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An Economy That Helps All

Bill Knight
Bill Knight

 Recording artist Bruce Springsteen talks about his new album, “Wrecking Ball,” in a conversation with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, describing the record as featuring characters who are regular people who “just want a job.” In cuts such as “Jack of All Trades” and “Death to My Hometown,” Springsteen’s newest record depicts the country at odds with itself.

 “The banker man grows fat,” he sings, “Working man grows thin.”

 Springsteen says, “These are issues and things that occur over and over again in history and land on the backs of the same people. In my music … I always try to gauge the distance between American reality and the American Dream. The mantra that I go into in the last verse of ‘We Take Care of Our Own’ – ‘Where are the eyes, where are the hearts?’ – it's really: ‘Where are those things now, what happened to those things over the past 30 years? What happened to the social fabric of the world that we're living in?’ ”

 Those 30 years are about to get a reboot, if GOP presidential candidates have anything to say about it. Republicans from Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum are reviving the same ideas that led to the economic crash of 2008 and the Great Recession – and it’s a party platform plank that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the AFL-CIO, which issued a resolution at its Executive Council meetings last month.

 The labor leaders said, “The deindustrialization of America and the substitution of speculation for productive investment were not accidents, they were not inevitable, and they were not the outcome of natural forces. They were the predictable results of mistaken policy choices made by politicians of both parties for more than a generation.

 “America cannot afford to go down this path again,” the Executive Council’s statement continued. “If we want to fix what is wrong with our economy, we have to learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them.”
 Assessing the economy since the 1980s, the AFL-CIO saw several key policy shifts:

“Starting in the 1980s, corporate America decided to boost profits by shipping U.S. jobs overseas,” they said. “Also by the 1980s, the U.S. financial sector was failing to perform its essential function of channeling savings to productive investment in the real economy. Financial firms on Wall Street focused instead on making a quick buck by stripping assets from existing businesses and downsizing their workforces, and on various forms of complex financial engineering that had little economic value… speculation.

“Nearly two-thirds of the pretax income gains after 1979 were captured by the richest 10 percent and more than half was captured by the richest 1 percent,” the AFL-CIO resolution said. “The experience of the past 30 years shows that rising inequality is bad not only for workers, but also for the economy as a whole.”

“The weakness of the economy was temporarily papered over by a bubble in real estate prices at the turn of the 21st century, which was made possible by the deregulation of Wall Street,” the leaders added.

“The Republican presidential candidates … pretend that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy are the answer to wage stagnation and the economic crisis, but the Bush years taught us that these obscenely wasteful tax cuts only make the problem worse.”

 The labor federation’s statement outlines steps to build an economy that can compete with world economic powers like Germany and China, and one that works for all, including:

Investing over the next decade in education and apprenticeship programs for young people, infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, transportation and new technologies;

Making Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans – who have benefited most from the economic policies of the past 30 years – share the load;

Tackling the problems of wage stagnation and economic inequality by reforming labor laws so that all workers who want to form a union and bargain collectively have a fair chance to do so, and eliminating incentives for offshoring;

Reviving U.S. manufacturing by bringing the trade deficit under control, enhancing Buy America safeguards, and aggressively enforcing trade laws;

Shrinking our bloated financial sector so it serves the real economy once again, and finding ways to favor strategic investment over short-term speculation; and

Working toward a global New Deal that establishes minimum standards for the world economy, prevents a “race to the bottom,” creates vibrant consumer markets in the global South, and creates new markets for advanced U.S. manufacturing.

 Another U.S. recording artist, Van Halen (reunited and touring with singer David Lee Roth in support of their first studio album in 14 years), also expressed solidarity with regular working people.

 Referring to their hit song “Tattoo,” Roth in a recent interview said, “What’s more poignant than the union struggle today?”

 The AFL-CIO resolution reads: “We can no longer rely on household debt, real estate bubbles, tech bubbles, stock bubbles or any other kind of bubbles to fuel our economic growth. We cannot go back to a low-wage, high-consumption economy. We need bold leadership to draw the right lessons from the mistakes of the past 30 years and forge a new model of economic growth in which we make things in America again, workers can form a union and bargain collectively if they want to, working people can afford to buy the things they make, the U.S. economy produces as much as it consumes, everybody who wants to work can find a good job and prosperity is broadly shared.”

 High-energy rock fans might add: “Born in the USA!”  Or, “Jump!”

Bill Knight is a freelance writer who teaches at Western Illinois University. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of WIU or Tri States Public Radio.