Why Americans Struggle & How To Win Peace & Prosperity
We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, richer than ever before, with far more billionaires (571) and millionaires (9.63 million) than any other country. Our $17 trillion economy is the highest in the world and the highest it has ever been.
Why, then, do we always have the money for war and tax breaks for the rich and corporations but not to help average Americans? Why don’t we get the basic rights and benefits people in most other developed countries enjoy?
They enjoy free health care, free college and vocational education, guaranteed paid vacation days and sick leave, free or cheap high-quality preschool, and months of paid childbirth leave for new mothers.
People working at McDonald’s in Denmark, Norway, & Sweden earn $20 an hour and get paid vacation and sick leave. Some people here in the US actually work two fast food jobs yet live in homeless shelters.
In Germany, people only work 35 hours a week and if you’re stressed, a doctor can prescribe 3 weeks of a free spa, with massages, no cooking, no cleaning, etc.
In Italy, you get an extra 15 days paid vacation after getting married, for your honeymoon. You also get paid double your salary in December to help with the holidays. And if you don’t use all of your month (or more) of paid vacation, you can keep it for extra paid vacation the next year.
Why do we have more people living in poverty than ever before in our country’s history? Why do we have the highest child poverty rate and the most homeless people of all the most developed nations in the world? Why do we have nearly six times the percentage of retired workers living in poverty, compared to France?
We can create a far kinder and more prosperous nation and world—even one with a golden age of world peace! Despite all the violence we see in our media, we can create a just, beautiful world full of peace, prosperity, brotherhood, sisterhood, love, harmony, wisdom, and accomplishment.
Our government used to be far better at helping our people when they were down and out, when all they needed was some basic security and support in order to lift themselves up again and prosper.
America became great because we invested in our people with compassion for the poor, homeless, sick, and hungry.
For many generations, America rewarded hard work, whether blue-collar working class or professional, with fair wages, decent benefits, free or very cheap college education, and the chance to own a home and give your children a better life.
Now the US treats many working people much more harshly than most other rich countries, leaving them to struggle with rents for dilapidated apartments that wipe out most of their income, health issues, child-care costs, and deteriorating schools.
Far too many of our jobs don’t even pay a living wage, so the working poor must rely on government assistance.
Walmart profits over $17 billion a year, yet US taxpayers actually pay $6.2 billion each year for healthcare and other government assistance to Walmart’s poor employees.
In many states, needy Walmart employees are the top recipients of Medicaid. In some Walmart stores, 80% of the employees must use food stamps.
US taxpayers also pay nearly $7 billion for public assistance to needy fast-food workers. McDonald’s alone costs US taxpayers $1.2 billion each year because of its low pay, while McDonald’s made $5.5 billion and its CEO made $13.7 million last year.
All told, major corporations pay so little now that their employees cost US taxpayers an average of $153 billion a year in Medicaid, food stamps, and other public assistance.
In contrast, fast food workers in Denmark make $20 an hour plus benefits and everybody there has free health care and access to free college or vocational education.
In America, even government workers in places like the Pentagon, the Smithsonian, and national parks often need government assistance and qualify for food stamps and Medicaid. Contractors hire about 8 million workers through $3.1 trillion in federal contracts, yet pay poverty wages and skim off great profits.
From the 1950s through 1965, CEOs in major US companies made an average of 20 times what their workers made. Now, our best-paid CEOs earn 1,133 (Walmart) to 1,522 (Chipotle) to 1,951 (Discovery Communications) times the pay of a normal worker.
This is many, many times the pay in other countries. In Norway, CEOs average only 58 times the pay of average workers. In Japan, it is 67 times the pay. In Denmark, only 48 and in Austria, only 36.
Our CEOs also get massive payouts (“golden parachutes”) when they leave a job, like the $417 million John Welch got when he left General Electric in 2001.
They even get them when they’re fired for terrible peformance. For example, Stanley O’Neal lost his job at Merrill Lynch in 2007, six days after it lost $8.4 billion in the subprime mortgage fiasco, but he still got a package worth $161 million.
Arch Coal gave its top executives $8 million in bonuses the day before the company filed for bankruptcy. This should be illegal.
On top of the outrageous CEO pay, the $26.7 billion in bonuses that Wall Street paid out last year to senior executives could have nearly tripled the pay of every full-time minimum wage worker in America!
Over the last 50 years, corporate profits and the wealth of the richest Americans have both skyrocketed. Our corporations are flush with cash but using every trick in the book to avoid paying taxes.
Instead of rewarding their hard-working employees, corporations are cutting wages and benefits, laying off people, and hiring mostly part-time positions and temporary workers to avoid paying benefits.
Instead of creating jobs, they are spending trillions of dollars buying back their own stock to prop up the value of their shares. If Walmart quit spending $7.6 billion each year to buy its own stock, all 13 million Walmart employees could earn $25,000 for working full time.
