The other morning, I pulled a beige T-shirt out of my dresser. There was a faded brown image with text that read, "Our Labor Creates All Wealth." There were drawings of various service-sector workers. This was my second such shirt. Years back, I had a grey one with blue image and text. The workers on that shirt were engaged in manufacturing.
We are no longer a manufacturing giant. For those with jobs, service work has become a major source of family income. By nature, service-sector jobs add less dollar value to our economy than do manufacturing- or technology-based jobs.
I don't write this to belittle the value of service work. What would we do without teachers or health care providers? However, from an economic viewpoint, it's difficult to measure what productive value is added to our economy, and that measure matters to most economists.
Even less productive for the good of the globe and most of those living on it, is what has become our economic engine: finance. The T-shirt for the 1 percent would read, "All Wealth Increases Our Wealth." The accumulation of wealth by a small group of rentiers is causing hardship for most of us and our planet.
The finance industry (sic) makes nothing tangible. Instead, it uses accumulated wealth to increase wealth. One percent of our population owns 60 percent of the financial securities. Those without accumulated wealth are left out of the gain. Those without financial leverage who are entering the job market for the first time are really being punished. The finance industry is successfully purchasing political leadership (sic) to enact its will. The slash policies being pushed by elected officials benefit those with wealth.
These austerity policies negatively impact the poor and middle class through cuts to government-provided services such as health care, funding for education, and improvements to infrastructure. Of course, the government will be in no position to monitor or regulate the finance industry.
When we bailed out the banks that were too big to fail, the banks held our money and watched Main Street crumble. The banking elite rewarded themselves with bonuses. They continue to sit on our money and nicely recompense themselves. If these banks were that critical to our society, we should have nationalized them, not generously floated them. We should decide how best to invest in our future.
During the Great Depression, the 1933 Banking Act, popularly known as the Glass-Steagall Act, carefully placed restrictions on banks to secure our financial future. These included the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), separation of commercial and investment banking and regulation of speculation.
In November 1999, bowing to pressure from the finance industry, Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, and we are living the effects of casino finance, where profit trumps all.
Our labor may no longer create all wealth, but we have the right and the power to tax the finance industry. Let's start with a Financial Transaction Tax. For information on FTT, go to www.cpegonline.org/working papers/CPEGWP2010-2.pdf.
Tom Broderick is co-chair of the Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America.
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