By Charlie Williams
Black Friday and the weekend following saw millions of American consumers rush to our nation’s shopping outlets, spending an estimated $50 billion in just in four days of shopping and bringing smiles to many business owners. $50 billion seems like a great amount of money and indeed it is. But my curiosity got the best of me so I decided to compare those four days of all that spending to the accumulated wealth of just one of America’s richest billionaires, Bill Gates. Surprisingly our Black Friday spending didn’t measure up to the wealth of Mr. Gates who is reported to have a net worth of $59 billion dollars as of 2011.
It is not this writer’s intention to criticize Bill Gates or any of the other 402 billionaires for their huge success in accumulating wealth. But it only seems fair that those so well rewarded should be asked by Congress to share some of their wealth for the good of our country. I suggest starting with eliminating the Bush tax cuts that helped propel our nation’s richest to record earnings and record corporate profits. After all, our billionaires and thousands of multi-millionaires have done very well in recent years while many millions of other Americans suffer job losses, even losing their homes and in many cases all of their life savings, not to mention the horrible mess left of our economy.
History tells of the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who also amassed huge wealth much like the billionaires of today. But a bit of sympathy is due the robber barons of old as they actually built job-creating industries like railroads, and factories, from steel manufacturing to chewing gum as recently reported by Jeff Madrick on the NYR Blog. Unlike the robber barons of old, many of the robber barons today made much of their money through investment gambling while producing very few products. This new investment industry actually promotes closing American factories and shipping our jobs out of the country. Investors then bring their low-wage produced products back to America to sell, driving up profits at the expense of American workers’ jobs. Today’s robber barons have even invested in schemes that ensure both their success and their failure thereby ensuring they profit if they win or if they lose.
Congress has helped to make today’s robber barons much richer while devastating our economy and . Those in Congress who insisted on tax giveaways as the answer to job growth have been proven wrong time and time again. Our economy started to tank as early as the year 2007, swiftly accelerating throughout 2008 all the while causing millions to lose their jobs, their homes and their life savings. Cutting their taxes gave trillions of our wealth to the super rich while engaging our nation in two wars, adding even more trillions to our economic debt by diverting trillions from our U.S. Treasury. If tax cuts to the super wealthy while engaging in two wars were the answer to economic growth as promised, then why did our economy tank? The case has been made abundantly clear that tax cuts, especially for the super wealthy, are not the answer to economic growth—not then, not now, not ever. Yet today’s congressional Republicans are steadfast in refusing any consideration toward eliminating or even scaling back Bush tax cuts to the wealthy.
While corporate America and their super rich friends have profited well since the Bush tax cuts were put in place, some 16 million American children are living in poverty. That is one child in four, according to Nov. 27 report about poverty in America on CBS' 60 Minutes. Growing poverty, and its dire effects on our families, is somewhat like a dropped anchor on a ship, designed to ensure no movement, only in this case we appear to be drifting backwards.
Labor force’s share of the percentage of national income fell to a nearly 60-year low, according to a Dec. 2 HuffPost Business article, noting that "though employers may be experiencing a growth in productivity, the rise in income is going towards company profits, not workers." That same article pointed out that the income of the top 1 percent of earners grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2009 while the bottom fifth of earners experienced a mere 20 percent rise in their income during the same period, as reported by the independent Congressional Budget Office.
Organized labor and workers in most every field are under constant attack from the ultra right all throughout this great country. As I pointed out in a Patch column in August, titled “," as unions' membership rolls decline, so does America's middle class and both have been declining at an equally alarming rate for the past 30 years.
Black Friday weekend shopping and all shopping for that matter is good for our economy. Even former President George W. Bush would often urge that we go shopping during his years as president. But apart from Black Friday weekend shopping, there is no real expectation of a return to consistent high volume shopping as today’s shoppers continue to struggle with stubbornly high unemployment rates. So just urging us to go shopping is not the answer in today’s economy.
Congress must help and should begin by passing President Obama’s “jobs bill” which is much needed at this time in order to prime our economic pump. Accelerating job growth will allow workers to purchase homes, cars, appliances and other necessities which in turn ensures the hiring of millions of new workers. Congress must get serious about job growth and address the inequality of our current tax system. By doing so, Congress will have taken a big step forward toward restoring the American middle class and an economy that serves the needs of all the people, not just the privileged few. Restoring fairness throughout society, from the richest to the poorest alike, is the right and just thing to do and will ensure many returns of future profitable Black Fridays.
Charlie Williams is chairman of Field Mobilization Committee, Alliance for Retired Americans and former Midwest States Political Director for the Machinists Union.