Which T-shirt do you wear?

Opinion: Columns

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Tom Broderick

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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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Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 26th, 2012 2:31 PM

Bill Barclay - While it's always a problem attempting to sell a complex piece of analysis in 400 characters, I think you could have chosen a better comparison than auto sales versus financial transactions. In 1979, the auto sales was a mature product with limited growth potential. Financial service in 79 were in its infancy. In the last three decades, pension growth, 401's, credit cards, etc. have driven an expotential amount of daily financial transactions. Your comparison is not only simple, it is totally invalid.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 26th, 2012 1:54 PM

I thoroughly understand your points - just not well taken. We're living with effects of a casino govt via socialism-social justice/redistribution of wealth/entitlements/crony capitalism which doesn't produce anything either, except class warfare & chaos. The reason ind/manf is near extinct, along w/public & private unions. Hope your socialist stance is based on true compassion but history is not on your side. These 2 visions of America can not coexist.

tom broderick from oak park  

Posted: March 26th, 2012 7:23 AM

We've gone from an encomomy based on agriculture, which included slave labor to one based on industry/manufacturing to one based on service to one based on finance and its fluidity. The finance industry creates nothing tangible. The point of my initial letter is that we should impose tax on large financial transactions.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 24th, 2012 3:07 PM

Bill & Tom - No, you're points are not ignored which is why I continue. Capitalism is not a foot on the throat, but socialism is a foot on the road to serfdom. Will your model be Plato's republic, Thomas Mores' Utopia, Thomas Hobbs Leviathan or Karl Marx communist manifesto. Can't hide behind your rhetoric - the enemy within.

Bill Barclay from Oak Park   

Posted: March 23rd, 2012 6:33 PM

Let's try Tom's points again since they have been largely ignored. (i) Finance sector profits went from 20% of total profits in early 1980s to almost 45% on the cusp of the Great Recession. Remember that, for the economy as a whole, finance is deadweight; and (ii) who does create value? In 1979 we, as Americans, spent 10X as much on new cars as we did on finance. In 2007 we spent as much on "investment counseling and brokerage services" as on new cars. Are we better off?

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2012 2:50 PM

So? Don't forget the Catholic church. Unfortunately when you get in bed with the "social justice" crowd (of which you're a part of),as they have, sooner or later you'll be required to give up your core beliefs.

tom broderick from oak park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2012 1:16 PM

A few names associated with both socialism and religion: Dorothy Day, Norman Thomas, Helen Keller, Cornel West, Dorothee Solle.

One has to wonder  

Posted: March 23rd, 2012 11:47 AM

Does Mr. Broderick have a real job; i.e., non- NGO, UIC or "community activist" related?

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2012 11:29 AM

Our individual rights are derived from God, which you refuse to acknowledge, not by Utopian Colonists. Your ideology is based on a Godless secular society. The Constitution - our Mission Statement, doesn't quite fit your world view - ultimate communism. Your sanction of the over reach of government to remake America by giving up its sovereignty & distributing it wealth to a world government is the only fantasy in play here. Those experiments failed every time. Tyranny = equal misery for all.

tom broderick from oak park  

Posted: March 23rd, 2012 7:51 AM

In colonial America, when the idea "All men are created equal" was brought forth, it was utopian. Certainly monarchists, who supported the concept of the divine right of kings would not have agreed. Yet, over time, this phrase has led to greater personal freedom and a broader sense of justice. The American experiment with democracy can't be over. Bringing "free market" fantasy into this discussion is fine, but it's a ruse to cast government as the problem. More a libertarian perspective.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 7:19 PM

Tom - Your mission statement - shift power from free markets to the government, right? - not ordinary citizens. I don't know any ordinary citizens. All men are equal in rights given by God regardless of birth, wealth or status to pursue happiness as they choose. Not designated by the government as socialism demands by mindless bureaucrats. Government is the servant not the master. The lie is the Utopian vision that can never be as history has proven.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 6:53 PM

TJ's epitaph - Author of Declaration of Independence of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia. So? In a socialist country not everyone has access to higher education - you need to be politically connected and/or you are extremely bright to make it worth their while to educate you. Thus this standard would disqualify the majority of US students - based on the dumbing down of society for the past thirty years. The promise of Utopia it is not.