Why don’t 38% of the workers in privately-owned companies in the US get any paid sick leave at all, when 145 other countries guarantee this right? In Germany, for example, workers with the flu get 5 paid sick days and those going through cancer get 44 paid sick days.
Why don’t we guarantee all of our workers get some paid vacation, like every other advanced economy in the world. All 27 nations in the European union require at least 20 days of paid vacation each year.
Finland gives everyone a total of 44 days paid vacation and holidays. Italy guarantees 40 days (8 weeks) of paid vacation, Denmark guarantees 36 days, Luxembourg 35, Germany 34, both France and Italy 31, Norway 29, and England, Australia, and Switzerland all require 28.
Why don’t the overwhelming majority of our new mothers get any paid leave from work, when 190 other countries guarantee paid maternal leave and many of them even give new fathers paid leave?
Cuba, Czech Republic, Mongolia, and 33 other countries give new mothers at least one whole year of paid leave to take excellent care of their babies.
Sweden gives both parents 480 paid parental leave days (over 1.3 years) to split, in addition to 4 and 1/2 months for new mothers and 3 months for new fathers.
Denmark gives parents a whole year of paid leave to split as follows: mothers get 4 and 1/2 months paid, fathers get 2 weeks paid, then they can split another 8 months any way they see fit. If a parent or child gets sick, they can extend the leave for another 3 and 1/2 months.
Hungary gives mothers 6 months of paid leave and fathers 1 week, then the parents may choose to take another 3 years of paid leave, split between them.
Estonia gives mothers 4 and 1/2 months of paid leave, fathers two weeks, then parents get an additional 435 paid days (1.2 years) to split.
Lithuania gives mothers 4 and 1/2 months paid leave, fathers 1 month, then the parents get an additional 2 years paid to split.
Even Russia gives new mothers 5 months of leave at full pay. Most countries make sure new mothers get at least 3 and 1/2 months paid leave and many give new fathers time off, too.
In 18 countries, women get between 26 and 51 weeks (nearly a year) of paid leave. Even Mexico, Iran, and Pakistan give new mothers 3 months of paid leave at 100% of their salary. San Francisco now gives all new parents 6 weeks of leave with full pay.
Most developed countries also provide excellent child care at a very low cost. For example, Denmark pays ¾ of the cost of child care to all families and even more for lower-income workers.
There are three reasons life is so hard for ordinary working-class people. First, the corrupting influence of money in politics. Second, the astronomical waste of our foolish endless wars that just create more terrorism.
Third, so that the very richest Americans can hoard more and more money. Between 2013 and 2015, the 14 richest Americans became $157 billion richer, gaining an average of over $11 billion each.
Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet own more wealth than the poorest half of the American population combined: 160 million people or 63 million households.
There are people on Wall Street making $2 billion a year. The Kardashians have over 350 employees (servants). Kim Kardashian pays an expert tailor $3,000 a day just to be available 24/7 to adjust her clothes for a perfectly flattering fit. She even flew to Paris once just for the cheesecake at one hotel.
The 6 Walmart heirs are worth $150 billion, more than the combined net worth of the bottom 40% of Americans. Walmart has a huge, hidden network of subsidiaries and branches in tax havens to avoid US taxes on foreign earnings. Many products on their website claiming to be made in the USA actually come from foreign sources.
If the Walmart heirs actually worked for their stock dividend checks, it would come to $1.5 million per hour. While US taxpayers pay $6.2 billion each year to support Walmart’s employees, each of 4 Walmart heirs made an average of over $2 billion in just the last year.
These 4 Walmart heirs have more wealth than the poorest 48 million American families combined. Yet Alice and Rob Walton haven’t contributed one cent to the Walton Family Foundation.
The lifelong contributions of all the Walmart heirs and their family holding company to the foundation total only $58 million—about 1/2,500ths of their net worth—less than the estimated value of Rob Walton’s collection of vintage sports cars.
The Walton Family Foundation makes the heirs seem kind and has $2 billion in assets but that really comes from a series of clever trusts that will, in the long run, help them pass down their billions to their descendents and likely avoid about $3 billion in estate taxes.
Instead of treating ordinary workers decently, as companies did 50 years ago, corporations reward their rich owners and shareholders with ever more profits.
Americans, both Democrat and Republican, are incredibly kind-hearted and intelligent. They want to protect Social Security and Medicare, end our wars, increase the minimum wage, create jobs, and invest in our schools, affordable child care, and addiction treatment.
They understand that if we want a rich and peaceful nation, we must invest in all our people and give them a real chance to climb the ladder of success.
Our government’s basic problem is our politicians can’t even wisely plan, build, or invest in our future anymore. The sky-high cost of political campaigns forces those in Congress to beg for money from corporations and the very richest Americans for four or five hours every day and to take stands on issues that favor these donors.
Because of the money in politics and corporate lobbying, most politicians won’t even consider the compassionate, uplifting policies that most Americans really want.
As a result, companies that profit immensely in weapons sales, banking, medicines, health insurance, chemicals, and agriculture now dictate our government policies and our lives, no matter the health, economic, or environmental consequences.
