At the beginning of 2020, the American economy was booming, albeit partially fueled by rampant deficit spending resulting from unprecedented tax cuts for business. Unemployment had hit record lows. Obscured by all the good economic news, there was still a larger than ever gap between rich and poor. Some said that the mounting concentration of wealth at the top of the financial pyramid may have contributed to social and economic problems at all levels of society, rich and poor, including educational failures, drug addiction, homelessness, crime and even violence. It is a longstanding mantra of economic stability that a prosperous middle class, especially the working class, is a critical underpinning of a successful, sustainable society. Today, however, in the financial freefall caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic—COVID 19—the threat that economic inequality presents to our social stability has been pushed into the background once again. We are facing an economic crisis that could prove to be the worst the country has ever seen.
The United States’ fundamental economic dogma has always been to financially reward the industrious, the ingenious, the daring and even the intuitive—American capitalism. Sociologists and political scientists like to describe the United States economic model as, at least aspirationally, an “open class” system—where wealth, power and influence are achievable by anyone, irrespective of the individual’s social or economic class, race, religion, gender or other categorization. Achievement of that goal has always been less than successful, with unequal access to education and other opportunities perpetuating and, in some cases, exacerbating economic polarization and social division. Today, in the wake of the economic disaster following the coronavirus, the stakes are higher than ever.
The established political parties have responded predictably, recklessly throwing money at the problem, money that the government doesn’t really have, thereby pushing our problems into the laps of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, a dishonest compromise between the needs of the poor and the wishes of the rich.
What is really needed to right the ship of the American economy and hasten its recovery from the “coronavirus crash” is to make some much needed, and overdue, improvements to that ship. It’s time to get rid of dead weight and power up the engine with new and creative ideas. Honestly, however, those new and creative ideas are not going to come from politicians whose primary objective is getting re-elected. Thoughtful ingenuity has to come from the people, the only group that can be trusted to look out for everyone, not just crafty politicians and special interest groups.