If the “American Dream” is Truly Dead, Corporate Greed is What Killed It

Healthcare not WarfareRaising the minimum wage, job creation and income inequality have been hot button topics for a while now, and rightfully so.  It seems like nearly every week we hear news about the rise in the number of Americans relying on welfare since the recession, yet we also hear about corporate profits reaching record highs and the wealth of the one-percent continuing to grow.

Now many on the right will lead you to believe this trend is a byproduct of policies passed while Obama has been President.  Anyone who believes that is simply delusional.  This has been a systemic economic problem that’s been going on for quite some time and was accelerated with the implementation of the economic policy known as Trickle-Down economics.  Which as most people know is the belief that the more obscene wealth the rich accumulate, the more they’ll “trickle down” to the rest of us.

There’s always a lot of rhetoric from the right that the “American dream” is dead or dying.  The reasons for this vary, but the excuses almost always involve some kind of right-wing talking point which blames the poor and claims we need more policies which will benefit the rich.

These people even argue that the minimum wage is a “job killer,” yet find it perfectly acceptable for large corporations, earning billions of dollars in profits, to use every tax loophole imaginable to pay a lower tax rate than the average middle class American.

Once upon a time most businesses saw an investment in human capital (benefits for employees) as a vital tool for ensuring their workers were loyal, motivated and productive.  That was until they learned that if they fix the system, and hold people back, they could then begin treating people like cogs in a machine—easily replaceable if it fails to do the job it’s needed to do.

And that’s how many of these corporations view people.  An employee is no longer a human being with a family, bills and a home.  They’re now “X” hours a week at $X.XX per hour (or $XX,XXX per year if salary).  They’re a spreadsheet chart of numbers showing production and an “expense” listed in the accounting books.

Someone whose job can be eliminated, hours cut or benefits reduced in the name of “increasing profits.”  Oh, all while the executives of these companies continue to fatten their own pockets with bloated salaries and ridiculous benefits packages.

It’s individuals like the Koch brothers, worth tens of billions of dollars, pushing to eliminate the minimum wage in the name of “job creation.”  It’s big banks on Wall Street which knew they would eventually crash our economy with their unethical business practices, betting on that fact, then asking for a bailout after they finally did it.

Then having the nerve to lobby against Wall Street regulations.

But I’ve always said there’s never really been an “American dream.”  We started as a nation largely built on slavery, continued to expand that nation through genocide of Native Americans, nearly divided that nation in a war where many fought for the right to continue to own slaves, denied women the right to vote, segregated African Americans, lynched civil rights activists, denied equal rights for women and even in 2013 millions often treat homosexuals as individuals suffering from some kind of disease rather than equal human beings.

And in the background of all of this there has always been the “haves” trying to create an economic system where they were the sole beneficiaries at the expense of the majority of the nation.  Then with Trickle-Down economics that’s exactly what they got.

Now, profits are no longer adequate—larger profits are required.  Success simply isn’t enough.  Success and wealth has turned into a game for many of the one-percenters to see who can become even more successful and amass even more wealth.

Being rich isn’t enough, they want to be richer than their peers.  Which of course then leads others like them to seek to be richer than their peers.  “Oh, you made $800 million last year?  That’s cute.  I made $1.2 billion.”

But demand, the real driving force behind our economy, only generates so much in the way of profits.  So the only way these corporations can drive profits, once demand has hit its peak, is by cutting.  Cut hours, cut wages, cut jobs, cut benefits—cut everything they can to reduce expenses.  Who cares if you’re overworking many of your employees?  That’s their problem.  If they don’t like it, they can go work somewhere else.

And thus begins the cycle.  As corporations continue to pay workers less, eliminate jobs and syphon money from consumers to grow their wealth—the pool of consumers shrinks as their buying power is reduced because of lower wages.  In fact, many of them are driven to government programs just to survive.

Now I’ve heard many on the right say these people are just living beyond their means and should cut back. After all, isn’t there a book out about the family that lived off $14,000 a year?

First, these people are fools.  Sure, some are probably living beyond their means, but for these people to look me in the eye and tell me that someone making $14,500 per year (the federal minimum wage $7.25 x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks) should “cut back” is ridiculous.

Then let’s imagine if 40% of Americans decided to live how this family did that made it off a yearly income of $14,000.  Billions of consumer dollars suddenly snatched from the economy.  You want to talk about a “job killer,” try pulling billions of dollars from our economy because of a sudden decline in consumer demand—that would be the ultimate job killer.

Then of course the cycle would just continue.  As demand dropped more jobs would be cut, wages slashed and even more Americans would rely on our welfare system.

You want to talk about a country dependent on the government and welfare?  Let’s go ahead and have millions of Americans mimic the family who wrote a book detailing their life living on $14,000 per year and you’ll definitely see just that.

Because there’s one thing that’s certain, money is not infinite.  There’s a finite amount going around and the more that’s held in the offshore accounts of the super rich, the less there is for everyone else.  And when you have an economic system which has perpetuated that the best plan for economic prosperity is by giving the rich more saying that will give the rest of us more—that’s just asinine.

Just look at this theory to begin with. We “give them” a certain sum of money and they “trickle down” some of it to us.  Well, what happens with each “cycle?”  Well, if they want to keep expanding their wealth, they’re going to keep more each time we give them money and they’re going to give less each time.

Because, again, money is not infinite.  There’s only so much and they can’t grow their wealth by giving back what we give them.  And that’s exactly what we’ve seen.  A growing pocket of wealth for the 1%, and a shrinking share of wealth for the bottom 99%.  Which is exactly what common sense should tell anyone will happen when you enact an economic policy like Trickle-Down economics.

So while there’s this big talk about the “death of the American dream,” if you want to believe there ever was one, who exactly killed it?

Poor people just trying to get by in life and take care of their families?  You really think they killed the “American dream?”  Most of them are just trying to provide a better life for their children than they had.  These are the very people who are trying to reach the “American dream.”

Government?  Possible.  But, who’s lobbying and corrupting the government to begin with?  Oh, that’s right, the rich and the powerful.

They lobby against minimum wage hikes, safer working conditions, health benefits and generally any policy which would require them to better treat their workers.  Claiming any of these policies would “eliminate jobs.”

Which is true, but not because the policies inhibit job growth.  But because it would inhibit their wealth growth unless they eliminated jobs.

So, if you believe in the “American dream,” who really killed it?

  • Millions of Americans just trying to find a job that pays them enough to take care of their family and maybe be able to afford to take their kids on a vacation or pay for their education.
  • A small group of rich individuals trying to squeeze as much out of 99% of Americans so that they can become even richer.

Because the truth is, most Americans don’t envy the rich or begrudge their wealth, until that growth in wealth is at the expense of their pay, their benefits and their jobs.

And if these wealthy individuals like the Koch brothers really believe they can continue down this path of building their success on the backs of 99% of Americans, giving back as little as possible in the process, they’re as delusional as those members of the 99% of Americans who actually support their behavior and vote against their own interests.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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