Hundreds of thousands of Americans have suffered "deaths of despair" from alcohol and drug abuse and suicides because they could no longer provide for their families. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, during a post-recession period when the economy and stock market were booming, the poorest 50% of Americans lost wealth. And now many of them have lost their jobs, their income, their livelihoods.
Media outlets keep telling us that we're all together in this pandemic. But we're not. The super-rich have separated themselves from the rest of us, with concierge medicine, private travel accommodations, isolated but well-stocked resort homes, and a variety of other advantages that allow them to look beyond the hardships endured by average Americans.
It seems absurd to believe that America could make the same mistake again, to elect an ignorant and vulgar narcissist to the most powerful position in the world. But we can't underestimate the ability of the self-serving super-rich to convince millions of Americans that a surging stock market and a powerful military are essential to their livelihoods. All at the expense of jobs and health care and education.
Capitalism is failing in America, and Amazon is both the cause and beneficiary of much of the breakdown. Jeff Bezos said, "We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for 18 years, and they're the reason we're successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient." He might have added three capitalist practices familiar to his company: (1) Pay no taxes; (2) Drive competitors out of business; and (3) Exploit workers.
Senator Lindsey Graham once said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes...It's a game we play."
Ten years after the recession, most Americans, including Baby Boomers, are still struggling with finances. The Wall Street Journal, cheerleader for capitalist-driven recoveries, noted that Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Boomers are all still poorer than in 2007. But the incredible prosperity of about 10% of the Boomers is beyond dispute, as the numbers below will show. Most of those lucky people are older whitemales.
Booming Economy? Yes, for the Richest 10%, Who Took 85 Percent of the New Wealth
This isn't much different from slave-trading days. People then were forced INTO the country and families separated; now they're forced OUT OF the country and families separated. In both cases families have done whatever is necessary, in their own personal worlds, to survive and stay together and find happiness. And in both cases an institution of authority has made rules on behalf of the better-positioned segment of society, rules which impact the lives of those deemed somehow less valuable.
This may not be the deadliest act committed by American leaders, but it's incomparably vile in its cruelty toward human beings who have been living among us, sometimes for many years. For conservatives who are always preaching the importance of stable families, it's shocking to see the little opposition to breaking up and turning out so many loving mothers and fathers and children.
Destroying a Family 175 Years Ago
In 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup tells us about Eliza, a slave woman with two young children, 10-year-old Randall and 7-year-old Emily, all three of them owned by a slave trader with the ironical name Freeman. When Randall was taken from her in a slave auction, Eliza, in a "paroxysm of grief," begged and beseeched the buyer to take all three of them, promising to be the most faithful slave that ever lived. But he couldn't afford them all. Eliza embraced her son passionately for the last time, kissing him again and again, until the threat of a whip on her back forced her to release him. His last words were "Don’t cry, mama. I will be a good boy. Don’t cry."
Then another man came to buy Eliza herself, and this prompted Northup to narrate: "[N]ever have I seen such an exhibition of intense, unmeasured, and unbounded grief, as when Eliza was parted from her child. She broke from her place in the line of women, and rushing down where Emily was standing, caught her in her arms. The child, sensible of some impending danger, instinctively fastened her hands around her mother’s neck, and nestled her little head upon her bosom. Freeman sternly ordered her to be quiet...Then, with a volley of great oaths, he struck her such a heartless blow, that she staggered backward, and was like to fall. Oh! how piteously then did she beseech and beg and pray that they might not be separated. Why could they not be purchased together? Why not let her have one of her dear children? 'Mercy, mercy, master!' she cried, falling on her knees. 'Please, master, buy Emily. I can never work any if she is taken from me: I will die.'"
The purchaser, taking pity on her, offered to buy both of them, but Freeman refused, as Northup recounts: "'I won’t sell her. She’s not for sale.' There were heaps and piles of money to be made of her, he said, when she was a few years older. There were men enough in New-Orleans who would give five thousand dollars for such an extra, handsome, fancy piece as Emily would be.."
As Eliza cried out in anguish, Freeman "tore Emily from her mother by main force, the two clinging to each other with all their might. 'Don’t leave me, mama--don’t leave me,' screamed the child...stretching forth her little arms imploringly. But she cried in vain. Out of the door and into the street we were quickly hurried. Still we could hear her calling to her mother, 'Come back--don’t leave me--come back, mama,' until her infant voice grew faint and still more faint, and gradually died away.."
Destroying a Family Today
The Time story "No One Is Safe" tells about the family of Alejandro and Maria and their two young daughters, Isabella, who was just starting to talk, and Estefania, who was beginning to take her first steps. A third child was on the way.
Early on a Friday morning, as he drove to his job of picking grapes, pistachios and oranges in California’s Central Valley, immigration agents scrambled out of two cars at a stop sign and arrested him as a "fugitive alien" for overstaying his visa. When Maria got his call from the police station she immediately feared the worst. Despite having no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket, and for ten years doing the punishing but essential field labor that most Americans avoid, and while just beginning a family that dearly depended on him for income, he was subject to immediate deportation to Mexico. He was gone in a month.
