Believe it or not, I don't think that the threat from religious fundamentalism is the most pressing issue of our day. Although it's an important issue that needs to be addressed, the destruction of the middle and working class by big business, Wall Street, and the politicians they've bribed to facilitate their agendas is the most pressing issue we face in America today. Millions are negatively impacted by the economic policies and the tax policies we have that are skewed in favor of almost exclusively benefiting the rich and the ultra rich, and making a decent living has never been harder.
The cost of everything is going up while middle class wages from the year 2000 has even gone down when adjusted for inflation. Almost all the new wealth that has been generated since the economic meltdown in 2008 has gone to the top 1 percent - to the very people who essentially screwed up the economy in the first place. And college tuition has been rising over three times the rate of inflation while job prospects for recent graduates are bleak.
There has never been a time in recent memory when the gap between the wealthy and the middle class has been so wide, with such a callous disregard for those who are struggling.
And the rich simply don't seem to care. They're living it up while everyone else sees their take home pay eroded away by rising costs of living. The thing is, the rich today don't need the middle class as they once did. They don't need manufacturers making anything. Those jobs could either be outsourced to cheaper labor markets or done by machines. And they don't need the purchasing power of the middle class anymore. The rich can make their money in the financial services industry - a pseudo-economy that doesn't make or produce anything, and that mostly caters to and benefits those who are already wealthy. It essentially just cashes in on (often) risky investments and financial speculations often at the expense of worker's jobs and benefits. Should these investments go awry, as they did, tax payers will be standing by ready to bail them out because Wall Street's got most of our politicians in their back pockets. And banks are in the business of coming up with convoluted schemes to trick people out of their hard earned money. There are literally people in the financial services and banking industry who sit around in board rooms and think of elaborate schemes to fuck people over, and out of their money because we don't make or produce anything anymore and now our economy is propped up on the exploitation of unsuspecting workers.
It makes me sick.
Over the years I've become a lot less materialistic. I am not impressed by material goods as I once was. Most of my entertainment I get online for free. I cherish wisdom and knowledge, not materialistic goods that serve no real purpose other than as tools for showing off to make other people jealous. I've largely rejected our pop culture of constant shallow entertainment and materialistic consumption. I'm too old to give a shit about most of it anymore. Count me out. But I wasn't always like this. I came to this conclusion through a long process of maturity aided by reason. I began to see what a horrible mess our materialistic culture had on the character of human beings sucked into it.*
I'm no communist or socialist. I'm a compassionate capitalist. Our economy has complex problems, and needs complex answers. I'm not an expert in economics, but a few things that would really help our recovery would be to:
- reform the tax code so that wealthy people and corporations pay a fairer share of the tax burden;
- get big business and big money out of politics by passing campaign finance reform;
- once that happens, reform Wall Street with common sense regulations;
- end our subsides to corporations and invest that money in education and rebuilding America;
- and perhaps, return to an economy where we produce real tangible goods that serve a deeper purpose beyond the novelty "wow" factor.
I'm well aware that consumption unfortunately drives our economy, and that my lifestyle is technically horrible for such an economy, but I'd like to see a culture that values knowledge over the mindless self indulgence exemplified by too much materialism. That's a far fetched dream, but we must dream big.
Meanwhile, I enjoy hearing economists like Robert Reich explain how we got to the level of income inequality we experience today and why for the last 30 years the middle class has been squeezed to its breaking point:
*When I say materialistic, I mean that in the economic sense, not the philosophical sense.