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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  • ellenabbott

    Our economy is like a casino that promises 96% payback. Keep playing and eventually you will have lost every penny.

  • oldngrumpy1

    Our problems begin, like most things, at the beginning of what we call capitalism. In a true capitalistic economy the resources of the nation would be deemed as property of all citizens, for which just compensation would be required if one wished to utilize them. This compensation used to be in the form of corporate taxation, which comprised the bulk of revenue for the government. As the wealthy began using their wealth to influence government, which they hate with all their being, and the tax burden shifted slowly onto the working class with each loophole and exemption they bought from corrupt elected officials.

    The natural evolution of this ability to affect one’s own taxation has been a disaster to our economy, but it has also shifted the very definition of our economic system. When natural resources are stolen, or “gifted”, to the ruling class we can no longer lay claim to capitalism. We have drifted back into the ages old enemy of the common man, feudalism, as the very right to exist is now held ransom for labor and fealty to the wealthy and their corporations. Only when one can exist without a “job”, albeit poorly, can it be said that we have a “free market”. When that job is paramount to obtaining food and shelter then the “job” becomes a ransom paid to satisfy blackmail.

    • scb905

      I couldn’t agree more, oldngrumpy1, well said.

  • Mikeinthedirt

    A little history. The American Revolution was the result of a monopolistic and usurious corporatocracy. The Native American genocide was a result of land sales and grants to which the seller had no title. The Civil War was sold to the Confederate ground-pounder as a defense of usurpation of State’s Rights self-determination.

    • maxiemom

      A little history…. Tell your ‘story’ to those at the time of the Revolution who were fed up with paying taxes on sugar, tea, stamps, etc. It was harder for the average and the poor person to pay those taxes than the wealthy, the same as it would be if we had a flat tax now. Their harbors were bottled up. They were forced to house and feed British soldiers. And yes, they had no voice in any of what was being done to them. That isn’t a corporatocracy: it’s a need to have an actual voice in what’s being done to you. It’s human nature. They were being forced to pay for a war fought because of a longstanding feud between England and France, and they resented it, as it was packaged as if it were only due to ‘protecting the colonies’. During the Civil War, you had southerners whose crops, animals, horses, etc, were stolen by an invading army. Frequently they had the invaders on their property, so much so that they couldn’t even re-plant what was taken. Their possessions were stolen. Their farms were burned. And no, they didn’t have to be slaveowners to have any of that happen to them. My own ancestors and their neighbors were forced to move during the war as a result of this treatment, and they owned no slaves. The people who worked those farms were sons, laborers and freed men (from census records). Those who joined did so AFTER their farms were invaded and overrun. It had NOTHING to do with ‘states rights’ for most of them, but protection from an invader. As for the Native American genocide.. well, there you have me, except that the same people who commanded the armies were the same ones who cut their teeth doing similar things in the American South, and I will point out that many of them didn’t like African Americans, either (read more about Sherman, etc on that point). One group was trying to protect their land, and the other was a group of bloodthirsty savages. There are too many statues of and buildings honoring those savages in this country.

      • Pat Durkin

        “Invader” the guy that was a countryman in 1860

        The war for *cough* states rights was a war to defend slavery

        and the (white!!) “hard working sons” where dupes of the wealthy, who claimed treason was an act of patriots

        “One group was trying to protect their land, and the other was a group of bloodthirsty savages” what was kind of said by Standing Bear

        off topic but couldn’t resist

      • maxiemom

        Invader– an occupying army literally invades your state, county and farm and plops itself on your property. They were countrymen, yes, but they still invaded and occupied other states. Look up the definition. You are not ‘duped’ if you are trying to remove them, but you are duped if you only believe what others have told you to swallow without question.

        And you’ve obviously missed my point about the ‘bloodthirsty savages’, because I was talking about the people FIGHTING Standing Bear…..

        Study, research, and READING are very helpful, as well as thinking for yourself…..

  • hurricanemaine

    But some of the rich people do give back, they are backing politicians. Unfortunately those very politicians are voting against the interest of the majority of voting Americans.

  • Pat

    When I read articles like this, it makes me very sad, and angry at the same time. Those wealthy, so called job creators, have earned their wealth by the sweat of those middle-class, and less than middle-class employees, who they are driving to the brink of insanity with what is expected of them in the way of their workloads. I know so many people who are so stressed out by the amount of work that is expected of them today. I swear, us baby boomers are all going to die off quicker than expected because the stress and work overload is going to kill us before our time. I really am starting to believe this. I guess the wealthy, so called job creators don’t give a damn. They are keeping all the rewards to themselves, and they think they are entitled to every penny we have earned for them. I am starting to really, really hate these people, and it’s not like me to hate anyone. God help us.

  • raggedcompany

    “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.”
    This comment struck me, because for me at least, it’s true. Sure, I’d love to be a millionaire, but I’d probably have a better chance of being struck by lightning. I’d be /much/ happier if i could work my 40 hours a week, pay my rent, feed myself, and enjoy a few little extra luxuries without worrying that I’ll go broke. I’m not talking extravagant things — internet access, a cell phone, and to go out a couple times a week. More often than not I spend my nights at home, and I’m proud to say that I can support this lifestyle without government assistance. My job is in a professional field with higher than minimum wages, and I’m still barely scraping by most times. It’d be nice if I wasn’t to live paycheck to paycheck while the big-wigs at my company get paid to sit around and have meetings all day. I don’t need to be /rich/, just /comfotable/.

    • raggedcompany

      Of course after I post I see the typo… that’s supposed to be “comfortable” and not whatever the heck I typed. 🙂

  • sickofbeingpoor

    time for a revolution. off with their heads!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Bradoplata

    Your article is heavy on opinion, but about some facts to back up your opinion?

    imo, Wall street regulation is more a Washington power move than left verses right. The only people doing well under obama are people that own stocks.

    How can people afford college with the prices so high? How do you think the prices got so high? Free gov money, just like the housing boom.

    Raising the minimum wage is just bad overall for poor people. Businesses make almost no profit on the cheaper stuff they sell. The cheaper stuff businesses sell are what poor people buy. When the businesses have to charge more for the cheaper stuff because of the inflation caused by raising the minimum wage, the poor have to pay more for the stuff that is cheaper, thereby decreasing any buying power a bigger min, wage gave them.

    Who is really hurt by raising the min. wage are the people that earn a few dollars more than that, but now just make the new min. wage.

  • Matthew Reece

    Corporations are a creation of the state, so statism is ultimately responsible for killing the American Dream.