Word of Alejandro's fate quickly spread through the neighborhood. Immigration agents were seen near the park. At times like this, people in a besieged community, some of them desperately poor, are afraidto even apply for food stamps for fear of being raided by government agents. And it terrifies the children. Six-year-old Angel Ortiz was getting ready for school when he saw immigration agents take away his father. Now when he sees DEA agents on TV, he yells out, "Those guys kidnapped my daddy!" It's reminiscent of another U.S. policy that targets people unwanted by American leaders, that of the drone wars, which caused a 13-year-old Pakistani boy to say, "I no longer love blue skies...The drones do not fly when the skies are gray."
Alejandro's wife Maria now has three little daughters, all citizens, but she herself is undocumented, so she's in constant fear of being deported herself. "It’s a cruel way to live," she says. One effect of the family split-up is that Maria herself has to work in the fields to support her three children. She talks about her little girls growing up without their father: "It’s the worst thing that you can do to a family." When Alejandro calls on FaceTime from 1,000 miles away, Isabella, who is 2-1/2, tells her father that she loves him. She may not see him for years.
Counting the Ways this is Inhumane
These are human beings, part of a sacred bond of parents and children united together as a family. Conservatives blame broken families for society's dysfunction, but they just sit by as families are broken up.
More than 90 percent of deportation attempts in the first two months of the Trump administration were against people who had committed no crime other than to be living in the country without required documents.
Further, as Juan Cole suggests, it is inexcusably wrong-minded to "take US citizen children away from their mothers and fathers all of a sudden, giving them no time to make alternate arrangements. As for foster homes, with all due respect to the dedicated people who often run them, social science has proven that they are the biggest producer of a criminal class in the US."
And as for John Kelly's detestably dismissive "foster care or whatever" comment, many parents, according to Jorge-Mario Cabrera, the communications director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), don’t have a trusted friend or relative available to take care of their children.
Worst of all, many studies show the devastating effects on disrupted families, including higher rates of poverty, along with the psychological, educational, economic, and social damage suffered by children, and even stress-related physiological changes in unborn children.
Immigrants Are Not the Problem..
Immigrants have proven to be entrepreneurs, job creators, neighborhood boosters, and generally law-abiding citizens. Immigrants are not the problem. The massive 30-year transfer of wealth to the richest 2%to 5% of the American people is a big part of the problem. Immigrants are an easy scapegoat for a deteriorating society. Stripping them from their children is the vilest act of inhumanity.
The terror inflicted on Americans is real, and is documented by the facts to follow.
Big Pharma: Qualifying for Trump's Call for Capital Punishment for Drug Dealers
In a Time Magazine article a young man named Chad Colwell says "I got prescribed painkillers, Percocet and Oxycontin, and then it just kind of took off from there." Time adds: "Prescriptions gave way to cheaper, stronger alternatives. Why scrounge for a $50 pill of Percocet when a tab of heroin can be had for $5?" About 75% of heroin addicts used prescription opioids before turning to heroin.
Any questions about Big Pharma's role in violence and death in America have been answered by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Journal of Public Health. Any doubts about Big Pharma's intentions to intimidate the public have been put to rest by the many occasions of outrageous price gouging. And any uncertainty about political pressure is removed by its #1 lobbying ranking.
As for malicious intentions, Bernie Sanders noted, "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured." Purdue Pharma knew all about the devastating addictive effects of its painkiller Oxycontin, and even pleaded guilty in 2007 to misleading regulators, doctors, and patients about the drug’s risk. Now Purdue and other drug companies are facing a lawsuitfor "deceptively marketing opioids" and ignoring the misuse of their drugs.
No jail for the opioid pushers, though, just slap-on-the-wrist fines that can be made up with a few price increases. But partly as a result of Pharma-related violence, Americans are suffering "deaths of despair"-- death by drugs, alcohol and suicide. Suicide is at its highest level in 30 years.
Big Oil: Decades of Terror
Any doubts about the ecological terror caused by fossil fuel companies have been dispelled by the World Health Organization, the American Lung Association, the United Nations, the Pentagon, cooperating governments, and independent research groups, all of whom agree that human-induced climate change is killing people.
The oil industry's intentionality and political motives have been demonstrated by their refusal to admit the known truth, starting with Exxon, which has covered up its own climate research for 40 years, and continuing through multi-million dollar lobbying efforts by Amoco, the US Chamber of Commerce, General Motors, Koch Industries, and other corporations in their effort to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol against global warming.
Big Banks: Leaving Suicidal Former Homeowners Behind
Any doubts about the violence stemming from the 2008 mortgage crisis have been resolved by studies of recession-caused suicides. Both the British Journal of Psychiatry and the National Institutes of Healthfound definite links between the recession and the rate of suicides.
As with Big Pharma and Big Oil, intentionality and political motives are evident in the banking industry's lobbying efforts on behalf of deregulation -- leading to the same conditions that threatened American homeowners in 2008. There has also been a surge in the number of non-bank lenders, who are less subject to regulation.
Making it all worse are private developers, who make most of their profits by building fancy homes for the rich. And by avoiding affordable housing. Since the recession, Blackstone and other private equity firms -- with government subsidies -- have been buying up foreclosed houses, holding them till prices appreciate, and in the interim renting them back at exorbitant prices.
