During the turmoil of WWII, Aaron Copland was commissioned to write a patriotic fanfare. In March 1943 the stirring “Fanfare for the Common Man” premiered. Copland named the piece after a speech Vice President Wallace gave in which he called the next century “the century of the common man” with “no privileged people”.
Today Copland might be inclined to write a Requiem for the Common Man who is under siege economically, politically, and spiritually. Anxiety stirs among the middle class, as people fear that the game is rigged against them.
According to a PEW poll, 56% of Americans believe they are not moving forward in life, of those, 31% feel they are falling backward. Real median annual household income has not increased this decade creating a fiscal quagmire for the middle class. Simultaneously the rich are getting richer as the number of millionaires increased 16% to 7.8 million in 2009, and CEO salaries since the economic crash have exploded.
Middle class fear, anxiety, and anger crystallized because of the following:
• The Recession: Through obfuscation and cooking the books, the so-called “masters of the universe” created a severe downward spiral, costing the middle-class and others dearly. The federal government bailed out Wall Street with the taxes of the common person because firms were “too big to fail”. Those passionate advocates of free markets begged for tax dollars to keep financial institutions afloat. Capitalism however applied to small-businesses and workers because they are not too big to fail. And many did.
Today the banks are making billions. Corporate profits for the 2010 third quarter increased 28% from the prior year. Huge Wall Street bonuses continue despite greed, fraud and mismanagement. All the while, the middle class paid the piper in diminished wages, excruciating unemployment, lost investments, and home foreclosures.
• Politics: Power and wealth are concentrated in large corporations with their cadre of K Street lobbyists doing their bidding and deepening the coffers of elected officials. Senatorial races across the country featured multimillionaires obscenely able to spend their own cash. Is it possible anymore for the common person without financial or family privilege to compete for the United States Senate or House? Just look at the profile of the Senate. Money talks and its voice is not always civil or in defense of the common good. When money talks, principles die.
• The Supreme Court: According to the court, money is synonymous with free speech and on that score corporations are identical to people. The Court gave corporations and the super-rich gargantuan megaphones, while the common person’s two cents worth is drowned into inconsequentiality. Ordinary citizens can howl in the wilderness while corporations and special interests purchase Madison Avenue production. Who will elected representatives listen to when money talks in overpowering decibels? No cash: no access.
Don’t kid yourself. Money buys access. The impact of citizen letters or e-mails shrinks when confronted with the promise of campaign contributions. Who wins? Special interests buy access and candidates listen because they feed on the mother’s milk of politics – cash.
• Globalization: National leaders in both parties talked glowingly at the prospect of free trade agreements, but the middle-class paid the price. Corporations moved manufacturing operations to sites out of the United States and middle-class workers were merged with a new “global” labor pool, having to compete with third world workforce that made a fraction of the US minimum wage.
Today, only 1.9 million hourly workers make $20 per hour, which is a marker for jobs that provide a middle-class standard of living, down 60% since 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Corporations exploited the world labor pools and detached their interests from those of American workers and the overall economy. Thirty-two percent of all manufacturing jobs are outsourced and 42,400 factories left the United States between 2001-09. In 1960, 29% of Americans worked in manufacturing jobs, today only 9% do. Manufacturing used to be the engine for economic recovery and job growth.
Corporations returned to profitability without hiring large numbers of workers by employing temporary workers, increasing technology and efficacy, and suppressing wages. Apprehensive workers keep quiet because they hear the echo, “Hey, you got a job. Shut-up and be grateful.”
• Perpetual War: The US is in a state of perpetual war fought by poor and middle class men and women. Sons and daughters of members of Congress are not coming home in body bags. These wars do not touch the children of privilege, and will never do as long as there is no draft. Common families sacrifice for the privileged. Can we really expect anything different from a Senate comprised of millionaires, who vote for war but fail to engage their sons, daughters, or grandchildren in them?
The US has military bases in over 600 foreign sites according to the Department of Defense 2010 base structure report — including Germany, Japan, and Italy — remnants of the World War II and the Cold War.
Few politicians discuss America’s role as a military empire that spreads across 150 different countries. While military expenditures drain our resources, they espouse balancing the budget on domestic programs, while ignoring questionable foreign wars, subsidizing foreign demagogues, and cuddling up to the military-industrial complex. We ignored Eisenhower’s warning! Now we pay a dear price in human and fiscal losses.
Political courage is required to change course. C. S. Lewis stated, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” We must define the common good and courageously act on it. The century of the common man? Or the road to oligarchy and plutocracy? Fanfare or requiem? The clock is ticking.