Saturday, August 20, 2011

A New Gilded Age?

From high atop the lofty perch of unreality that is a tenured position at Harvard, comes this bit of doggerel from the the "Matthew J. Sterling, Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy" Dr. Alexander Keyssar.  Oh yeah-he's also a Huffington Post columnist. 

In his piece, Dr. Keyssar takes us on an historical walk through time, from the 1890's up to 1965, in which he lays out what he calls:

"...a truly grand bargain.  The terms were straightforward if not systematically articulated. Capitalism would endure, as would almost all large corporations. Huge railroads, banks and other enterprises — with a few exceptions — would cease to be threatened with nationalization or breakup. Moreover, the state would service and promote private business. In exchange, the federal government adopted a series of far-reaching reforms to shield and empower citizens, safeguarding society’s democratic character. First came the regulation of business and banking to protect consumers, limit the power of individual corporations and prevent anti-competitive practices. The principle underlying measures such as the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) and the Glass-Steagall Act (1933) — which insured bank deposits and separated investment from commercial banking — was that government was responsible for protecting society against the shortcomings of a market economy." 

After these measures, Keyssar moves onto praising labor law changes of the early 20th century, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid legislation of the 60'.  All of this is to support his contention that there was this "grand bargain", and that capitalism was allowed to survive (apparently Dr. Keyssar believes it was on its butt in the early 20th century) only because this fabric of social legislation was passed to smooth out its rough edges.
But now, "...that bargain — with its vision of balance between private interests and public welfare, workers and employers, the wealthy and the poor — has been under attack by conservatives for decades. And the attacks have been escalating."  And further...."  ...but viewed collectively, it’s difficult not to see a determined campaign to dismantle a broad societal bargain that served much of the nation well for decades. To a historian, the agenda of today’s conservatives looks like a bizarre effort to return to the Gilded Age, an era with little regulation of business, no social insurance and no legal protections for workers."

To a historian?  Well, maybe to a seriously politically biased historian.

Putting aside for the moment the acceptability that voters in 1890 bought into a "bargain" that in any way constrains us to day, has Dr. Keyssar paid ANY attention to the news of the past three years?  Has he seen the tremendous economic turmoil of the recession?  Has he any clue as to the cosmic debt crisis this country faces? 

Perhaps Dr. Keyssar might consider poking his head out of the Harvard faculty lounge long enough to realize that much of what he describes as enlightened social legislation is at least partially--and in some cases overwhelmingly--responsible for the pickle we now find ourselves in.

As the good Dr.'s field is history, perhaps he could take a quick demography class, and realize that life expectancy in 1935--the year Social Security was passed--was 59.9 for men and 63.9 for women.  The program allowed for benefits at 65.  Oh--and how about.....birth control?  In 1950, each retiree was supported by 16 workers.  Today, the number is 3.3.  It will be 2 workers for every retiree in 2025.  Fewer and fewer worker are supporting a pension benefit and healtcare for more and more aging Americans.  You're damn right Conservatives are trying to change things, because Dr. Keyssar--they simply can't go on as they were. Social security, medicare and medicaid are simply on unsustainable growth trajectories, largely because people like Dr. Keyssar continue to peddle the manure that we are somehow obligated or locked into a financial national suicide pact.

Unions and collective bargaining?  C'mon, Dr. Keyssar, we're in no danger of going back to sweatshops--the labor agenda of the first half of the 20th century is now public law, and millions of Americans walked away from unionization in the past 40 years because their rights were sufficiently protected WITHOUT a union, and unions were closely identified with corruption and organized crime.  Where unionization has increased is in the public sector, where politicians sit across the table from public sector union reps at negotiation time, and then seek support of those same reps next time they run.  The result is a public debt crisis at the state and local level that makes many of our states (can you say "California"?) look a lot like Greece.

Conservatives recognized a long time ago that the gravy train has to end, that we simply cannot sustain an advanced economy--let alone Dr. Keyssar's "bargain"--unless fundamental reforms are made.

Folks--this view--the view of Dr. Keyssar--is what underpins much of liberal thinking.  You need to read his piece--he sounds reasonable, and the things he seeks to protect seem worthy of protecting.  But who pays the bills?  What happens when the money runs out?  Dr. Keyssar issues his ruminations from Cambridge, where the rich and liberal of America send their sons and daughters to pay nearly $50K a year in tuition to have a socialist professor decry the excesses of a capitalist system which provided them with the means to send their future community organizers there.  Something is wrong folks,very wrong.  And I submit that Dr. Keyssar's approach is a big part of it.

Gilded Age, Dr. Keyssar?  No sir.  A new Age of Reason.

1 comment:

"The Hammer" said...

I think that's one of the major problems with Wall Street / investment baker types. They get their 110k yr. job straight out of Haaaaarvid Business and go to work for Goldman Sachs. They've been imbued with the idea that capitalism is theft, so they think, what the hell, I'll just take what I can. I'm not so much corrupt as I am a cog in a corrupt system, and besides, everybody does it.

Leftist are always accusing Republicans of being anti-regulation. No so. I'm reading a book about the financial crisis now and let me tell you what, Dodd and Frank were instrumental in turning Fannie Mae loose to do as their CEO damned well pleased. And that was with a quasi-government corporation (which is bullshit anyway).

I ran across a few of those Ivy League types in Paris many years ago. They're really idiot children of the rich totally clueless how the world works.

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