A Brief History: From Chaos to...Chaos
The last time that the nation’s wealthiest citizens locked down so much of our wealth was in 1929—right up until they crashed into the Big Depression. According to Time Magazine’s Why America Must Revive Its Middle Class by Jeffrey D. Sachs, the decades leading up to the depression were molded by right-wing politicians, and it was only the profits of World War II productivity that allowed the nation to pull itself up by its bootstraps. The Democrats’ New Deal served as a sort of new-era covenant—a promise—that the government would never let a depression happen again.
Wealthy Americans are set stubbornly against paying any more taxes, however. The day after the arrests, the head of Black Entertainment Television (BET) told Candy Crowley on CNN that he was one of ten children who grew up in his family, the first to go to college, and he doesn’t think he should have to pay any more taxes than the average guy.
According to Sachs, the economy stumbled with the expansion of globalism in the Seventies, and when Reagan took over in the Eighties, his idea was to slash taxes on corporations and the wealthy rather than seek ways to compete in a global marketplace. While the nation’s most comfortable citizens enjoyed investment growth during those years, they failed to create the new jobs that Reagan had promised his plan would bring. Instead of letting their accrued capital gains trickle down to the common man, crony capitalists just protected one another’s interests and bought bigger yachts.
I worked for an orthopedic surgeon in 1986, and I was there when his wife told him their tax bracket had dropped from 50 percent to 38 percent. “Oh, that’s good," he said, and the doctor and his wife—plus their kids and parents—took a two-week vacation to Hawaii, a trip they repeated annually during the years I worked for them. We didn’t get raises.
It wasn’t until Bill Clinton took over the White House in the Nineties that tax increases on the wealthy as well as on the middle class brought our national debt under control, and even the people who hated Clinton enjoyed relative prosperity. But with George Bush fils taking over in the new millennium, school was out. The richest once again got the tax breaks they demanded, and entitlement programs were cut so that Bush could fund his war—a revenge for his father—against Iraq.
And how did things go for the common man? Early in the new millennium my husband came to me with the idea of selling our home and buying one that cost about three times as much. “We can’t afford that," I told him. “The bank says we can," he insisted—he had already taken steps to be preapproved. Although I refused to sign on the dotted line, many other people lined up for these magnanimous and ultimately toxic loans.