This is leaving more and more Americans out in the cold -- literally. A head of household in the U.S. needs to make $21.21 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at HUD standards, much more than the $16.38 they actually earn. Since the recession, the situation has continually worsened. From 2010 to 2016 the number of housing units priced for very low-income families plummeted 60 percent.
Here's the big picture: Since the 1980s there's been a massive redistribution of wealth from middle-class housing to the investment portfolios of people with an average net worth of $75 million. It's not hard to understand the "deaths of despair" caused by the terror inflicted on people losing their homes.
It's starting to happen, as teachers around the country are fighting back against income and wealth inequality. At least 3 of every 4 Americans have been cheated out of a share of U.S. productivity since the 1980s. The approximately one of four Americans who have prospered, especially those in the top 5%, generally don't seem to care much about inequality, and instead hang onto delusions about their own self-worth and the struggles of people who "don't work hard enough."
From various trusted sources come maddening facts about the relentlessly expanding wealth divide. Inequality is a perversion of human conduct, as most of society's new benefits have derived from automation, and thus from decades of public input, taxpayer funding, and government research. But the beneficiaries are those who are well-connected to the corporate and financial processes exploiting that growth, mainly through stock ownership.
The rest of America has been left behind, but their voices are getting louder.
(1) In Just the Last 3 Years, the Richest 5% Gained an Average of $800,000 While the Poorest 50% LOST Wealth
This information comes from the 2017 Global Wealth Databook, and is summarized here. Incredibly, the richest 5% of Americans increased their average wealth from about $4 million to nearly $5 million since the end of 2014.
Meanwhile, the average household wealth of the poorest 50% actually went DOWN by about $200. The middle class (50-90%) increased their wealth by anywhere from $6,000 to $26,000 during that financially productive time.
(2) The Wealth Owned by 90% of Us in the 1980s Has Been Redistributed to the Richest .1%
The charts below from the World Inequality Lab reveal this terrible truth about the past 35 years:
-----The richest 125,000 households owned 7 percent of the wealth then, 22 percent now
-----The poorest 112,000,000 households owned 37 percent of the wealth then, 23 percent now
So nearly 15 percent of our nation's total household wealth -- $14 trillion! -- has been transfered from middle-class America to people with an average net worth of $75 million.
It's not hard to envision the benefits in work opportunities, stress reduction, child care, entrepreneurial activity, and artistic pursuits for American households given an extra $1,000 per month. It's also very easy to justify a financial wealth tax, given that the dramatic stock market surge in recent years is largely due to an unprecedented degree of technological and financial productivity that derives from the work efforts and taxes of all Americans. A 2% annual tax on financial wealth is a small price to pay for the great fortunes bestowed on the most fortunate Americans.
The reasons? Careful analysis reveals a number of excellent arguments for the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI).
1. Our jobs are disappearing.
A 2013 Oxford study determined that nearly half of American jobs are at risk of being replaced by computers, AI and robots. Society simply can't keep up with technology. As for the skeptics who cite the Industrial Revolution and its job-enhancing aftermath (which actually took 60 years to develop), the McKinsey Global Institute says that society is being transformed at a pace "ten times faster and at 300 times the scale" of the radical changes of 200 years ago.
2. Half of America is stressed out or sick.
Half of all Americans are in or near poverty, unable to meet emergency expenses, living from paycheck to paycheck, and getting physically and emotionally ill because of it. Numerous UBI experiments have led to increased well-being for their participants. A guaranteed income reduces the debilitating effects of inequality. As one recipient put it, "It takes me out of depression...I feel more sociable."
3. Children need our help.
This could be the best reason for monthly household stipends. Parents, especially mothers, are unable to work outside the home because of the need to care for their children. Because we currently lack a UBI, more and more children are facing hunger and health problems and educational disadvantages.
4. We need more entrepreneurs.
A sudden influx of $12,000 per year for 126 million households would greatly stimulate the economy, potentially allowing millions of Americans to take risks that could lead to new forms of innovation and productivity.
Perhaps most significantly, a guaranteed income could relieve some of the pressure on our newest generation of young adults, who are deep in debt, underemployed, increasingly unable to live on their own, and ill-positioned to take the entrepreneurial chances that are needed to spur innovative business growth. No other group of Americans could make more productive use of an immediate boost in income.
5. We need the arts and sciences.
A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 70% of workers don't feel "engaged" (enthusiastic and committed) in their jobs. The work chosen by UBI recipients could unleash artistic talents and creative impulses that have been suppressed by personal financial concerns, leading, very possibly, to a repeat of the 1930s, when the Works Progress Administration hired thousands of artists and actors and musicians to help sustain the cultural needs of the nation.
The usual uninformed and condescending opposing argument is that UBI recipients will waste the money, spending it on alcohol and drugs and other "temptation" goods. Not true. Studies from the World Bank and the Brooks World Poverty Institute found that money going to poor families is used primarily for essential needs, and that the recipients experience greater physical and mental well-being as a result of their increased incomes.