In the Broadway production of Ballyhoo of 1932, Willie Howard and his brother Eugene played in a widely popular Depression-era comedy routine describing the inanities of government programs in which a soap-box orator told some New York City bums about the glories of Communism. “Comes the revolution,” the orator declared, everyone will live the good life and eat strawberries and cream. “I don’t like strawberries and cream!” responded one of his listeners. “Comes the revolution,” the orator declared, “You’ll eat strawberries and cream—and like it!”
Many years ago I belonged to an unionized carpentry cooperative that framed buildings for general contractors. The cooperative was named after the Bolshevik great-grandfather of one of the coop’s founders, whose favorite rejoinder, adopted by our entire crew was, “Comes the revolution.”, complete with a dramatically rolled “r”. Nearly every carpenter in the group was a college graduate and at that time I was teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our conversations were lively and the politics ranged from liberal to revolutionary. We all entertained visions of strawberries and cream for the human race. That was a long time ago but I am still reminded of those conversations when confronted by today’s politics especially the multitude and variety of beliefs swarming within the body politic not the least of which are attempts to inject religious beliefs into the political discourse when the Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”.
In these modern times the economic system, Capitalism, seems to have evolved into a quasi-religious political belief system. Like religious dogma, Capitalism may not be questioned without accusatory and punitive response in spite of clear evidence it is destroying social contracts, consuming and sequestering wealth in un-taxable accounts globally. Capitalism has become a belief system which, while promising fair distribution of material and social wealth, is delivering quite the opposite. Now that 85 people, according to Oxfam, own nearly half of the world’s wealth and closer to home, .01% of the US population owns nearly 40% of this nation’s wealth, it is plain to see things are out of balance and in a multitude of ways. Forbes, not exactly a left wing organization, reports that currently 76 million Americans are struggling financially. A Harris poll found that 43% of the jobless have given up looking for work and the US government reported that 94.7 million Americans are now considered as not being in the labor force. To argue against these imbalances can earn you various imprecations such as, you’re a Socialist or even worse a Communist. Many people who use these terms haven’t a clue as to what socialism is. It is simply name – calling because Communists and Socialists, are, as we all know, evil.
We have to wonder how long a life expectancy any social contract, Capitalist or otherwise, has that impoverishes and leaves jobless so many formerly middle-class people as their employers close and, in the name of profit, move operations out of the United States to places with little or no health and safety regulations and pay scales that are a fraction of those in the US. This past March the Carrier Corporation announced it was closing its Indianapolis air conditioning manufacturing and moving those jobs to Mexico at the loss of 1400 American jobs. Carrier moved jobs to Mexico where workers earn approximately $19.00 a day compared to, on average, $15 to $26 an hour in Indiana. The total annual compensation of the chief executive of United Technologies, Carrier’s owners, is, by the way , $5.7 million. In many communities throughout the United States, especially in the mid-West, gainful employment is drying up except for low paying menial jobs – not much remains but mortgage foreclosures, and food stamps. There are many full-time workers who rely on food stamps as their wages are insufficient to feed their families.
Unemployment numbers are suspect as many no longer qualify and have dropped off the roles allowing politicians to cite low unemployment. In the face of this tragic situation several states Legislatures and Governors (most notably Maine), while touting their religiosity are even restricting or outright denying food stamps to those in need and subjecting applicants to humiliating drug testing. We have to wonder and must talk openly about where all this is going to end up. The national conversation needs to be about these things otherwise it’s going to be either, “Just eat your ice cream and strawberries and shut up!” or “… comes the revolution”. A choice is going to have be made by one way or another.
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