Posted: March 22nd, 2012 4:29 PM

Not to pick on you, rj, it's nothing personal...just more of a general comment on the "Founding Fathers wouldn't approve" line of complaint these days. One of the 3 things Thomas Jefferson was proud enough to put on his epitaph was founding the Univ of Virginia to give less wealthy citizens access to higher education. Utopian radical!

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 4:24 PM

Good luck with that!

tom broderick from oak park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 4:18 PM

From our mission statement: "In the near term, democratic socialists struggle for reforms that shift power and resources away from corporate elites and put them in the hands of ordinary citizens. In the long term, democratic socialists fight for a world in which all people share equally in the governing of the economic, political and cultural institutions and relationships that shape their lives." Utopian? Perhaps? Lies? Please explain?

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 4:02 PM

Nice try Tom- the Democratic Socialists' claim to fame is kick starting the war on poverty. How's that working out with more dependency on govt programs that keep people in poverty generation after generation while helping to bankrupt this country. You said it - The Other America - the one we don't want - your failed Utopian lies. Stop with the propaganda - without that you have nothing. We are a Republic - take your socialism elsewhere.


Posted: March 22nd, 2012 3:51 PM

Oooh, the boogeyman of "socialism's tyranny." Who'd want to be like Norway? Led by a social-democratic Labour Party with one of the highest quality of life ratings in the world? Nope, none of that, please...I'm American! ROTF

tom broderick from oak park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 3:39 PM

A couple of books I'd like to suggest folk read. One is by Michael Harrington, who is a co-founder of Democratic Socialists of America: The Other America. This year is the 50th anniversary of the book that is credited with kick-starting the war on poverty. The other, a more recent book, is by John Nichols, who writes for The Nation, among other publications: The S Word. This has more to do with the contributions socialists have made in America. Remember: Democratic Socialism.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 3:04 PM

John - Come on -there are no new ideas to be had re socialism. The history of socialism is tyranny. It has never worked to favor the masses. Of course, they can be heard but the danger is their goal to implement their ideology. You're seeing it now and you don't recognize it? Look at this administration - it's in your face. Again, you can not have socialism and freedom. Once it's gone you will not get it back. Socialism is our poison.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 2:35 PM

One additional point. I definitely do not agree with your statement that, "Your ideology (Socialism) is poison to this nation."

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 2:34 PM

RJ - I agree with your overall viewpoint on socialism, but cannot agree that its believers should not be heard or should consider moving. The presence of socialist organization in OP adds balance to our business oriented community. It also brings new ideas to the table that make discussions and debates richer. Their participation in government exceeds that of most Oak Parker. That is unlike most OP'ers who rally hard for their pet projects and issues, but pay little attention to big picture of village governance.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: March 22nd, 2012 2:19 PM

This country was founded as a Republic, not a utopian socialist democracy as I see you & your ilk espouse. How appropriate you're based in Oak Park. Perhaps you need to relocate where all these "inequities" have been resolved. We have problems brought on by socialism - not to be resolved by more taxation and redistribution of wealth. Freedom & socialism/tyranny can not co-exist. Your ideology is poison to this nation.

Truthiness from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2012 2:10 PM

Adorable...great to see the Journal publishing letters from local school children.

tom broderick from oak park  

Posted: March 21st, 2012 7:05 AM

Sorry the connection to CPEG article didn't work. Search "Chicago Political Economy Group" on-line and you'll be able to find the article. Enter "Financial Transaction Tax" when you get to the CPEG site. Regarding taxing financial taxations, since finance has become a major economic force, it stands to reason that it would be a source for taxes for the public good. Also, the size of the transaction tax as proposed, is small in relation to the size of the transaction.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 20th, 2012 11:44 PM

Tom, was not able to connect with the article you suggested, but did listen to Bill Barclay's presentation. It sounds like pretty far out stuff. My core thought is, wouldn't the size of the transaction tax drive all financial transactions off shore (pretty easily done in the age of computer transactions) and cost workers jobs reducing a heap of income and corporate tax?

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