The Redistribution of Wealth


The United States is undergoing a great redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. President Obama and the Congress have done nothing to alter this trend. Despite the corporate media’s obsession with the alleged differences between the Democrats and the Republicans, this transfer of wealth has increased in both size and speed regardless of the party in power. The number of poor people has steadily increased and their loss of income has made their situation increasingly desperate.

In September of this year, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee released a report called Income Inequality and the Great Recession. A statement from that report summarizes the problem. “Over the past three decades, income inequality has grown dramatically.…” Most of this inequality was observable in “…the share of total income accrued by the richest 1 percent of households. Between 1980 and 2008, their share rose from 10.0 percent to 21.0 percent, making the United States as [sic] one of the most unequal countries in the world.”

The report also states that “Income inequality peaked prior to the United States’ two most severe economic crises—the Great Depression and the Great Recession.” If you want the rich to steal from the poor at a faster rate, join whatever political outfit seems most likely to promote economic disasters. At present, when comparing the two major parties, I see little difference between their respective abilities to promote economic crises at a rate satisfactory to the corporate plutocrats who rule our lives.

The Congressional report provides other examples of the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich and finally makes some tepid proposals to solve the problem, none of which would ever correct the central causes.

In order for the United States to recover from its present economic and financial disaster, it must do two things. The first is simple. The second is not. Neither is likely to occur.

First, following the failure of George W. Bush, the Obama administration and the Congress, which was controlled by Democrats, should have passed legislation to reregulate the banks that created the initial financial catastrophe that led to the Great Recession. The deregulation of banking during the Clinton administration had led directly to the introduction of banking practices such as subprime loans and credit-default swaps that eventually caused the financial crisis in the first place. One simple step needed to correct these problems was an updated version of the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933, which had created a firewall between depository banks and investment banks. This law had prevented the worst banking practices for decades. At this moment, nothing like the Glass-Steagall Act has been introduced by Congress or the President.

Regulations that prevented the issuance of subprime loans could have already been in place if the Bush administration had heeding the warnings that arrived years before. Even I could see the danger. An agent from Countrywide, a firm that mastered the subprime-loan racket, once offered me a loan for a condominium less than two hours after my initial inquiry, much too little time for the company to have checked my financial history and pondered the wisdom of the loan. All our discussions took place over the telephone. I never saw the agent, and he never saw me. I rejected the offer and remained in my apartment.

My second proposal will never be adopted because the politicians in this country are too meek and too stupid. Before millions of workers can rise from the poverty of unemployment and remain employed, we must reindustrialize the United States. We must again manufacture things. We must make our own washing machines, clothing, computers, and thousands of other useful products. A country that doesn’t even make its own refrigerators is a third-world country. Manufacturing and strong labor unions raised millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class during and after the New Deal. The alleged benefits of a “post-industrial society” that became popular more recently were a mirage, the inventions of primitive thinkers trained in the universities of the Lower Paleolithic Period.

In order to convince corporations to again manufacture things within the borders of this country, tax incentives and tax disincentives could be offered. To really convince the corporate predators, an even better strategy would be to criminalize the export of jobs to foreign countries. To bring back the jobs that have already gone to foreign countries, we should try, convict, and fine the predators any amount of money required. I wouldn’t oppose jail time for malefactors of great wealth. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I’d support such laws. It’s a crime to rob a woman at gunpoint. Why is it less of a crime to rob her by stealing her job and giving it to someone in Asia?

This plan would not necessarily create ex post facto laws. Legislation could penalize the future import of products made by U.S. companies in foreign countries. Nor am I advocating an end to international trade. Maytag used to manufacture washing machines in Newton, Iowa. One of my uncles worked there during his entire adult work life. Whirlpool now owns Maytag, and the factory that used to be in Newton has now been replaced by a factory across the Rio Grande in Reynosa, Mexico. In a more perfect world, Whirlpool would have to sell or give that plant in Reynosa to the Mexicans, who could then use it for whatever they wanted. If they decided to continue making washing machines, I’m sure the people of Newton could still make better ones.

All this is so logical, practical, and moral that I can promise you that our rulers will never accept these modest proposals. We’re supposed to let the magic of the markets save us. The notion that markets can solve our problems is one of most primitive superstitions I’ve ever heard of. It’s more primitive than belief in a deity who lives in a volcano and requires the periodic sacrifice of a virgin.

If you want to remain safe from a volcano, don’t build your town right beside it. If you want a good washing machine, don’t buy one manufactured by Whirlpool in Reynosa, Mexico. And while you’re thinking about it, don’t buy Whirlpool refrigerators made in Reynosa. The people of Galesburg, Illinois, made them much better.

PATRICK IRELAN is a retired high-school teacher. His most recent book is Reruns, a collection of comic short stories. You can contact him at pwirelan43@yahoo.com.

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