Wall Street Scroogism Wrecking America

By Holly Sklar

The Scrooges of Wall Street were surprised a year ago by visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past took them back to 1973, when the poverty rate was the lowest on record. The Ghost showed them a middle-class family living the American Dream — with decent wages and health care, a comfortable home, money to send the kids to college, and a pension to supplement Social Security.

“Bah!” said the Scrooges of Wall Street. “Humbug!”

The Ghost showed them an affluent family, with expensive finery, fancy cars, a vacation home and millions of dollars in wealth. The Scrooges were not impressed. They made millions of dollars a year.

“What share of national income goes to the richest 1%?” the Scrooges asked. The Ghost told them 9%.

The Scrooges of Wall Street said, “Bah Humbug!” and were happy it wasn’t 1973.

The Ghost took them to Wall Street on Oct. 9, 2007, when the Dow Jones reached an all-time high, closing at 14,164. The Scrooges were thrilled to be back in that bubble.

The Ghost reminded them that the Dow was way up, but workers’ wages were way down compared to 1973, adjusted for inflation — and poverty was rising. The typical middle-class family worked many more hours than their parents did, but went deeply into debt to keep their home and pay for college, and worried they were a medical crisis away from bankruptcy.

“What share of national income goes to the richest 1%?” the Scrooges asked on their visit back to 2007. The Ghost said 23.5% — nearly tying the record set in 1928, just before the Great Depression.

The Scrooges sank into a deep sleep, awaking in 2008 to see the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost showed them once-thriving neighborhoods in Ohio, California, Michigan and Florida where foreclosed homes were left to decay, eroding the value of nearby homes, leading to more foreclosures and despair.

The Scrooges saw family businesses going back three generations who were suddenly treated like credit risks, and newer small businesses denied loans to buy equipment needed to fill orders. The Ghost said these businesses were laying off people they would have kept and not hiring people they would have hired, if only the big banks put more money into real business investment instead of usury and speculation.

The Scrooges said, “Bah Humbug!” and rejoiced in their bailouts and bonuses.

Then the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come previewed 2009, showing the Scrooges boarded up homes and businesses across America. The Ghost said one in seven mortgages was in default. The official unemployment rate topped 10%. Millions of Americans needing full-time jobs had part-time and temp jobs with inadequate pay and no benefits. Want was keenly felt.

“Are there no food banks and homeless shelters?” asked the Scrooges. “Are there no prisons?”

The Ghost of Christmas Future took them to Washington. The Scrooges of Wall Street rejoiced to see their friends at the White House, Treasury and Federal Reserve insuring their toxic assets, subsidizing their new speculation, and combining occasional tough talk on financial reform with consistently soft action.

The Scrooges heard Sen. Dick Durbin say, “The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

The Scrooges saw that their banks and investment firms would be even bigger than before. And they did not change.

The bailout-fattened Scrooges of Wall Street rejoiced in their Abundance of cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and derivatives. They said, “Bah Humbug!” to Main Street and used taxpayer money for record profits and bonuses and refinancing their global casino.

So now, the Ghost of President Roosevelt has come to inspire us to learn from history. Demand the kind of strong action that reversed Scroogism before — the kind advocated by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute’s New Deal 2.0 project, the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, and Americans for Financial Reform.

As Roosevelt’s spirit tells us, “If the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

Holly Sklar is author of A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future (letjusticeroll.org) and Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us. Email hsklar@aol.com.

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 1, 2010


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