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Why People Are Fed Up


A little over two centuries ago, 1795 to be exact, Immanuel Kant published a political pamphlet Zum ewigen Frieden (To a Perpetual Peace).  It was a practical alternative to war and an approach to conflict resolution but human nature remains unrestrained.  I am reminded of it as butchery continues in many parts of our planet; driven by simple hatred in some cases and elitist philosophies like "just war" in others.  Kant recognized the futility of his effort and concluded man's only peace would be that of the grave.  Churchill said "Jaw, jaw is better than war, war."  We have reversed his aphorism.  Should international law afford protection to the small as well as the large, the poor as well as the rich, the weak as well as the powerful?

We have the most unequal society in the developed world ( Gini Index 40.8) and only 6.9% of our work force are union members, 93.1% are not.  Contrast that with Germany (Gini Index 28.3), which is almost completely unionized, where wages are among the highest in the world, yet it remains the world's second largest exporter.  Workers representatives sit on the boards of corporations with a voice in decision-making.  The employees have a sense of ownership and their interests, views and advice on all matters from strategic direction through process improvement are given due weight.  Exporting jobs is not the easy option it is here.  We could also learn from their vocational programs where schools and companies, through apprenticeships, play a joint role in  training a highly skilled work force.

There is a joke doing the rounds these days that goes something like this:  We used to have Johnny Cash, Steve Jobs and Bob Hope; now … no Cash, no Jobs and no Hope.  The last might be the reason for the anemic response of ordinary people for the Presidential re-election campaign.  Its email first offered the chance (through a drawing) of dinner with the President for a donation of $75.  That price has dropped steadily to $3 — a little tough on the early contributors!  People supported the campaign last time, not because they wanted a favor in return, but because they hoped they had a candidate at last who would escape the tentacles of the Wall Street octopus.  Now they have lost hope.

Take Elizabeth Warren for instance.  A leading advocate for the interests of ordinary people, she was brought in as Chair of  the Congressional Oversight Panel to oversee the banking bailout under the TARP program.  Well and good.  Everybody cheered.  But when she asked Secretary Geithner what happened to the $700 billion doled out to the big banks, there was a near audible squirming and no clear answer.  As time went on and the Republicans laid into her for her probing; there was nothing but silence from the White House.

A long-time advocate for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she served as Special Advisor to set it up under the provisions of Dodd-Frank, but then was eased out and not nominated for the post of its Director.  She is now running for Senator from Massachusetts.

Professor Warren's 2003 book (coauthored with daughter Amelia Tyagi) The Two-Income Trap:  Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke would be useful as required reading for our leaders today.  As she points out, a U.S. family with two incomes has "less income left over today than did an equivalent single-income family 30 years ago".  Things are much worse now, eight years later, and not getting better.  Delinquency notices for mortgage payments are rising again according to the latest report.  These often herald foreclosures.

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