites for holding so many millions of us together as a free society.

The importance of this founding ethic has been instilled in us by the phrases, stories and symbols of our culture: The golden rule (Bible), the general welfare (Constitution), the common good (kindergarten), the social contract (New Deal), the land of opportunity (ubiquitous slogan), E pluribus unum (coins, the dollar bill, and the Great Seal), "one nation... with liberty and justice for all" (Pledge of Allegiance).

These and others reiterate and confirm our ethical pledge of trust in each other, our commitment to the notion that we're all in this together. That's the moral glue that defines and binds us as Americans. But each one is now being openly mocked -- cast aside by the rich and powerful as irrelevant to how our economy ought to work... and for whom.

The super-rich are separating their good fortunes from the well-being of the many. It's not just America's economy they're skewing, but our values. They're destroying the place where egalitarianism, upward mobility and the middle class once had a welcoming home. That's the fight we're in -- a historic fight to decide who we Americans really are.

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