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A common proposition forwarded by conservatives when discussing entitlement assistance suggests that instead of extending financial aid to a recipient, teach him to fish. This way that person will be able to feed (i.e. support) himself or, if not so inclined, be the reason he goes hungry. It sounds reasonable at first but then the logical question — which progressives usually fail to ask — should be, Who owns the waterfront property and if they grant access, what would they charge?
A few days ago, I heard Robert Reich quote a pair of disturbing facts. First, one often repeated, that 95 percent of our economy’s growth in the past several years benefits only 5 percent of the population. The rest are in a holding pattern on earnings while inflation steadily erodes their worth. Then, he stated 400 families control as much wealth in the United States as 50 percent of the entire population.
I recall that in 1975 a writer for Nations Business magazine envisioned 95 percent of all retail sales to be in the hands of five corporations by the year 2000, and Joe Coors predicted only five breweries. They haven’t made it yet, but consider all the logos on your pharmacy bag from City Market, across the country all of them Kroger’s emblems, and then similar concentrations in hotels, TV stations, restaurants, banking and lending, plus conglomerates that spread out into all areas of production and commerce and ask what this says to an individual at any level regarding the opportunities for anyone to fish, about chances to feed himself? (Well, bless the microbreweries, the exception.)
When the power of money becomes concentrated in corporate entities, whose allegiance is solely to stockholders, and is used not only to influence, but to essentially buy and merge themselves into government, this is what corporatism is all about. This is what the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United was designed to legitimatize. In the 1930s, FDR labeled it fascism and we associated it mainly with Italy, Germany and Hungary, later Franco’s Spain and Sukarno’s Indonesia. There was usually a pretense at democracy, the people were allowed to vote, but corporate money determined the candidates and issues. It is a system which concentrates wealth in a minority and assures them cannon fodder when they need it. In 1914, when Tsar Nicholas declared war on Germany, 95 percent of Russia’s wealth was held tight in the hands of 5 percent of the population. Things may have culminated; in less than a year the rank and file, seeing nothing in it for them to risk their lives, began to throw down their rifles and desert. They weren’t cowards or unpatriotic; win or lose the flag alone wasn’t enough, there was nothing for them to fight for. Soon followed a civil war far different from our own.
In the next two coming elections, I believe we have a lot to ask the candidates of both parties. We need to ask the questions. They need to answer, not simply reply.