IN THE BEGINNING
From the moment of its establishment in 1943, and during its journey through the second half of the 20th Century, the Liberal Party of New York had two principles at its foundation. Beyond the time-honored liberal beliefs in human rights, individual freedoms, justice and opportunity for all, these two principles acted as the main strategy for the Liberal Party’s success in writing and passing legislation in New York State that influenced the liberalization of America in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Those principles were: the need for good, clean government that worked; and the awareness that only government can provide a level playing field of opportunity for all in our economy.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, seeking his fourth term as President, came to New York in 1943 he met with liberal union leaders no longer part of the American Labor Party which had turned decidedly Communist, and with academics and leaders in religion, the law, education and small business to establish the Liberal Party of New York. He wanted a new political line to help him carry New York State and the leadership he’d recruited wanted a political force to liberalize the attitudes of power in the Republican Party and get rid of the corruption in the Democratic Party.
At that point in history America was unable to recognize how the Second World War would change the economic landscape we had known since the turn of the century when the development of industrial power and mass production produced the Robber Barons of industry who sought to make profit and profit alone the sole meaning of capitalism.
As history inevitably repeats itself, in these first years of the 21st Century, America is now just beginning to see how the world-dominant American economy of the past 50 years has been irrevocably changed and significantly diminished by Globalization and the reality of a global economy.
THEY’VE GOT TO MAKE A PROFIT: CAPITALISM AT WORK
There is always a moment that leads to a decision that drives change in a potent and lasting way.
As America faced a World War on two fronts – in Europe and in Asia – the necessity was for a national industrial ‘war effort’ so massive that it was unknown in American history.
Roosevelt’s advisors laid out a formula which would revolutionize the American workforce. It reinforced the New Deal that had saved America through the depression and grew it to support the work that had to be done to win the war.
Men, women and children became partners in the effort. An entire military force was enlisted or drafted. Women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers led by Rosie the Riveter.
But for certain instances, blacks and whites worked side by side in what became America’s only industrial interest: the machinery and weapons of war.
But it was what Roosevelt heard and implemented that became the overriding reason for the extraordinary military power that grew beyond expectations in one short year.
“You can enlist the auto manufacturers, the mines, the steel mills – all of it – if you remember just one thing: They Have to Make a Profit”.
As automobile production stopped cold for two years, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler built the war planes and massive ships that made America the most powerful country in the history of the world. And they made a profit.
The mining and steel industries worked round the clock. No labor stoppages…or shortages..no struggles.. just production. Industrial power paid its work force around the clock. Union workers in the soft coal fields of West Virginia walked through their small mining towns with fists full of money for the first time in their lives.
Industrial power and the workers who built and drove it worked together as never before – it was a truly national effort…and they made a profit.
Capitalism in its most liberalized, human form. And it worked for everyone.
And what that combined, shared effort produced at war’s end was a middle class. Americans could afford to leave the cities. Build new homes in the suburbs. Buy the products that made life easier…a car..a dishwasher…send their kids to college.
New laws providing fair labor practices protecting workers, fixing fair tax rates, regulating the banking industry…combined to support the attitudes that said labor and industrial management could continue to work together with profits for all and America lived through a growth and prosperity it had never known.
Those liberal policies persevered for almost thirty five years. And the middle class became the human force that supported and was helped by a government; a government continuously able to provide the legislation to equalize the power of money and level the playing field of opportunity and expectation where little had existed before.
A series of events that began in the 1980’s and became evident in the 1990’s revealed a fundamental change in the American outlook.
The postwar effort to rebuild Japan and Germany produced manufactured goods for export of high quality.
The existence of a growing, more prosperous middle class combined with the postwar effort to send our returning veterans to college through the GI Bill began to produce a class of professionals in medicine, law, accounting, business, engineering and science that would change industrial America to service America. These young men and women of a new workforce didn’t join unions – they joined professional associations.
Technology slowly began to produce changes in mass production…changes that would quickly reduce the role of the “factory worker” and so reduce the influence of the union movement to work for and support legislation favoring worker rights.
Little by little it became apparent that America could remain the world’s power by moving away from “making something” into fields where industrial and manufactured products could be produced elsewhere – but sold by America.
American politics – as always – followed the money. And the money was in ascendance.
Ronald Reagan’s policies severely weakened government’s role as equalizer. The reigning idea was that government was the problem and not the solution. As America’s liberal policies seemed to be favoring those in need at the expense of those at work, working class America seemed to agree with the Reagan idea and voted accordingly.
Then came legislation reducing taxes on corporations and the wealthy as a way to reduce the power of government…to essentially starve and weaken it from providing its leveraging policies.
That worked. And soon legislation protecting Americans from the power of wealth disappeared and business began to focus on making money with money rather than on making money through production. Corporate power replaced industrial power.
And then Bill Clinton, working to undo the massive deficits run up by a starved government run by politicians committed to lowering taxes as a sure way to their own reelections, made the critical mistake of giving the banking and investment industries the freedom to do what they wanted to combine their businesses…and all regulation on the power of money ceased.
Liberals unable by nature to agree on philosophies and strategies watched their successes drown under the weight of conservative vilification. Liberals just spent money…government just took money…it was all a waste and practically un-American.
As its thirty year bubble burst and politicians walked away from even using the term ‘liberal’ forces were at work to change the nature of capitalism to enhance by orders of magnitude the power and influence of money.
Money was the only product worth dealing with and the globalization of the economy made America’s efforts to produce goods seem unnecessary. Money ruled and one-tenth of one percent of Americans ran the government, the lives of politicians seeking election and reelection as a career not a service, the playing fields of opportunity and the future of the country.
That was the state of affairs as the American Century ended and social capitalism disappeared only to reappear as the power of money on steroids.
In Part Two we will examine what changes in our economic practices and political policies must exist if we are to democratize our society again. This means re-ordered government-led economic policies to try to at least mimic the shared economy that existed so forcefully and successfully during the years of WWII and the decades that followed.
Such a policy approach exists. It is called ‘inclusive capitalism’ and it represents a 21st Century approach to tax policies and a shared economy. We will provide a primer of understanding next.
The term liberal has returned to media use as it is simply easier to contrast liberal and conservative views. Politicians in New York City who clearly think/believe ‘liberal’ – like to use the word ‘progressive’. The Liberal Party’s view is that actually knowing how to govern and to govern without ‘pay to play’ – is what counts more than a name.