Robert Reich was brilliant in his column yesterday, reminding us of the basic American bargain; that employers pay employees enough money to be able to purchase what the employer produces. He reminds us that Henry Ford started this, by paying his factory workers five dollars a day, which many of the Very Serious People of the day, to borrow from Paul Krugman, called criminal–they thought they should be paid far less, in line with the going rates of the day. Ford understood he was simply creating new customers. Businesses have forgotten that today, and Reich shows that we have gotten back to the point of inequality between people and corporations that we were in just before the Great Depression.
This idea, that America has lost its basic bargain between workers and employers explains as well as anything the entirety of the Occupy movement. It took several decades, but the wealthiest among us have again forgotten that the basic bargain is as necessary for them as it is for everyone else. Most of the people in congress have certainly forgotten it. Obama has found a bit of the voice of the people, yet his actions and rhetoric don’t indicate he fully understands. (In our broken government it may well be impossible for anyone in any position to get it. Note that Reich himself was Clinton’s labor secretary, and in a mere ten or fifteen years even the thought that someone like him could work in an administration, even an Obama administration, is laughable. And that is not an indication that the country has moved to the right, only that those in power have moved to the right. And that has gotten us where we are.)
Reich doesn’t offer much in the way of hope. He doesn’t talk about the Occupy movement directly in this column. It may be our best if not our only hope to change things; to restore the basic bargain. The value in what Reich writes is that it reminds us how simple the whole thing really is, and it cuts through the endless rhetoric and contortions of mind so many in politics and punditry keep going through in trying to explain our present situation in some way other than an abandonment of the basic bargain.
I like to think we can restore the basic bargain without first going through another Great Depression, and I fear that hope is only due to the fact that I don’t want to sink into despair. It’s December now, and Christmas is nigh, reminding us that miracles do happen. Let us hope and work hard for one now.