There’s class warfare, all right . . . but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning. –Warren Buffet, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway (quoted in Who Stole the American Dream?)
The richest 1% of Americans now control nearly 40% of America’s wealth. The great merit of Hedrick Smith’s book Who Stole the American Dream? is that he tells the story of how this happened.
It brings home to us in the starkest terms the enormity of what has gone wrong in America, and the desperate need for citizen activists – patriots – to lead us in restoring both democracy and prosperity. Hedrick Smith shows quite clearly that without more citizen involvement (more democracy) there will be further accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, but no prosperity (a better life for ordinary people).
Hedrick Smith has many good ideas about what must be done economically. Here are some of them:
- rebuild the working partnership between business and labor
- a renewed social contract to create jobs and restrict the off-shoring of manufacturing
- a domestic Marshall Plan to create millions of jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure
- reform the corporate tax code to promote job creation and make billionaires pay their share
- a $1 trillion reduction in military spending over the next decade
- mortgage relief for the millions of Americans who were ruined by the subprime mortgage fraud
- strengthen Social Security and Medicare
He also makes crucial political recommendations:
- support for the movements for open primaries and redistricting reform
- “armies of volunteers to get the country back on track”
- “organize at the grass roots” (what the Democratic Party refused to do when the Tea Party was organizing their “town meetings” to oppose Obama’s health care reform)
- restore fairness (along with liberty, the cornerstone of American democracy)
There is really only one point where I disagree slightly with Hedrick Smith’s assessment and his prescriptions. In his call to “mobilize the middle class” I think he is putting the cart before the horse. The middle-class may be the biggest loser in the transformation that has taken place. But, as a class, it is not well positioned to lead the movement to restore fairness to American democracy.
Restoring fairness demands that we take on the power of the political establishment (otherwise known as the 2-party monopoly). The force that can lead this is the mass of political independents (whose numbers have been increasing for decades and who, according to mainstreams polls, now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans nationally). This force includes millions of people in the middle class. It includes millions of people who were once in the middle class. It includes millions of working people. And it includes millions of people living below the poverty line, or only slightly above it.
I hope that Mr. Smith will accept this as a “friendly amendment” to his admirable book.
Lou Hinman has been been an independent activist for most of his adult life. He lives in New York City.