Corporations and people.
While I share Barry Bennett's concern for the growing inequity in this country (Corporations or People? Restoring the Common Good" J/F 2012), I didn't see any workable solutions in his article. First, he argues under the delusion that we can somehow return to the boom time of the 1950s, when wages began their historic rise. The reality is that we are now competing globally with workers who are glad to get wages far below our expected levels. Productivity increased faster than wages not only because of improved labor skills, but because of technological enhancements. We can't abandon those, and we aren't going to increase real wages again for a very long time, even in high-tech jobs. In fact, the only way to improve U.S. employment security and lower unemployment is to lower the minimum wage to compete with foreign workers! Individuals and unions, which are still essential to the preservation of workers' rights and safe working conditions, must offer increasingly greater wage concessions. (We have already seen these in the automotive and steel industries.) The good news in such a wage race--not to the bottom, but to the middle of future global averages--is that our standard of living won't decline greatly, since prices will generally decline, too.
The heads of U.S. corporations, on the other hand, have been able to grow their companies, their revenues, and their personal incomes by operating globally. Contrary to Bennett's assumption, businesses have never operated for the purpose of improving "the public good," and I don't think they can be forced to do so. But that is one of the roles of governments, at least as envisioned by most of us, and there is precedent for progressive taxation. So, yes, we can demand that governments tax the wealthy more heavily for "the common good"--better public education, lower crime, a cleaner environment, reliable infrastructure, national defense, and social programs for the elderly and others in need. We can demand that they redistribute the wealth over any objections, not because it's ethical (which it may be), but because it is essential to preserving the middle class and a stable society for the benefit of all Americans. I hope no rich American wants us to become a "third-world" country with poverty, disease, and crime everywhere but certain gated enclaves.
There have been many wealthy U.S. leaders who have represented the middle class out of a sense of responsibility, and there are many today who are willing to do so by accepting higher taxes and supporting a social agenda (which is NOT socialism). After reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, it's clear to me that this country has always been led by the wealthy, and the few leaders who were not rich were forced to honor most requests by their wealthy supporters. Our responsibility as "the people" is to support those leaders who have demonstrated that they have the interests of the whole country--corporations and the American people--at heart. It can't be either-or.
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|Article Type:||Letter to the editor|
|Date:||May 1, 2012|
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