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Will bigness be the death of the middle class?

August 18, 2011|By ALLAN POWELL

We became keenly aware of the threat of bigness per se when we were told that our government allotted $700 billion to keep afloat several huge financial firms. We then were told that Wal-Mart is about to build four more mammoth stores around Washington, D.C., and that it is the largest employer in the nation.

Almost overnight, the Koch family became a household name, and we learned that they are one of the largest corporate conglomerates in the country. We seem to have a love affair with bigness.

Those paying attention now know that bigness comes at a high price. This little known family fumbled into the headlines because it spends money to crush unions in Wisconsin. A recently published monograph written by a team of investigative reporters, “The Koch Brothers” reveals an incredibly large financial outreach to buy the mind of America.

Money, as is well known, is power! When you possess the money raised from business operations in 45 states, you have massive funds to support political campaigns, lobbyists, think tanks and advocacy groups to promote your point of view. Those without the money must depend on the pro bono generosity from public interest citizens.

The Koch family is more than just a camel with its head in the tent. Their combined wealth ranks them as the fourth highest in the nation. They are a major force in the formation of the radical-right tea party. The father was the founder of the John Birch Society — famous for trying to impeach Earl Warren, a former chief justice. As they say, “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” When will people see that the tea party is not the solution to the problem — it is the problem, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan?

If you examine any act of a progressive nature you can predict that the moneyed presence of the Koch family is at work for its mutilation. Health care reform, Wall Street reform, collective bargaining, climate deterioration — you name it — the Kochs’ mercenaries are there to fight it. They fund no fewer than 85 think tanks. Their ideas must be pretty mediocre to need 85 teams of thinkers to print and speak their views.

The Kochs have given direct contributions to 62 of the 87 Republican members of the freshman class in the House and have served notice of their intention to raise $88 million for the upcoming presidential election. With annual sales estimated to be $100 billion, they can flex their muscles and push their way into the very origins of legislation — the powerful committees of Congress.

Are the Kochs able to influence lawmakers securely hidden in the catacombs where their committees meet? They are the single largest oil and gas interest that contributes to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with the sum of $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans and $32,000 to five Democrats. No wonder that it is referred to as the “Committee from Koch”

A further look at the donations made to conservative state governors shows that a total of 34 states were the recipients of over $5 million. Ohio and Wisconsin were awarded $56,050 and $160,185 respectively. Gov. Kasich got $22,000.00 while Gov. Walker got $43,000. Can there be any doubt that such widespread generosity had a purpose and a consequence? Is it possible that even one dollar made its way to the help of a middle-class purpose?

There is a basis for legitimate concern when the Koch family and their allies spend such massive funds to thwart every progressive effort in our society. These efforts range from privatizing Social Security, plotting the death of the newly passed health care law and weakening of reforms governing Wall Street. Meanwhile, there is a deafening silence about the horrific fact that from September 2007 to May 2009, American 401(k) and individual retirement accounts lost a total of $2.7 trillion.

What can any average citizen do in the face of so much bigness and its awesome capacity to control events? Are we completely and helplessly under the iron heel of the giants of business and finance? Is it really in our interest to admit that, however inept and greedy, a huge corporation is — they are “too big to let fail?” It sure appears that the middle class in America is at the mercy of bigness.

My own plans of resistance, while very puny and insignificant, are a start. Some time ago, there was a decision to never purchase anything from a Wal-Mart store. It was important not to contribute to their all pervasive expansion. The report shows that the only thing made by the Koch family, of which we are aware, is Vanity Fair napkins. They are now scratched from our grocery list.

Hopefully, at some point, other citizens will ponder over the issue of bigness.

Allan Powell is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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