The Patterns of Power


Fashion and weather repeat themselves. We call them cycles. So do the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism… the over-powering ‘ism’ in the history of the modern world.

It’s possible to look back as we often do, to the industrialization of America – those times which would eventually make us the most powerful nation in the history of the World. Then a few individuals and their corporations controlled this nation and its economic system with their monopolistic power, their overwhelming wealth and the influence it could buy and the ruthless character of their drive for more.

That cycle is with us again today. The results are not the same.

In the 1930’s we called them robber barons…the Carnegies, the Fords, the Harrimans, the Edisons…men who created and controlled the forces that built America into the powerhouse it became years later by bringing all that power together to fight World War II.

photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a form of economic equality never seen before and never seen again. Told that the great carmakers, steel producers, coal miners, shipbuilders and all the industrial giants would get behind the war effort IF THEY ALL MADE MONEY, Roosevelt made certain that it happened and by doing so raised the income level of working men and women (yes, women) to heights never before achieved..even with a rigorous union movement at the peak of its power.

We created a Middle Class as we won the war. The power of education was recognized and the GI Bill of Rights provided previously unknown educational opportunities that were the foundation of our success in the years ahead.

If ever America was the land of opportunity it was during the war years and the two decades that followed. Yet there is no ignoring the definite, cement-lined racial and sexual barriers to opportunity. We are not talking about perfection in that World only the reality that extraordinary progress was made. While the wealthy got wealthier (this is capitalism after all), a portion of the rest were raised to new economic heights.

There are a number of reasons for this but the most obvious one was government: organizing and policing the policies and actions that made it possible. The cooperation between the political parties was never better. They competed as always for the control of the Presidency and Congress, but the concept of bipartisanship existed and was productive.


TV remote imageThe change began in the 1970’s and like so much else in America it was driven by money. The power of television in politics and government had become supreme. No candidate for political office could run without the money to buy TV commercials. Special interest groups formed to pressure for policies could buy commercials designed to influence government/political action. Their money for TV could go a lot further than individual lobbying efforts alone.

It soon became obvious that candidates for public office need not have a background in government to compete. What was primarily necessary was the ability to raise money and produce TV spots that would make the case for a candidate in 30 seconds, not in 30 minute speeches. TV debates with SOUND BITES replaced the need for policies and programs. Turn those into bullet points and send them out in a mailing and focus on TV.

When that became the norm so did the reality of political office as a lifetime career. Keep the money flowing for campaigns; sell away personal beliefs if necessary and a career was possible.

What we know today came with the advent of the Reagan Administration. Now ‘government was the problem not the solution’. Nothing government did was ever going to be better than the work of the private sector — those with power and wealth. Money was going to be made but only by those who had it to begin with.

The overriding message of those years, proved again and again to be false: that tax cuts would spur economic growth; that the wealthy and powerful would use the extra money in their personal and corporate pockets to do far more for the economy. Nothing like that has ever happened…ever. Yet the lie lives today. Now when barely 1% owns 60% of the nation’s wealth.

photo of Gary Cohn, Chief Economic Adviser to the Trump Administration
Gary Cohn, Chief Economic Adviser to the Trump Administration
Asked in an interview to explain how he and individuals like him could successfully invest in corporations based abroad and not have to pay taxes on profits, Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser to the Trump Administration said simply “that’s the way the World works.”

And so we learn that colleges and universities across the country use endowment funds to invest abroad and have amassed $500 billion dollars in profits without paying a dime in taxes.

And we learn that the technology barons of Apple, Facebook, Instagram and others are sitting on $9 trillion in profits and pay no taxes.

That’s the way the world works for Gary Cohn and all those like him. And if new tax legislation is passed on the basis that it will influence the return of these funds to the US and the paying of taxes to support funds lost in huge corporate and personal tax breaks for the ten percent, the joke will again be on the people who are so disgusted with the political establishment that they could elect a government far worse for them than any we have known.

And all the while the same melody is played as we dance to their tune: these changes in taxes will benefit the middle class…and provide jobs that simply don’t exist now.

And if so, we’ll see just how the World works:

A school teacher who buys pens, pencils, paper and other school supplies for her classes will not be able to write off those purchases as a business expense, but a corporation doing the same thing, can write off its expenses.

A firefighter will not be able to deduct state and local taxes from his Federal tax return, but a corporation will be able to deduct State and local taxes from its business expenses.

A private homeowner will not be able to deduct more than $10,000 in real estate taxes, but a corporation will be able to deduct all property taxes.

If an employee is moved from one location to another he cannot deduct moving expenses…but a corporation which moves its office from one location to another can deduct all moving expenses.

That’s the way Mr. Cohn’s world works.

There are other examples of the way that world works now

A large group of immigrant students seeking to remain in the US and not be deported, filed their papers weeks before the deadline as they were supposed to do. The Post Office in Chicago lost all of these papers and by the time they were found and submitted, they were late and automatically rejected. These ‘dreamers’ will be deported.

Jeffrey Immelt, the long-time CEO of General Electric flies abroad, where most of their business now exists, on a private jet. Another private jet – empty – follows to insure that there are no delays should the primary jet have difficulties. When a Board of Directors audit revealed this fact in 2014 they ordered that this huge expense be stopped. It wasn’t. And when confronted, Mr. Immelt, soon to retire, said he had no idea that a second jet was still in use.

Orwell 1984 book cover imageAnd just in case you thought the computer world knew too much about your personal life comes news that the FCC has just approved the use of technology to inform TV advertisers exactly what you are watching and when.

Have you read Orwell’s “1984” yet? Big Brother is actually watching you everywhere.

Yes, this is Gary Cohn’s world at work. And will be until America starts remembering what it once knew: that knowledge is power and that if you don’t know something you cannot care about it.

If education remains a forgotten need, America’s spiral will continue downward.

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