For decades now, some greedy people in the richest .01% of Americans, worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, have worked hard to manipulate opinions and change our laws.
They’ve used political ads, campaign contributions, lobbying, think tanks, media “experts,” opposition research, communications centers, and voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.
Superrich people now use their money to judge, choose, support, and even predetermine who we can vote for, create policy and regulatory issue papers favoring their business interests, and draft actual law proposals in secret, untraceable ways and distribute them to legislators.
They’ve pushed cuts in spending on education, social needs, infrastructure, worker health and retirement benefits, and research in order to get richer and richer with ever more tax breaks. They’ve fought for decades to hoard all the money for themselves in many ways, shrinking the middle class.
They’ve built a rigged, unfair economy, where the rich can hoard money while the working poor don’t make a living wage and need government help to survive.
For example, the vast majority of the poorest Americans pay 4 to 9% in sales tax on every household necessity, while the superrich can buy $100 billion worth of stocks, bonds, or ExxonMobil derivatives without paying a penny in tax!
And it is perfectly legal for drug companies to prey on desperate sick people by multiplying the price of a medicine by 100 for no reason, but it’s illegal to defraud rich investors!
We’ll soon discuss many, many more examples of our unfair, rigged economy, the massive crimes and cheating by the rich, and the mindboggling injustice that results from it.
We will investigate how large banks and hedge funds jack up the price of gasoline and many other commodities for all of us and have the heart to kick elderly grandmothers, retired veterans, or sick people out of their paid-off homes over debts of just a few hundred dollars.
Our biggest banks knowingly and repeatedly financed drug cartels and terrorist organizations. They broke the same laws over and over again, repeatedly cheating homeowners, consumers, credit card holders, investors, and American soldiers.
They also destroyed our economy with rampant mortgage fraud, devastating housing values and retirement pensions. Yet no senior executive went to jail and their fines are far too small to have any effect on their massive profits.
Similarly, nobody went to jail when the faulty ignition switches known but ignored by General Motors caused 124 deaths. Instead, they got a fine, paid by innocent shareholders, pension funds, and perhaps by us, the next time we buy a car.
The greediest of the superrich have dragged us back into the law of the jungle, where might makes right and the poor and weak are left behind.
The working poor now have no lifeline to help lift themselves up and face terrible schools, high rents for terrible apartments and homes, and part-time jobs that don’t pay a living wage.
They have no health or retirement benefits, sky-high interest rates on payday loans, and recurring bank overdraft fees. Now 35% of Americans are hounded by collection agencies over unpaid debts.
The poor often go to jail for falling behind on debts, which is actually illegal. Nearly 500,000 poor people (65% of those in our local jails), innocent in the eyes of the law, linger in jails waiting to see a judge just because they can’t afford bail.
The vast majority of these people have low-level, nonviolent charges and are neither threats to public safety, nor likely to flee from justice.
We are the richest country in the world, yet our income inequality is much worse than any of the next 15 richest countries and we have high rates of childhood poverty.
It doesn’t have to be this way! We can create a far more just, happy, peaceful nation. Giving people the health and the tools needed to lift themselves out of poverty and growing the middle class is not rocket science! Many Latin American countries have been doing this successfully.
We can win back the American dream! We’ll have to use our vote wisely and start by electing only those who are willing to reform our government and get the money out of politics. Fortunately, as we shall see, there are many simple ways to do that.
Only by getting the money out of politics can we create a functioning democracy again, where the politicians actually vote for the things the vast majority of Americans want.
Next, we can win back the American Dream by choosing more just, family-friendly, and effective policies that will take better care of people, protect them, lift them up, build our future, and create prosperity.
We can force the corporations to pay their share of taxes and pay decent, living wages, not poverty wages. We can cut back on the destructive waste of war that even government studies show results in terrorism.
We can tax the very wealthiest of the rich more, giving high quality health care and education to everyone and rewarding the working class like we did back when most mothers didn’t have to work.
We the People can stand up against political corruption and the greediest of the superrich. In fact, we’ve done it before and won.
In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the superrich owned and controlled almost everything. They paid the poor, even children, next to nothing for 70, 80, or more hours of work each week doing filthy, even dangerous jobs, with no breaks, vacations, sick leave, or health benefits, even if a work accident left you severely disabled for life.
Average people fought for a living wage, a 40-hour work week, vacations and sick leave, and health and retirement benefits. All the great movements in America—against slavery, for women to vote, for the civil rights of black people—involved regular people standing up together for their beliefs.
And each of these struggles won, against unbelievable odds. For millenia, people couldn’t imagine a world without divine kings whose actions nobody could question. This seemed like a permanent, unchangeable fact of life. That ended when the French executed their king for his crimes in the French Revolution.
We the People can stand up together for hard-working families and for the middle class. All we have to do is vote for those who will get the money out of politics, then vote for those who support the people-friendly (Christian) policies that will bring back the American Dream.