Revisionist History – Capitalist Style

     Now that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have been removed from Zuccotti park in Manhattan, I hope the issues they raised don’t get thrown under the bus and forgotten.
     Throughout my life, and at all levels of my education, I’d been taught that Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive ideas helped save America from the excesses of capitalism, i.e., sweat shops, company stores, child labor, and oppressive labor practices and wages. Now, for the first time, I’m seeing TR’s policies portrayed as an obstruction to supply and demand, free trade, and letting the free markets decide – as if these hallmarks of capitalism were indisputably right and American.
     TR fought against capitalism’s Darwinian survival of the fittest where the goal was to maximize profits and return value to the stockholder by crushing competition and grinding the faces of employees. If you think I’m exaggerating, read about the life of a factory worker in America during the 1800’s, before Roosevelt.  
    TR once said, “To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” He believed that only the federal government was strong enough to battle the unleashed capitalists. Howard Taft, Roosevelt’s successor, agreed. When President, he called the influence of big business on government ‘the most monstrous monopoly of power in the history of the world.”
    Later Teddy Roosevelt’s ideas were to find their way into the platforms of Woodrow Wilson and FDR and remained a firm pillar in our government until they started to be dismantled during the ‘80s. If you doubt that the ‘80’s signaled a shift, you should check the figures on the growing disproportion of wealth between the  American middle class and the immensely rich in this country.
·         The middle class generation after WWII grew income 100%.  However, from 1979 to 2005 (latest Budget Office numbers), middle class income grew a mere inflation adjusted 21%. During that same time, the average wealth of the top 100th of 1% of Americans grew 480%, from an inflation adjusted $4.2 million to $24.3 million.
·         In 1950, the ratio of an executive’s salary to a worker’s salary in the same company was 30 to 1. Today it is 400 to 1.
·         The bottom 50% of American income earners now collectively own less than 1% of the country’s wealth.
·         Today, 40% of American workers are in typically low-paying service jobs – because manufacturing jobs in America are going the way of the dodo bird. With favorable tax loopholes negotiated by lobbyists and with complete freedom to take the money they earned in America and invest in foreign countries, capitalists – in their constant search for greater profits – are now asking American textile workers to compete with workers in China and Cambodia making 86 cents and 22 cents per hour respectively. Obviously, the textile manufacturing industry in America is dead. This is just one example.
But the strangest thing of all is that many in the rapidly shrinking middle class are defending the very policies that caused all this to happen. They have forgotten history. TR is now considered un-American because he fought against unbridled capitalism. The rhetoric of the super-rich and their apologists has done an amazingly good job of equating capitalism with the founding fathers, God, and the American way, and have warned that correcting capitalism’s flaws is engendering ‘class warfare’ – which nobody wants – preferring that the middle class put their hands in the air while the super rich punch them in the face and pick their pockets.
Next week, some new writing tips I just picked up. Unless I decide to continue this discussion. :). 
Regards,
Jim
Zurich     
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A Rose by any other author would not read so sweet

Anyone following my blog surely knows that I greatly admire the writing style of Martin Cruz Smith, the author of Gorky Park and the subsequent series of books about Arkady Renko, the Moscow police detective. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading a less well known creation of Smith’s called Rose. This was a story of a British mining engineer recalled from Africa by his capitalist employer to find his daughter’s missing fiance in a coal mining town in 19th century England. While doing so, the engineer uncovers several intrigues and falls in love with a mine worker named Rose.  
The book is gritty – you can feel the coal dust in the air and the vapor of darkness that covered the landscape from the constantly running furnaces powering the coal mine’s operations. Did you know that in those mile deep mines in Lancashire county that fresh air was circulated throughout the miles of tunnels by a single huge, roaring furnace at the bottom of the mine fed with 60 tons of coal 24 hours per day, 365 days per year? The fumes were vented through a chimney that ran to the surface but the almost volcanic heat of the furnace sucked oxygen from the surface deep into the bowels of the mine. If the furnace ever went out, everyone in the mine would suffocate.
Another curious feature was the elevator that ran from the surface down to the heart of the mine over a mile below. It dropped at a speed of 40 miles per hour and had no automatic braking system. The elevator was controlled by a man called a ‘winder’ who sat above ground watching the dials indicating the elevator’s progress and manually braked the elevator. This was his single job the entire day. If his mind wandered and he forgot to brake at the right time, the elevator with 30 men in it would crash at the bottom killing all. Same thing coming up. The elevator, if not braked, would come flying out of its shaft destroying its support beams and then plunge down again out of control to the bottom of the mine with all aboard. The winder worked in a shack by himself completely undisturbed. His concentration had to be absolute. It was said that the foremen knew to only put illiterate men in that job, because literate men could not concentrate all day on the dials.  
The work in the mines was incredibly dangerous. Thousands died (they really did have canaries in the mine to warn of bad air) and yet thousands more were eager to take their place because it was a job. And men needed jobs to support their families and for their own self respect. If you focused on the living conditions in the mines, Rose was a sad story of desperate, hard-scrabble lives held in virtual bondage by capitalist owners who never thought of themselves as evil but rather as clever businessmen trying to maximize the value of their capital. After all, they didn’t force the men to take these jobs – they could quit at any time. After I read Rose I watched a documentary on BBC on British coal mines in the early 1900’s (conditions hadn’t changed much since the 1800’s) and it told of one mining disaster that took the lives of almost 200 men and the owner didn’t pay the widows the salary of their husbands for the day they died – after all, they hadn’t finished their shift.
But in the end, Rose wasn’t a sad story. Somehow love always manages to trump attempts to snuff out the human spirit. In the end, the title character tells the protagonist that if he takes her with him back to Africa ‘I will love ya till my dying breath’(or words to that effect). Rose – an altogether uplifting and informative historical novel with something to say about the effects of unregulated capitalism on the lives of average people.
My next blog post will be a brief discussion of how South Africa fits into my future writing plans.  
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich
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