When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.
Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along with them.
In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.
In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy - that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.
It really is a question of values. Are we in this together, or aren't we? Senator Webb's "two different countries" reference is quite sapient. At the same time the executive's pay and benefits are rising, American worker's wages are not -- and yet the very costs that are rising the fastest are being pushed off onto them.
It's as if the American working class is being told: Health care? "Buy your own plan (and lose the benefit of the economies of scale)." Education? "No more scholarships or grants; use student loans and pay it back over your lifetime (and give up hope of getting ahead)." Pensions? "Make cuts in your budget to save. Besides, we will just file bankruptcy and avoid the obligation if you don't."
Our country is getting ripped apart at the seams. It seems as if the wealthy and powerful don't think they need anyone else. Among the upper class, the concept of Social Darwinism has become fashionable again. It's the law of the jungle; it's everybody against everybody. The upper class have been saying "Why should we have to share? We don't need you anyway. We can just move to another country if you raise our taxes."
It's the new American Tribalism. Here in America, the tribes are being divided by class rather than race, ethnicity or faith; but it is tribalism nonetheless.
We need to answer the question: whose values are we going to apply? Are we in this together or are we not?