American Greed: How governmental corruption has spread like a cancer to our social institutions
Every aspect of American life has been corrupted by greed. One of the purposes of government is to protect both individuals and society from such corruption, and that means protecting people and institutions from greedy predators. In that simple task, over the past 40 years since America embraced Reaganomics and Reaganism, our government has failed.
We once enforced laws that protected small businesses from greedy oligarchs who knew that crushing or buying out competitors and creating monopolies was a fast, although societally destructive, way of getting rich. We saw how John Rockefeller brutally crushed thousands of small businesses on his way to becoming the richest man in the world, and we passed laws against his practices. Wealthy and powerful wannabee-Rockefellers hired Robert Bork and Milton Friedman who relentlessly pushed for the destruction of those laws in the 1980s, and Ronald Reagan took executive actions that included stopping enforcement of many of them, so today our small business sector is in a crisis and struggling.
We once enforced laws that said if a church or other religious institution’s leader was preaching politics from the pulpit then that church would lose its tax-exempt status. Television and radio made multiple preachers into multimillionaires, and the greedy ones among them conspired with politicians to help each other out to the benefit of both. As a result, religion has been tarred with the corruption of politics, smaller churches in America are in a crisis as Americans become cynical, and Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham and their ilk are fabulously rich.
We once enforced laws that required rich people and profitable corporations to pay their fair share of income and other taxes, so average working people’s taxes were low and our government was sufficiently funded to both build and maintain our nation’s transportation, education and health infrastructure. Greedy people and the businesses they ran bought corrupt politicians and eventually the entire Republican Party (and a Joe Manchin/Kyrsten Sinema-sized piece of the Democratic Party), so now not only have they drilled thousands of holes into our tax code but the GOP is so brazen as to fight any new money for IRS auditors who could catch the ultra-rich and big corporate tax cheats.
We once had courts that enforced our laws with a semblance of fidelity to the intent of the Congress that wrote them. Greedy people saw many of those laws as impediments to their acquiring more money and power and so created organizations to find, train and put into legal positions of power people who subscribe to the “greed is good” mantra of Reaganism. Now we have judges on our nation’s highest court who gut laws protecting everything from small businesses to labor unions to civil rights.
We once had a workforce that was largely protected by democracy in the workplace, a system known as labor unions. Because good union jobs established a floor for wages and benefits that even non-union employers had to match, in 1980 about a third of American workers were represented by a union and another third of us enjoyed similar prosperity even without a union. Greedy employers bought off politicians who drilled holes in those protections, state by state, calling it the “Right To Work For Less.” Today “Right To Work For Less” is the law in a majority of states and, so only about 6 percent of American workers in our economy are protected by a union.
We once had free and nearly-free college and trade school education for all Americans who wanted it. Thomas Jefferson felt that his creating the University of Virginia – a school that was explicitly free – was more important than having been president so he chose to have his tombstone mention the school but not the White House. Abraham Lincoln thought it was so important that he appropriated millions of acres of land across the nation and used it to establish a network of over 50 “land grant” colleges and universities like MSU that could work the land to produce enough revenue so their students could attend for free or nearly-free. Greedy college administrators and wealthy people who didn’t want their children going to school with working class “riff raff” embraced Reagan’s ending free college education in California and now student debt has grown so severe it’s crushing an entire generation of young Americans in a way that simply doesn’t exist in any other developed country in the world.
We once had laws requiring both hospitals and health insurance companies to be not-for-profit so that when I was running a small factory in Michigan in the early 1970s the healthcare expense for my employees ran around $30 per-month per-person. Republicans from Nixon to Reagan worked hard to reverse those laws in state after state and allowed massive consolidation of both the health insurance and hospital industries so that today $30 won’t even cover your co-pay to get your temperature taken.
We once had an election system where people were only removed from the voting rolls if they died or moved out-of-state. Today, greedy politicians routinely “purge” voter rolls of people they think will vote against them. Then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush, for example, purged 94,000 mostly African American people from the Florida voter rolls in the months before the 2000 election, blocking enough “undesirable” voters from casting a ballot that a corrupted Supreme Court could hand his brother the presidency. In the months leading up to the 2018 election in Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp purged 340,134 mostly African American voters from the rolls just in time to “beat” Stacey Abrams in the race for Governor by around 55,000 votes. Georgia and 17 other states have now passed laws making this an entirely legal and routine practice, and Texas is trying to get their own, similar law on the books.
The Apostle Paul wrote to his follower Timothy that, “[T]hey that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare…for the love of money is the root of all evil…”
Today the love of money is celebrated, billionaires are our new rock-star/astronaut kings and queens, tax-dodging means you’re “smart,” and people crushed by debt and struggling to get by without decent wages and benefits are mocked as “losers” and “takers.”
Our government has been corrupted by greed and the money it brings, and that corruption has spread like a cancer to religion, education and helping professions like healthcare.
As you can see in the 1-minute (reallly worth watching) clip at the top of this post, the late Senator Ted Kennedy once asked, “When does the greed stop?”
With the For The People Act offering us the ability to reduce the power of big money in our political system and provide for significant public funding of our elections, it’s the question of our day.