When a nation’s political spectrum shifts as a result of open and honest dialogue, there are benefits to progress and prosperity. However, when a political shift is created by systematically excluding one side of a discussion from participation, a nation’s most important interests become endangered. The silencing of pro-labor voices, along with the creation of a false sense of media balance, has allowed for a largely unnoticed shift of U.S. politics to the right over the last 60 years. Along with that political shift have come economic policies that strongly favor pro-corporate interests at the expense of the public. While the average worker’s income has remained stagnant, the average CEO’s salary has skyrocketed from 24 times more than a typical worker in 1965 to 275 times more in 2007, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. Recently, a 5-4 conservative majority in the Supreme Court has made the terrifying decision to remove restrictions on corporate advertising for politicians. If public understanding of economic policies, balances of power and the history behind them does not improve, the pro-labor struggles and successes that have defined America and enabled its success may be undone.
Language too often becomes muddled and confused, so an economic/political discussion should begin with some definitions and clarifications. Socialism is a system of economic organization in which the government owns and controls the basic means of production and where centralized planning, rather than market forces, determines the allocation of resources. In capitalism, private citizens control investments and own the means of production, distribution and exchange of wealth.
In this sense, capitalism is inherently superior to socialism because it utilizes a grassroots power structure. Thus, power begins at the bottom with individuals, and flows upward to government and corporate officials only when explicitly designated by law. The father of capitalism, Adam Smith, was very familiar with the abuses of capitalist power carried out by businessmen in his day, and spoke at length about the importance of using appropriate governmental powers to curb those business interest abuses. The profit motive should be the central driving force of the economy, but it is not sufficient by itself. Thus reflexive opposition to pro-labor policies is inherently incompatible with responsible capitalist economic theory and practice.
Minimum wages, child labor laws, maximum work week hours, progressive taxation, the post office system, public education, anti-discrimination laws and countless other systems and regulations strengthen the nation’s economy by providing invaluable services to the public while protecting them from exploitation. These economic practices are vital to our country’s strength and stability, and are in place because U.S. patriots have been fighting for them since our country’s foundation. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
The corporate-controlled media has achieved a political climate in which anyone opposing corporate interests is immediately labeled a radical leftist, and the public has almost completely lost its sense of America’s historic struggle for labor rights. If people were familiar with the long, difficult road that was traveled in order to establish the pro-labor achievements in place today, alarms would go off in their heads when they hear media pundits replace adequate dialogue with empty statements like “Barack Obama is a socialist.”
With an understanding of capitalism, socialism and the importance of pro-labor economic policies, we can proceed to discuss specific policy changes. The first and most important change is to create a media system that is not directly or indirectly controlled by special interests groups. Although you would never know it from reading Time’s Person of the Century article, Albert Einstein recognized the problem and the solution many years ago, and spoke about it plainly: “Under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.”