Is this Land Your Land?


Me_in_DC2.JPGWhen folk music pioneer Woody Guthrie wrote the song “This Land is Your Land” more than 70 years ago, was he describing the way things were in America, or the way he felt things should be? 

Possibly both. If you look at ownership of wealth in America, it was not nearly as concentrated among the few at the top in Guthrie’s time as it is today. So, the idea that this land belongs to all of us was closer to the reality then. And that was widely viewed as right and just. 

For Americans today we need to ask, do you feel that this land is truly your land?  

Is this government your government? Abraham Lincoln famously and eloquently spoke of “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” articulating a standard for democratic government. Does anyone feel that our government today meets that standard?

Sadly, for most Americans the answer to both of these questions is a resounding “no.” This land is increasingly owned by the few not the many, and this government is now of, by and for corporations and the wealthy.

The gap between rich and poor has been growing steadily for at least four decades and the U.S. currently has less economic equality than most wealthy nations. And the concentrated wealth at the top coupled with dubious high court decisions on campaign finance has allowed corporations and the wealthy to exercise more and more influence over government, drowning out the voice of the average citizen. Our corrupt, polarized politics leaves little room for common ground, and even less room for common good.
Case in point: House Democrats voting recently to loosen regulations of financial derivatives have received significantly more campaign money from Citigroup (eight times as much) and other financial institutions than those favoring regulation. This kind of thing happens all the time. Is that the way democracy is supposed to work? Through legalized bribery of campaign donations, not to mention the pernicious lobbying that only corporations and the wealthy can afford?

Clearly, more and better regulation of complex financial instruments is in the best interest of consumers following a terrible recession triggered by an out of control financial sector. Are we getting that regulation to protect us? The far right narrative demonizes regulation as an enemy of business and free markets. This has been drastically overstated. Moreover, I don’t care— if it’s good for consumers, do it. In a democracy, people come first.

When did business become the prime beneficiary of government policy? Adding insult to injury, lawmakers on the right tell us over and over that helping business will ultimately help workers and consumers. This “trickle down economics” is little more than a ruse enabling lawmakers to favor their business donors while placating the masses.

Regarding disparities in wealth, some will say that those at the top have earned this skyrocketing wealth, and so they deserve it. But the facts simply do not bear this out. Most of the wealth today is inherited or is a result of gains in market values of stocks and other assets. And much of the growing wealth is attributable to tax policy and other government activities favoring corporations and the wealthy.

If anything, workers today should be seeing substantial gains in income and wealth-- worker productivity, which had always been a key driver of wages, has steadily risen all the while wages have been stagnant or have declined. Wages have not followed the gains in productivity in this buyer’s job market that is increasingly controlled by large employers who are able to keep wages down.
The insidious control of wealth and government by corporations and a small segment at the top means that this economy is not for you and me either. There are not nearly enough jobs for all the job seekers, and the jobs that do exist are paying less and less. That’s great for business, at least in the short run until the lack of consumer spending power precipitates another recession, but it’s disastrous for workers.

Government of course is supposed to manage the economy, and for the common good. Following the great recession that inadequate government regulation failed to prevent, it’s difficult to believe that our government is really managing the economy. If indeed it is, it’s managing it for the benefit of business, not workers or consumers.
Americans are beginning to wake up to the stark reality of ever-increasing inequality and disappearing democracy, and they’re demanding change. Extreme economic inequality, which undermines democracy, is slowly capturing people’s attention, including the President’s and the Pope’s. While this is encouraging, it will require many, many people demanding change from a government that doesn’t seem to be listening to the people right now. But it can be done.
Contact your elected representatives and ask what they’re doing about the problem. Demand action now. Take back the land and the government that are rightfully yours.

 

• Tony Giordano, adjunct college instructor and research consultant in social science, is a supporter of the American Anti-Corruption Act.

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